What Buddhism Teaches About Sexual Morality
Most religions have rigid, elaborate rules about sexual conduct. Buddhists have the Third Precept – in Pali, Kamesu micchacara veramani sikkhapadam samadiyami – which is most commonly translated “Do not indulge in sexual misconduct.” However, for laypeople, the early scriptures are hazy about what constitutes “sexual misconduct.”
Monks and nuns, of course, follow the many rules of the Vinaya-pitaka section of the Pali Canon. For example, monks and nuns who engage in sexual intercourse are “defeated” and are expelled automatically from the order. If a monk makes sexually suggestive comments to a woman, the community of monks must meet and address the transgression. A monk should avoid even the appearance of impropriety by being alone with a woman. Nuns may not allow men to touch, rub or fondle them anywhere between the collar-bone and the knees.
Clerics of most schools of Buddhism in Asia continue to follow the Vinaya-pitaka, with the exception of Japan.
Shinran Shonin (1173-1262), founder of the Jodo Shinshu school of Japanese Pure Land, married, and he authorized Jodo Shinshu priests to marry. In the centuries that followed, the marriage of Japanese Buddhist monks may not have been the rule, but it was a not-infrequent exception.
In 1872, the Meiji government decreed that Buddhist monks and priests (but not nuns) should be free to marry if they chose to do so. Soon “temple families” became commonplace (they had existed before the decree, actually, but people pretended not to notice) and the administration of temples and monasteries often became family businesses, handed down from fathers to sons. In Japan today — and in schools of Buddhism imported to the West from Japan — the issue of monastic celibacy is decided differently from sect to sect and from monk to monk.
The Challenge for Lay Buddhists
Let’s go back to lay Buddhists and the vague precaution about “sexual misconduct.” People mostly take cues about what constitutes “misconduct” from their culture, and we see this in much of Asian Buddhism. However, Buddhism began to spread in western nations just as many of the old cultural rules were disappearing. So what’s “sexual misconduct”?
I hope we can all agree, without further discussion, that non-consensual or exploitative sex is “misconduct.” Beyond that, it seems to me that Buddhism challenges us to think about sexual ethics very differently from the way most of us have been taught to think about them.
Introduction Into Tantra
From the beginning of time there have been those rare women and men who, following their hearts great yearning, have answered the existential question of birth and death with realization of who they truly are – who we all are. Pranama is such a one. He invites, cajoles, dares us to join the dance. Read his words, let them enter your heart and smash the taboo against unreasonable happiness. The flame of being is passed from master to disciple in the great silence of the heart – these words are an engraved invitation.
“What is Tantra?”
an interview with Tantric Master Prem Pranama
This interview occurred in the summer of 1994. The interviewer, Ralph Abrams, has been a spiritual seeker for the last 25 years. He has worked with Swami Muktananda, Nisargadatta Maharaj, Chagdud Tulku, Nagkpa Chogyum, Native American teachers and currently lives in the Crazy Cloud Hermitage where he studies the Tantric path with Pranama.
R: The word Tantra is thrown around quite a bit in spiritual circles these days, and it often means very different things. I’d like to start off with the simple question: What is Tantra?
P: Tantra is the hot blood of spiritual practice. It smashes the taboo against unreasonable happiness; a thunderbolt path, swift, joyful, and fierce. There are many different types of paths. Some touch you like a gentle spring rain, but Tantra is the wild summer thunder storm churning with creation, destruction, bliss and emptiness. Tantra is a wild mother tiger – if you approach her with right motivation, right intention, and integrity, she’ll suckle you at her breast; but if you come to her in a sloppy way, she’ll rip apart your body-mind, eat you for dinner, and shit out what’s left.
R: Wow! I think that this sense of joyful abandon and the force and bliss you’ve described would make the Tantric path attractive to many people. Plus the fact that it is known to be a very swift path to enlightenment.
P. Swift, yes. But the Tantric Vajrayana path is complex and can be dangerous. It requires a strong, well integrated sense of self prepared through careful preliminary practice. Otherwise it is possible for the practitioner to make gross errors in judgment. On the Tantric path, it is perhaps easier to become the ultimate form of egohood and delusion than it is to become free. You can start off intending to liberate the tyranny of ordinary appearance into primordial awareness and end up crystallizing the ego into diamond-hard delusion. There is no authentic Tantra without profound commitment, discipline, intelligence, courage, and a sense of wild, foolhardy, fearless abandon.
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