The Urban Dharma Newsletter - March 16, 2008


In This Issue: Celibacy Explored

1.Celibacy explored Buddhist and Catholic monks share perspectives.
2. Demythologizing Celibacy by William Skudlarek, OSB
3. Celibacy in Ancient Indian Buddhism - by Sasaki Shizuka
4. Celibacy - by Venerable Bhikshuni Wu Yin
5. Celibacy and Vegetarianism - www.shaolintemple.org
6. Why Celibacy? - by Sr. Rachel Duffy
7. Why Celibacy? - by Gayle Ford
8. Do We Need Celibacy? - by Govindaraj S.


1.Celibacy explored Buddhist and Catholic monks share perspectives. - From: Catholic New Times | Date: 11/26/2006 | Author: Ryan, Tom
Catholic New Times


The electronic sign at the Minneapolis-St Paul airport was flashing "Orange Alert" as a dozen Buddhist monks arrived in their burnt orange robes from around the country for three days of dialogue on celibacy with a similar number of Catholic monks who had come together from various monasteries at St. John's Abbey in Collegeville, Minn.

As he opened the October meeting, Rev. William Skudlarek, Executive Director of Monastic Inter-religious Dialogue (MID), said, "You (Buddhists) have been at this for some five-to-seven hundred years longer than we have. We have something to learn."

This was the second Monks in the West inter-religious dialogue; the first took place in 2004 at the City of Ten Thousand Buddhas in northern California.

On the Catholic side, the participants come from the Benedictine, Cistercian, and Camoldolese monasteries, and on the Buddhist side from the Theravada, Mahayana, and Tibetan traditions.

The first session dealt with theory: the "why" of celibacy. Buddhist participants explained that their teachings focus on seeing how suffering is created and cured. Attachments give rise to suffering, so advancement in the spiritual life requires letting go of one's attachments. Attachment to desires, among which are sexual desires, is a hindrance to spiritual progress.

"Raging desire takes away choice, freedom," said Rev. Kusala Bhikshu, a Buddhist chaplain at UCLA in his opening presentation. "The senses must be controlled in order to be free."

Brother Gregory Perron from St. Procopius monastery in Indiana spoke of how monastic life demands a profound understanding and acceptance of solitude. "Celibacy is a tool," offered Perron, "a skillful means like intentional simplicity of life, by which our heart is burrowed out and the core of our being laid bare. By embracing it, the monk accepts the aloneness that characterizes every human being."

In the second session the participants moved from theory to practice. Rev. Jisho Perry from the Shasta Buddhist Abbey in California said, "The whole thrust of training is not to give in to desire that arises." He described the Buddhist method of accepting sexual feelings without either acting on them or repressing them, but just letting them pass through.

Fr. Skudlarek expressed appreciation for the Buddhist approach to transforming the sexual energy. "I never got a sense in our training of accepting the feeling with awareness and letting it pass without acting on it. You had to fight it! And the more you resisted, the stronger it got!"

Rev. Heng Sure, who teaches at the Graduate Theological Union in Berkeley, presented celibacy as the first step in a three-step process that goes from celibacy to stillness to insight. Celibacy, he said, "should not be seen just as a difficult adjunct to the spiritual path, but as essential to it."

The practice of meditation represents daily periods when the senses are stilled and not allowed to pursue sense objects. "Something happens to the energy in the stillness," said Heng Sure. "3-he pressure goes away."

Catholic monks emphasized how, in Christian faith, motivation for celibacy is strongly relational. "For me," said Fr. Terrance Kardong of Assumption Abbey in North Dakota, "it's the deep personal relationship with Jesus that enables me to do something this hard."

The third session focused on how the two traditions handle transgressions and failure. Ajahn Punnadhammo from Ontario delineated the "Four Defeats" in Buddhist monasticism: sexual intercourse, stealing above a trivial amount, killing a human being and falsely claiming superior spiritual achievements. He explained how, if a monk should do any of these four actions, he is no longer a monk and is not readmitted into the community.

Buddhists listened with keen interest to Abbot John Klassen of St. John's Abbey as he related how, in the sexual abuse scandals that have rocked the Catholic Church since 2002, the bishops ruled that transgressions against minors would result in expulsion from the priesthood.

Klassen pointed out, "Leaders of religious communities took a fundamentally different stance. They had to agree to remove any offender from ministry, but they were not willing to throw them out of the community. They agreed to do risk assessment and develop supervision for offenders."

Klassen described how, in the 1970s, "Our awareness of failures moved from the moral arena to the psychological arena, and now to the awareness that sexual abuse of minors is a crime. New guidelines provide a level of behavioral specificity that we've never seen before."

In the closing session, the monks discussed both what contributes to and detracts from the development of friendship and healthy intimacy in celibate community.

Fr. Thomas Ryan, CSP serves as an advisor to MID and participated in the

2. Demythologizing Celibacy / Practical Wisdom from Christian and Buddhist Monasticism - William Skudlarek, OSB

Book Publication Date - May, 2008

From - www.litpress.org

Buy Online - http://www.litpress.org/Detail.aspx?ISBN=9780814629475

About this book:

When St. Benedict compiled his Rule for Monasteries in the early decades of the sixth century, the Buddhist monastic code had already been in existence for about nine hundred years. Since monastic life is shaped by spiritual practices that are very similar across different religious traditions, it should not be too much of a stretch to suggest that Christians can learn from the accumulated wisdom of Buddhist monasticism.

