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Buddhism & Sexuality

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Buddhism & Sexuality

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Buddhism vis-à-vis sexuality. A guest lecture I gave in a Spirituality and Sexuality class at the University of West Georgia.

Buddhism vis-à-vis sexuality. A guest lecture I gave in a Spirituality and Sexuality class at the University of West Georgia.

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Buddhism & Sexuality

  1. 1. Buddhism and Sexuality Robert Beshara, M.F.A.
  2. 2. Outline • A very brief overview of Buddhism • Buddhism vis-à-vis sexuality, particularly from the perspective of the Order of Interbeing, which falls under the umbrellas of Engaged Buddhism, and Western Buddhism (even though it is rooted in a Vietnamese Zen tradition).
  3. 3. Dharmacakra An intricate representation of the Dharmacakra in Sun temple, Orissa, India
  4. 4. What is the Dharmacakra? • One of the oldest known Buddhist symbols found in Indian art (c. 3rd century BCE) • It represents the wheel of Dharma. Dharma means the teaching of the Buddha as an exposition of the Natural Law applied to the problem of human suffering • The eight spokes represent the Noble Eightfold Path (Right View, Right Thinking, Right Speech, Right Action, Right Livelihood, Right Diligence, Right Mindfulness, and Right Concentration)
  5. 5. What is Buddhism? • Buddhism is a religion to more than 400 million people around the world. The word comes from 'budhi', 'to awaken'. It has its origins about 2,500 years ago when Siddhartha Gotama, known as the Buddha, was himself awakened (enlightened) at the age of 35.
  6. 6. Is Buddhism a religion? • To many, Buddhism goes beyond religion and is more of a philosophy or 'way of life'. It is a philosophy because philosophy 'means love of wisdom' and the Buddhist path can be summed up as: (1) to lead a moral life, (2) to be mindful and aware of thoughts and actions, and (3) to develop wisdom and understanding.
  7. 7. Why is Buddhism becoming popular? • Buddhism is becoming popular in western countries for a number of reasons, The first good reason is Buddhism has answers to many of the problems in modern materialistic societies. It also includes (for those who are interested) a deep understanding of the human mind (and natural therapies) which prominent psychologists around the world are now discovering to be both very advanced and effective.
  8. 8. Early Buddhist art Representation of the Buddha in the Greco- Buddhist art of Gandhara, 1st century AD.
  9. 9. Who was the Buddha? • Siddhartha Gotama was born into a royal family in Lumbini, now located in Nepal, in 563 BC. At 29, he realised that wealth and luxury did not guarantee happiness, so he explored the different teachings religions and philosophies of the day, to find the key to human happiness. After six years of study and meditation he finally found 'the middle path' and was enlightened. After enlightenment, the Buddha spent the rest of his life teaching the principles of Buddhism — called the Dharma — until his death at the age of 80.
  10. 10. Was the Buddha a God? • He was not, nor did he claim to be. He was a man who taught a path to enlightenment from his own experience. • Do Buddhists worships idols? Buddhists are not idol worshippers, but they are ideal worshippers. Buddhists sometimes pay respect to images of the Buddha, not in worship, nor to ask for favours. A statue of the Buddha with hands rested gently in its lap and a compassionate smile reminds us to strive to develop peace and love within ourselves. Bowing to the statue is an expression of gratitude for the teaching. • Buddha nature = potential
  11. 11. Are there different types of Buddhism? • There are three schools: Theravada (South Asia & Southeast Asia), Mahayana (East Asia), and Vajrayana (Tibet, Bhutan, Mongolia, and the Russian republic of Kalmykia).
  12. 12. Is Buddhism scientific? • Science is knowledge which can be made into a system, which depends upon seeing and testing facts and stating general natural laws. The core of Buddhism fit into this definition, because the Four Noble truths can be tested and proven by anyone in fact the Buddha himself asked his followers to test the teaching rather than accept his word as true. Buddhism depends more on understanding than faith.
  13. 13. The basic teachings of the Buddha • The Four Noble Truths: I. Life is challenging. For everyone. Our physical bodies, our relationships-all of our life circumstances-are fragile and subject to change. We are always accommodating. II. The cause of suffering is the mind’s struggle in response to challenge. III. The end of suffering-a non-struggling, peaceful mind- is a possibility. IV. The program for ending suffering is the Eightfold Path.
  14. 14. The Noble Eightfold Path 1. Wise Understanding: realizing the cause of suffering; 2. Wise Intention: motivation to end suffering; 3. Wise Speech: speaking in a way that cultivates clarity; 4. Wise Action: behaving in ways that maintain clarity; 5. Wise Livelihood: supporting oneself in a wholesome way; 6. Wise Effort: cultivating skillful (peaceful) mind habits; 7. Wise Concentration: cultivating a steady, focused, ease-filled mind; 8. Wise Mindfulness: cultivating alert, balanced attention.
