The Urban Dharma Newsletter - May 16, 2006


In This Issue: Buddhism and Celibacy

1. Two New Urban Dharma Podcasts Posted

2. Rev. Kusala teaching twice a month in Thousand Oaks at True Yoga

3. Change Your Mind Day - June 3, 2006 - 12:30 PM to 5:00 PM - Westwood Park

4. Monks in the West II - by Rev. Heng Sure and William Skudlarek, OSB

5. Clerical Celibacy - From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia

6. Why Celibacy? A Comparative Perspective - Ellen Ryan

7. On Celibacy - Lama Yeshe and the IMI

8. Celibacy: the view of a Zen monk from Japan - Soko Morinaga

9. Sexual Evolution - Dhammadinna



I would like to welcome all the new readers to the Urban Dharma Newsletter, my friend Lissa Coffey (http://www.coffeytalk.com/design_2/index.php) spoke of Urban Dharma in her newsletter and a lot of folks signed up. The newsletter service I’m using makes it easy to sign-up and sign-out.

I try and get the newsletter out on the first and third Tuesday of the month, sometimes a little early and sometimes a little late. Life can get in the way, but I make the effort... The Urban Dharma Newsletter will often have a theme - This newsletter is about “Celibacy”... Sometimes book reviews, upcoming events, quotes, articles and essays are included in the newsletter... Each one is different and hopefully useful.

Much thanks to all the old UD Newsletter readers as well, for giving me something to do at least twice a month.

Peace... Kusala

1. Two New Urban Dharma Podcasts Posted


I gave two presentations to students at Chadwick School studying the Book "Siddhartha," a novel of asceticism set in the time of the Buddha. I shared my understanding of Buddhism and answered their many questions. These podcasts were recorded on 5/8/2006.

2. Rev. Kusala teaching twice a month in Thousand Oaks at True Yoga

Starting in June, I will be teaching Basic Buddhism and leading meditation twice a month (fisrt and third Saturday) at True Yoga, 3625 E. Thousand Oaks Blvd., Suite 322 Westlake Village, CA 91362 - http://www.trueyoga.com/ You can email Ericka Bryant at ericka@trueyoga.com for more information.

Ericka is the owner of True Yoga and a devoted practitioner of yoga. She teaches several classes during the week and strives to always bring something fresh and new to her students' practice. She found yoga six years ago and was one of the first students to attend True Yoga when it opened. Since then her yoga practice has given her a strong foundation for her life and a focal point for her spiritual practice.

She completed a teacher training intensive at the White Lotus Foundation with Ganga White and Tracy Rich in 2005. She is always looking for new and unique ways to serve the students and teachers at True Yoga who are the heart and soul of the studio, as well as ways to be of service to the community of Thousand Oaks and Westlake Village which she has grown to love.

3. Change Your Mind Day - June 3, 2006 - 12:30 PM to 5:00 PM - Westwood Park

1400 Veteran Av (3 Blocks South of Wilshire Blvd ) West Los Angeles, 90024



History of Change Your Mind Day

In 1993 Tricycle Magazine created Change Your Mind Day, an afternoon of free meditation instruction, as a way of introducing the general public to Buddhist thought and practice. Tricycle decided to hold the teachings out of doors, as in the time of the Buddha, in the hopes of welcoming people who otherwise might shy away from the formality of a zendo or gompa. They booked a hill in Central Park and put up fliers around town.

A few hundred people showed up for the first Change Your Mind Day, a pleasant mix of newcomers and seasoned practitioners. Seven Buddhist teachers from different lineages gave instruction. Alan Ginsberg and Philip Glass performed "Do the Meditation Rock." Maggie Newman got the crowd up on their feet to do twenty minutes of tai-ch'i. A lone shakuhachi ended the day as the sun began to set behind the trees.

Schedule of Events

The days schedule will alternate dharma talks with periods of meditation, poetry and music.

Start at 12:30 PM and end at 5:00 PM.

12:30 Welcome & Basic Meditation Instructions

12:45 Meditation

1:00 Talk

1:20 Meditation

1:45 Talk

2:00 Meditation

2:15 Music

2:30 Talk

2:45 Meditation

3:00 Talk

3:20 Meditation

3:45 Poetry

4:00 Talk

4:15 Meditation

4:30 Announcements and Closing

4. Monks in the West II - by Rev. Heng Sure and William Skudlarek, OSB

* The conference will take place October 26-29, 2006 (Thursday evening to Sunday noon) at Saint John's Abbey, Collegeville Minnesota.

* We will try to have 30 participants (but no more), equally divided between Buddhists (Hindus?) and Catholics. Rev. Heng Sure will coordinate invitations to Buddhist participants; William Skudlarek, OSB, will coordinate invitations to Catholic participants.

* The topic is "Authentic practices of celibacy and intimacy in monastic communities of men."

* The topic will be broken down into three parts and will be addressed on Friday morning, Friday afternoon, and Saturday morning.

* In addition to putting our proceedings on the MID (http://www.monasticdialog.com/) website, we will try to have them published in book form (Liturgical Press??)

* On Friday evening we would like to have an open meeting with members of the monastic community and students of the School of Theology.

* On Saturday afternoon and evening we propose a public event (see below).

The three subdivisions of the topic are

* The "Why" of Celibacy for Monks. (Theoria) [Catholic: Donald Grabner, OSB, MID Board member, Conception Abbey MO]

* The "How" of Celibacy for Monks. (Praxis) [Terrence Kardong, OSB, Assumption Abbey, Richardton ND; monastic scholar and editor of the American Benedictine Review and]

* Monastic Responses to Transgression. (Therapia) [Abbot John Klassen, OSB, Saint John's Abbey, Collegeville MN]

Each topic will be introduced by two short (five page) papers, one prepared by a Buddhist, one by a Catholic. The purpose of these papers is to relate the question to monastic tradition (e.g., a classic text or an exemplary person) and to contemporary issues. There will be a short prepared response to each paper before the floor is opened for discussion.

The final general session (Sunday morning) will be devoted to additional questions and concerns that people may have-questions that can be submitted in writing (and anonymously) at any time during the conference.

Saturday Afternoon Event Possible format:

3:00-5:00 - A presentation on the Saint John's Bible, giving special emphasis to the interreligious dimension of the project. (Alumni Lounge)

5:30    An interreligious prayer service (Abbey Church)

6:30    Dinner (Great Hall)

8:00    Public Lecture (Some Possibilites: "A Buddhist Approach to Sacred Texts," Rev. Heng Sure; or "What Buddhist and Catholic Monastics Are Learning from One Another," Rev. Kusala and Sr. _____.

