I've been trying to explain to a few of my interested friends some of the basics of Buddhism. We've talked about the Triple Gems and the Four Noble Truths. And we are now discussing the 5 Precepts.
When we got to the third Precept, about sexual misconduct, I had to profess a lack of understanding. I think it's fairly obvious how the precept would relate to those who are married.
But how about to those who are not involved in adultery? How about gay relationships?
I think it's about not harming. With adultery that would also be 4th precept unless the spouse knows about it and then it is an open relationship or something that the couple decided for their own relationship. For gay relationships it's no different than straight. They should be non-harming gay and straight relationships.
So some things I think violate (not in any order):
Sex with underage*
Sex with someone under care of their parents who have their rules
Sex for one night stand but only if you think that harms yourself
Sex without consent*
Sex with a married person
Sex with a person in committed monogamous relationship outside of marriage
Sex that causes disease i.e. not using condemns when needed
Sex that causes unwanted pregnancy i.e. not using birth control
Just to add to the confusion:
What about a single person sleeping with a prostitute?
The vibe I got from some interpretations of the third precept is that if you're single you should be celibate.
Not sure how I feel about that......
Good, thoughtful post. Thanks, Jeffrey!
Interesting that you mention that. I very briefly and gently asked about the Precept to two Thai monks, and the impression I had from their response was that you should be celibate if you are single. Not sure I agree. But I have been contemplating the topic.
Yep. I have read and heard the same numerous times.
Lust is lust isn't it?
The Buddha certainly didn't mention it in the Pali Canon.
I too find @Jeffrey points very helpful, useful and compassionate/realistic.
As well as celibacy, masturbation and prostitution, we might consider the online sex phenomena ... and perhaps the future of robot partners.
Incidentally asking celibates for help on sexuality is like asking an anorexic for gateaux baking recommendations ...
Human sexuality. Fun!
If you think about the sexual act, for most sexually active people, 'pleasure' is a driving force...a 'desire' to "satisfy" an urge ( be it short lived satisfaction)...
At times perhaps making babies is a goal for some people but it's not the main goal on most sexually active people's minds...
As for the "lay-person" (in this day and age) one would think regardless of sexual orientation or gender identity.... "Do No Harm", the legal age, and "mutual consent" would be the key factors, when contemplating sexual misconduct....
However in the long run....
Should the Middle Way also apply when it comes to sexual misconduct...?
Avoid the two extremes...
Find a happy medium
Interesting post, and along the lines of what I think. But...
I actually don't really understand what you mean.
If I went to a monk and said "Hey, I am single and not in love with anyone. Should I be having sex?"
And his reply was "avoid the two extremes. Find the Middle Way" I'd be a little baffled quite frankly.
The Middle Way (avoiding the two extremes ie, extreme aversion & extreme desire) will always come back to the individual's choice, what one feels comfortable with/doing, what gives one peace of mind
In other words, if one feels comfortable doing what one is doing (providing there is mutual consent within the law and no "intention" to harm ) then do it...
I think for the most part here at NB, much of what's discussed relates to "lay-people" (worldly people's) approach to the Dharma and not to monastics (most (but not all) members here are lay-people) ...
Buddhism is (from what I gather) a go with the flow spiritual system where 'evidential facts/experience' and not 'beliefs' are of the utmost importance...
sex is fascinating. i think what it reveals about ourselves is more interesting than pleasure vs non pleasure. anything can be transformed into a constructive, even religious/spiritual experience.
from "Radical Love" by Patrick S Cheng
and for the vanilla
Thank you @Shoshin - well said.
Celibacy does feel like an extreme. Being open to a loving relationship which doesn't harm anyone seems like the middle way. Wanton casual sex without protections or thought of third parties seems like the other extreme.
I largely agree with Jeffrey's points on what would constitute a breach of the third precept, anything which causes emotional or physical damage to others seems like it's a breach. Sex tends to cause strong emotions and reactions to arise, and it makes sense to take extra care of others in this area of human life.
Even celibacy for monks I have wondered about in the past, wether that was not going to an extreme to avoid an area of human life. But then a monks' lifestyle is extreme in quite a few ways.
