renunciation

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Re: renunciation

Postby Ngawang Drolma. » Tue Apr 14, 2009 6:55 pm

Lazy Eye, I'm not a Theravadan practitioner but I've found celibacy to be really helpful. As physical sensuality moved out of the picture, deeper spirituality moved in. I love being celibate but it took a while to see that corrolation between abstinance anda more peaceful spiritual journey (and life in general).

But I don't see it working very well within the context of a committed relationship or marriage.

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Re: renunciation

Postby kc2dpt » Tue Apr 14, 2009 9:34 pm

I'd be interested in some perspectives on this topic as it relates to sex within a relationship.
...
It seems to me that devoted contemplation of the drawbacks of sensual pleasures and the rewards of renunciation could lead to arguments with one's partner

I think the same applies when talking about sex or any other sensual pleasure. Gaining insights into the drawbacks of sensual indulgence can lead to disenchantment with such indulgences. I suppose this could lead to not craving sex with one's spouse, true, but it could also lead to not craving going to the movies or going dancing or any other sensual indulgence.

On a different note, I think one partner in a marriage dissatisfied with the frequency of sex is not an uncommon problem, one not limited to Buddhist couples. From the mind of Woody Allen:

Husband to therapist: "We hardly ever have sex. Maybe three times a week."
Wife to therapist: "We have sex way too often. Maybe three times a week."
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Re: renunciation

Postby mikenz66 » Tue Apr 14, 2009 10:01 pm

Lazy_eye wrote:This can be very helpful in containing one's free-floating lust, but what about the potential impact within a marriage? Practically speaking, I'm not sure how one can meditate on the filth and degradation of the body and then jump happily into the sack with the missus or hubby.

It seems to me that devoted contemplation of the drawbacks of sensual pleasures and the rewards of renunciation could lead to arguments with one's partner -- unless, of course, that person is also a Theravadin with similar goals.

If you're talking about becoming completely celibate, that could obviously be an issue. But being able to drop the "necessity" to "jump into the sack" at this particular instant is actually a very positive thing, in my opinion.

Also, I understand the idea to be to develop equanimity, not aversion...

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Re: renunciation

Postby Ben » Tue Apr 14, 2009 10:31 pm

Hi LazyEye

I'm not sure whether I agree that celibacy is the 'goal' within the context of marriage or LTR.
I think what you might find is that celibacy is the natural by-product within a marraige of two sincere practitioners. My teacher actually said as much during one of his Dhamma talks. As mike said, one should be developing equanimity and not aversion. And so being in a marriage, we should be sensitive not to our own 'needs' but be sensitive and accommodating to the 'needs' of our partner.
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Re: renunciation

Postby Lazy_eye » Thu Apr 16, 2009 6:36 pm

Thank you all for the good advice. I suppose the particular issues I'm having here are a) my wife is not a Buddhist practitioner, and b) I don't aspire to eliminate sexual intimacy from our marriage, whether deliberately or as a natural byproduct of practice.

Don't get me wrong -- I have the greatest respect for renunciates; there's no doubt in my mind that celibacy can be a more peaceful and spiritually focused way of life. If I were single, I might strongly consider it. Perhaps I'm preparing to go forth in a future life. For now, though, I feel physical intimacy has its place within a loving, committed relationship (as does going to the movies). So I'm wondering how appropriate it is to pursue a spiritual training program aimed at eliminating desire. Would it be better to concentrate on making merit for this and the next life?

I gather that, traditionally, many lay Buddhists just confined themselves to devotional activities and support for the monks. But we Westerners tend to be disatisfied with such a role, wanting instead the higher fruits of the practice -- and our worldly pleasures too. :popcorn:
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Re: renunciation

Postby mikenz66 » Thu Apr 16, 2009 9:06 pm

Lazy_eye wrote:For now, though, I feel physical intimacy has its place within a loving, committed relationship (as does going to the movies). So I'm wondering how appropriate it is to pursue a spiritual training program aimed at eliminating desire.

Hmm perhaps I wasn't clear in my previous post, where I tried to point out in general terms that if one has a more equanimous attitude towards ones desires then one can be happier at all times: whether you partner wants sex at this moment or just wants to sleep. Same applies to food or entertainment - you can enjoy it if it's there, but if not, no worries...

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Re: renunciation

Postby Lazy_eye » Fri Apr 17, 2009 12:49 am

mikenz66 wrote:Hmm perhaps I wasn't clear in my previous post


Nah, I'm just being thick-headed. Thanks for the follow-up.

Maybe now we can talk about Woody Allen movies... :clap:
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Re: renunciation

Postby kc2dpt » Fri Apr 17, 2009 1:59 pm

Lazy_eye wrote:I don't aspire to eliminate sexual intimacy from our marriage, whether deliberately or as a natural byproduct of practice.

According to the Buddha, that is because you have not contemplated the drawbacks of sexual intimacy.

For now, though, I feel physical intimacy has its place within a loving, committed relationship (as does going to the movies). So I'm wondering how appropriate it is to pursue a spiritual training program aimed at eliminating desire.

