Let’s Talk About Sex: The Third Precept of Buddhism…

“I undertake the training rule to abstain from sexual misconduct (unless you’re a monastic, in which case you don’t get any sex, at all) –The third precept of Buddhism

I’ve spent the bulk of the last three weeks conducting extensive research, as well as taking some math refresher courses, because I’d begun to question whether the number three does, indeed, follow the number two. The reason I’d begun to doubt my numerical literacy was because if the number three does follow the number two, then that would mean that after already addressing the first and second precepts, I’d have to discuss the third (sex!)… So, I embarked on a massive research process to determine if the number three in Sanskrit, or Pali (the language closest to what the Buddha probably spoke) didn’t mean something like “the number following 5,365, 482,001.” Oh, well… Finally, after unexpectedly posting a piece on Donald Trump earlier this week, I decided that if I can discuss him on my blog, I can discuss anything…

Many people are under the impression that the Buddha didn’t think too highly of sex. If this has been your impression, you are greatly misinformed. The Buddha’s father was a king named Suddhodana, and the Lord Buddha, (prior to becoming the Lord Buddha), was known as Prince Siddhartha. Soon after the birth Prince Siddartha, a holy man informed King Suddhodana that Siddhartha would either be a ‘Buddha’ or a great king; but like any king, Suddhodana wanted his son to follow in his footsteps, eventually taking his place. So, the king set out to make sure that Prince Siddhartha wanted for no material happiness and that he was always too distracted by pleasure to think about such annoying trivialities as Oneness with the Atman, or human suffering. These distractions eventually included not only an unbelievably beautiful wife, but a very large harem, i.e., other women with whom he could engage with sexually whenever he desired. In addition to wanting for nothing, the king also made sure that his son had no exposure to the external world and its truths: old age, sickness, death, impermanence, etc. So, it’s fair to say that for a good while, Prince Siddhartha was probably happier than most people.

Supposedly, it wasn’t until Prince Siddhartha was nearly 29 that he decided to leave the palace and go on a day trip, accompanied by his friend and personal charioteer, Channa. It was during this trip that he encountered for the first time in his entire life, what today are known as “The Four Sights,” i.e., (1) an old man; (2) a person suffering from a terminal illness; (3) a dead body; and (4) an ascetic whose quest was to find the cause of “human suffering” (refer to sights one through three). Shocked that people aged; sickened that they became ill and died in the middle of the street (quite literally); and just not ‘feeling’ that dead body, or the fact that such was his fate, Siddhartha saw great value in following the example of the ascetic (the fourth sight), as it appeared to him that he was the only person he’d encountered that day who, for some reason, was not suffering. Finally, to put the icing on the Gulab Jamun, upon returning to the palace, the king, just to be sure Siddhartha hadn’t discovered temperance earlier in the day, arranged for beautiful dancing girls to welcome him back… as only “dancing” girls can do. This might have worked to lift Siddhartha’s spirits except for the fact that after the after-party, as he was walking back to his digs, he observed the dancing girls, exhausted, perhaps intoxicated, sprawled on the floor in varying states of unconscious disarray and disrobement, snoring, drooling, and no longer sporting that Cover Girl look with their sweat-smeared makeup . Not so sexy. Not sexy at all…

So, how, wondered Prince Siddhartha, do we deal with the ruthless, never-ending, unrelenting forces of change, i.e., impermanence? How to deal with the fact that he, himself, would soon look like the sick old man on the side of the road? How to deal with the fact that his dancing girls, who could now “drop it like it’s hot,” would soon, simply be dropping dead? Clearly, it would take some alone time, not to mention very deep thought, to work this out… Soon enough, he began to see his wife, his newborn child, his father’s political ambitions for him, and his dancing girls for what they were: distractions. And all of a sudden, he realized that despite all he had, he wasn’t happy anymore, or more likely, had never truly been…

Fast forward a couple years and Siddhartha is now an ascetic, observing the practices of not only denying his body all pleasure, and just about all nourishment, but also observing such special meditation practices as sitting by corpses, at charnel grounds, or on the side of the road where these unfortunate people had died without hope of cremation, much less being laid out at a charnel ground. This type of meditation, known as “corpse contemplation,” is still practiced today by some, but now with photographs, or visits to morgues. The point of such meditations, in a pistachio nutshell, was to expose them to the truth, i.e., that sexy as we may be today, tomorrow we’ll be wrinkled, literally tripping over a fair number of our appendages, and much less able to hide the fact that we are little more than “skin sacs” of blood, feces, and urine, soon to be riddled with maggots. And did I mention pus? Well, the Buddha did; so, I really needn’t have bothered…