5. Clerical Celibacy - From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia


Clerical celibacy is the practice of various religious traditions in which clergy, monastics and those in religious orders (female or male) adopt a celibate life, refraining from marriage and sexual relationships, including masturbation and "impure thoughts" (such as sexual visualisation and fantasies).


* 1 Background

* 2 Rules

* 3 Celibacy in the Roman Catholic Church

* 4 Opposition to clerical celibacy during the Reformation

* 5 Clerical celibacy - a recent dispute

* 6 Celibacy in the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America


In some Christian churches, priests and/or bishops must remain unmarried, while in others, married men may be ordained as deacons or priests but may not typically remarry after the death of their wife. In conjunction with Christian views prohibiting sex outside of marriage, this implies a life of sexual abstinence, and, essentially, abstinence from sexual or romantic relationships, including dating. In some cases it also discourages social contact with members of the opposite sex in private or without a chaperone.

In some Christian churches, a vow of chastity is made by members of religious orders or monastic communities, along with vows of poverty and obedience, in order to imitate the life of Jesus of Nazareth. This vow of chastity is different from clerical celibacy because the promise is made directly to God, while the promise of clerical celibacy is made to the church alone.

Celibacy for religious and monastics (brothers/monks and sisters/nuns) and bishops is upheld by both the Catholic Church and Orthodox Christian traditions. In Latin Rite Catholicism, however, all priests remain celibate unless given special permission, while in most Orthodox traditions, and in the Catholic Eastern Rites, priests may be ordained if already married, but may not marry a second time, while bishops must be unmarried men.

Neither the Catholic nor the Orthodox tradition has officially considered the rule of celibacy to be among the infallible dogmas of the church. Rather, those rules are considered to be in the power of popes, ecumenical councils, patriarchs, or synods to adjust if they feel it is correct. Rules of celibacy in the Catholic tradition have been modified a number of times.

In some branches of Buddhism, priests, nuns and monks also are bound to celibacy, although Zen Buddhists, in particular, are not.


Rules on celibacy differ between different religious traditions and churches:

* In Latin-Rite (Western) Catholic churches, married men may (since the time of the Second Vatican Council in 1965) be ordained deacons, but may not be ordained priests or bishops, nor may one marry after ordination. Since the Second Vatican Council, exceptions may be allowed for married Protestant priests or ministers who convert to Catholicism and wish to become priests in the Catholic Church, provided their wives consent (Catholics consider Protestant ordinations invalid, while recognizing Eastern Orthodox and Oriental Orthodox ordinations as valid). In some cases, laicized Catholic priests are allowed to marry by special dispensation. Additionally, dispensations can be granted for deacons whose wives have died to marry a second time.


* In Eastern Orthodox churches, and Eastern-rite Catholic churches (which are in full communion with the Roman Catholic church), married men may be ordained deacons or priests, but may not be ordained bishops, and one may not marry after ordination. The Oriental Orthodox churches and the Assyrian Church of the East follow the same rules that hold in the Eastern Orthodox Church. While some incorrectly believe all Orthodox bishops must be monks, in fact, according to church law, they simply may no longer be living with their wives if they are to be consecrated to the episcopacy. (The canons stipulate that they must also see to their wives' maintenance. See Canon 12 of the Quinisext Council.) Typically, the wife of such a man will take up the monastic life herself, though this also is not required. There are many Orthodox bishops currently serving who have never been tonsured (formally initiated) to monastic orders. There are also many who are tonsured monastics but have never formally lived the monastic life. Further, a number of bishops are widowers, but because clergy cannot remarry after ordination, such a man must remain celibate after the death of his wife.


* Churches of the Anglican Communion have no restrictions on the marriage of deacons, priests, bishops, or other ministers. Early Anglican Church clergy under Henry VIII were required to be celibate (see 6 Articles), but the requirement was eliminated by Edward VI. Some Anglo-Catholic priestly orders require their members to remain celibate, as do orders of brothers and sisters.


* Other Protestant traditions have no restrictions on the marriage of deacons, priests, bishops, or other clergy or ministers.


* In the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints or Mormon tradition, all worthy men can become priests. Regardless of whether they become priests, strict abstinence from all sexual behavior is universally applied to all men until they marry a woman. Gay men must always be celibate. Priesthood may be suspended in the event of unsanctioned or unchaste conduct. Generally only married men are called to be bishops.


* Judaism has no history of celibacy for its leaders, rabbis or kohens. Before the destruction of the Jerusalem temple, priests kohens and Levites were required to practice continence (abstain from sexual intercourse with their wife) before and during their time of service at the temple. They were permitted to resume marital relations after completing their service. Some community functions are, as a rule, filled only by married men.

* In some traditions of Buddhism, as discussed above, monks are expected to refrain from sexual activities and relationships.

Celibacy in the Roman Catholic Church

The Catholic Church's stated reasons for clerical celibacy in are both theological and practical. Foremost in the theological realm are the desire to follow the teachings of Jesus with regard to chastity and the sacrifice of married life for the "sake of the Kingdom" (Luke 18:28-30, Matthew 19:27-30; Mark 10:20-21), and to follow the example of Jesus Christ in being "married" to the Church, viewed by Catholicism and many Christian traditions as the "Bride of Christ". Also of import are the teachings of St. Paul that chastity is the superior state of life, and his desire expressed in I Corinthians 7:7-8, "I would that all men were even as myself [celibate]—but every one has his proper gift from God; one after this manner, and another after that. But I say to the unmarried and the widows. It is good for them if they so continue, even as I."

In terms of practical justifications, the reasons for celibacy are given by the Apostle Paul in I Corinthians 7:7-8;32-35: "But I would have you to be without solicitude. He that is without a wife is solicitous for the things that belong to the Lord, how he may please God. But he that is with a wife, is solicitous for the things of the world, how he may please his wife: and he is divided. And the unmarried woman and the virgin thinketh on the things of the Lord, that she may be holy both in body and spirit. But she that is married thinketh on the things of this world how she may please her husband. And this I speak for your profit, not to cast a snare upon you, but for that which is decent and which may give you power to attend upon the Lord without impediment."

