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Two approaches to sense pleasures

zenguitarzenguitar Bad BuddhistNew England Veteran

Dear Sangha, on the one hand there is the approach of abstinence, in which you basically avoid sense pleasures like sumptuous foods, alcohol, sex, drugs, rock n’roll, etc , in the hope that by not exposing oneself to them, you will lose your attachment to these experiences (and won’t develop new ones). This is the approach taken by most Buddhist monastics.

On the other hand, there is the idea that it is okay to indulge in these pleasures (within reason) as long as you do so mindfully, being aware of the arising and decay of pleasure, and all the consequences—good and bad, pleasant and painful— that can arise from the experience. The idea is to investigate the experience thoroughly, kind of like a scientist of Dharma, in order to see its impermanence, lack of self-nature, and dukkha-nature. And you can only do that if you experience it.

Which approach is better? More advanced? More "Buddhist"? More dangerous? (I can see hazards in both approaches, actually.)

I welcome your insightful comments.

Comments

  • lobsterlobster Veteran Veteran

    Excellent questions.

    Ultimately it depends on you. Indulgence requires training in restraint . . . otherwise we eat, drink, fuck or otherwise stupor our senses into ignorance.

    Too much self indulgent abstinence and we become self righteous spiritual prigs.

    Middle way. For Lay Buddhists being in the world and not too of it . . . B)

    Be very interested in others experiences.

    zenguitarBunksBuddhadragon
  • personperson Don't believe everything you think the void Veteran

    Asking which is better is kind of like asking which medicine is better an antidepressant or one that lowers cholesterol. Meaning it really depends on the person and the situation.

    For myself I find it hard to go cold turkey while engaged with the world, I'm always running into my old triggers. So what I've found helpful is to not judge myself or beat myself up when I engage in my vices instead I generally just enjoy what I'm doing and then notice the negative wake of effects that follow and reflect on how my previous behavior has led to its consequences. Over time doing that has lessened certain cravings hold on me.

    Also what I'll do is take regular one day vows of abstinence, I find that holding out for one day is pretty doable. Certain things, for example unhealthy food, doing that for a while I now only have one day a week where I cheat and otherwise eat healthy. Its gotten to the point now where eating healthy really isn't a big deal and I often prefer the taste of the healthier option.

    When I've been in a retreat environment I found it helpful to abstain. In that sort of atmosphere you can concentrate fully on your practice and spend your energy on dealing with your cravings so they don't overwhelm you.

    I've been a Buddhist for almost 20 years now, finding a way to work with my cravings didn't happen right away, not even after a while really. So start slow, learn about why Buddhism says cravings harm you, not just that they are "bad", and be kind to yourself the road is filled with successes and failures and you can learn from them all.

    lobsterJayjayzenguitar
  • howhow Veteran Veteran

    I would suggest that an attentive awareness is what is important with either approach.
    Without this attitude, either method will likely partake of attachments.
    With this attitude in place, either method will be the Dharmic teaching you need.

    lobsterzenffpersonzenguitar
  • JeffreyJeffrey Veteran Veteran

    For myself I take baby steps. Sometimes I just sit with renunciation. Sometimes I cheerfully indulge and try to let go of guilt.

    lobsterzenguitar
  • zenffzenff Veteran Veteran

    Abstinence doesn’t set me free and indulgence doesn’t either.
    My attachments adjust to the level of sense-input.
    Monks don’t get excited over our “worldly” things, but maybe they get emotional over monastic details like who gets the pleasurable jobs or who gets to sit close to the abbot or something like that.

    So (as @how said) it’s the awareness that matters. Whether I indulge or abstain I can be mindful of the desires and aversions that are involved and I can work on transcending them; I can work on not identifying with them so much.

    howlobsterBuddhadragonzenguitar
  • JeffreyJeffrey Veteran Veteran
    edited November 2014

    Isn't the task of non-indulging inherently dualistic?