For Buddhists, celibacy, accompanied by skillful reflection on their personal reactions to it, is a means of letting go of attachment to sensory pleasure. Buddhist monks do not marry; they strive to relinquish the desire for sexual pleasure because this form of gratification obstructs the “one-pointed stillness” that leads to insight.

For Christians, celibacy—like marriage—is ultimately about love: responding to God's love for us and expressing selfless love for others. In light of the Christian understanding of marriage as an authentic—indeed, the ordinary—path to holiness, Skudlarek proposes a demythologized view of celibacy, presenting it as an alternate and equally valid spiritual practice for those who choose not to accept the demands of a committed sexual relationship. Drawing on the monastic interreligious dialogue, Skudlarek considers the Buddhist view of celibacy, which is not mythologized as a response to a divine call or as a superhuman way of life. He examines their regard for it as simply—and profoundly—a path to freedom, peace, and happiness. As Christians become aware of the benefits of celibacy for monks who observe it without reference to the Gospel, they may be able to appreciate all the more its importance and value for those who wish to follow Christ as celibates, and in this way come to share in the freedom of the children of God.

William Skudlarek, OSB, is a monk of Saint John's Abbey and administrative assistant to the abbot. In addition to having taught theology and homiletics at Saint John’s University, he served as a Maryknoll Associate in Brazil and was a member of Saint John’s Abbey’s priory in Japan. During his years in Japan he began to practice zazen with the Sanbyo Kyodan. After serving for five years as president and then executive director of the North American branch of Monastic Interreligious Dialogue, he was appointed General Secretary of Dialogue Interreligieux Monastique/Monastic Interreligious Dialogue in September 2007.

"Father William Skudlarek, OSB, has harvested a rich and broad field of sources to bring forth the practical and insightful feast that is this book. . . . With a quiet and unbiased grace, and in a spirit of offering helpful illumination in what is often a murky or at least mysterious area, the author draws upon his long-standing friendship with Buddhist contemplatives . . . Wonderfully void of the shrill authoritarianism that can cloud explorations of spiritual ethics, this book speaks with a respectful ease and an accomplished practicality; it is also a delight to encounter in its pages contemplatives of both Christian and Buddhist traditions who have developed similar pragmatic means." ---Amaro Bhikkhu, Co-abbot of Abhayagiri Buddhist Monastery, Redwood Valley, California

"Celibacy as a freely chosen religious lifestyle rarely gets a fair hearing today because the discussion routinely focuses on celibacy as an imposition by the Church on candidates for orders. Fr. William’s presentation is uncluttered by that issue and can look at celibacy positively as an expression of mature sexuality. He expands the terrain to benefit from the lived tradition of celibacy in centuries-old Buddhist monasticism. A major contribution is the encouraging of an awareness of the importance for healthy celibate living of paying attention to one’s thought world and not just to the control of behavior." ---Rt. Rev. Abbot Jerome Kodell, OSB; Subiaco Abbey, Arkansas

3. Celibacy in Ancient Indian Buddhism - by Sasaki Shizuka / Celibacy in Ancient Indian Buddhism Sasaki Shizuka (Hanazono Univ., Kyoto)


Generally it is thought that Buddhist mendicants must live a single life. However, actually there are two meanings for the word ‘single life’, namely ‘not to live a family life" and ‘not to have sexual intercourse’. I will consider these two meanings separately and try to clarify the meaning of celibacy in Buddhism.

As one reaction to Brahmanism, which insists that the real happiness of a person is decided in a blood relationship, Buddhism was born in India about 2500 years ago. Therefore, as a matter of course, Buddhism does not accept discrimination by birth. It is a basic claim of Buddhism that there is no way for a person to get true happiness besides human effort by oneself and that only the person who turns all his life toward that effort can attain enlightenment and get true happiness. Based on this viewpoint, Buddhism insists on the following three points.

1. Explaining our phenomenal world by the law of causation without accepting the existence of any transcendental being.

2. Limitting the domain of the effort to only mind, not the body.

3. Taking the communal living system of the monk and the nun each separetely for systematic practices and making living by getting the rest of the general public.

Considering these three points, it becomes impossible for Buddhist mendicants to work in the general public and, as a result, they cannot have families such as a spouse or children. Based upon the foregoing, the rule that ‘ Buddhist mendicants must not live family life’ can be understood.

However, it is a different matter not to live family life and not to have sexual intercourse. The prohibition of family life does not just lead to the prohibition of sexual intercourse. Therefore we must consider the celibacy of Buddhists from these two different aspects.

The former item, namely the prohibition of family life for Buddhist mendicants, is a natural result of the above mentioned three points of Buddhism. Then how is the prohibition of sexual intercourse dealt with ?

Needless to say, Buddhist mendicants are certainly forbidden to have sexual intercourse. It is forbidden in both kinds of rules which Buddhist mendicants must follow, vinaya and sila. In the vinaya, "the prohibition of sexual intercourse" is prescribed in the first article of the four Parajikas which are the worst offences and are put in the beginning of the vinaya. In other words, it is regarded as one of the worst behaviours of Buddhist mendicants. On the other hand, for sila there is an article forbidding Abrahmacarya, namely to have sexual intercourse in the silas of Sramanera, Sramaneri and Siksamana. Because these silas are applied to not only these probational people but also monks and nuns who are in higher position, it follows that monks and nuns are forbidden to have sexual intercourse both in the Vinaya and the Sila.