This is a common misconception. The practice isn't aimed at eliminating desire. The practice is aimed at revealing the drawbacks of the things you desire, with the result that when you clearly see the drawbacks you won't desire them any more. Do you understand the difference? In other words, the practice is not "I will stop desire!" The practice is "I will learn to see clearly things I currently see with delusion." Once you do this, then I think you will no longer feel physical intimacy is a necessary part of a loving, committed relationship; you will have a better understanding of love and commitment.

Would it be better to concentrate on making merit for this and the next life? But we Westerners tend to be disatisfied with such a role, wanting instead the higher fruits of the practice -- and our worldly pleasures too.

No offense, but this is nothing other than ego and delusion. We want and want and want and we think this is the way to happiness. We want higher fruits without realizing that higher fruits are not something we get, it's the result of giving things up. As long as one thinks in this way - wanting higher fruits without giving up worldly pleasures - we will not make any real progress on the path.

Would it be better to concentrate on making merit for this and the next life?

Perhaps. In the gradual training of the Buddha, first one learns about giving and generosity, then virtue and keeping precepts, then the drawbacks of worldly pleasures and the drawbacks of heavenly rebirths, and THEN the Four Noble Truths and the Noble Eightfold Path. If one does not understand or accept the teachings on the drawbacks then perhaps one should focus on perfecting generosity and precepts and other such merit-making acts. It's really up to you whether you want to focus there or if you also want to try to contemplate the drawbacks.

I hope this is helpful. :smile:
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Re: renunciation

Postby Jechbi » Fri Apr 17, 2009 2:17 pm

Peter wrote:In other words, the practice is not "I will stop desire!" The practice is "I will learn to see clearly things I currently see with delusion."

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This is such an important distinction. Thank you for stating it so clearly.
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Re: renunciation

Postby Lazy_eye » Fri Apr 17, 2009 3:48 pm

Peter,

Your comments are always helpful, and I appreciate your taking the time and effort.

Peter wrote: According to the Buddha, that is because you have not contemplated the drawbacks of sexual intimacy.


Maybe. What I'm asking is whether contemplating the drawbacks is appropriate for someone who does not wish (for now) to abandon sexual intimacy.

There is a question of intention here. Let's say you have made a decision that you will play tennis. Well, tennis has drawbacks. It can cause serious injury; it can take time and resources that might be better used for some other pursuit; it will lead to experiencing the agony of defeat as well as the thrill of victory; it will not bring ultimate happiness. Despite this, however, you have decided to go ahead with it. Playing tennis well requires committment, dedication, enthusiasm and practice. Would it make sense, in this situation, to cultivate disenchantment with the sport?

Likewise, say you are in a sexually active relationship. Practically speaking, does it make sense to cultivate the view that it is something unwholesome? It seems to me the result can only be one of the following:

a) you and your partner will develop disenchantment together, and there is no problem.
b) you and your partner will differ, and there will be a problem. You may feel like a hypocrite, knowing the value of renunciation but being unable to carry it through. You may feel resentful towards your partner for continuing to lead you into this coarse behavior. You may not be able to summon desire for sex, and thus be unable to respond to your partner's needs. One person in the relationship may feel neglected, or the other forced into something they don't want.

If you decide to do something, you should put your heart into it; if you think it unwholesome, you should abandon it. No?

The practice isn't aimed at eliminating desire. The practice is aimed at revealing the drawbacks of the things you desire, with the result that when you clearly see the drawbacks you won't desire them any more. Do you understand the difference? In other words, the practice is not "I will stop desire!" The practice is "I will learn to see clearly things I currently see with delusion."


Yes, I see this is an important distinction -- but it's tangential to my question. Whether we "eliminate desire" or "come to see the drawbacks of desire" the end result is the same: less desire. The question is whether to embark on a path that leads to this result. If you're training to be a pianist, would you simultaneously do daily exercises that weaken the fingers?

Once you do this, then I think you will no longer feel physical intimacy is a necessary part of a loving, committed relationship; you will have a better understanding of love and commitment.


I don't feel physical intimacy is a necessary part of a loving, committed relationship. Again, it's a question of intention, involving two partners -- like any other activity couples pursue. I do feel that people who choose to be sexually active should do so within a relationship.

We want higher fruits without realizing that higher fruits are not something we get, it's the result of giving things up. As long as one thinks in this way - wanting higher fruits without giving up worldly pleasures - we will not make any real progress on the path.


Agreed. I made the comment about Westerners to demonstrate a problem, not to defend this way of thinking.

Perhaps. In the gradual training of the Buddha, first one learns about giving and generosity, then virtue and keeping precepts, then the drawbacks of worldly pleasures and the drawbacks of heavenly rebirths, and THEN the Four Noble Truths and the Noble Eightfold Path. If one does not understand or accept the teachings on the drawbacks then perhaps one should focus on perfecting generosity and precepts and other such merit-making acts. It's really up to you whether you want to focus there or if you also want to try to contemplate the drawbacks.