Celibacy for priests is a discipline in the Catholic Church, not a doctrine: in other words, a church regulation, but not an infallible divine teaching. It is based upon the life of Christ and his apparent celibate ways, however the first pope, St. Peter, as well as many subsequent popes, priests, and clergymen during the church's first 300 years were in fact married men, and often fathers. The practice of married clergy fell out of favour around the time of the Council of Elvira and it was made law in the 800's. It remains law today for Latin-rite (Roman) Catholics, but not for Eastern-rite Catholics. However, in North America, even Eastern-rite Catholic bishops will generally only ordain unmarried men because it is still feared that married priests in North America would create scandal. Exceptions are sometimes made (including in Latin-Rite Catholicism), granted by authority of the Pope, when married Protestant clergy become Catholic. Because the rule of celibacy is a law and not a doctrine, it can, in principle, be changed at any time by the Pope. Doctrines, on the other hand, cannot be changed. Nonetheless, both the present Pope, Benedict XVI, and his predecessor, spoke clearly of their understanding that the traditional practice was not likely to change. (For a detailed history of celibacy in the Catholic Church, see the Catholic Encyclopedia's article on "Celibacy of the Clergy" at http://www.newadvent.org/cathen/03481a.htm.)

Among the early Church statements on the topic of sexual continence and celibacy are "Decreta" and "Cum in unum" of Pope Siricius (c. 385), which claimed that clerical sexual abstinence was an apostolic practice that must be followed by ministers of the church. Two Canons from the following councils also help us understand the Roman Catholic position regarding continence and celibacy of the early church's priests:

* Council of Elvira (300-306)

(Canon 33): It is decided that marriage be altogether prohibited to bishops, priests, and deacons, or to all clerics placed in the ministry, and that they keep away from their wives and not beget children; whoever does this, shall be deprived of the honor of the clerical office.

* Council of Carthage (390)

(Canon 3): It is fitting that the holy bishops and priests of God as well as the Levites, i.e. those who are in the service of the divine sacraments, observe perfect continence, so that they may obtain in all simplicity what they are asking from God; what the Apostles taught and what antiquity itself observed, let us also endeavour to keep... It pleases us all that bishop, priest and deacon, guardians of purity, abstain from conjugal intercourse with their wives, so that those who serve at the altar may keep a perfect chastity.

These canons are purely local to Latin-rite Roman Catholics, as the prohibitions are not even extended to the Eastern-Rite Catholics in communion with Rome.

Opposition to clerical celibacy during the Reformation

Celibacy as a requirement for priests was an important point of disagreement during the Reformation, with the Reformers arguing that requiring an oath of celibacy from a priest was contrary to biblical teaching in 1Ti 4: 1-5[1], Heb 13: 4[2] and 1Co 9: 5[3], implied a degradation of marriage, and was one reason for the widespread sexual misconduct within the clergy at the time of the Reformation (e.g., discussed by Calvin in his Institutes of the Christian Religion IV,12,23-28: [4]). The doctrinal consensus of the reformers in this point was reflected in the marriages of Zwingli in 1522, Luther in 1525, and Calvin in 1539; in England, the married Thomas Cranmer was made Archbishop of Canterbury in 1533. The Council of Trent (1545-63) stated in response to the Reformation that celibacy and virginity are superior to marriage, thus rendering a change in policy a more delicate question for the Roman Catholic Church even today.

Clerical celibacy - a recent dispute

Today, the topic of celibacy for catholic priests has again become a point of a heated discussion[5] in the public and within the catholic church, possibly in part as a reaction to the difficulties in recruiting new priests, but also in the wake of discoveries of longstanding pedophilic behaviour of a number of Catholic priests in the USA. The association of pedophilic behavior with celibacy is controversial [6], and in view of the abundance of priests in the regions outside of Europe and the United States, the Roman Catholic Church has yet to take any action which might lead to lifting the current requirement of celibacy.

Celibacy in the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America

In the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America (ELCA), pastors, or "ordained ministers," must live in either opposite-sex marriage or celibate chastity. This therefore precludes same-sex unions and opposite-sex cohabitation. According to the ELCA's guidelines for pastors (called "Vision and Expectations" [7]):

"Ordained ministers who are homosexual in their self-understanding are expected to abstain from homosexual sexual relationships."

Therefore, gay and lesbian, and bisexual pastors are required to make a promise of sexual abstinence (or, in the case of bisexuals, to marry only opposite-sex partners). This policy's future is currently being debated.

6. Why Celibacy? A Comparative Perspective - Ellen Ryan (M.A. student, Boston College) - Sponsored by the Church in the 21st Century Initiative and by the Comparative Theology Area at Boston College


The practice of celibacy is an age-old, multi-religious practice to which men and women, desiring to serve a higher power by joining religious orders, commit their lives. To laity, a life of celibacy traditionally signifies an elevated yet somewhat mystifying commitment that is difficult to understand and which has become, at least in contemporary Catholicism, the subject of much critique. In a unique opportunity, on March 25th, attendees of the lecture: Why Celibacy? A Comparative Perspective, were given three perspectives on celibacy by Rev. Howard J. Gray, S.J. from the Roman Catholic perspective, Swami Tyagananda from the Hindu perspective, and Geshe Tsetan lectured from a Buddhist perspective. While attendees undoubtedly learned much about each individual religious practice, discussing celibacy across religious lines illustrated both similarities and differences found between religious frameworks philosophically and, economically, how each views their celibacy in commitment to their own religious practice.

Howard Gray, S.J., former director of the Center for Ignatian Spirituality at BC and current Rector of the Jesuit Community at John Carroll University, began the discussion from the Roman Catholic perspective. Above all, Gray emphasizes, celibacy for clerics is their connection to the historical Jesus and the paramount goal to be like Christ. The goal of which is to freely dedicate themselves to God for the sake of the kingdom of heaven to better serve God and human kind. According to Gray, there are three devotional assertions that underlie the 1983 Code of Canon law: Canon 277, which binds clerics to observe celibacy. Beyond Canon law, the first devotional assertion of celibacy involves celibacy as a symbol for living for the kingdom of God. The second is recognition of the calling. Thirdly, celibacy is a witness to action of the spirit that draws humans to prayer and devotion. A problem develops however when celibacy becomes isolated as a symbol, which, in turn, makes reality, become abstract. Gray warns that renunciation can become negative when only held to symbol and it is imperative that celibacy must be Christ like in how it unites a community in presence and service and aims to bring humility to adherents by stressing the participation as part of the bigger part of Christ.

Gray also states that there are equal demands in the life of the laity to contribute to Christian unity. The public and private must be joined together in harmony. Gray recognizes that the trust that is necessary for this harmony has been wounded recently in the Catholic Church and there is a need to readdress what celibacy does and what it means. This includes, for Gray, an effort to look at how the people of God observe chastity and how celibacy and chastity are linked to how to "live in this culture in light of the Kingdom of Christ and the best way to serve our brother's and sisters." He calls for a viewing of the issues of celibacy to be seen within a wider cultural context in the triad of poverty, obedience and celibacy or chastity. Finally, Gray states that celibacy (as the church rends) is a gift from God that takes a lifetime to unpack - many lifetimes beyond Catholicism that aims ultimately to fuel the gift of love.