Buddhists are subject to two kinds of regulations: sila and vinaya. Originally, these two terms denoted separate concepts. The law used inside a sangha is referred to as the vinaya. Its purpose is to regulate the sangha as a whole, rather than the spiritual progress of each individual member. In order to be respected and receive offerings, all of its members have to live based on accepted norms, which are provided by the vinaya. It is the same as the law of a country, which is never enacted for the purpose of the improvement of the individual, but only to maintain the country as a community and allow it to develop. The state itself carries out punishment of those who do not uphold the law and obstruct the smooth management of the country. The Buddhist vinaya is also used in this way. Its rules are accompanied by penal regulations which the community organization, the sangha, enforces. Thus it is as natural for the members of a sangha to observe these rules as it is for people to observe the laws of their country.

On the other hand, sila is based on a completely different concept. It is a code of conduct for each mendicant in his/her progress toward enlightenment. This is equivalent to morals in society. Like a moral code, which helps the individual to improve as a person, sila in Buddhism is used to develop each mendicant’s humanity. Because it does not have a direct relation to the sangha, those who break sila are not punished. Punishment for not observing sila is entirely an individual problem, because those who break sila will not be able to attain enlightenment. This fundamental difference between vinaya and sila came to be disregarded in the later stages of Indian Buddhism, and was completely confused when the single word was created in China as a translation of the two words sila and vinaya. Therefore, in order for us to understand the concept of the vinaya correctly, we must grasp its original meaning as early Buddhism defined it.

We have seen that the vinaya is equivalent to community laws and sila to morals. Although there are various differences between the two, the most important is that sila is religious truth and the vinaya is social regulation.

The vinaya is, as stated above, a set of laws enacted to build smooth relations between the sangha and society and to maintain the former as a socially-respected group. It simply needs to be observed by the mendicants as if it is the law. Those who do not observe a particular law are held to be offenders.

However, laws must undergo changes according to the social situation. Since laws are used to manage a community, when society changes, naturally laws must also change. If they do not, the community will be unable to change and will soon collapse. In the same way, in Buddhism, amending the vinaya is not contradictory to observing it. On the other hand, since sila is religious truth in Buddhism, it must always be observed by all Buddhists, unrelated to changes in society and is considered to be a necessary condition for enlightenment.

And we should pay attention to a point that the prohibition of sexual intercourse is forbidden in both. The fact that it is forbidden in the vinaya means that, when a monk or nun violates it, the outside general public does not forgive him/her. There was the following social situation in the background of this phenomenon.

Two thousand and five hundred years ago in India, a new religious movement of practitioners called sramana religions which considered human effort to be of supreme importance arose against Brahmanism, which insisted that the human value was decided only by one’s birth. And one of the self-regulations that such sramanas made much of was not to have sexual intercourse. It is because they regarded sexual intercourse as a bad act which blunts mental activity (The same thought is applied for drinking liquor too).

This sramanas’ policy was recognized widely in Indian society at that time and the thought that sramanas never have sexual intercourse was common sense. It was a matter of course that Buddhism, one of the sramana religions, obeyed this common idea. If Buddhism would have accepted sexual intercourse against this stream, it would have lost social respect in a moment and the way of getting offerings would be cut off and collapsed.

On the other hand, the fact that the prohibition of sexual intercourse is included in the sila means that, as religious truth, Buddhism regards it a serious hindrance on the way to enlightenment. In this way, Buddhism prohibited the mendicants from having sexual intercourse from both points of view, practical aspect and doctrinal aspect.

The above consideration is based on the original Buddhism of Sakyamuni Buddha’s time. Buddhism of this time did not accept transcendental existence, and claimed that the only way of our acquiring absolute happiness was to make effort by ourselves. Therefore, it becomes an absolute requirement to concentrate on religious practices earnestly by refusing sexual intercourse and family life.

However, the situation changed with the times, and Buddhism of new form called Mahayana was born. In the case of Mahayana, a new element, namely salvation by some transcendental power was introduced. For example, some Mahayana school thought that a Buddha who is in another world outside of this world saves us, and others thought a Buddha as mysterious and worldly ubiquitous existence takes the form of a person and saves us.

In these cases of Mahayana, a chain-like movement occurs allowing a person who was relieved by the mysterious power of a Buddha to become himself a savor of living beings.

As a result, the purpose of Buddhism underwent a complete change from a personal level, to attain enlightenment as an arhat, into a social level, to relieve the world as a Buddha. Buddhism as a religion of effort and practice changed into one of prayer and relief. It is true that Mahayana Buddhism recognized the importance of practices to a certain degree, but the factor of relief was surely included in there by all means since it accepted the existence of a transcendental world savor outside. In such a world of Mahayana Buddhism, the importance of practices gradually deteriorated, and, with it, rules of mendicants became easier.

If this tendency is extremely promoted, the duty of Buddhists becomes only to pray to transcendental existence earnestly while abandoning every effort for practices, then the regulations for mendicants have lost their reason d’etre. A typical example is the Japanese Jodo Shinshu sect. In the sect, monks and nuns are permitted not only sexual intercourse but also to grow their hair and live family life. It is a natural result of having abandoned practices, and therefore, mendicants as practitioners do not really exist in Jodo Shinshu sect.

If, for example, a religion such as Jodo Shinshu would suddenly appear in a country that makes much of practices, such as Thailand, perhaps it would be hated by the general public, and will collapse immediately. However, in the case of Japan, Buddhism was received in very special form in its long history, and therefore, a special situation that even Buddhism of such an extreme form can survive and be respected by society.

