Never to release seminal fluid; to rely upon pure behavior.
We should try not to release our red and white drops. Releasing our drops interferes with our development of great bliss.
This is another vow that often gives rise to a good deal of doubt, worry and confusion. Does this mean it is a Tantric downfall to have an orgasm? The short answer is eventually, yes; but until then, be natural.
First, why does the release of our drops interfere with the development of great bliss? While the drops of our subtle body and those of our gross body are not the same things, there is close relationship between them. When we release our gross seminal fluids, it is also like opening up the floodgates and we lose a tremendous amount of our inner energy drops. The drops of our subtle body are what give our body and mind vitality. Losing our drops, then, functions to drain us of our vitality. From the early Gladiators to modern day boxers, this is a fact that is well known. Such fighters would refrain from losing their drops before their fights because doing so drains them of the strength they will need in the arena.
When we lose our drops, it does not just drain us of our physical vitality, but also our mental vitality. Even in the early days of our spiritual training, we can notice a big difference in the quality of our meditation and insight between when we have not released our drops for some time and when we just did last night. This is the experience of all those who have bothered to check if it is true.
Does this mean we should all become ordained, or if not ordained does this mean we should all stop having orgasms? I asked Venerable Tharchin this question once. He said (paraphrasing), “it is extremely difficult for those who are not ordained to do this. Ordination provides special blessings which helps us control such desires. But even the ordained frequently lose their drops, if not through masturbation (which weakens, though doesn’t break one’s ordination vows) then during their dreams. Whether we are ordained or not, though, the logic is the same: at some point our desire for realizations is greater than our desire for an orgasm, and when this happens we naturally desire to lose our drops less and less. But we shouldn’t worry that this will destroy our sex life, if truth be told – and I speak from experience here as a child of the 60s – it makes it better.”
We should become acutely aware of the relationship between our losing of our drops and the decline in our vitality and ability to meditate effectively. As we deepen our experience of Dharma, and in particular the lamrim, there will come a point where we start to want realizations more than we want the pleasant feelings of an orgasm. We will see the trade-off between the two, and from our own side choose to refrain from losing our drops, even if only for a short while. Over time, we will start to want to refrain for longer and longer, not out of some feeling that losing our drops is some “sin,” but rather we simply want realizations more. We forgo all sorts of samsaric pleasures for the sake of gaining Dharma realizations, willingly and gladly. Losing our drops is just one more example.
In my view, the best analogy for understanding the process by which we gradually forgo more and more samsaric pleasures is one of a child outgrowing their toys. When my first born was a baby, her favorite toy was a Pampers Wipies box. It was quite fascinating for her. She could open the lid, put things in, close the lid and everything would disappear. She could then re-open the lid and they would magically reappear! She could then take things out and start all over again. Like all samsaric enjoyments, gradually, though the wonder of it all wore off and she started to become interested in new, better toys like Pet Shop Pets and Barbies. There was never a point where she felt guilty about playing with her Pampers box like doing so was “wrong,” she rather just naturally left it behind as she moved on to more sophisticated pleasures. Now, she would never choose to play with a Pampers box for the simple reason of she has outgrown it. In exactly the same way, as our experience of Dharma increases we gradually and quite naturally outgrow our various samsaric pleasures. We do not abandon them because we feel guilty about it like they are some sin, rather we simply gradually leave them behind as we move on to more qualified spiritual pleasures. We spiritually outgrow them, even such things as releasing our drops.
Within our sexual relationships, we can begin by saying we will not lose our drops with anybody other than our partner and ourself. This can combine our refraining from sexual misconduct with this vow. Then we can start to do it with ourself less and less, while continuing to lose them as normal with our partner. Eventually we can get to the point where we don’t lose our drops with ourself, except during our dreams. Over time, even that will become less and less until eventually it stops altogether. With our partner, we can work to go longer and longer without losing our drops, training to not do so until we can no longer not. This means longer and often greater pleasure for both you and your partner, and it means making progress with this vow. Eventually, it is even possible where you could reach the point where you maintain an active sex life with your partner but never lose your drops. Venerable Tharchin winked, saying, “after I did that, my sex life really took off.”
10 thoughts on “Vows, commitments and modern life: Is it wrong to have an orgasm?”