As always, I appreciate TNH's approach to the precepts. I do think it is time to extend the precepts to include newer phenomenon and account for our more modern lives. And as always, it depends who you ask. HHDL has always maintained that if he learns new information, he changes his view, as it should be. And over time he has changed his view on gay relationships and marriage as a result. I don't think there is any one answer.
I think it is hard for us when we look for hard and fast rules about how to do or how to be Buddhist (or whatever else). I think we want that. But I get the sense, increasingly, that we are meant to adjust our views as we delve deeper into our understanding, and that things were not 100% spelled out for that reason. Every precept is going to take on a slightly different meaning for each of us, which makes for challenging discussions, but I think that is how it should be. It makes Buddhism a living practice instead of just following rules and trying to clarify how we should be following them.
I think a lot of our "I want to understand this exactly so I can work to follow it exactly" still stems from the puritan and Christian values so many of us are raised with. There there is a right way, and we need to really understand that to "do it right" but I just don't think that is true.
TNH's take on it if anyone needs a refresher:
They can be tall orders, especially if we read something and realize we behave that way. But that doesn't make it a bad thing. It's not meant to be a judgment of yourself. Just a way to continue our practices to be living, and adjusting constantly. I think we have to go through particular experiences to come out the other side sometimes.
This is merely my View:
The first Precept states that one will vow to determine that we shall do no Harm. Complying with this recommendation means we do no harm to others and directly - or indirectly - to ourselves. (Every intentional malice towards others hurts us too.)
In my opinion, and from what I have understood, this First Precept binds all.
The Precepts that follow are a potential to do harm.
Stealing harms others, on many levels, whether you steal a few biros, the odd box of staples, that roll of sellotape, that post-it notepad from work, or that jumper from the clothes store, that apple from the supermarket or that newspaper from the newsstand.... The same logic applies to 'careless talk' (4) and the intake of mind-altering substances (5) - be they a glass of wine or a line of coke....
With regard to the third, I have come to understand that apart from the explanations so well outlined by @Jeffrey, any sexual act that compromises the Will and cooperation of any one of those involved - breaks that precept.
(ETA: What the heck is it with me and that word 'from'..?! I always type 'form'! FGS!!)
An interesting post, Karasti (as usual).
But I guess I have to take a sort of middle of the road approach to what you said.
On the one hand, we do have to adjust our principles to some extent to changing times. But I don't see principles as being overly flexible. And I think we have to be alert to whether -- when we are modifying our principles -- we are just fooling ourselves and just wanting to do what we want to do, instead of reasoning through a principle that we hold to see if we actually need to rethink the principle. The former is what I refer to as "pop Buddhism", the latter is delving deeper into our principles and seeing if there is a need to look differently at them BASED ON OTHER PRINCIPLES. And then, on a completely different level, that puritan approach that Americans have often taken is based not as much on principles as they are on RULES. And rules can get pretty silly. Like the argument that ensued at one of our faculty meetings about how important it was to have a rule that students could not chew gum in school...even though a majority of teachers thought teachers should be able to chew gum in school. Another rule bit the dust when the principle refused to allow that kind of hypocrisy (I was the principal).
TNH's modern principles actually add on to the basicness of the 3rd precept. They really aren't more flexible, they just give us more to think about. I actually find them stricter because they nail down some things that are uncomfortable for many of us living in the free societies that we do. Have you ever read them?
We should always take the middle way, but what that means for each of us is going to change based on our understanding of those precepts, which was my point. My middle way will not be your middle way. How I read the any precept is vastly different now than 5 years ago. And would have been that much more so varied 20 years ago. But, I can't take my changing and growing understanding and apply that to someone else.
I know I am harping on a bit about it but I do struggle with the idea that as a single person I should stop having sex.
I am happy to openly admit I sleep with sex workers (it is legal in Australia) fairly regularly. And there are times when I feel ok about it and times when I don't.
I still want to have sex so my only other alternatives are:
As Ajahn Brahm says, "Good? Bad? Who knows......"
Slightly off track.....
"This" might be of interest to some members unfamiliar with Tibetan culture...