When the tendency of abandonment of practices becomes extreme, the following thought occurs: "We should dare to destroy the rules prescribed for a practitioner, and emphasize faith in the Absolute thereby". Its representative is the later Indian esoteric Buddhism. Its sacred texts say that the atrocious behaviors such as drinking liquor, having sexual intercourse, murdering a person whom its members kidnapped, eating the meat of the murdered person were important conditions to be a Buddha.

We must recognize that there are two different aspects in Buddhism, "religion of practices for attaining enlightenment by oneself" and "the religion of prayer for being relieved by some transcendental being". In the case of Korean Buddhism, both aspects seem to coexist. As for Japanese Buddhism, most sects are "the religion of prayer" , and the celibacy which original Buddhism insisted on, by the result, has collapsed.

Korean Buddhism makes much of practices in comparison with Japan, and because the general public understands it well, people evaluate and respect the celibate monks and nuns highly. Though I am not really familiar with Korean Buddhism so as to be able to discuss what kind of direction Korean Buddhism should go in the future, I can suggest the following: If Korean Buddhism assumes that Buddhism in original form, which sets much store in practices, then celibacy of mendicants must be maintained. On the other hand, if it advances to the direction of the Mahayana Buddhism demanding the help of the Absolute apart from practice, the belt of celibacy will gradually loosen.

Needless to say, it is important to maintain both of these trends, keeping a balance. However, in modern society, where the number of people pursuing secular pleasures increases under the influence of material civilization, Korean Buddhism will tend toward the Mahayana model. What will happen if the prohibition of sexual intercourse is ignored, and with it, the prohibition of living family life comes to be ignored too? Like Japan, the habit of Brahmanism that religious social position is inherited by a blood relationshipwill be introduced. Therefore, we have to consciously maintain the Buddhism of practice based on celibacy in order to realize a balanced state. Then a smart and cool world of Buddhism that is not seen in other religion can be maintained for a long time.

4. Celibacy - by Venerable Bhikshuni Wu Yin


For some it is a struggle, for others celibacy/chastity is a reward. For further insight into this "different culture" I quote from the biography of one of the greatest teachers of all time, Mahatma Gandhi, his chapters on Brahmacharya. I believe an understanding of Brahmacharya will help us understand the spiritual significance of chastity, particularly in the Hindu culture and its descendant, Buddhism. In Gandhi's case, he became so convinced of the importance of this spiritual principle, that he became chaste but not celibate. He was married, but abstinent. He was a lay person, but he still felt the necessity of chastity for his spiritual advancement.

Gandhi is drawn to this principle by an examination of faithfulness and devotion. He takes vows of chastity for personal reasons and only later reads about the tradition of brahmacharya in the Sutras.

"What then, I asked myself, should be my relation with my wife? Did my faithfulness consist in making my wife the instrument of my lust? So long as I was the slave of lust, my faithfulness was worth nothing."

In this decision, Gandhi was influenced by a conversation with one Raychandbhai who pointed out that devotion in its pure state should not be confined to a relationship such as marriage. Devotion could be demonstrated by a servant or a relative, or anyone. Therefore devotion that, in fact requires special effort, such as devotion of a servant to the master, is a more pure form of devotion.

Gandhi took vows of chastity in 1906 and maintained this state for 20 years while remaining devoted to his wife.

This is akin to the Buddhist principle of non-attachment. This is also akin to the Buddhist principle of seeing the Buddha in every being and realizing that every being on this planet was at one time our mother. Therefore our concern should be not only for family, but for all beings equally.

Gandhi found that his practice of Brahmacharya gave him energy to focus upon his movement for freedom: Satyagraha.He saw the latter as the outgrowth of the former. He enlarged his scope of compassion and devotion to include masses of mankind.

Then this is the underlying argument for chastity in the religious life, one strives to conquer the senses and the physical body so as to be free of them. This is a desirable state because only then is the being free to be of true service.

Gandhi struggled with chastity on the physical level. He experimented with diet and concluded that dietary adjustments and fasting were necessary to achieve his goal.

"Brahmacharya means control of the senses in thought, word and deed....Such Brahmacharya is impossible of attainment by limited effort....Let no one think that it is impossible because it is difficult. It is the highest goal, and it is no wonder that the highest effort should be necessary to attain it."

And so as with all spiritual lifestyle decisions, motivation is the key factor. Would one strive to maintain chastity while inwardly consumed with lust merely to fulfill some social contract? Or would one see chastity as liberation?

In his foreword to Choosing Simplicity by Venerable Bhikshuni Wu Yin, Lama Thubten Zopa Rinpoche neatly summarizes the Tibetan Buddhist position on the subject:

"What is the use of so many rules of conduct, if not for guiding the mind?...The sangha [in this instance he means the ordained sangha of monks and nuns] has the responsibility to bring peace and happiness to the minds of people and to guide them toward liberation and enlightenment. Sangha members' inappropriate behavior can harm other's minds...their observing the precepts...can bring incredible benefit to people in the world."

"...Following desire never leads to satisfaction. ...All the manifold problems that you go through are the result of following the evil thought of the eight worldly concerns, the attachment to the happiness of this life....when you do not understand the disadvantages of desire...then ordination will seem like prison."

Further into the book, in her chapter on "Working with Attachment", Venerable Bhikshuni Wu Yin makes the distinction between lay and ordained precepts. It is not an inferior path to remain a layperson, to marry and to have sexual relations. "Being honest about our needs and abilities is more effective and comfortable than forcing ourselves into a life style that is not suited for us and being tormented by conflicting emotions."

I think the difficulty for a Western audience is the concept so prevalent in the West, that one cannot be happy as a celibate. Perhaps some Westerners will never believe it and will always think a nun, for instance, is in denial.