    zenguitar
  • JayjayJayjay Veteran Veteran

    I would agree strongly with what @person said in the last paragraph of his response. To know what indulgences mean, what they represent toward you. Because we could, lets say, take cocaine as an indulgence, if you really enjoy taking cocaine. You can't say a little bit is ok if you are mindful of the experience, it sounds crazy to even consider "mindful cocaine usage". Because you already know cocaine is an addictive and harmful drug. So, likewise, being knowledgable of your personal indulgences and what they mean will bring you the answer as to how to personally deal with them. If you realize something is a 'harmful drug' to you, maybe you need to cut it out completely. But maybe something like sex, isn't really bad as long as its taken mindfully and in moderation. I definitely believe that as lay people we must take this decision one indulgence at a time, and try not to file all our desires under "Do Not Indulge" :) Hope my comment is insightful

    JeffreylobsterBuddhadragonzenguitar
  • lobsterlobster Veteran Veteran
    edited November 2014

    @Jeffrey said:
    For myself I take baby steps. Sometimes I just sit with renunciation. Sometimes I cheerfully indulge and try to let go of guilt.

    :)
    Good plan.

    Time, place and personal capacity. Some renunciates indulge their abstinence [can it be true? - It sure is.] Others in the midst of hedonistic temptation are in fact immune to its indulgence. They have no attachment to its trappings.

    It is why the Middle Way and the baby steps @Jeffrey mentions is a personal assesment and path choice. As @Jayjay says sex is for lay people a usually positive, nurturing and natural activity. Samsara is the problem but also the means of practice and transcendence.

    The Buddhas, bless their cotton socks, live in the same Dukkha and samsara and ever present empty Nirvana we all do. They just have 'Right Attitude' which I think is part of the 9 fold path or I may just have indulged in an extra one . . . :p

    zenguitar
  • pegembarapegembara Veteran Veteran
    edited November 2014

    @zenguitar said:
    Dear Sangha, on the one hand there is the approach of abstinence, in which you basically avoid sense pleasures like sumptuous foods, alcohol, sex, drugs, rock n’roll, etc , in the hope that by not exposing oneself to them, you will lose your attachment to these experiences (and won’t develop new ones). This is the approach taken by most Buddhist monastics.

    On the other hand, there is the idea that it is okay to indulge in these pleasures (within reason) as long as you do so mindfully, being aware of the arising and decay of pleasure, and all the consequences—good and bad, pleasant and painful— that can arise from the experience. The idea is to investigate the experience thoroughly, kind of like a scientist of Dharma, in order to see its impermanence, lack of self-nature, and dukkha-nature. And you can only do that if you experience it.

    Which approach is better? More advanced? More "Buddhist"? More dangerous? (I can see hazards in both approaches, actually.)

    I welcome your insightful comments.

    There is nothing inherently wrong with enjoying sense pleasures. Only the expectation that they last or persist ( that leads to craving/addiction) leads to dukkha. After all the Buddha himself had the opportunity to experience all the pleasures that a prince could have.

    The monastic form actually involves renunciation of sense pleasures so that the trainee has an opportunity to find pleasure in simple things. The seeking behaviour is discouraged and instead the aim is to discover pleasures not dependent on the senses eg. jhanas. The aim is to discover the ultimate "pleasure" which is nibbana. Aya Khema said that monks who has not attained the jhanas are more likely to go back to lay life - that made sense to me.

    lobsterzenguitar
  • BuddhadragonBuddhadragon Ehipassiko & Carpe Diem Samsara Veteran

    @lobster said:
    Ultimately it depends on you. Indulgence requires training in restraint . . . otherwise we eat, drink, fuck or otherwise stupor our senses into ignorance.
    Too much self indulgent abstinence and we become self righteous spiritual prigs.
    Middle way. For Lay Buddhists being in the world and not too of it . . . B)

    Since I'm a laywoman, abstinence is definitely a no-no.
    I'll go by what @lobster wrote: Middle Way and training in restraint.

    The more mindful I live, the more my senses are sharpened to the beauty of the world.
    Everyday life can be a sensual experience.

    The point is savouring life but knowing when something is too much.
    Everything in moderation: no attachment, no craving, but also no aversion.

    Restraining one's senses excessively when one is not leading a monastic life borders the pathological and is as negative as indulging excessively in the pleasures of the senses.

    zenguitarsilver
  • zenguitarzenguitar Bad Buddhist New England Veteran

    Thanks everyone, great insightful stuff, as usual.

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