Moth wrote:What are your thoughts on this topic? Is it necessary if not more beneficial? I am at a point in my life where I am considering becoming a monk in which case I would be giving up the opportunity to have a wife and child. I'm curious to hear your opinions on this issue.
As far as awakening is concerned, it's really only beneficial in the context of a well-developed meditation practice, or for someone who's in the process of developing one.
The Pali literature basically takes the position that sexual intercourse is an obstruction or impediment (antarayika dhamma
) to obtaining awakening. In AN 4.159
, for example, Ananda explains to a bhikkhuni
, who's apparently sick, that sexual intercourse is to be abandoned in the practice of the holy life. (Incidentally, the background to this story details that the bhikkhuni in question was faking her illness so that Ananda would come to see her. She was very infatuated with him, and when he realized this, he gave her this particular discourse.)
Another example can be found at the beginning of MN 22
. Here, the Buddha is portrayed as rebuking a monk for his views regarding sex. While not explicitly stated in the sutta itself, the commentary to this sutta mentions that the wrong view of the offending monk, Arittha, dealt specifically with the monastic training rule prohibiting sexual intercourse.
given to this section of the sutta concerning "obstructions" by Nyanaponika Thera explains this in more detail. Simply put, for a monastic who's dedicated fully to the holy life, it's a serious hindrance to their practice. After all, the duty of the noble disciple is to discern the allures and drawbacks of, and escape from, sensuality, physical form and feeling (MN 13
). And if you look to the Buddha's teachings in general, there's nothing in them that suggests there's anything skillful in giving in to sensual desires, including those of a sexual nature.
As lay-followers, of course, we're not required to remain celibate; however, it seems to be the general consensus among Theravadin orthodoxy that sex and masturbation do nothing for spiritual awakening. Moreover, Buddhism doesn't encourage the casual fulfillment of sensual desires as much as it encourages their eventual abandonment, which further supports the idea that sex is ultimately an obstruction to awakening.
This is essentially the case made by Ajahn Brahm and Ajahn Nanadhammo in "Buddhist Sexual Ethics - A Rejoinder
." While this shouldn't be taken as an absolute rejection of sex as it mainly pertains to monastics who have gone forth, it does strongly suggest that sex is ultimately a hindrance to awakening for those of us that are interested in pursuing the path the very end. Nevertheless, even if this is true, I think my old friend, Kris, (who I wish was still around) made an excellent point in a similar discussion on another forum
a few years ago:
From "Buddhist Sexual Ethics - A Rejoinder":
”Now, Udàyin, the pleasure and joy that arises dependent on these five cords of sensual pleasure are called sensual pleasures - a filthy pleasure, a coarse pleasure, an ignoble pleasure. I say of this kind of pleasure that it should not be pursued, that it should not be developed, that it should not be cultivated, that it should be feared... (whereas the pleasure of the Four Jhànas). This is called the bliss of renunciation, the bliss of enlightenment. I say of this kind of pleasure that it should be pursued, that it should be developed, that it should be cultivated, that it should not be feared.” (ibid p.557)...
...I have stated how sensual pleasures provide little gratification, much suffering, and much despair, and how great is the danger in them.
]The pursuit of self-mortification... is the wrong way. Disengagement from the pursuit of self-mortification... is the right way... The Middle Way discovered by the Tathàgata avoids both these extremes... it leads... to Nibbàna.”
The accompanying commentary (perhaps unsurprisingly) provides a very “monastic” slant on the above quotes. Rather than issuing a blanket command to “give it up”, as some teachers do, Buddha demonstrated the means by which this attachment will fade of itself - the bliss of Jhana.
That bliss and renunciation are the same thing, indicates that this is no miserable, cold-shower-style repression, rather something quite different and unique. So how can renunciation of something we enjoy be blissful? It can only be blissful when we see the nature of the agitation of the mind (insight) from within the calm of Jhana (samatha). This is entirely unlike any kind of worldly bliss and is termed a pleasure not-of-the-flesh.
A blissful process is also utilised in the inner fire teachings of highest yoga tantra but as a means to an end - not an end in itself.
Just “giving it up” won’t work for most people and could be the first step on the path of self-mortification. It involves denial and what help is that when one dies? The desire, the volition, is still latent within the stream (although repressed). Only when true relinquishment occurs, through meditation, can it be deemed worthwhile and I feel that Buddha’s Middle Way must be interpreted in this way.