Swami Tyagananda, a Hindu monk who is the Director of the Ramakrishna Vedanta society in Boston, begins by unpacking his name, which was given to him during his final vows. "Swami" is a term used for monks and carries the meaning "to be master of one's self." "Tyagananda" is a combination of meaning: "Tyaga" meaning detachment and "letting go" and "Ananda" meaning bliss. Therefore the name represents much about celibacy for a monk; it is the practice of self-mastery and the bliss that is realized in the joy of detachment or letting go. Swami explains that there is a historical difference between monks and priests Hindu tradition. Historically, Monks take vows of poverty and celibacy and are exempt from most public ceremonies and focused instead on prayer and meditation focusing on the contemplative side of the Hindu tradition. Priests on the other hand do not have to be celibate and are responsible for the public ceremonies in the Hindu faith. Over the last 100 years however, the public roles between Monks and Priests have started to change and now some Monks function within the social structure in needy areas of society.

Understanding celibacy within the Hindu tradition is impossible without understanding the Hindu worldview. Thus, Swami Tyagananda gives a brief overview of the Hindu world whose ultimate reality is Brahman. Brahman for the Hindu is not a person or a class - it is that which is vast: pure consciousness, objectively as itself: undivided and all-pervading, "being" one with existence, consciousness and bliss - both ultimate and present reality. Monks therefore see themselves as ordinary humans and thus suffer the same problems as ordinary humans. The human is not Brahman because they are ultimately blocked (obstructed) by the body and mind which is material. True identity of the Self (Atman) is hidden from humans and only reached when the experience of enlightenment and dwelling in Brahman breaks from the body and mind as they are limiting and obstruct enlightenment. Spiritual life, therefore, is a voluntary journey in which every hurdle needs to be addressed and overcome. Human identity needs to overcome body and mind (false-self) on its journey to the self (true-self, Atman). Human thoughts (e.g. hunger, sex) throughout the day keep us busy, occupies, and attached to body and mind. Sex, Swami indicates, is often a stronger attachment and plays an important part in life. For those whose goal is to reach enlightenment however, the ideal is celibacy through which individuals work towards non-indulgence of speech and thought of sex.

In the Yoga tradition, the benefits of celibacy points to the power of the sexual impulse which, if unused, can be converted into strength which can be used for greater devotion that makes one healthier and provides nourishment and vigor to the brain. Swami recognizes however that the idea of celibacy has its own challenges and pitfalls; the challenges must be addressed head on so the pitfalls can be avoided. Therefore, to keep celibacy untarnished, Swami proposed five qualities that must be recognized. The first is motivation: celibacy should not be about what one should do (i.e. the laws of an institution) but about what one wants to do - it must come from within. Second, celibacy should be a spiritual ideal, a longing to commune with God for with the love of God in one's heart, nothing is impossible. Third, detachment - one must look deeply at what is essential and non-essential and the spiritual seeker must learn to detach the material. Fourth, moderation or self-restraint is necessary. And finally, higher creativity is important to keep celibacy untarnished is learning to take the portion of creativity which is generated by sex and learn instead to turn it into creativity which can further one on their path to enlightenment.

Finally, Geshe Tsetan, a Tibetan Buddhist monk from Ladakh, India and founder of the Siddhartha School Project, brought a Buddhist perspective to the question of celibacy across traditions. Giving a background of Buddhist belief, Tsetan explains that Buddhists believe that all living beings have the freedom and opportunity to become enlightened (the ultimate enlightened state of which is becoming Buddha). Humans are bound by kleshas (attachments) which cause us to suffer and keep us in the cycle of beginningless time under the control of ego (self). Tsetan explains that according to Buddhist philosophy explains that humans have the freedom to choose but our mind controls us (with attachment to things like ignorance, attachment, and anger) which leads to human beings to continue in the cycle of existence (and therefore not reach the ultimate goal of enlightenment). A Buddhist monk therefore aims to destroy the attachments to the world in their path toward enlightenment and therefore use the vehicle of ethics and vows to get there. Therefore, the three main goals to reach freedom are the following: to escape suffering, gain freedom from emotion, and finally, to reach enlightenment through a luminous mind.

To reach these goals, one can infer that a celibate lifestyle is critical to leaving behind a world of attachment in ones path to enlightenment. Tsetan then talks about the vows that Buddhist Monks and Nuns must adhere to two hundred and fifty-three vows while laity must adhere to five vows. The reason for these vows is to "give up many things to be a good soldier, you need strong weapons to shoot the ego in order to cut the root of the cyclic existence." A celibate lifestyle is undoubtedly one of the necessary vows to be able to destroy the ego and sever the attachment to cyclic existence. Monks and Nuns therefore must have a certain kind of renunciation and devotion and being celibate gives you more time and energy to focus on the path to enlightenment that will allow one to better work for the benefit of others.

To summarize, Gray spoke of the similarities he saw between the three traditions. He observed that there are ties between asceticism (surrendering to God's esence), mysticism (unity with God) and conduct (the way we treat others which leads you to love them). Swami Tyagananda pointed out that across the faiths, if celibacy is valued in different traditions, the key is to figure out what is it that should motivate the person and suggests analyzing what it is that people who are celibate get over and against people who are not celibate. In addition, Tsetan adds a key emphasis in the Buddhist tradition is the power of the vow and the importance of maintaining that vow which gives great power toward enlightenment. While there are many differences in the philosophical and theological structures of Catholicism, Hinduism, and Buddhism, all have a tradition of celibacy whose aim is to allow the Monk, Priest, or Nun to focus their attention beyond human attachments in an aim to serve their path in recognition of a higher power. It is certain that this discussion both enlightened and opened many new paths for the speakers and for the listeners.

7. On Celibacy - Lama Yeshe established the IMI for the benefit of Western students who were inspired to dedicate their lives to the practice of the Buddhist path by taking the vows of monks or nuns.


It is 1972, in Jalalabad, and travellers on their journey to the east, stranded in Afghanistan by the Indo-Pakistani war, are partying. A heavily made-up and very camp Afro-American, who played himself in Fellini's Satyricon, waltzes into a room where straight couples sit in stoned silence. "Hmmmph," he says, his nose in the air and with a wicked smile, "heterosexual hang-ups," and returns to the main room where the action is happening. The sexual revolution was in full swing, and inhibitions were the modern-day leprosy. An Australian newspaper columnist expressed the view of pop psychology: "I consider celibacy to be the ultimate perversion."