So, you’re probably wondering when we’re going to get to the “sex,” and what all this talk of pus and maggots has to do with sex? Well, let’s fast-forward, once more, and just say that the Buddha eventually had to lay down some hard law regarding sexual abstinence. This is why you will find, in the Buddhist Canon, some amazingly detailed and shocking examples of what NOT to do. You see, sex with women was a huge no-no, but sleeping with dead women, which had not previously been overtly stated, seemed to require some extra detail for some… Boys will be boys… And I truly don’t mean to be sexist, but it would be a bit difficult for a woman to perform the same type of act with a dead man, if you know what I mean…

Sex with farm animals was also a no-no. And interestingly enough, there was even a hierarchy of what was worse than what. Please keep in mind that these various sexual proclivities, sometimes activated by pure “horniness,” are not Buddhist practices, but simply the Buddha’s acknowledgement of what was happening around him. Truly, the Lord Buddha was the personification of “keeping it real.”It’s fairly surprising that the Buddha was as cool about sex as he was because others’ sex drives were somewhat problematic. One example is the case of Sudinna, one of the Buddha’s monks. Supposedly, fairly early in the Siddhartha’s career as The Buddha, Sudinna had yielded to his mother’s request that he “provide a seed,” by laying with his former wife, so that the family’s bloodline could be continued and the family’s wealth not be lost to the government. Apparently, the Buddha was not happy about this ‘entanglement,’ and soon after laid down the law on celibacy for monks known as the vinaya, i.e., monastic disciplinary code. In one part of the vinaya, it says:

“Whatever monk should indulge in sexual intercourse is one who is defeated [parajika], he is no longer in communion [with the monastic order].”

Fast forward several more years, and Prince Siddhartha is now The Enlightened One, The Buddha. Even after everything he’d been through, he never said that sex was “bad.” He just didn’t think it was good for… monastics. And he knew that not everyone wanted to be a monastic, and certainly didn’t expect that. Terms such as “lay person” and “householder” came to represent those who followed the “faith,” but still elected to live “in the world,” i.e., marrying, working, bearing and raising children, and having sex… The monastic’s goal, liberation/nirvana, could, arguably, not be achieved on a part-time basis, when children, spouses, career demands (or just plain eeking out a miserable subsistence) also competed for one’s time and attention. The holy life was about freeing oneself of attachments, not daily acquiring more of them.

In the above quotation, the term “parajika” refers to an offense serious enough to require immediate expulsion from the monastic order. Examples of parajikas include:

“A monk commits parajika if he engages in consensual penetration of various orifices of a living female (human, animal or spirit), a person with non-conventional sexual characteristics, another monk, or even himself (cases of one monk’s supple back and another’s pliable penis are cited.”

–The Problem with Sex According to Buddha, Paul David Numrich

Yes, you heard me “right.”

Interestingly enough:

“Penetration of a decomposed corpse is also parajika, but penetration of an almost fully decomposed corpse is only thullaccaya, a third level offense…”

–The Problem with Sex According to Buddha, Paul David Numrich

Note: The term “third level” offense in the above quotation is an example of the “hierarchy” of offenses to which I referred priorly.

Obviously, there were a few folks who, though living the “holy life,” weren’t quite ready to give up the sexual aspects of the lay life (no pun intended)… I suppose it’s a little difficult to “rape” a corpse, or call it “consensual” sex, or even “non-consensual,” for that matter.. So, for numerous reasons, the Buddha was compelled to be detailed in his requirements for the comportment of his monastics. But as for the rest of us, not so much.

Now this is where it truly gets interesting. There was no condemnation of homosexual behavior in early Buddhism. This came later, way after the Buddha had died. As far as we can tell, for the Buddha, sex was sex, and if you wanted to be a monastic, you couldn’t partake in any type of it. As for “householders” (non-monastic/lay Buddhists), sex was fine. So, when lay Buddhists “take” the third precept, they say that they will abstain from “sexual misconduct”; whereas, the monastic version of this precept requires vowing to abstain from sexual activity of any type. Ever. The exception to this rule is when lay Buddhists visit monasteries for extended periods of time, which I did last year. While there, besides removing all my piercings (bodily decoration also being prohibited in one of the precepts), I also had to take the monastic version of the Third Precept (not to engage in any type of sexual activity, at all). Upon leaving the monastery, I was free to continue in that fashion, or not.