"Polyandry is a marital arrangement in which a woman has several husbands. In Tibet, those husbands are often brothers; "fraternal polyandry". Concern over which children are fathered by which brother falls on the wife alone. She may or may not say who the father is because she does not wish to create conflict in the family or is unsure who the biological father is. Historically the social system compelled marriage within a social class."
I don't know that that is a recommendation or expectation.
It might be advice, but nobody (AFAIK) would force you to make that decision.
As I said (and as it has been explained to me) do nothing that would compromise the will or happy cooperation of any person involved.
If it feels good? Do it.
When in doubt? Don't.
The question is, is that the Buddhist teaching or just us doing what we want?
@Bunks if you feel you are making the right choice for you and being good to your partner, and you are sure the industry in your country is well regulated (not using human trafficking, pimps, abuse, drugs etc) then it's simply your choice to make. It really is up to you to determine what works in your life and how it works with your practice. I don't recall reading where Buddha told single laypeople not to have sex. There is no requirement that you agree with the precepts. If you take them, you are making a promise to yourself. If you don't agree with what underlies them, they don't take them and cause yourself a guilt complex over it. I still drink. But when I take precepts, I do my best to be mindful of them all day. So if I take precepts in the morning and include the one not to drink, then I don't drink. They are promises to myself to keep them because I find value in them and find them important.
Hi @karasti - I should add further that I have taken the five precepts and I intend keeping them as best I can.
I have given up alcohol completely for some time now and am trying to keep the others.
I suppose, as you say, it's up to me to decide if what I'm doing is breaking the third precept.
I reckon it would be rare to meet a monk or nun who would be comfortable with it.......(not that it really matters I suppose).
For me, the sticky part actually comes more in the Eightfold Path rather than the precepts. I know our focus on Right Livelihood has to do with how we make our living and things we shouldn't be putting out into the world. But for me, it only makes sense if we look at how we also participate in and financially support those businesses as well. They wouldn't exist, after all, unless we paid them.
Also, and hopefully this comes out the right way. But do we make it easier on ourselves by accepting that someone is making their own choice (ie the prostitute)? I realize they might not be Buddhists, but I think working as a prostitute is probably pretty clearly against the 3rd precept and Right Livelihood both, and encouraging someone to keep with a career that is probably not very good for them, knowing why Buddha recommended against it. I hope that makes sense, I feel a bit tongue-tied trying to explain it. I am strictly against putting one's beliefs on another person. But I think most of us also do believe that Buddhism's precepts and N8FP are a pretty good set of foundational principles and it seems to me that encouraging someone else to live against them maybe isn't as rationalized in our minds as we think they are.
I'm not trying to convince you either way. Your path is your path. Mine has included some twists and turns that definitely don't fit into my path now, but they were still part of where I am today. This is just the kind of thought process I take when I am considering such matters, particularly meat eating because I still do it and I still have issues with supporting people who make a living on something Buddha highly recommended we not do. I accept my Karma in the matter. But I hope my contributing to that industry does not contribute to the Karma of someone else who may be ignorant. ANYHOW, my thought process has led to me making changes in those areas, even if I have not abandoned them at this point for a million reasons I won't go into here.
No offence at all @karasti - I always appreciate your thoughtful comments.
I am not entirely convinced it's right myself.
But I am unwilling to stop at this stage.
Who knows, I may change soon. I have certainly changed quite a few behaviours in my life over the last 5 years or so since I began treading this path........
Interesting that we pick and choose how we pick and choose. Everyone cherry picks and complains when others cherry pick. I include myself in this general comment.
That, right there.
That's the Key Comment.
THAT'S the one which carries every aspect of both the precept and The EightFold Path.
I am neither asking nor expecting you to expand on it here.
On the contrary.
Focus on it in your Meditation.
disassemble it, scrutinise it and see the profundity of it.
Go beyond the carnal. Go beyond the feeling.
Strip it apart and seek your answer as to Why.
I can only reply by stating that it is as a Theravadin Buddhist Monk explained it in a Dhamma Talk to laypersons, at Amravati.