And yet, many Westerners who participated in that revolution have taken vows as Buddhist monks and nuns, which include celibacy. Why did they do it? Mainly it was because the teachings of Buddhism confirmed their experience that no matter how much sex, drugs, and rock and roll they enjoyed, there was no satisfaction and no contentment in their lives. And Buddha's explanation of the reason why - uncontrolled emotions of pride, desire, and anger, all arising from a serious case of neurotic self-centredness – were all too clear.

Secondly, inspiration to take ordination came from the Lamas themselves.

On the road, the hippies were welcomed and treated by everyone as children. Hashish was sold in shops, marijuana grew everywhere, the flower-children thought they had discovered paradise, and considered themselves Lords of the Road. Then they met the Tibetan Lamas.

"Your heads are full of shit," they were told, in as many words. Normally we would walk away from somebody who says this, but the Lamas themselves were too cool to be ignored. They had the humor, the freedom, the calm that everybody was looking for. The hippies swallowed their pride and asked the Lamas, "What are you on about?" And so began the ongoing process of Tibetan Buddhism making a big impression on Western society.

If you want to achieve the stages of the Buddhist path, celibacy is not essential. It is simply an aid. The main objective of the path to nirvana is to abandon desire for sensory pleasure – not sensory pleasure itself, but the desire for it. Such abandonment is achieved on the basis of morality, meditation, and wisdom. Morality means a lifestyle where one does not deliberately harm others by any means. Killing, stealing, and lying are obvious ways of harming others. Sexual relations with one's own partner are neither negative karma nor immoral. Until we overcome desire, however, there is always the urge to take somebody else's partner as well, and this is negative karma because a third party will be hurt. On top of this, every time we experience pleasure we increase our desire to have that pleasure again, so it will be difficult to attain meditative concentration because our mind will be distracted by fantasies arising from desire. Not that monks and nuns are free from fantasies, but their vows give space in the mind to easily let go - because they have already made the decision to abandon sexuality. In this way, vows are a source of strength, not of weakness, as some think. Also, by not having a husband or a wife, one does not have the responsibility of looking after a family. Of course, it is excellent karma to look after a family with love, but there is no time or energy left for study and meditation.

Undistracted concentration is needed because concentration, in turn, is the foundation for the special wisdom which is the antidote to self-centred ignorance, the root of all our troubles. This wisdom is the doorway to nirvana. The attainment of nirvana, however, is not the only goal of the Buddhist path. Born from universal compassion, the supreme goal is to lead all living beings out of suffering. Working for others starts at the beginning of the path to enlightenment, with the intention to use every action of one's body, speech, and mind for the benefit of others.

To escape the misery of the wheel of life, people must abandon their mistaken belief that enjoying the sensory world is ultimate happiness. Intellectual reasoning is not strong enough for people to abandon desire for sexual pleasure. They also need faith. This is achieved by the inspiring example of monks and nuns whose pure lifestyle and inner attainment of peace show that renunciation is possible. Just as the Tibetan lamas inspired the hippies through their personal example, people today need the inspiring example of Western monks and nuns to generate faith that they too can follow the paths to nirvana and enlightenment.

This is the best purpose for living the celibate life of a Buddhist monk or nun. And it is the reason why Buddha said that his teachings would remain alive wherever there was a group of monks or nuns keeping pure vows; and wherever there were no monks or nuns, his teachings would not exist.

8. Celibacy: the view of a Zen monk from Japan - Soko Morinaga - Buddist monk. Rector of Hanazono University


Examples of the marriage of monks in Japan can be found as early as the Heian period (794-1185). Moreover, beginning from the time of Shinran (1173-1262) and Ippen (1239-1289), who were known as hijiri, or wandering mendicants, there are many examples of the marriage of monks during the Kamakura (1185-1333), Muromachi (1336-1570), and Edo periods (1600-1867). So from the point of view of ordinary Japanese people, the marriage of monks was not regarded as something out of the ordinary.

An edict, number 133, issued by the new Meiji government in 1872 ordered that monks should be free to “eat meat, take wives, and shave their heads” as they chose. From that time, the secularization of monks proceeded rapidly. In Taisho in 1920 the Jodo (Pure Land) School of Buddhism issued a set of Regulations for Temple Families. From this time, the treatment of temple families became an important issue. In this way, the marriage of monks, instead of being viewed as a question of doctrine or the precepts of monastic life, came to be taken up as a problem of personal attraction of temple management, or as a matter affecting the lives of temple families. The problem, then, became less a strictly religious one, and more a matter of how to deal with the inheritance of temple headships and the social status, rights, and property of temple families.

The issue of monastic celibacy differs for each sect of Japanese Buddhism and for each individual monk. We cannot say that the social issues I have outlined above reflect the definitive state of contemporary Japanese Buddhism but it is true that where these various problems do exist, they arise from the marriage of monks. Moreover, in thinking about this question, we should not overlook the fact that nuns are usually neglected and that an exclusively male-centred point of view is argued.

In this brief essay, however, I would like to discuss the issue of monastic celibacy not from this social angle, but from the personal point of view of my own religious experiences as a Zen monk, and on the basis of ‘faith’, in terms of Zen teaching and the monastic precepts.

What is essential for the Buddhist is the self-awakening of and to the ‘three treasures’: the Buddha, the Dharma, and the Sangha community. Rather than being an object of faith in the context of a lord-servant relationship such as that of a creator and the ones that are saved, Buddha designates that which lets exist everything that is. In Zen, this is also called ‘One Mind’ or ‘Buddha-nature’. Dharma signifies the matrix of impermanence and cause-effect in which Buddha as a phenomenon ceaselessly undergoes creation, change, birth and death. Finally, sangha denotes the subtle order and harmony among the phenomena. Thus, with the self-awakening of and to reality as it truly is — which is expressed by the term ‘three treasures’ — it becomes clear that all existence is originally without any subjective ‘I’ and without any object an ‘I’ could possess. However, in terms of public life, sangha also designates a group of Buddhists whose members attempt to transmit by their own self-awakening the very Buddha-nature which the Buddha awakened to.

A person who wants to become a monk or nun must go through a specific process. In the initial ordination ceremony, the precepts are accepted. As a condition for this acceptance of the precepts, one must first express one’s resolve to leave one’s home which forms a root of attachment. Furthermore, one must be more than 20 years of age, and it is absolutely required that one’s parents approve one’s leaving home. Thus a monk or nun is, as a member of the sangha, a person who has left his or her home’ and is either celibate from the outset or becomes celibate upon entering monastic life. This is also a practical expression of one’s faith in the three treasures (no ‘I’, and no object).