As a result, lay Buddhists can be homosexual, heterosexual, bisexual, or even automonosexual (those who are sexually attracted to themselves, alone). Additionally, “misconduct” for lay Buddhists is also quite different than it is for monastics. For example, if a married couple (gay or straight) decide that they want to have an “open” marriage, it’s fine so long as both partners agree that that is what they want to do. Of course, we know that this is easier said than done. Too often, one partner consents to such an arrangement out of fear of losing the other. Additionally, if two married couples decide to engage in “swinging” with each other, it must be with the full consent of all four individuals because the concepts of “cheating,” and “consensual” do exist. So, it is not enough that the sex be consensual between two people if other spouses, boos, or other committed individuals are involved with one of those two individuals.

Abstaining from all sexual activity has generally been considered to be necessary for those Buddhists whose sole goal in life is to achieve liberation. Nonetheless, there are a great many contemporary articles and discussions that claim that one need not be unmarried or celibate to “become enlightened.” And there are those say the same with a slight twist, i.e., that it will take those who are married, or sexually active, longer to become enlightened because they, quite literally, carry the weight of the world on their shoulders and in their responsibilities to family, employers, and others.

Finally, I would be remiss if I did not, once again, address the topic of homosexuality during this especially difficult election season when States are suing President Obama for relief as a result of what are now known as the “bathroom laws,” among other things, with regard to restroom accommodations for transgender(ed) individuals. The Buddha, apparently unlike Jesus, or anybody else, did not have anything to say about this. There are some references to individuals who were rather “undecided,” sexually, or both undecided and prostituting, but one would have to have studied some Pali and probably be a monastic to even know where to start with that. These issues only became “hot topics” in Buddhism after the Buddha’s death — rather in the way that it often seems to be the most homophobic lawmakers, and even monastics of all faiths, who eventually get caught in the back seats of cars with under-aged boys.

So much for “brief commentary.”

Namaste.

Lions and Tigers and… Ants, Oh My! The First Precept…

I undertake the training rule to abstain from taking life (doing harm) –The First Precept of Buddhism

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I was raised in a Christian home. Like many people, I understood that the Bible’s commandment, “Thou shalt not kill,” applied to human beings. There was never any talk of not killing squirrels, deer, rats, mice, or insects. I’ll never forget the very first (and last) time my father, during my childhood, went squirrel hunting with a huntsman neighbor. My father brought home two squirrels that he’d shot, skinned, and cleaned all by himself. He was so proud! Nonetheless, my mother wasn’t having any of that! She refused to either accept, cook, or allow the squirrel carcasses to remain in “[her] home.” I, myself, was appalled that he could have expected us to eat anything “so cute,” but didn’t really think much more about it. We were not vegetarians, and as Guyanese people, we ate a great deal of rice with curried chicken, goat, and a beloved beef/goat dish known as pepper pot, among other things.

By the time I graduated from high school, I’d left the church (I was raised Lutheran); returned to Jesus as an apostolic Pentecostal “holy roller” for a short time, and then, due to mine and my father’s involvement in the martial arts, become extremely interested in Eastern philosophies. By the time I graduated from my university undergraduate program, I’d come to terms with the meat-eating experience and transitioned from vegetarian to vocal-veganism, though that would later change after someone pointed out that my love of leather didn’t quite square with veganism. Additionally, I’ve had some very rough times, financially, when my only choice was not between various types of meals, but rather between being able to eat or not. It is not uncommon, when trapped in the social services system, to be ridiculed (and refused) for asking for an extra bag of potatoes instead of that hunk of mystery meat you’d rather not eat, anyway. It’s a real case of “beggars can’t be choosers”… Nevertheless, since one can choose, it is definitely worth taking the 1:19 that it takes to visit this hell documenting the “legitimate” slaughter of animals for the benefit of meat eaters. Warning: It makes Dante’s version look like a trip to Disney Land. When we eat meat, we are complicit in the unimaginable suffering it causes our fellow ‘travelers’ on this planet…