A Theravada monk said, "If it feels good, do it?" Really?
Baby steps mate. I gave up alcohol a couple of months ago. Haven't missed it so far but I guess the urge may arise at some stage!
@vinlyn who is complaining about anyone's cherry picking in this thread? A bit confused by your cherry picking comment, as I didn't see anyone complaining in either case. But maybe I missed something.
@Bunks I would just keep going back in meditation and investigating it. I saw that because you have brought it up a few times now, and it seems to be if you felt like you were making the best choice for you and taking your Buddhist beliefs into consideration, you wouldn't feel a need to ask. The idea that single people shouldn't have sex is a matter of culture and opinion of those who express that view. It isn't across the board by any means. And what is "Single" anyways? Are you always single if you aren't married? That definition is too limiting for me. I spent 12 years with someone I raised 2 kids with, we weren't married, but i definitely wasn't single. We were definitely committed. I've also had a couple of really interesting sexual relationships where we were not in a relationship but yet we had a relationship of a sort anyways. For myself, when I started looking into those (and I was quite young) they weren't really working for me, so I stopped doing it. The key is to dig through those levels of why the desire for sex is so strong yet you keeping coming back to the same question after several months as to whether what you are doing is ok. Only you can answer that, and all I can say is, that for myself, when I have to ask, I usually know something about it is uncomfortable for me. And then I start to dig through it. Pushing those doubts away is also an option, but that is where we lose the middle way in aversion. That doesn't mean I always decide to stop doing it immediately though. Working through stuff takes time.
If you were able to say to yourself "I take a sex worker on occasion and here's how it works with my beliefs and my practice and how I feel about it, and it's the right way for me" then there really would be no problem. But that isn't what you've been saying the few times you have brought it up over the months. Just don't let the culture of other people determine what is right for you.
Hey @Bunks you are a good guy and a good father and am certain you treat people well. Definitely don't beat yourself up as the world needs more good people like yourself.
Best wishes to you and I am certain your path will take you in the right direction. You meditate, you reflect, you change, you adapt. Keep following your path.
@Bunks. Freedom exists only for those who have broken their chains of bondage. You have made some most wonderful progress on your path to date. So what is next on your path? I think you already know. The fruit of practice brings joy that makes the mundane pleasures taste like stale beer.
I'm not even sure how I feel about recreational sex period. A part of me seems to think that sex without the reproduction aspect of it turns it into a drug. Like a slap in the face to sentient existence, lol.
I'm obviously in the minority on this one and my wife and I do enjoy each other physically and if and when we have another child running around, I've said I'd get myself snipped.
I'm not worried about it too much and actually hope that nagging feeling doesn't stop me from showing her love in the physical way once we aren't shooting for a kid.
@David My husband got snipped 7 years ago, it has actually improved our sex life because pregnancy isn't something on our mind, whether actively pursuing, or hoping to avoid it. It's wonderfully freeing when you are ready for it. Even when I was on birth control, I tended to avoid sex when I knew I was ovulating because my first son is the result of a 99.7% effective birth control. So it's nice to have that concern gone, along with the birth control, too.
There were times in my younger life that I had a handful of sexual relationships with no attachments, and at this point in my life, I am just so grateful that no consequences came of that, pregnancy, STDs or otherwise. Even with protection, it was always a concern for me. Especially because I had to rely on the guy using it properly, and when I was young I had no idea if he was or not,
Oh yes, absolutely....!
No, silly.... I mean his explanation of the 3rd Precept!
It's a subtle issue throughout much of this thread.
Is it possible you are reading more into things than really exist? Just because people are addressing other issues, doesn't mean they aren't aware of their own.
I do think, also, there is a difference between true "cherry picking" and simply being in different places of understanding and ability to change things. I try not to cherry pick, as in, randomly determine something is unnecessary or unimportant just because I am unwilling or unable to change my life to meet it. Just because I make other choices sometimes doesn't mean I discard the teaching (which to me is what cherry picking is - taking what you like best and throwing out the rest). I just am not in a place, for whatever reason, to make those chances. Doesn't mean it's not on my mind and not looked at frequently, however. I suspect many people are the same.
