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Brahmacarya and the Future of the Western Buddhist Order

by Kamalashila

... and emotions, and they want those feelings to be respected. Because for most
people, these sexual feelings are very difficult to deal with. Recently, in Shabda, a man
Order member told us how difficult it was growing up in the knowledge that he was
homosexual. While sincerely respecting his sufferings, I also think that growing up is
very difficult with any variety of sexuality. I suspect that the most difficult bit is coping,
not so much with one's sexual orientation, though that's difficult enough, but with the
demand of sexuality itself.

As Buddhists we know that these differences don't make any difference to the basic
human potential for Enlightenment, because all human beings can develop the power of
self-awareness if they wish. However we also know that there are many other
conditioning factors which can effect a person's ability to actualise that basic potential.

Where do all these differences come from? According to basic Buddhist teaching, these
differences come from past actions and reactions. In terms of the Wheel of Life, our
actions condition a physical body and mind, a nama-rupa, of a particular kind. The simple
fact that this psycho-physical complex exists, with all its sense organs connected up to an
outside world, then inevitably conditions particular feelings of pleasure and pain.
Pleasure and pain are the basic stuff of experience.

And all this experience centres on our body, this body that we're 'in', so to speak, right
now. The body is so crucial to sexual conditioning because whatever our mental
conditionings, whatever our feelings of maleness or femaleness, we possess sexual
organs, – or rather a sexual organ, singular! The physical body has in it, or on it, a
physical organ with which the person whose organ it is may reproduce himself or herself.

I think you probably know this, so I won't go into too much detail. But just to complete
the picture, the male and the female play different roles in the process of reproduction
itself. Broadly speaking, as you may know, in order to reproduce they have to cooperate
so that their sexual parts, as it were, function together. It's hard to describe in words...

But it just so happens that the action itself can be extremely pleasurable. So pleasurable
that the sexual organs become aroused in anticipation of that pleasure – and it's an arousal
that affects not just the sexual organ, singular, but the whole body and mind. This arousal
demands satisfaction, and very often the demand for satisfaction is so intense that it
overrides every other kind of desire.

So we're driven, by these demands, to exercise these reproductive organs. We can
exercise them on their own, too, but, you know – what with one thing and another – the
net result very often is that we find ourselves exercising them with another person. And
the fact is, that is what we most want to do.

Now this may be the bit that you weren't told by your mummy and daddy. When people
exercise their sexual organs they don't always do so because they want to have babies.
Certainly not consciously. They are more likely to have sexual intercourse because their
sexual organs are demanding satisfaction.

And at this point, it all starts to become rather complicated.

It becomes complicated because they – that is, we – then have sexual intercourse because
of a whole complex of reasons to do with getting pleasure and getting satisfaction. It gets
complicated because the experience of pleasure, any pleasure, is, of its nature, addictive.

And then follows a huge proliferation of rationalisations, views, and lifestyles based upon
that addiction. It's such a huge proliferation of rationalisations, views and lifestyles that
the proliferation is, for many people, indistinguishable from life itself.

In other words, life, for many people, becomes basically about providing the conditions
for sexual fulfillment. It's about creating a lifestyle based around sexual fulfillment.
Which very often boils down to finding the money to create a lifestyle based around
sexual fulfillment.

Very often, even if sexual intercourse is not pursued directly for the sake of reproduction,
the net result is babies anyway. That is certainly the case with most heterosexual couples.
Another influence may be the woman's possible unconscious desire to conceive a child.
But anyway, even if their particular kind, or style, of sexual intercourse doesn't result in
babies, any sexual couple – that is, hetero- or homosexual – will very often end up setting
up a lifestyle which is based upon their mutual addiction to sexual gratification.

Now I'm aware that a lot of people find this kind of analysis of sexuality offensive. They
feel that sex is a fairly harmless thing, and this kind of talk destroys its magic. My words
are not exactly romantic. Of course, sexual intercourse is pleasurable and fulfilling, it
makes people happy, certainly for a while. We probably all know happy couples.

But the reason why such couples are happy may have more to do with factors other than
sex. And anyway, other strong pleasures, like certain drugs, have their own magic and
fulfillment too – they also have their own kind of romance, and they also make people
happy, for a while at least.

So I can't see that any taking of offence is really reasonable here, because even though
sexual intercourse is pleasurable, it also causes a great deal of suffering to many people.
Naturally people would rather romanticise it – like some people do with drugs too. They
really don't want to look at what their sexual lives do to them. What is most important to
them is maintaining them or perhaps improving them. They don't want to look at the
dilemma in which they are getting themselves involved.

In the context of the spiritual life, there is so much that could be said here – it's the kind
of thing that someone should write a book about. But since this is an area where many
fools may rush in with their strong opinions, we need an exceptional angel to write it.
There is, such a huge difference between the world-view of an ordinary person – who just
gets on with life and sexual relationships, and sees the word in those terms – and the
Buddhist view. It's a very knotty area indeed, the source of a lot of pain and anxiety to a
lot of people. People don't like anything that appears to threaten their sexual
relationships, and they can see these ideas as moralistic, puritanical and life-denying.
How can we show them that the real source of their pain and anxiety is not Buddhism
being an old kill-joy, but their own dilemmas, their own inner confusion? It is the contact
with reality, with the truth of the situation, that is difficult.

And our minds too are strung out somewhere amidst this difficult issue.

'Strung out' isn't a bad expression in this context. It means dissipated, enervated, wasted –
the kind of state that one associates with a hang-over.

On that note, I spoke just now of addiction to sexual gratification. As you all know, the
vicious nature of addiction is the central point that the Buddha made in his teaching.
According to the Buddha, everything that is unsatisfactory in our lives is the result of our
craving, our addiction to pleasure. Not that there's anything wrong with pleasure in itself.
But addiction to pleasure is slavery, is suffering, is dukkha.

Of course, people don't see, certainly don't want to see, their sexual activities in this way.
It just makes them seem sordid, dirty. The things that they hold as of primary importance
in human life, they're being told, are merely about addiction to pleasure. Someone is
talking as though they were some awful, half crazed, drug addict. Don't forget, we're
talking about people here – real people with families, our own families, parents, brothers,
sisters, friends – even other Order members. Actually, even us. Our sexual relationships
are precious to us in a way that we don't want to associate with the notion of addiction.
The suggestion is repellent, nasty, narrow. It feels unjust.

What is happening here? What is happening is that there is a difference between the
instinctive sexual basis of sexual relationships and all the other things, the more human
things, that can go along with them – the things that people want to go along with them.
People want friendship, want companionship, want someone to be interested in them,
want someone to depend on them, want someone to relate to. And once the sexual bond
is established there really is a relationship – a relationship with very real demands: ethical
demands, financial demands, emotional demands, Social demands, demands on one's
intelligence, one's cunning, one's generosity – in short, all the things that makes one feel
alive, that make one feel responsible, that make one feel, as they say, potent. That make
one feel like a valid human being.

And, for many people, a sexual relationship really does provide a way to feel part of the
human race. No doubt for many people the responsibility of a sexual relationship,
particularly if there are children, forces them ...

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