While the establishment of religious faith is, needless to say, a very personal and internal event, the social status of ‘monk’ or ‘nun’ presupposes a monastic community called sangha. Both from the point of view of the establishment of one’s own faith and from that of a harmonious effort in the sangha community to help each other towards self-awakening, the monks’ and nuns’ lack of possessions is an essential condition.

Although the inner effort to deepen the ‘faith’ in one’s heart and the altruistic effort to help others to attain religious peace of mind are in essence just two sides of one coin, one must recognize that historically, in the monastic community (sang/ia), the former endeavour did not necessarily form a unity with the altruistic effort that aims at saving members of the secular society.

In Southeast Asian Buddhism, the monastic community is still central; in contrast, the various forms of Mahayana Buddhism in China and Japan tend towards secularism. In the trend of historical secularization of modern civilisation throughout the world, one may in Japan sometimes have trouble speaking to communities of home-leavers. Nevertheless, and in spite of the limited number of such vocations, I can say as one member of the Japanese Buddhist sangha that in this day and age there are in fact still Zen monks and nuns who consciously choose to remain celibate for life.

With regard to the corpus of scriptures on monastic precepts, one finds that the history of the institutionalization of monastic precepts can also be called a history of the breaking of these rules. The repeated addition of more detailed rules was necessary precisely because the precepts were broken, and it served to prevent just that. Paradoxically, the attempt to kill off desires and attachments inside the monastic community by way of precepts, produced more evil ways of breaking these precepts; and while sight was lost of the gist of the teaching, superficial hypocrisy and self-righteous interpretations became rampant.

The Buddhist monk Saichô (767-822) dared to abrogate the multitude of traditional small precepts in favour of the sole precept to “awaken to the fundamental one-mind of Mahayana.” He established a ceremony for the taking of this precept and built a Mahayana ordination platform for the purpose on Mount Hiei near Kyoto. Since then, various branches of Japanese Buddhism have adhered to this. But Zen, following in the steps of its Chinese tradition, upheld an original structure of mutual complementarity of the monastic and secular communities and thus did not completely give way to lay Buddhism. Although this was a contradictory compromise of a kind that is again different from that of Southeast Asian Buddhism, one can say that the realization of this kind of contradiction bears potential for the future. However, it also proved to be a cause for confusion in monastic Japanese Buddhism.

At any rate, the specific character of Japanese Buddhism, formed through the abolition of the small precepts in favour of the Precept of Mahayana One-Mind and the view that both personal and altruistic practice appear naturally, is an active response to the problems of secular society. Wanting to contribute to world peace and well being, Japanese Buddhism shows an increasingly strong tendency to this worldly benefit. At the same time, it acquires more and more the character of a lay community rather than that of a monastic one. In particular, the a-religious tendency of modern civilization — and along with it the loss of family ethics, the contempt for life, and the anthropocentric resources and world-wide destruction of the environment — has led to an extreme situation which ultimately can not be dealt with in terms of superficial this-worldly profit thinking. It is true that the home-leavers, too, tend to strive more for secular fortune than for the faith arising from the self-awakening of the three treasures. They view the monastic community that ought to be their basis lightly and disregard its rules, and they are drawn into the secular world with a household and private property before having finished their own spiritual quest.

If I may relate here my personal experience: After leaving home and being ordained, I spent a period of 20 years (from age 20 to age 40) in personal practice to establish that faith which is called satori. Since then I have been involved in practices to benefit others in the secular world, and celibacy has always seemed most natural to me. I do not feel at all constrained by the precepts and have not felt any grave hindrance due to desire. Ever since I became a monk, the faith in connection with the self-awakening of the three treasures and the abstinence from personal possessions has seemed natural to me. I think that my way of being a Zen monk would have long ago come to a dead end if I had to uphold by force a voluntary precept or a related threat of punishment for these two conditions for being a religious person: faith on the inside, and a life without material possessions on the outside.

When the Japanese Buddhist Saint Hônen (1133-1212) was asked whether a Buddhist religious person should be celibate or not, he said: “If it is easier for him or her to express faith by reciting the Buddha’s name alone, he or she should be celibate. If it is easier to do that with a spouse, it is better to marry. What is important is only how one expresses one’s faith in reciting the Buddha’s name.”

The establishment of religious faith cannot but be personal, and in this sense I fully agree with H6nen. However, as a Zen monk who has entered a monastic community in order to accomplish both personal religious practice and help for others, I feel that it was easier to do this without a family and the ensuing necessity to have personal property; so for me the choice of celibacy and poverty was a natural and joyful one. I certainly am not the only person who feels joy about celibate life; already in the old Theravada Buddhist tradition of Southeast Asia one finds many poems that sing of the joy of celibacy. Although there may be desires such as sexual desires, this joy protects celibate life.

It is rather difficult to speak of both the views held in the history of Buddhism and my personal experience in just a few pages, but in conclusion I would like to emphasize that the life of a true religious person does not ban desire by inner will power or by outer pressure. Rather, it is due to a natural manifestation of Buddha-mind that life without possessions becomes a joy accompanying both activities for one’s own benefit and activity for the benefit of others.

Since the majority of the monks and nuns that constitute the sangha have not yet realized this, inner effort of will and vows and outer rules become necessary. Wherever there is coercion to conform to such rules, be it from the inside or the outside, there is bound to be hypocrisy and transgression. From a historical point of view, too, it is clear how meaningless it is to try to eradicate this contradiction by systematic reform. There is only one way to completely transcend this contradiction, and that is by the joy of the monk’s and nun’s own self-awakened faith. If they ignore this joy of faith and attempt to preserve a sangha that relies on some system, the sangha will surely at some point perish. But even if that kind of sangha perishes, the three treasures will not perish. Just as the green leaves of spring sprout after the autumn leaves have been burnt, the Buddha dharma will with certainty appear anew in a different form.


1. ‘Leaving home’ is the literal rendering of the Sino-Japanese expression used when someone enters a Buddhist monastery.

9. Sexual Evolution - Dhammadinna - Dharma Life Summer 1998


In 28 years as a Buddhist, Dhammadinna has seen or done it all. She recalls experiments in the Friends of the Western Buddhist Order around sex, celibacy and lifestyle and discusses how its collective experience has matured

In the late Sixties I lived in a large commune of ten adults and four children. Some friends lived in a much looser commune where people didn t even have a room of their own, but changed rooms and partners on a nightly basis. The Sixties was a time of both genuine idealism and great naivety. Some of us believed, at least for a while, that anything was possible and that we could change ourselves and the world through love.