Perhaps some relevant passages from the Bhagavad Gita will help make this clear. Gandhi connected the concepts of devotion and chastity through the process of his own personal discovery...echoing these words from the Gita:

"The man of devotion, who knows the truth, thinks he does nothing at all, when he sees, hears, touches, smells, eats, moves, sleeps, breathes, talks, excretes, takes, opens his eyes or closes his eyes: he knows that the senses deal with the objects of the senses. He who, casting off all attachment, performs actions dedicating them to Brahman, is not tainted by sin, as the lotus-leaf is not tainted by water."

Devotees, casting off attachment, perform actions for attaining purity of self, with the body, the mind, the understanding, or even the senses-all free from individualistic notions.

He who possesses devotion, abandoning the fruit of actions, attains the highest tranquillity. He who is without devotion, and attached to the fruit of action, is tied down by his desires.

There is so much to say on this subject. Perhaps I have arrived at the book I wish to write. I submit this to my honored readers for now. I intend to continue research and present you my findings in a more polished form.

Meanwhile I could not do this topic justice without sharing that I have been celibate for five years now, a condition I would have thought impossible when I was younger.

There has been a serenity and a joy and a discovery that could not have come, for me, any other way.

Celibacy - © Yeshe Chodon

5. Celibacy and Vegetarianism


Celibacy and vegetarianism are minor issues in Buddhism that people like to make a big deal out of. A Buddhist is someone who follows the eightfold path as a means to relieve suffering, both in the self and in others.

In the Buddha's lifetime, the monastic community practiced celibacy, but not vegetarianism. Today, there are many Buddhist monastic traditions. Some maintain both vegetarianism and celibacy as precepts, such as most Chinese branches of Buddhism. Some traditions maintain celibacy without requiring vegetarianism, such as many Theravada schools. Surely, somewhere, there is also a Buddhist sect that requires vegetarianism, but not celibacy. And finally, there are some Buddhist sects that require neither, such as Tibetan Buddhism and Shaolin.

Buddhism of any kind encourages individuals to seek their own answers. A Buddhist does not abdicate spiritual responsibility to the clergy, but rather strives on her own behalf to wake up. Clergy are there as guides, not as commandment givers or sellers of "indulgences." But, because of that old clerical precept about NO SEX (and certainly other writings as well), many Buddhists begin to think romantic relationships are a hindrance on the path. (Some people gently criticize lay Buddhists for attempting to lead a life based on monastic precepts, saying that the lay person should leave the really "difficult" spiritual work for monks. Hogwash. Part of Buddhism's appeal is personal spiritual accountability.

In Shaolin, every person is encouraged to practice as best as he is able, according to his understanding of the Dharma.) Romantic relationships are discouraged for clergy in most traditions because they present a difficult obstacle to renunciation and detachment - not because they are inherently "bad" or un-Buddhist. Sex is a powerful force, and easy to abuse or be abused by.

In Shaolin, we strive to follow the eightfold path with respect to our sexual lives, practicing responsibility and maturity. Above all, sex must not be used to harm one's self or others.

On the topic of vegetarianism, the Buddha forbade strict vegetarianism because, at that time in India, monks begged for food from lay people and the Buddha felt that the exchange of generosity and gracious acceptance was more important than the kind of food given. You ate whatever people placed in your bowl.

Shaolin certainly allows vegetarianism, but does not require it from students or monks.

Think about why the different precepts exist. Buddhism is not a philosophy of immutable commandments. Buddhism did not begin with precepts; it began with the four noble truths and the eightfold path.

Precepts were sort of "spot" guidelines to help the monastic community in the quest to extinguish suffering. The spirit of the Dharma must take priority over the "letter" of the Dharma - as with all the sutras.

Pleasure is not inherently detrimental to Buddhist practice and neither is pain. It is clinging to pleasure, clinging to pain (usually in the form of aversion), that obstructs the practice. We are human beings; it is natural for us to experience pleasure and pain. And regardless of what we eat, we impact our environment. It is up to each individual to make decisions about how to implement the teachings in personal life.

Copyright © 2004 Order of Shaolin Ch'an

6. Why Celibacy? // What motivates some women to choose a life where a celibate commitment is central - by Sr. Rachel Duffy


Sr. Rachel Duffy is a Catholic religious sister from Preston, Lancashire, England. She took her final vows in 1976 as a member of the Faithful Companions of Jesus (FCJ), an international religious congregation of women. A teacher by profession, she came to the Philippines in 1988 and is now involved in a programme for the education and wellbeing of working children whose family livelihood is scavenging qnd recycling garbage. Sr. Rachel is also responsible for accompanying the young Filipino women who are joining the FCJ congregation, as they prepare for commitment in this way of life. WIA solicited her views on celibacy, a fundamental issue in discussing women's sexuality, and one on which the Catholic church takes a very strong position.

Until the 1960s, it was a commonly held assumption in the Roman Catholic Church that committing oneself to a celibate life of prayer and service in a religious community was objectively superior to any other life project.

And as recently as 1996, Pope John Paul II released a message to the whole Church-Vita Consecrata, or Consecrated Life-saying that "the Church has always taught the preeminence of perfect chastity for the sake of the Kingdom" and that this way of life "which mirrors Christ's own way of life, has an objective superiority." That was the English translation. The French and Italian translations did tone it down just a little, as "objective excellence," but the implication of a celibate life's being better than other ways of life cannot be avoided.