When I got ordained I thought my sexual desire would just immediately fall off, like a tadpole’s tail. When it didn’t I had a huge panic thinking I was in real danger of breaking my vows. I struggled for a while with the “sitting on your hands” technique I did when I tried not biting my nails. I had some residue C of E guilt in there! Then, through the blessings of my Spiritual Guide, my teacher taught us how to transform our attachment into the practice of the four joys. It is a game changer, to say the least 😀
Not that I am even remotely at this level yet, but, the question arises in my mind, does this only apply to men? Is it just related to seminal fluid, or would apply to vaginal fluid in women? Just wondering, for future reference 🙂
It applies equally to women. When they have an orgasm, their subtle energy drops are equally released, there just isn’t the same physical manifestation of the release.
Ah, ok. I assumed it must be the same, just wasn’t sure how related to…physical manifestations, as you say! 😀
You kind of alluded to an answer to my question, but I still have some doubts: I’ve only been taking the tantric vows at an aspiring rather than engaging level in the many HYT empowerments I’ve had over the last 20 years specifically because of this vow. I have felt that I just haven’t been ready to stop having orgasms altogether with partners or by masturbation, mostly the latter, since I haven’t had a permanent partner all this time. As you describe in your next post on masturbation, the desire, and with that the frequency, has certainly been decreasing over time naturally as my wish for realizations has increased, but it is not zero. By my old criterion, this would mean that I still can’t engage the tantric vows. But I’m now wondering if I have been mistaken all along and that I should be taking the vows fully, and approach those times I do lose seminal fluid in another way–that it is not entirely breaking my vows, a terrible sin as you say, and can perhaps be e.g. purified with the four opponent powers. What do you think?
Sorry for the delay in responding, I have been away from regular computer access. Yes, I would definitely say you have been letting the perfect be the enemy of the good. The actual vow we take in the empowerment is to do our best to work gradually with all of the vows until one day we can keep them all perfectly. We are not expected to keep them all perfectly from the beginning. If we could do so we wouldn’t need the vows in the first place. The practice of moral discipline is primarily a mental activity, specifically one of changing our intention. Moral discipline in a Dharma context is not a “I shouldn’t”, rather it is a “I don’t want to anymore.” Our first task, therefore, is to change what we want to where we no longer WANT to act in ways inconsistent with the vows. Repression is the death of moral discipline. When we repress, we are miserable until eventually we indulge, then we swing to guilt, self-loathing and loss of self-confidence. Changing what we want is a long process of meditating on the lamrim, the benefits of each moral discipline, the disadvantages of going against it long enough until it actually touches our heart and we WANT to change our behavior. Then, slowly, gradually, we change our behavior. For some practices of moral discipline this is easy, for others it is a lifelong practice.
Having an orgasm and masterbating is not a sin or some moral evil. Rather, it is something that depletes our spiritual vitality. At the beginning of our practice, we can’t even notice the difference. After about 20 years of practicing we start noticing some difference. Then, we start considering how spiritual progress matters more than temporary pleasures, and we no longer WANT to sacrifice the former on the altar of the latter. Then our external behavior starts to change in a natural way.
Thank you very much, Kadam Ryan. You have improved my understanding manyfold.
I have a question in regards to the section where you mention that masturbation doesn’t break ordained vows, only weakens them? Maybe I am not up to speed on the vows ordained take, but wouldn’t that break them seeing part of it is a mental action?
But then again if the two sexual organs never meet in person, then its not a complete action. So then yes it would be an incomplete action and the just weaken the vows. Am I on the right path here?
Since I am also not ordained, I can’t say I know the finer points and distinctions. I have merely heard from a few ordained teachers I know that it only weakens the vows. But my suggestion would be you speak directly with somebody who is ordained to make sure, especially if you are considering ordination yourself. I wouldn’t want to misdirect you on something like this.
Dear Steven, dear Kadampa Ryan,
I appreciate this meaningful blog and your thoughts on how to practice Kadam Dharma in daily life.
I think the statement is not entirely correct: “masturbation … weakens, though doesn’t break one’s ordination vows”.
I think we can’t say whether an action breaks or weakens our ordination vow, because the ordination vow is the promise to practice the commitments of ordination. For as long as we maintain this promise we are practicing the ordination vow, we are ordained. If we give up this promise we break our ordination, we are not ordained. So keeping and breaking our ordination vow depends upon our intention to be ordained.
I think, as Ryan suggested, best to discuss this points with your Dharma teacher or with a senior ordained practitioner you have faith in.