Fast-forwarding to 2015, last summer I flew from New York to California to spend two weeks as a guest in a Theravada Buddhist monastery with a group of Bhikkhunis (female monks). I should mention, here, that in the Theravada lineage, meat-eating, with certain restrictions, is allowed, but it is a subject of much contention with serious repercussions if not mindfully and compassionately approached… I’d had to fill out an application to arrange the visit, and part of that had been informing them of what service I could be while visiting. I volunteered to drive, clean, and cook (so long as I had a really-detailed cook book). Upon arriving and settling in, I learned that my duties would be, primarily in the kitchen. Much to my delight, I discovered a sink full of dishes upon entering the kitchen, as lunch had just been served. Without being asked, I walked to the sink, picked up the sponge and discovered, to my horror, a dense colony of ants streaming beneath it. The only reason I did not shriek in horror was because I am so polite. So, though it took me a few moments more to pick my jaw up off of the floor (I’m more polite than I am “smooth”), I quietly dropped the sponge back into place, took a deep breath, and tried to figure out how best to calmly ask for some “Ants-Be-The-Hell-Gone” spray. But before I could ask, my guide informed me that the ants were there because of the obligation to observe the first precept. Truly, that had never occurred to me. I’d simply thought the good Sisters, who don’t do kitchen work, just didn’t have any good “help.”

Of course, they had no bug spray, bleach, or any other of the many treasured and beloved toxic concoctions upon which so many of us rely. We had to make due with “natural” cleansers. So, I had no choice but to get with the program. One of the other visitors to the monastery had come up with a rather ingenious method of handling the ants. She would take a sheet of paper towel, dampen it, and then gently “drag” it over the ants. With the ants, uninjured, but sticking to the paper towel, she would carefully transport them to the lowest rung of a plastic rack on the patio which was also used to dry laundry. As the paper towel dried in the wind, the ants could easily disengage from it, make their way to the ground, and crawl away (i.e., back into the kitchen).

Again, much to my great discomfort, the thin, but comfortable air mattress on the floor of my bedroom (which was just off the kitchen) was, occasionally visited by ants, as well. I could literally feel them crawling across my body, but once I discovered they didn’t bite, I relaxed and simply learned to be especially gentle if I had an “itch.” I learned to think of the ants as my co-pilots in life… And truly, the only reason I did not lose my mind was because I had already begun to practice some consideration for insect forms of life several years prior to arriving at that California monastery. Many years of trapping and transporting spiders “back to where they belong” had not only cured me of my fear of spiders, but even brought me to be able to appreciate their beauty. So, now that I’ve become enlightened, instead of jumping on my tractor and driving through my home trying to mow them down, I simply exclaim, “Namaste!” and run like hell…

Learning to live with the ants at the monastery was a life-changing experience for me. Even though I’d learned to catch spiders in jars, without harming them, and take them back outside, and would never have willingly harmed a dog, cat, squirrel, or deer, on my first day at the monastery I would have thought nothing of drenching the counter with Raid or tightly scooping up all the ants in a piece of wet paper towel. Until then, I had not realized that the Buddha did not differentiate between human and animal lives when those “animals” were, well, “only ants,” or perhaps cockroaches, or other creatures not as cute as lady bugs… Ants were, to me, merely pests, and the products of an unclean environment, not sentient beings who could show up for any number of reasons. And of course, it’s so much easier to see that dogs or horses have feelings, and love their offspring than it is to see the same thing in ants… The point, here is that, we tend to sympathize, more, with those who either look like us, or act like us; so, there is some moral danger in thinking that “difference” justifies indifference…

All sentient beings fear being harmed, love life, and want to be happy. I also discovered that those who value and revere the life of an ant are probably much more likely to respect it in a human being. If all human life was viewed as sacred, we could not have had Black Americans lynched for sport; Jews gassed, incinerated, and subject to outrageous medical experimentation during WWII; the Imperial Japanese Army’s prostituting of Korean girls and women, also during World War II, or the Rwandan genocide. In each case, these people were considered less than human, if only for convenience’s sake. It is always necessary to, first, distance ourselves from those we seek to demean, i.e., relegate them to the level of “lower than an animal,” or insect…

Each of the five precepts (the ones that must be observed by all non-monastic Buddhists), are fraught with subtleties we may yet to have considered or acknowledged. It is also important to acknowledge that they are not “commandments.” For us, they are not non-negotiables dictated by a stern, or loving, God who will subject us to an eternity in hell for not following them. It is always our intent that determines the “right” or “wrong” of what we do, and we are accountable to an immutable law of nature that neither cares about us personally, nor hears our appeals for mercy or special dispensations when we’d rather not deal with the results our actions always ignite – karma.