It is worth noting, though, that it is not celibacy in itself that is being valued, but celibacy for the "sake of the Kingdom" which in ordinary language means for the sake of trying to bring into reality a vision of the world as it could be if we took seriously the Christian ideal of universal brotherhood and sisterhood. It is unfortunate when church teaching affirms one life option at the expense of others, engaging in comparisons which imply a put-down of other people's life options.

It is also unfortunate, if understandable, when centuries of accumulated unconscious fears, hang-ups and suspicion associated with sexuality are still alive and well. It's hard to say which comes first, the chicken or the egg, but we can see that unhealthy attitudes to sexuality will lead to a desire to exalt celibacy as if it were a value in itself; while too much singing the praises of "perfect chastity" will imply that sexual activity is something unhealthy or even unclean. The traditional word "chastity" carries associations with purity and cleanliness, unconsciously giving the message, on the one hand, that sexuality is somehow unwholesome, and on the other hand tending to stereotype all celibate women as cold, repressed, and antiseptic in their relationships with others.

In the sixties, the second Vatican Council attempted to level the field, affirming that all of us are invited to one and the same holiness of life, and this awareness now seems to be well rooted in the minds and imaginations of educated Catholics. This does not mean to say, though, that the conscious and unconscious fears, prejudices and suspicions associated with sexuality have all disappeared from the Roman Catholic Church.

Its priests are obliged to live a celibate life. Celibacy does not belong essentially to the nature of the priestly life and has not always been a requirement for priests throughout the whole of the history of this Church, though the present Pope has asserted that the Church has not the authority to make a change in this matter.

The barring of married men from the priesthood and the total exclusion of women disturb members at all levels, and certainly there is not a unity of opinion in the Church on these issues at the present time. Being a woman is officially considered incompatible with the identification with Jesus which is involved in priesthood, suggesting that it is the maleness of Jesus which is considered to be of more significance than the humanness which is shared by male and female alike.

In the Church we often hear about "the role of women" but not "the role of men," revealing the assumption that maleness is the norm from which femaleness deviates. Efforts therefore need to be made to figure out quite where women fit into the picture!

There is still much evolution to take place in the Church before it becomes an institution friendly to and respectful of women as fully human and fully Christian. Some official declarations have been made to encourage women's participation in decision making in the Church, but it remains very much a man's world in its structures of authority and leadership.

When invited to write this article I was asked, "Why does the Church impose celibacy?" In the case of women (or men) who belong to religious communities in the Roman Catholic Church, it is not really accurate to say that celibacy is imposed on them. Sometimes there are movements in support of married clergy or women's ordination, but there are no movements campaigning for married religious sisters, religious brothers, or priest-members of religious communities. It would be a contradiction in terms, for celibacy is something inherent in this way of giving one's life to God.

I would like to affirm that the commitment to celibacy in a religious congregation is a deliberate choice, not an imposition; that it has a positive value and can be empowering. No one is obliged to choose it, as Catholics are as free as anyone else to organise themselves in any kind of association they wish, with or without celibacy, and just get on with it. No one nowadays is forced into religious life, yet some women who have other attractive options still find it good to belong to a body of women united by a lifelong commitment to a common vision inspired by the Christian gospel; united by shared ideals which are more attainable together than alone; and united especially by each one's personal experience of relationship with God, God as made known in the human face of a certain Jesus of Nazareth, who did not experience marriage or parenthood, yet certainly was a loving and loved human being, ready to give his life for others, on a daily basis as well as in the ultimate sense.

What motivates women to choose a life where a celibate commitment is central? Undeniably there is plenty of scope for unhealthy motivations such as all kinds of unconscious fears, and unrealistic and romanticised expectations of oneself and of religious life. For this reason, responsible groups require a careful psychological assessment of applicants and are in no hurry to accept everyone who shows an interest.

But my purpose is to reflect on the possibility of healthy, mature and life-giving motivations for such a choice. The phenomenon of active religious life-i.e., active solidarity with people in any kind of need-as it has evolved in the last two centuries has accumulated a wealth of experience of celibate living. Of course there have been some aberrations. But much of this experience demonstrates, by the example of the lives of numerous individuals, that celibate living at its best is entirely compatible with the unfolding of a warm and balanced personality in a life where one's gifts and talents can be well developed and given very full scope. This has relevance for all women who, whether by choice or circumstance, are celibate.

What about the negative side of celibacy, an absence of natural fulfillment? Our natural human instincts draw us to desire a loving partner, a life together, children and grandchildren. Never to know these precious experiences of human life is, of course, a real loss. To integrate this loss, as far as I know from personal experience and that of others, calls for attentiveness to the spiritual dimension involved in being a human being.

Celibacy creates a vacuum which God does not fill. God can never be to us a substitute for a spouse or a child, but only God. The vacuum can be filled by material comforts, work and achievement, or dulled by TV and trivial pastimes. Better, the vacuum can be allowed to remain unfilled. This leads us to the all-important role of prayer in the life of one who is celibate out of a spiritual motivation. Prayer is the readiness to stay with that vacuum, just as when a loved one is physically absent, nothing can fill the gap, but somehow it is important to leave the gap unfilled, as it is that very gap which keeps the loved one present to our mind and heart.

Leaving the vacuum unfilled fosters the search for the deeper source of our lives, however we image that according to our religious faith, experience and intuitive wisdom. All of us, faced with the experience that even the most beloved partner or child can never be everything to us, are engaged in this search. St. Augustine's: "You have made us for yourself, O God, and our hearts are restless till they rest in you," if true, is true for everybody.

