To abandon sexual misconduct
For this vow, the object of our sexual misconduct is if we have a vow of celibacy, it is any other person; if we are not celibate and we have a partner, it is anyone other than our partner; if we are not celibate and do not have a partner, it is anyone else’s partner, our own parent, a child, anyone with a vow of celibacy, pregnant women, animals, or anyone who does not consent. As far as the intention is concerned, we must know that they are an object of sexual misconduct. We must be determined to commit sexual misconduct. And we must be motivated by delusion. Usually it is committed out of desirous attachment. As far as the preparation is concerned, there are many ways to engage in this action but we already know all of those! This action is complete when sexual bliss is experienced by means of the union of the two sex organs. This last point on the action being completed sometimes gives rise to the question, “well then is it sexual misconduct if our sex organs do not come into union?” The answer to this question is very simple: if you think your partner would object, then it is not OK. Full stop.
Please note, within Kadampa Buddhism, heterosexuality and homosexuality are treated in exactly the same way, there is no difference. Please note, it also does not include masturbation (though for ordained people, this does weaken their vows, though it doesn’t break them). Finally please note, this also doesn’t say it is wrong to engage in sexual activity for reasons other than procreation, it says nothing about anything wrong with birth control, etc., etc., etc.
I have posted in the past why people engage in affairs (you can find it by doing a search of the archive). The short version is we relate to our partner and to sexual activity in the same way we relate to any other object of attachment, like pizza. The first few pieces are good, but the more we eat the less we enjoy it. Other foods start to look more appealing, so we switch to eating something else. This is the completely wrong understanding of sexual actions. Sexual actions are opportunities to cherish others and give them happiness, not something we consume for ourselves. We derive our enjoyment from loving others and making them happy. Sexual activity is an opportunity to draw very close to somebody else and deepen a relationship. If we don’t get our attitude towards sexual activity correct, then even if it is not sexual misconduct, it is still not necessarily a good thing for us.
It is not at all uncommon for one partner in a couple to have stronger sexual desire than the other, and this can be a source of frustration and a temptation to go elsewhere. Aside from the fact that there are other means to relieve oneself, we should view these gaps in sexual desire as emanated by Dorje Shugden to give us an opportunity to bring our sexual attachment under a bit more control. In this sense, it is a similitude of the ordination vows of celibacy. We are essentially saying we will be celibate with everybody except our partner. Bringing our sexual attachment under control is not easy, but it is still necessary. Buddha said the three biggest chains holding us in samsara are sex, drugs and rock n’ roll (well, those weren’t his exact words, but the meaning was the same). If we don’t bring our sexual attachment under control, it will be very difficult to escape from samsara. So from this perspective, the difference between an ordained person and a lay person in a committed relationship is not that different. We have much we can learn from each other.
If we have strong sexual attachment, we can pursue a multi-prong strategy. First, we should read Chapter 8 in Meaningful to Behold again and again to help us reduce our exaggerated notions of the attractiveness of another human body. I love breasts, I will admit it, but if we check they are just bags of fat. Second, as best we can, we should avoid things that fuel the fire, such as pornography, etc. But the reality is sexual imagery is omni-present in our society, so there is no avoiding it. But there is a difference between encountering it as we go about our life and seeking it out compulsively.
Third, and this is the most important, we need to get to the point where we want to get out of samsara more than we want its pleasures. We are desire realm beings, which means we have no choice but to pursue our desires. If in our heart, our desire is still dominated by sexual attachment, if we try to force ourselves to avoid making contact, etc., then all we will do is just repress the desires. They will build up, and eventually we will give in and do something we subsequently regret. This is not Dharma practice. Dharma practice is a very active process of picking apart and reducing our desirous attachment primarily by (1) reducing our exaggerated attitudes down to something in line with the underlying reality of what is actually there, and (2) considering the disadvantages of following the delusion. There are few delusions that create more problems for living beings than sexual attachment. Just open any newspaper or consider your own life for more than 3 seconds and you will have plenty of material to work with. At the same time, we need to consider the advantages of not following the delusion. Every time a delusion arises but we choose to not follow it understanding it to be deceptive, we are engaging in the practice of moral discipline. Each action of moral discipline creates the cause for a higher rebirth. So quite literally, if in a given 5 minute period we successfully see through the lies of our sexual attachment and not follow it, say 20 times, then we just created 20 causes for 20 future higher rebirths. What will bring more happiness, five minutes of some porn video or an entire life time in the upper realms? Are we ready to sacrifice one for the other? If so, which one will we sacrifice? If we value the happiness of our future lives as much as we value our present happiness (the definition of a spiritual being) then the choice becomes obvious.
4 thoughts on “Vows, commitments and modern life: Pratimoksha vows: Abandoning sexual misconduct.”
In contrast to the Sutra perspective, Buddha gave specific permission to generate attachment for the sole purpose of generating bliss; from Action Tantra through to Completion Stage practice. These practices are more geared towards our times, filled with endless desires.
Pornography for example is not anything from it’s own side. Objects and their characteristics are projections of mind. A spiritual practitioner can joyfully experience any object without having to ‘give it up’. Obviously, there is a fine line here. Buddha didn’t say go get smashed and have sex with as many people as possible. He said give up the mind that sees pleasure from the side of the object. Great bliss is generated within. The objects of attachment then become gifts for transforming the mind.
Technically speaking, attachment cannot be transformed because it is a delusion but it can act as a gasoline to realise where real bliss arises from.
Thank you for your helpful post. I wonder if you have any further insight into what constitutes sexual misconduct for a lay practitioner. I am in a committed relationship with another Buddhist who has taken pratimoksha vows, at the time he took those vows, sexual misconduct was explained to him to include certain times of the day that he must abstain from sexual intercourse, that being between sunrise and sunset. The confusion remains as to whether this is Geshe-las advice or if it’s dependent upon ones teacher and their interpretation? As we have not been able to find this written in any explanations of sexual misconduct.
That is not Geshe-la’s teachings to us. Perhaps many years ago when he first arrived in the West he said something along those lines, I don’t know. But that is not in Joyful Path. With that being said, I think in the past within the lineage this is perhaps something that was taught. I think the logic behind it was to not waste the daytime but instead to use it for more productive activities. I think with universal electricity, the distinction between day and night is less of an issue. I guess the point is don’t be engaging in sexual activities if you have something better you could be doing with your time. Bottom line, don’t worry!
Thank you, that’s very helpful.