Prior to my monastery visit and after getting up close and personal with more ants than I’d ever dealt with (in any merciful way), I’d occasionally wondered why it was even necessary to utter the first precept, because like many people, I have never taken a human life (though, unlike the Buddha, I am as yet unable to account for any of my actions in past lives). Thus, in former kitchen experiences, if “cleanliness (truly) is next to godliness,” then I’d felt justified in doing whatever I had to do to keep my kitchen pest-free. Consequently, in this regard, alone, I might formerly have been considered one of the greatest transgressors of insect repellent, mosquito squashing, and spider bombing. The fact that I truly believed that certain gradations of life (insect versus human) justified such killings certainly lessens my culpability in the past, but now that I’ve received and processed new information, in both the intellectual and experiential senses, my future actions are subject to that new knowledge.

Two years ago, while living in a different city, my building experienced a “rodent infestation.” According to the exterminator, there were mice living within the insulation in our walls. The building was situated near a large vacant lot that was overgrown with bushes and weeds – a haven for everything from mice to much larger “rodents.” In an effort to hasten this case of rodent resolution, I bought a set of “sticky” rodent traps. These flat, “wall-less” traps, garnished with a little peanut butter or some other delicacy, can incapacitate even the smartest of rodents, who, by being careless, can place a foot too close to the sticky surface. This happened one night, with a trap I’d placed just a few feet from the bed. I’d awakened to the sound of what sounded like “tiny shrieking.” As the window was open, I’d imagined the sound must have been outside, but then, I thought of the trap, got up, and turned on the light. A tiny mouse had wondered out into the open during the night, gotten stuck, and in its struggle to escape, had ended up with the left side of its face, and part of its body stuck to the trap. It was truly one of the most heart-wrenching sights I’d ever seen, even though I was supposed to be happy that the product worked.

I was, essentially, paralyzed by the sight and wondered if it were possible to free the mouse. Having experienced getting the skin of my own hand stuck to the trap while setting it up, I could tell, just by looking, that if I tried to free the mouse, I would end up with only one half of its body in my hand. The other half of its body, with its thin, delicate skin, was never, ever going anywhere else. Being too scared to touch the trap, as the mouse was struggling, mightily, and had continued to shriek, I went, miserably, back to bed. A couple hours later, as morning arrived, I ran next door to enlist a neighbor’s help in simply picking up and disposing of the trap. The mouse was still thrashing and screaming those two hours later… Deciding to leave extermination to the professionals, I disposed of the rest of my sticky traps.

We’re treading on very thin ground when we look at one living being and decide that its life is not as valuable, or sacred, as ours, or another’s. We unthinkingly do this with animals and insects, everyday; and some human beings even do it with other human beings. Thus, the first precept, to do no harm, is not as simple to observe as we might expect, nor as difficult to transgress. In the words of the Buddha:

All tremble at violence; all fear death. Putting oneself in the place of another, one should not kill nor cause another to kill. —The Dhammapada

The Buddha never said, “But one caveat — this applies only to people, especially those who look like us, or act the way we do, but not to animals, insects, reptiles, or fish”…

Namaste.

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References:

Animals and the Buddha

Meet 10 Beautiful Spiders

I’ve named this, “Makes Dante’s Hell Look Like DisneyLand” because I don’t read Arabic…

These are the Most Exquisitely Weird Spiders You Will Ever See

 

Heartdrive

I will not beg you to believe me,
or even understand me.

In the violent collision of hearts,
we will either beat each other back, or burst,
mingling on the floor of understanding.

Then, and only then, can our tears
begin to dissolve the hardness, and
cleanse the stains of disbelief.

Still, there will always be
the shadow of that stain.
Shall we cover it with a rug,
or use it as a marker?

Such is the sad beauty and utter utility
of change.
“““““““““““““
(c) Mindful Ejaculations. 2016.

To Me…

Dedicated to a kalyana mattata (spiritual friend)
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To me,
you are Insuppressible…
like the wind that seeks and moans
through each breach
in my windows…
That is what you are.

Unrelenting…
as one breath after another,
never promised
but relied upon…
Such is how you are.

Dauntless…
like death laughing in my face,
only to make me take blows
that much less
seriously…
This is who you are.

To me.
““““““““““““`
(c) Mindful Ejaculations. 2016.