This was the era of free love, jazz, poetry and drugs; the development of humanistic psychology and the cult of free expression; the re-emergence of the women s movement and the advent of gay pride; the greater availability of birth control, especially the pill; and, from a background culture of drugs, the explosion of LSD to a wider public. It was a time of exploration and experimentation in many areas of life — political, philosophical, mystical and religious, psychological, artistic, musical, social, chemical and not least sexual.

Sexual liberation meant hedonistic, guilt-free sex: heterosexual, homosexual and bisexual, with one or a number of partners. From both humanistic psychology and drug experimentation came attitudes such as letting it all hang out , going with the flow and if you feel like doing it, do it . The positive side of this was a willingness to explore and experiment, taking nothing for granted. There was also a darker side induced by confusion, bad trips and sometimes descent into addiction, alienation and despair.

When Sangharakshita returned to England in the early Sixties, after 20 years in India as a Buddhist monk, it was with people from this counter culture that he found himself working. As the incumbent at the Hampstead Buddhist Vihara, he encountered a much more respectable section of society. But increasingly, the people he taught came from the counter-culture , and their energy and radicalism seemed to offer a basis for engagement with the transformative teachings of Buddhism.

In 1967 Sangharakshita founded the Friends of the Western Buddhist Order (FWBO) with the aim of developing ways of practising Buddhism that were appropriate in the modern world. From these beginnings a Buddhist movement developed. During the 1960s and Seventies, the numbers involved in the FWBO were small. We were a circle of friends attempting to put our ideals into practice and develop a new society based on Buddhist principles. Many of us were young and were willing to question and challenge all areas of life.

But times have changed, and some of the things we did in the past have given rise to controversy. Perhaps it is time to take stock; to look back on those early experiments, and consider what was learnt and what has been left behind. This means understanding the attitudes and activities of previous decades in the context of their time. We should be aware of the tendency to see the past through the eyes of the present: a time affected by Aids and by discussion of sexual abuse, as well as by political correctness and gender politics.

When I first encountered the FWBO in 1970 I was 24 and a hippy. I was in an open marriage and, although I had personal sexual difficulties, I subscribed to the ethos that sex was a form of communication and it was open to each person to decide what they wanted to do. In my commune people had changed or shared partners, and I was not prejudiced about homosexuality or lesbianism, having friends of both persuasions.

In the FWBO people were of differing ages but many were young like myself and shared my ideas. When I first met Sangharakshita, he cut an unusual figure. He was dressed in orange robes, but had long hair and wore a Tibetan mala. He was also friendly and informal, although with an obvious air of spiritual authority and wisdom. Early retreats could be quite wild with people dancing and drumming on the lawns, engaging in drama or dream groups, forming and leaving relationships, as well as engaging in serious spiritual practice.

Sangharakshita initially gave us a great deal of leeway, affirming our enthusiastic search for Truth, but he also knew when to begin to demand more. On the summer retreat of 1972 he introduced triple periods of meditation, long periods of silence, and an emphasis on mindfulness and reflection. After this retreat many of us decided to take our spiritual lives more seriously and formed the first residential communities around Pundarika, our centre in north London. And in 1973 I was ordained into the Western Buddhist Order.

Early in my involvement I wanted to go away and meditate for a few days and I chose a Tibetan Buddhist centre. The people there were friendly but referred to rumours concerning Sangharakshita and sex. I was not at all bothered; it didn t occur to me to check with Sangharakshita whether they were true. I had made a spiritual connection with Sangharakshita, and through him with Buddhism. He had befriended and guided me. I knew he wore robes for ceremonial reasons but less and less so otherwise.

I did not think of Sangharakshita as a traditional bhikkhu, and at that time I wasn t particularly interested in traditional forms of Buddhism. I trusted him. I had always found him willing to talk to me about all aspects of my life. He was sympathetic and helpful to me when my marriage broke up, encouraging when I practised celibacy, and understanding when I gave it up.

As our practice deepened my contemporaries and I in the wbo began to see that sex could cause a lot of confusion and be a distraction from Buddhist practice. Moreover we were beginning to realise that the romantic ideal � so prevalent in our western conditioning � could lead to dependency, and work against the development of friendships and a harmonious sangha (spiritual community). Reflections such as these led to the establishment of single-sex activities. This began with retreats for men and for women, but developed into the establishment of single-sex communities and Right Livelihood working projects. By the mid-Eighties we came to feel that single-sex activities in all areas of practice were most conducive to spiritual growth.

Our decisions to practise within these single-sex situations and to question our sexual involvements and attitudes arose out of a desire to break our dependency on the opposite sex. This kind of exploration, however, was specific to the West; it arose from the need we felt to discover which lifestyles were most helpful at a time when conventions were being challenged. It wouldn t be appropriate in a more traditional society, where it might be unacceptable and undermine social stability.

My open marriage had ended amicably in 1972. Through forming other friendships and meditating I had realised how dependent I was on my partner, and I wanted to be more independent. I embarked on further relationships but soon became aware that I still had a tendency to emotional dependence. I wanted to experience myself single and alone, responsible for myself, with the time and energy to devote to my friendships and my spiritual practice. I also suffered from sexual guilt and I wanted some time free from that sort of conflict.

For me, moving to a single-sex lifestyle went along with giving up sex. For others it meant engaging in same-sex sex. Some people did this for a while, perhaps realising they were more bisexual than they had thought, while others discovered their true orientation was towards their own gender. Other people remained heterosexual, and still others became celibate. We were trying to break taboos, perhaps derived from Christian and social attitudes to sex, which sometimes resulted in irrational guilt. Some people began to speculate that homosexuality might be in some way more spiritual than heterosexuality, because it was less likely to lead to domesticity and settling down. We also discussed whether spiritual friendship and sexual involvement could go together.

To what extent did these ideas derive from Sangharakshita? In assessing this I have looked back at transcripts of the seminars he led between the mid-Seventies and mid-Eighties. These were intensive and intimate retreats when Sangharakshita led the participants through a Buddhist text, discussing its meaning and its relevance to our spiritual lives. Seminars also provided an opportunity to discuss anything of interest to us. Sexual relationships, sexual orientation, gender, friendship, community life, and lifestyle were all crucial issues as we set up our new Buddhist movement. They were discussed openly and frankly.

These transcripts show how careful was Sangharakshita s thinking. In one discussion he was asked if he thought homosexuality was more spiritual than heterosexuality. He commented that we had to consult our own experience and be honest, and he was not sure that there was less psychological projection in homosexuality. However, he suggested, men often fear expressing their feelings for each other in case they are seen as sexual, and this fear can lead to a general emotional repression. He thought that a man having strong feelings towards another man, even if those feelings are tinged with sexual attraction, need not mean he is homosexual. Sangharakshita concluded that spiritually speaking there is probably not much difference between heterosexual and homosexual relationships, and that we must be equally mindful in either. What is important, he said, is that we cultivate friendship, which will help us to leave sex behind.