Being celibate can help to widen our horizons. It can highlight and deepen awareness that we are all responsible for each other. Whether a child is ours or not makes no difference. What is significant is if the child is in need and if I have the power to do something about that. "I would like to do more but I cannot because I must think of my responsibilities to my own family" is not the case.

No one healthily opts for celibacy for its own sake, as if it were a value in itself, which as a negative thing it cannot be. What we opt for is the possibility of devoting our energy, talents, capacity for loving, where they can most be of service, where they are most needed.

A single woman with the strength of a highly committed group beside her and behind her, is in a privileged position of freedom to discern: "Is where I am now and what I am doing the place and the activity where I can make my fullest contribution?" When this woman chooses religious life it is not because she has a great desire to be celibate or that she doesn't value normal human relationships. It's rather that she cares enough to be ready to sacrifice one level of fulfillment for the sake of the consequent freedom to look at a wider horizon of the world's needs and discern where to devote her energy, talents and capacity for love. There is a great strength in belonging to a group where all the members want to do this, and not just as isolated individuals but as a group.

All kinds of groups are inspired by a conviction of universal kinship and a willingness to expend themselves for the well-being of someone else. It is by no means a monopoly of celibate people. It is also worth mentioning that there is a movement in lots of religious congregations today to widen the scope of membership, and to work out a new form of commitment for people who do not feel drawn to a lifelong or celibate commitment but who like what they find in the religious group: the dimension of community, of spirituality, resources to initiate and sustain imaginative and practical projects of solidarity with materially deprived or marginalised people. Such people would like a looser form of membership so as to share in the "mission" of the group for a certain period of time. Many religious congregations are beginning to experiment with this model.

To affirm one life option should not be to negate others. Two highly motivated and dedicated people, for example, may discover that their love for one another leads to marriage or some form of committed sexual relationship, and find in it greater support and inspiration to persevere in making the best contribution they can to life through generously sharing their talents and particular field of expertise. And among the best gifts they could offer to life might well be their own children.

Love is not a limited commodity, as if one will have less to give to the wider community if one gives to partner and children. One might even have more to give. There are many ways to do the same thing-love people and try to make the fullest contribution we can to the world during the short time that we are passing through it.

The point I am making is simply that celibacy, too, can be empowering if it is part of an option for loving people and giving of one's best for them and with them. Far from being developmentally destructive it can facilitate a person's full development as a human being who does not love possessively.


CELIBACY: Sexual singleness which can mean "an affirmation of autonomy and independence." (Sona Osma 1983, 28) Source: Amazons, Bluestockings and Crones: A Feminist Dictionary, 1992

CHASTITY: A sexual innocence demanded of young women but not of young men who "are expected to chase women and if they can to seduce them; the women being classed as 'fair game.'" (Shirley Ardener, 1978, 36) Source: Amazons, Bluestockings and Crones: A Feminist Dictionary, 1992

Sr. Rachel Duffy, Sisters Faithful Companions of Jesus
34 Doña Maria St., Don Jose Heights,
Quezon City 1122, Philippines

This article originally appeared in Women in Action (1:1999)

7. Why Celibacy? / Abstinence/Chasity/Unrequited Love/Virginity by Gayle Ford


Celibacy is an unmarried person not engaging in sex, a person practicing abstinence. However some writers would say if that person is masturbating, even though not involved in intercourse with a partner, he or she should be referred to as in a state of involuntary celibacy. Masturbation is thought of as not chaste.

Voluntary celibacy, the focus of this article, involves those who have taken a vow of celibacy, those who voluntarily restrain from sex. A vow of celibacy includes sharing no sexual acts with a partner: any kind of intercourse (vaginal or anal), oral sex, manual sex, and so forth. In other words, no physical, sexual contact with others; meaning any genital (penis or vulva) touch, with mouths, hands or anything else between you and someone else, is off limits.

A vow of celibacy would eliminate the risks of venereal disease. For some, especially young teens, it would allow focusing energies on other matters such as careers, or social issues. Practicing celibacy would eliminate the numbers of unwanted pregnancies.

Celibacy could be a means of preventing a hereditary condition or something like HIV from spreading.

It has always been that sexual activity encouraged the belief that a person's worth, rather than being unconditional, depended on either his or her ability to be sexually desirable and to gain sexual fulfillment or, at the very least, to gain stable companionship. To achieve a deeper sense of meaning in life, individuals, with vows of celibacy, have chosen to remove themselves from the outside distractions of life, including sexual gratification.

One of the goals of positive celibacy, is to find that deeper feeling of worthiness for self and others that is without any conditions, least of all sexual ones. Thus, above all, it is not to lead a celibate life that makes for a true monk or nun, but this ability to realize that the sexual desirability of self or others is not the true criterion of human worth. We are aware of this only when we can be totally at peace with our singleness. In fact, it might be said that we are only truly qualified to be partnered after we have realized this peace.

The problems associated with teen sexual activity are well-known. Every day, 8,000 teenagers in the United States become infected by a sexually transmitted disease.The numbers of pregnancy with unwed mothers are also severe. In 2000, some 240,000 children were born to girls aged 18 or younger. Nearly all these teenage mothers were unmarried. These mothers and their children have an extremely high probability of long-term poverty and welfare dependence. Less widely known are the psychological and emotional problems associated with teenage sexual activity.

Studies support that there is a link between teenage sexual activity and emotional health. The findings show that when compared to teens who are not sexually active, teenage boys and girls who are sexually active are significantly less likely to be happy and more likely to feel depressed when compared to teens who are not sexually active, teenage boys and girls who are sexually active are significantly more likely to attempt suicide. Vows of celibacy would eliminate many of these problems.