Thanks for your input guys!
@karasti is right - the very fact it keeps coming up is probably a good sign I am not really comfortable with some of my life style choices at the moment.
I'll keep looking into it.
As laypeople...cherry picking is what we do (well most of us anyway ) ...
We tend to do what we feel comfortable doing...More often than not we get to the Middle Way by 'way' of cherry picking our way...
At the risk of being Captain Bitchy, it's a sometimes not so subtle issue throughout much of the forum
Very true. And I've gotten caught up in arguments discussions about it.
My position always is -- "you" are following a certain path. That's fine. But is it Buddhism? Or is it "pop Buddhism".
To me the foundations of Buddhism are the Triple Gem, the 4 NT, the 5 Precepts, and the Noble Eightfold Path. If one is leaving out major parts of those foundations, then what is it.
Of course, they are free to take whatever path they wish.
Pop Buddhism? The forum has it?
Have we exploded/expanded too much here at NB? Have we diluted the market?
Should we downsize?
I think using the term "pop" Buddhism is just a way to feel superior and/or more secure. It's a dig at people who have found a differing interpretation but we all cherry pick to a degree. Especially those of us adhering to specific sects.
To me it seems as if the very essence of Buddhism is "anti-pop". It is a studious path of self improvement, of slowly eliminating bad influences through sila and examining negative mind states and of proceeding to concentration and meditation once you've gotten there.
The only thing is, one shouldn't be so involved in it that one forgets to live and enjoy life. The focussed accomplishment of goals is one thing, being present to enjoy the world's bounty is another.
I tend to hold this view myself.
I don't know if I agree with that. I understand the point you're making. I don't think it's due to feeling superior though. Personally, I think it comes down to the fact that there's "traditional" Buddhism and "western", "secular" or "non traditional" Buddhism. Most "Cherry picking" appears to occur in these non traditional schools because, to use a common explanation, people like the gist of Buddhism but not the supernatural aspects - rebirth, the word "gods", devas etc. Now personally, I don't give a flying fig in a rolling donut which side of the fence you're on in regards to Buddhist schools, but just because the traditional ones were around first doesn't mean the later ones are more or less superior. And I think that's where the "digging" starts.
Oh there's more than that. Buddhism has always been changing as it is introduced to different cultures. Your "traditional" Buddhism is an umbrella term that covers very many sects that teach very different things.
Yes, and that is when we hear terms like Hinayana and "pop" Buddhism. When I hear "pop" Buddhism I think of mindfulness courses without any reference to dharma. I don't use it as a term for identifying Buddhists that see the dharma differently. There is a big difference in my opinion.
I think cherry picking happens for a few reasons and I'm more inclined to figure it's mostly because of the subjectivity of rationalization. What makes sense to me may not make sense to you and we are to examine the teachings subjectively and not take them on faith.
But why is it our place to judge where anyone else is on the Buddhist path (or any other path)? to be completely honest, the precepts I took with my teacher are not the typical 5, so despite that fact that you took one set of precepts and think I have to follow them, they are not the precepts I took, so perhaps I am breaking YOUR precepts, but I never took YOUR precepts, so I am not breaking anything.
@vinlyn your post comes across as if you expect people to follow perfectly those aspects of Buddhism at least, yet you admitted you failed badly at at least one area of that in recent weeks. You did the right thing and went back to look at what happened and why. That is what most of the rest of us do. But it all comes down to how we truly understand everything we are working with. When our understandings vary, so will our following of the dharma vary.
I don't think it's "pop buddhism" to have doubts about the supernatural aspects. The Buddha himself said to "test the teachings" and those kinds of claims are inherently untestable. You could say there is a contradiction in the learning on this point, and I'm strongly in favour of an evidence-based, scientific basis to my beliefs.
That said I'm willing to be somewhat flexible because of my personal experiences around death, I strongly believe there is some form of life after death, a continuation of existence, and I've experienced some evidence for humans in other forms beyond the physical. Rebirth, karma, gods, devas, dakini's, I place in the doubtful category, because they can't be proven.
But you never know... dealing with uncertainty is a fact of life.