  15. 15. Buddhist ethics • The 5 precepts: 1. Not killing or causing harm to other living beings 2. Not taking the not-given 3. Avoiding sexual misconduct 4. Avoiding false speech 5. Abstaining from anything toxic that can cloud the mind
  16. 16. Thich Nhat Hanh, the founder of the Order of Interbeing
  17. 17. The Order of Interbeing • The Order of Interbeing, Tiep Hien in Vietnamese, is a community of monastics and lay people who have committed to living their lives in accord with the Fourteen Mindfulness Trainings, a distillation of the Bodhisattva (Enlightened Being) teachings of Mahayana Buddhism. Established by Venerable Thich Nhat Hanh in Saigon in 1966, the Order of Interbeing was founded in the Linji tradition of Buddhist meditative practice and emphasizes the Four Spirits: non-attachment from views, direct experimentation on the nature of interdependent origination through meditation, appropriateness, and skilful means.
  18. 18. The MLK-TNH connection
  19. 19. An excerpt from MLK’s letter to the Nobel Institute “January 25, 1967 The Nobel Institute Drammesnsveien 19 Oslo, NORWAY Gentlemen: As the Nobel Peace Prize Laureate of 1964, I now have the pleasure of proposing to you the name of Thich Nhat Hanh for that award in 1967. I do not personally know of anyone more worthy of the Nobel Peace Prize than this gentle Buddhist monk from Vietnam. This would be a notably auspicious year for you to bestow your Prize on the Venerable Nhat Hanh. Here is an apostle of peace and non-violence, cruelly separated from his own people while they are oppressed by a vicious war which has grown to threaten the sanity and security of the entire world.” Source: http://www.mindfulnessdc.org/mlkletter.html
  20. 20. The Five Mindfulness Trainings • The 5 MTs are a list of ethical guidelines but they are not commandments • The 5 MTs are a result of an adaptation by Thich Nhat Hanh of the Five Precepts (common to all Buddhists traditions) to meet the needs of Western sensibilities • The 5 MTs: 1. Reverence for life 2. True happiness 3. True love 4. Loving speech and deep listening 5. Nourishment and healing
  21. 21. True love • “Aware of the suffering caused by sexual misconduct, I am committed to cultivating responsibility and learning ways to protect the safety and integrity of individuals, couples, families, and society. Knowing that sexual desire is not love, and that sexual activity motivated by craving always harms myself as well as others, I am determined not to engage in sexual relations without true love and a deep, long-term commitment made known to my family and friends. I will do everything in my power to protect children from sexual abuse and to prevent couples and families from being broken by sexual misconduct. Seeing that body and mind are one, I am committed to learning appropriate ways to take care of my sexual energy and cultivating loving kindness, compassion, joy and inclusiveness – which are the four basic elements of true love – for my greater happiness and the greater happiness of others. Practicing true love, we know that we will continue beautifully into the future.”
  22. 22. True love vis-à-vis consummate love Robert Sternberg’s triangular theory of love
  23. 23. On true love: A Buddhist perspective • Body & mind are one • A sexual relationship is an act of communion between body and mind. This is a very important encounter, not to be done in a casual manner. Only with someone you trust and love. • Deep communication means respect, tenderness, and utmost care. Casual sex cannot be described as love. Love is deep, beautiful, and whole. And long-term commitment is a big part of it • “In sexual relationships, respect is one of the most important elements. Sexual communion should be like a rite, a ritual performed in mindfulness with great respect, care, and love. If you are motivated by some desire, that is not love. Desire is not love. Love is something much more responsible. It has care in it.”
  24. 24. True love (cont’d) • “True love includes the sense of responsibility, accepting the other person as he is, with all his strengths and weaknesses. If we like only the best things in the person, that is not love. We have to accept his weaknesses and bring our patience, understanding, and energy to help him transform. Love is maitri, the capacity to bring joy and happiness, and karuna, the capacity to transform pain and suffering. This kind of love can only be good for people. It cannot be described as negative or destructive. It is safe. It guarantees everything.” • “A long-term commitment is stronger and more long- lasting if made in the context of a Sangha [community].”
  25. 25. True love (cont’d) • “Love can be a kind of sickness. In the West and in Asia, we have the word "lovesick." What makes us sick is attachment. Although it is a sweet internal formation, this kind of love with attachment is like a drug. It makes us feel wonderful, but once we are addicted, we cannot have peace. We cannot study, do our daily work, or sleep. We only think of the object of our love. We are sick with love. This kind of love is linked to our willingness to possess and monopolize. We want the object of our love to be entirely ours and only for us. It is totalitarian.”
  26. 26. The 3 sources of energy: An Asian model 1. Tinh, sexual energy 2. Khi, breath energy 3. Than, spirit energy