Taken a vow of celibacy would honor God because according to His word, we are to keep ourselves pure, until marriage.

Celibacy may contribute to a greater peacefulness and spirituality.

Making a celibacy vow would also dispose of a whole load of worries on your mind. You won't even have to think about the worries of contraception, venereal disease, physical compatibility, impotence, frigidity, or whether your partner is good in bed, or sexual fidelity etc. People you talk to will know that you're not interested in them for their body.

It has been noted, that there is no proof that celibacy is in any way damaging to one's health, and it is clear that many celibates lead long, happy lives.

Celibacy should be recognized as a valid alternative sexual lifestyle.

8. Do We Need Celibacy? - by Govindaraj S.


[EXTRACT: As they say, the brain is the biggest sex organ, and often causes the arousal.]

Recently I was reading in a newspaper, the brief review of a book about singletons – people who stay single. My thoughts went on to contemplate that state of living. Those who are unmarried, or remain without having sex, are celibates. Among involuntary celibates are monks and nuns of sects of Christianity, Buddhism and Jainism. Christian monks and nuns are expected to remain celibate so that their total focus could be on service to their ‘flock’. In Buddhism, celibacy is imposed to eliminate desire which is considered to be the cause of suffering. That religion also says that sexual desire is like drinking salted water: The more you drink, the more you want without being quenched of thirst.

There are a number of advantages to being single: You don’t have worries like mother-in-law, spouse snoring in bed, resetting in the loo, which flavour of condom to use, and so on! No worries about whether you are adequately filled up in your shorts/bra. No disasters due to ineptness in tackling hooks or other fastenings in clothing. You can’t be blackmailed with photos, as could happen if you had been busy with a woman! There is no chance of a child being made accidentally. Celibacy is hereditary! If celibate, you are left with a greater reserve of time and energy to spend on other activities. Many religions prescribe brief periods of celibacy, say during Lent, or among Hindus, before going on pilgrimage in fulfillment of vows. You experience the rigours then!

The determined celibate suppresses sexual arousal. Someone has classified the arousal as follows: Type 1: Spontaneous, perhaps dream induced. Shahrazad, the narrator of stories in the BOOK OF A THOUSAND NIGHTS AND A NIGHT refers to it as coupling with air. I am not aware if Type1 applies the female of the species also! Type 2: Due to mechanical causes such as friction, vibration and so on. Type 3: Due to physical body chemistry – pheromone influence. Type 4: Due to deodorants and perfumes used. Type 5: Due to emotional attraction for another. Type 6: Due to seeing or hearing or reading about sexually oriented behaviour. For instance seeing a sex toy could set it off. As they say, the brain is the biggest sex organ, and often causes the arousal.

But there are consequences to prolonged celibacy. The arousal could explode due to the build up within. Great saints in Hinduism are said to have observed brahmacharya or continence for prolonged periods. But at long last they get easily tempted and lose control. The sages Vasistha and Agasthya were said to have been born to eminent saints directly from seed involuntarily released due to visual stimulii. The famous Rishyasringa was born to a doe through water borne seed of a rishi influenced by seeing a naked woman. Another rishi Gautama, kept his involuntarily lost seed in a trough, from which Drona, the great warrior of the MAHABHARATA was born.

There is an apocryphal story about the celibate philosopher Sankara, who tried to persuade a certain householder to leave his family and become celibate. The man’s wife said she would let her husband go if Sankara, who was reputed to be very wise, could answer her questions. The good woman who was no doubt very experienced in making love, put to him questions more fit to be answered by Vatsyayana, author of the KAMA SUTRA – the Hindu art of love. Sankara was flabbergasted, but vowed he would come back with answers. He didn’t go and read books! He saw the body of the king being taken for the funeral, and transferred his soul into it through his power of metempsychosis*. The ‘king’ returned and lived with his wives, quickly learning all answers needed by the wife of the householder. Sankara then willed his soul to leave the king’s body, and return to its own, when he went and gave the correct answers. The housewife charged that he had surely given up his brahmacharya to learn the answers, when he revealed the truth. She had to let her husband go!

There are many arguments against celibacy. In the BIBLE, God has said mankind should increase and multiply. Celibacy goes against that. In Chaucer’s CANTERBURY TALES, there is a tale told by the Wife of Bath. The good woman in a lusty and lengthy prologue, strongly condemns celibacy. She feels women shouldn’t be left to ‘burn within’ for want of a man, and matter-of-factly asks ‘Tell me to what purpose genitals were made, and for what purpose was man first wrought? Are our two belongings small (sic), made only for passing out urine, and to tell a female from a male?’ She vows that ‘in my wifehood, I will use my instrument as freely as the Maker has it sent, and my husband shall have it eve and morrow.’ The Wife of Bath outlasted 5 husbands, and says was prepared for a sixth!

In the book review which I cited at the start of this blog, a certain contemporary celibate woman is quoted as saying a torch and a good book are very good substitutes for a man. The reviewer acknowledges that he understood the purpose of choosing the book, but was puzzled about mention of the torch! So am I!

To me these reflections are purely of academic interest, as I’ve already been long locked in holy matrimony! I had never considered the pros and cons of celibacy, and had gone into matrimony – the way of all flesh! Do I regret my having lost my single status? I won’t answer! I know my wife will read this blog! I leave the reader to find the answer to the question which is the title of this blog!


NOTE: * Transportation of soul of human body into a new body of the same or different species.


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