Friday, May 28, 2010

The Red Thread of Passion: A Few Thoughts on Buddhist Sexuality

Rev. Harvey Daiho Hilbert-roshi, over at his blog, has been considered the Buddhist precepts, or ethical guidelines one by one. His current post is about the precept on sexuality, which tends to stir up a lot of confusion for most of us.

No sexual misconduct: I vow to use my sexuality to enhance and nurture the lives of others

Consider this vow as it is written. How often do we understand our sexual behavior in the context of its power to enhance and nurture? It seems to me we spend an awful lot of time fretting about the morality of sex and far too little time on considering its humanizing, spiritual, and healing potential.

This spring, our center was planning on having a class to examine these very issues. So few of us signed up that it was canceled. To me, that speaks volumes about our collective baggage around sexuality.

I remember after the debacle in our community, which among other things involved a sexual breach between a student and the former teacher, there was a ton of energy around developing a detailed set of policies and procedures for addressing issues like sexual misconduct. In and of itself, this was necessary, and the work done continues to be a benefit for the sangha. However, when reflecting on the comments Rev. Harvey made, as well as that canceled class, it strikes me that my sangha, collectively, represents the heavy lean in society towards prohibitive, puritanical views about sexuality.

A few upfront observations: Just as we are eating beings, sleeping beings, or breathing beings, we are also sexual beings. Just as killing and stealing can be disruptive to community life, sexual conduct has the power to destroy individual lives within community. Sex is at the center of much of our waking life. We spend an awful lot of time in denial about our sexual nature. We spend the rest of our time trying our best to act it out. Personally, I have little time and patience with our societal neurosis over sex. We do it or we don’t and we should not infuse sexual conduct with notions of moral purity or impurity.

Pretty strong language, don't you think? I personally like it. It's refreshing. No mincing words. No trying to massage things to keep people comfortable.

I don't want to be comfortable with puritanical thoughts about sexuality; I want to be liberated in all that I do. Sex can be wonderful, healing, joy producing, and maybe even a source of liberation. We all know about the horrors of misuse, but most of us haven't deeply explored the flip side. That's my guess. Tell me if I'm wrong. But all nudie mags, how to orgasm books, and sex toys aside, do you really feel like you have fully embraced and experienced your sexuality? Do you have a holistic sense of it? Or is it another part of you life compartmentalized, fragmented off as "not spiritual enough," a "hindrance," etc?

These questions go for those of us who have, or desire to have, active sex lives, and those who are celibate. No one gets around the red thread of passion. Best to go at it head on, with eyes wide open.

* Image is of the painting "Red Thread of Passion" by Patricia Brown. For more of her work, see this link.

1 comment:

Marguerite Manteau-Rao said...

Beautiful, Nathan, and so healthy. My teacher Gil Fronsdal, made a comment along same lines, in one of his recent talks, on 3rd Noble Truth:

"We need to understand, study, how to let go, and also for the heart to appreciate letting go. It is like developing the muscle of letting go. It is important to understand the difference between healthy and unhealthy ways of letting go.

The 4 unhealthy ways of letting go:
1) people unnecessarily letting go of all of their money, or sexuality, when what is necessary instead is to let go of clinging to object, but not the object itself.
2) letting go out of duty, obligation, or excessive politeness.
3) "I don't count", self-diminishing, self-effacing way of letting go, eg, I do not really deserve that chocolate.
4) Letting go out of aversion, or fear, eg, letting go of desires . . . "