In 1981 experimentation took another direction at one FWBO centre where a number of people decided to engage in friendly heterosexual sex outside committed relationships � in other words, promiscuity. This experiment involved very few people, did not last long, and soon people returned to being single, or celibate, or in settled relationships. Perhaps in response, Sangharakshita gave a talk in 1982 on the virtue of fidelity. The lecture covered fidelity to oneself, to ideals and to other people. Under fidelity to others came the question of sexual fidelity and Sangharakshita outlined three possible modes: monogamy, promiscuity and celibacy. Each, he suggested, has a healthy form and a neurotic form. By promiscuity he meant non-continuity of sexual partners, in other words serial monogamy. He warned that people should be alive to the difficulties of each approach, and seek to avoid the dangers of neurotic attachment, distraction and so on.

Sangharakshita has always encouraged celibacy. He has stressed that people with a natural desire to be chaste should not be encouraged into sexual relationships by others who might think this more normal. He has also urged his disciples, as they get older, to start thinking of moving towards chastity. In an interview in Golden Drum magazine on Sex and the Spiritual Life (autumn 1987), Sangharakshita discussed the powerful, sometimes destructive nature of the sexual drive and the need for those on a spiritual path to invest less emotional energy in sexual relationships.

He also expressed pleasure that more people were taking the Anagarika precept, which enjoins chastity. He never urges anyone to take this precept and Order members need not be celibate. One is only asked to keep one’s sex life at the periphery, or towards the periphery. But if one can be celibate, in a positive and healthy way, I’m sure that will enable one, other factors being equal, to develop spiritually more rapidly.

During the late 1980s and early 90s more men and women Order members took the Anagarika precept. Becoming an Anagarika does not constitute a higher ordination but it involves the precept of abstention from sexual activity (abrahmacarya). Some Anagarikas have maintained this precept while others have ceased to be chaste and reverted to their previous status. It seems that being celibate is not easy in the West, as the culture that surrounds us is so concerned with sex.

Sangharakshita maintains, however, that the extent to which we are caught up in sexual activity and craving is a matter of degree. In this sense we are all celibate or non-celibate to some extent, and he said that he would like to see everyone in the FWBO progressively moving away from sexual craving, and becoming more and more celibate every day .

These then were the attitudes and examples that informed my own approach to sex. When I decided to end my sexual relationship and give up sex, I initially saw this as a matter of taking time out , and the first couple of years were helpful. But as time passed I came to think sex was bad and unspiritual and that I should give it up for good. To do otherwise would have been to fall back . But I had not taken a vow, so in reality I was free to choose whether or not to begin another sexual relationship. This became painful and confusing when I started to experience sexual desire again, but it was also illuminating as I began to understand the extent of my irrational sexual guilt.

Sangharakshita was understanding. He said it was important with any decision to keep the initiative and that perhaps I had lost touch with my reasons for choosing celibacy. Some time later I started a sexual relationship. Over the years I have had a number of sexual relationships, interspersed with sometimes quite long periods of being single. The periods when I was able to be alone and still feel contented and happy have been important to me and helped my relationships to become less neurotic. At the moment I am single and happy with this state.

These days the FWBO is much larger: at first the whole Order could sit in one room and discuss its future in terms of principle and practice. It is harder to see what sexual attitudes in the FWBO currently are, except that they re varied. The average age of Order members has risen steadily, many of us have been practising for many years. We also attract more people with families, which has raised further issues. The emphasis on single-sex activities, community living and team-based Right Livelihood work has sometimes led people with families to feel marginalised.

This is an area of continuing discussion but recent years have seen many more family groups around FWBO centres. There is a creative tension in this area. On one hand we emphasise renunciation and going forth from worldly life (with the institutions of the FWBO offering a practical means of doing this). On the other hand people with families are being supported to find ways of deepening their Buddhist practice. And this is happening more and more.

I find it is now much easier to work with this tension. When I was a young Order member trying to set up communities and projects with few resources, I was sometimes alarmed if a team-member expressed a desire to have a baby. I could imagine the whole project collapsing. Now I find my greater life experience and maturity enable me to discuss such issues much more openly than in the past, and I can understand the experience of people with families much better.

Although there is now an undoubted ability to address such matters in the Order, sex and sexuality will continue to be an issue for a community that is neither lay nor monastic. In the FWBO there has always been discussion of sexual ethics, both in general terms and on specific issues. One key area is sexual relationships between Order members and the people they teach. Are these relationships exploitative? Can sex and spiritual friendship ever go together, or are they mutually exclusive?

Some people wonder if such relationships need to be governed by rules. But this would fail to express the spirit in which we approach ethical practice: we seek to understand the underlying principle expressed in the Buddhist ethical precepts, rather than proscribing particular actions. Furthermore in a Buddhist movement of the size and diversity of the FWBO, which is active in cultures as different as the modern us, India and South America, any attempt to dictate norms of behaviour could become enormously complex.

It is a mistake to regard an Order member in the same way as a therapist or a priest. An Order member is simply an individual who has made a decisive commitment to Buddhism, and who may express this by leading classes and retreats. However, people coming to learn will have expectations; and if sex is in the mix, it can be confusing. So this area needs careful scrutiny and discussion.

Personally I am convinced that the FWBO s exploratory approach to issues of sex and sexual relationships has been hugely helpful to me and my contemporaries. I have been involved in the FWBO for 28 years and have grown up within it. I have been both instrumental in and affected by its developing ethos. The FWBO s emphasis on spiritual friendship, going beyond emotional dependency, trying to make sexual relationships less central to one s life, thinking about ethics, and working towards celibacy have all had their effect on me

I have been married, single, celibate, engaged in serial monogamy and in periods of non-monogamy. I have tried to behave ethically and when I have failed I ve tried to make amends. I have felt able to be open with my friends about sex and they have been honest with me. By working through strong feelings of irrational guilt about sex and Buddhist practice, I have freed up a great deal of energy. I certainly do not think everyone in the FWBO needs to experiment sexually. But I hope people feel they can be honest about who they are without incurring condemnation.

Particularly in the West, where there are so many options, we need to examine our sex-lives and make choices in accordance with our overall spiritual direction. As a result of our early explorations, we now have thriving single-sex teams and communities, which provide good conditions for serious Dharma practice. We have slowly “sometimes painfully” developed the maturity that enables people to discover their own path, and the lifestyle that best helps them to practise the Buddha s teaching.


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