  27. 27. Sexual energy • “When you have more sexual energy than you need, there will be an imbalance in your body and in your being. You need to know how to reestablish the balance, or you may act irresponsibly. According to Taoism and Buddhism, there are practices to help reestablish that balance, such as meditation or martial arts. You can learn the ways to channel your sexual energy into deep realizations in the domains of art and meditation.”
  28. 28. than and tinh • “According to Asian medicine, the power of than is linked to the power of tinh. When we expend our sexual energy, it takes time to restore it. In Chinese medicine, when you want to have a strong spirit and concentration, you are advised to refrain from having sexual relationships or overeating. You will be given herbs, roots, and medicine to enrich your source of than, and during the time you are taking this medicine, you are asked to refrain from sexual relationships. If your source of spirit is weak and you continue to have sexual relations, it is said that you cannot recover your spirit energy. Those who practice meditation should try to preserve their sexual energy, because they need it during meditation. If you are an artist, you may wish to practice channeling your sexual energy together with your spirit energy into your art.”
  29. 29. The fourfold sangha 1. Monks 2. Nuns 3. Male lay practitioners 4. Female lay practitioners
  30. 30. On sexual abstinence • “Monks and nuns do not engage in sexual relationships because they want to devote their energy to having a breakthrough in meditation. They learn to channel their sexual energy to strengthen their spirit energy for the breakthrough. They also practice deep breathing to increase the spirit energy. Since they live alone, without a family, they can devote most of their time to meditation and teaching, helping the people who provide them with food, shelter, and so on.”
  31. 31. On responsibility and communication • “‘Responsibility’ is the key word in the Third Precept. In a community of practice, if there is no sexual misconduct, if the community practices this precept well, there will be stability and peace. This precept should be practiced by everyone.” • “The feeling of loneliness is universal in our society. There is no communication between ourselves and other people, even in the family, and our feeling of loneliness pushes us into having sexual relationship will make us feel less lonely, but it isn't true. When there is not enough communication with another person on the level of the heart and spirit, a sexual relationship will only widen the gap and destroy us both.”
  32. 32. tinh vs. nghia • “There are two Vietnamese words, tinh and nghia, that are difficult to translate into English. They both mean something like love. In tinh, you find elements of passion. It can be very deep, absorbing the whole of your being. Nghia is a kind of continuation of tinh. With Nghia you feel much calmer, more understanding, more willing to sacrifice to make the other person happy, and more faithful. You are not as passionate as in tinh, but your love is deeper and more solid. Nghia will keep you and the other person together for a long time. It is the result of living together and sharing difficulties and joy over time.” • “All love may begin by being passionate, especially for younger people. But in the process of living together, they have to learn and practice love, so that selfishness -- the tendency to possess – will diminish, and the elements of understanding and gratitude will settle in, little by little, until their love becomes nourishing, protecting, and reassuring. With nghia, you are very sure that the other person will take care of you and will love you until your teeth fall out and your hair becomes white. Nothing will assure you that the person will be with you for a long time except nghia. Nghia is built by both of you in your daily life.”
  33. 33. I-It vs. I-You • “In practicing the Third Precept, we should always look into the nature of our love in order to see and not be fooled by our feelings. Sometimes we feel that we have love for the other person, but maybe that love is only an attempt to satisfy our own egoistic needs.” • “Sex is used in our society as a means for selling products. We also have the sex industry. If we don’t look at the other person as a human being, with the capacity of becoming a Buddha, we risk transgressing this precept. Therefore the practice of looking deeply into the nature of our love has a lot to do with the practice of the Third Precept. ‘I will do everything in my power to protect children from sexual abuse and to prevent couples and families from being broken by sexual misconduct.’”
  34. 34. Discussion • Buddhism on sexual orientation • Buddhism on marriage • Buddhism on premarital sex • Buddhism on masturbation
  35. 35. Sources • Sexual Responsibility: http://dharma.ncf.ca/introduction/precepts/prec ept-3.html • A five minute introduction to Buddhism: http://www.buddhanet.net/e- learning/5minbud.htm • The five mindfulness trainings: http://plumvillage.org/mindfulness-practice/the- five-mindfulness-trainings/ • The Order of Interbeing: http://www.orderofinterbeing.org/

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