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Sex Celibacy and Relationships - Women-s Order Convention 1987

by Sangharakshita


[Women's Order Convention 1987]
Those Present:
The Venerable Sangharakshita, Gunabhadhri, Parami, Marichi,
Vidyavati, Sarvabhadri, Kalyanasri, Anoma, Ratnamala.
Sangharakshita: Five questions on sex, celibacy and relationships within the Order. So
let's see what we can do with these questions. Let's see what we can make of them.
So one.
It seems celibacy can lead to personal autonomy.
A cautious statement. I wouldn't disagree with that, yes.
Is celibacy a necessary part of the process of becoming an autonomous individual,
or is it merely one method among many?
Becoming an autonomous individual, hmm. I suppose to some extent it depends on what
you mean by celibacy, especially in the sense of whether one is thinking of indefinite
celibacy or celibacy for a specific length of time. I would incline to say that celibacy in
the sense of celibacy for a limited period is part of the process, is in fact a necessary part
of the process of becoming an autonomous individual, if it's only to the extent of really
knowing and really, as it were, assuring yourself that you can be autonomous in that
respect. Otherwise you don't really know. The instinct is so strong, the tendency is so
powerful and it does undermine one's autonomy because one can become, through one's
sexual instinct or the satisfaction of it, so totally dependent on another person, and clearly
there is no autonomy there.
So I think that a period or perhaps even periods of celibacy are necessary so that you can
be sure that you are developing as an autonomous individual. Otherwise it's so easy to
fool yourself. I've known many cases of people having sexual relationships and assuring
me that they were not in fact dependent on their sexual partner, but when the relationship
has broken up, well they've broken down very often. So yes. I wouldn't say that indefinite
or permanent celibacy is a necessary part of the process of becoming an autonomous
individual. I think that would be to overstate the case, but certainly I think periods of
celibacy are necessary, so as to clarify within one's own mind whether one is an
autonomous individual to that extent or not, and so as to give oneself an opportunity of
experiencing oneself fully on every level, as when one is on solitary retreat just as a
single, solitary individual, able to depend for emotional support and nourishment on
oneself, at least for a reasonable length of time. It is of course one method among many,
if you look at it as a method, but we need to apply, no doubt, a number of different
methods at the same time. We need periods of meditation, intensive meditation. We need
periods of work, we need periods of celibacy, need opportunities of testing our self
confidence, as when we give a talk, having never given one before, and so on.
So it is one method among many, but I think it is a necessary method if one takes it in the
sense of periods of celibacy. The length of course depending on circumstances and the
temperament, the spiritual stage, that the individual has reached. But maybe we should
look a little bit more at this question of celibacy as leading to personal autonomy. I think
that is quite important. That is of course celibacy of the non neurotic sense. I think it is
probably important to stress that. Not stressing giving up sex simply, but trying to increase
one's personal autonomy and increasing one's personal autonomy doesn't mean cutting off
from other people, because the more autonomous you are as an individual, the more truly
you will be able to relate to others, assuming that they too are individuals and
Is celibacy the preferred lifestyle of the WBO?
This question can be taken in two senses, one normative and the other factual. "Is celibacy
the preferred lifestyle of the WBO?" could mean is it the lifestyle which the majority or
the greatest number of Order members prefer or whether it is the lifestyle which is to be
Parami: To be is what we intended.
S: So does celibacy here mean permanent celibacy or occasional celibacy?
__________: As a goal perhaps.
Parami: That would mean permanent.
__________: Semi-permanent.
S: I think it's a natural progression that as one gets older and, at the same time spiritually
more mature, sex becomes more and more peripheral and eventually disappears over the
periphery as it were, but I think this should be a natural process rather than something that
is imposed upon oneself prematurely. I think it's a preferred lifestyle in the sense that it's
the lifestyle that all Order members should end up quite naturally leading, just because
they feel it's the best and happiest and most natural lifestyle for them. It may take some
longer than others. I know there are some who can't even think of it at fifty. Others are
thinking about it quite seriously at thirty five or forty. I doubt whether anyone under thirty
can think about it very seriously. Sometimes people in their twenties come to me and say
they're thinking of taking a vow of indefinite celibacy but I don't ...... well I don't exactly
discourage them, I certainly don't encourage them. To take a vow for a month or three
months, even six months, that's one thing, but indefinite celibacy when you're very young
is probably asking or expecting too much of oneself. Though there may be a few people,
a very few people who are sort of naturally celibate, even when young. Maybe through
intense idealism, so one certainly shouldn't discourage such people, but I think they
always will be in a minority.
Marichi: Wouldn't intense idealism lead to... this idea of the emphasis on one area ought
to need correcting later on?
S: I think not necessarily. If someone is intensely idealistic in the sense of living much
more in their mind and emotions than in their body. I don't mean in an alienated way.
They may experience their body in an quite adequate fashion but experience their ideals
much more intensely. I think some very young people are like that, so I think that they
shouldn't be discouraged from being celibate.
So I think one could say that celibacy was the preferred ultimate lifestyle of the WBO. I
think I'd be surprised if people over fifty weren't very definitely heading in that direction.
I don't expect it really of very young people, except for periods of say up to six months
or even a year, depending on circumstances and their individual natures. But certainly
everybody should have periods of celibacy. I think a lot of people do naturally when they
go on retreat, on solitary retreat. It just happens, or when they happen to be separated, for
one reason or other, from their sexual partner. They should be able to take that in their
Marichi: Isn't that slightly different if you know that the backup of a relationship is
suspended so to speak?
S: Yes, psychologically it is, but sometimes that doesn't make it any the easier physically,
yes. You have got the psychological backup. So from the point of view of physical
celibacy it does help, it does give you the experience of it, the confidence that you can be
physically celibate for a while, even if it is with the support of that knowledge that there
is the possibility of the relationship in the background.
Is celibacy a goal of Buddhism?
Well yes and no. If it's a goal at all it's only an approximate goal. It's not the ultimate goal
because the ultimate goal is enlightenment. So I think one must be careful not to....
important as celibacy is... not to, as it were, define the ultimate goal in those sort of terms.
Though I think, I suppose one can say that the majority of those who gain enlightenment
will be celibate, but that is not to confuse the two. One isn't necessarily enlightened
because one is celibate obviously.
Is that enough on question one do you think? Is it clear? So two:
Could homosexuality rather than heterosexuality be seen as a movement towards
freeing us from our biological basis?
Probably yes and no. [Laughter] Because homosexuality is still sexuality isn't it, and
sexuality is still biological. I have I think said in the past that in a sense heterosexuality
is more basic than homosexuality because clearly sexuality is a mechanism for the sake
of the reproduction of the species. That's obvious, so you could say that homosexuality
from that point of view was a displaced heterosexuality. So inasmuch as it's a displaced
heterosexuality, it does represent a movement towards freeing us from our biological
basis. But inasmuch as it is still nevertheless sexuality, you are still, as it were, tied to that
basis to some extent at least. Perhaps to the same extent.
__________: It's kind of hierarchical.
Marichi: It's displaced.
S: It's displaced, yes.
Marichi: It's a substitute activity that doesn't really change anything except for the
possibility of procreation.
S: Yes, because obviously there can be heterosexual relationships which don't have any
biological fruit, and they are still biologically based. So I say that I don't think there's ...

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