I think this is probably what it comes down to. But in the West at least, the sequence seems to have fallen apart. Is there anyone on this board who is not aware of the Noble Eightfold Path, dependent origination, etc? I'm guessing that most of the non-celibates on this and other forums also practice insight meditation, study the sutras, reflect on the drawbacks of desire, etc. How do you do this and later cozy up for a nice snuggle? Isn't there a degree of cognitive dissonance?

Thanks again,

LE
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Re: renunciation

Postby kc2dpt » Fri Apr 17, 2009 5:58 pm

Lazy_eye wrote:What I'm asking is whether contemplating the drawbacks is appropriate for someone who does not wish (for now) to abandon sexual intimacy.

Honestly... I don't know. Maybe? It is a question often on my mind as well. Perhaps we'll come upon an answer in the course of this thread. :)

Playing tennis well requires committment, dedication, enthusiasm and practice. Would it make sense, in this situation, to cultivate disenchantment with the sport?

I'm not sure if the analogy holds too well. Presumably, having sex with one's wife doesn't require training like a professional athlete. Presumably one simply desires to bang one's wife. :hug: I suppose one could train to become a "legendary lover", a "superhero in the sack"... but I don't think that's necessarily what we're talking about here.

If you decide to do something, you should put your heart into it.

I suppose it depends on what you've decided to do. I decided to get married. That means I put my heart into being kind, supportive, caring... and other stuff too. I suppose there is also the intent (implicit or explicit) to be there for each other physically/sexually as well.*

if you think it unwholesome, you should abandon it. No?

I think we're hitting on the key difference between ordaining and remaining lay. I think the real question you are asking is "What does it mean to be a lay Buddhist?" After all, if we are to move beyond mere merit making and embrace the 4NT and N8P that really does seem to lead to abandoning the householder's life. I think a single, childless lay person has to balance practice with the pressures of job and friends. A married with children lay person has to balance that and more. I recall the Buddha said, more than once:

"The household life is crowded, a dusty road. Life gone forth is the open air. It isn't easy, living in a home, to lead the holy life that is totally perfect, totally pure, a polished shell."

It isn't easy. He sure got that right. :)

If you're training to be a pianist, would you simultaneously do daily exercises that weaken the fingers?

I am training to be a husband and father who is kind, caring, supportive, patient, wise... and to this end I find developing the path - weakening greed, hate, and delusion - to be helpful. Perhaps our spouses also expect us to train to be good in the sack and fun at parties. I think that's something to discuss, perhaps an ongoing discussion, between you and your spouse.** I think maybe it comes back to the Buddha's teachings on having the right sort of friends. Is your spouse someone who is going to help you become a better person or a worse person? Buddhist or no I think it's an important question.

I made the comment about Westerners to demonstrate a problem, not to defend this way of thinking.

Sorry. I didn't think you were defending it. I just thought it was a point worth highlighting since it is, as you say, so pervasive. :)

In the gradual training of the Buddha...
I think this is probably what it comes down to. But in the West at least, the sequence seems to have fallen apart.

A monk once pointed out that in the "east" people are first taught generosity as little children, learn about virtue as they get older, and then maybe once they are much much older do they consider meditating... while here is the "west" we sign up for meditation retreats, are surprised once we get there that we are expected to adhere to precepts, and on the way out we're given a talk on dana and shown where the donation box is. Completely backwards. :lol:

I'm guessing that most of the non-celibates on this and other forums also practice insight meditation, study the sutras, reflect on the drawbacks of desire, etc. How do you do this and later cozy up for a nice snuggle? Isn't there a degree of cognitive dissonance?

:lol: Yeah... I will tell you this is a question I contemplate very very often. I guess my quick answer is there are times when desire for sensual pleasure arises and there are times when desire to contemplate teachings arises and I tend to indulge both whenever they arise. Maybe this isn't a fruitful way to practice? Maybe it is? Maybe it's a really slow way to practice? I don't know. I know I am a better person now that I was years ago. I know I have given things up along the way as I came to see the harm they caused. I guess I figure it's a gradual path and I'm moving at my own pace.

Heck the reason I started this thread is precisely because "my heart doesn't leap up at renunciation, doesn't grow confident, steadfast, or firm, seeing it as peace." Isn't this the very thing you are talking about when you say you don't want to give up sex or take up a practice which could lead to the giving up of sex? or give up marriage or take up a practice which could lead to the giving up of marriage? People like you and I just don't feel the urgency or the need... or the danger.

Perhaps we could rephrase your question this way: "Should I take up a practice which will reveal to me my delusion? reveal to me the harm I am doing myself and my wife and others by indulging in sensual desire?" Isn't that what we're talking about? The Buddha says we are like lepers, scratching at our wounds, thinking it feels good to scratch when really we are just causing our wounds to get infected and filled with pus. He says if we took the medicine we would see how we harm themselves, deludingly thinking it as pleasure.

Ugh. Every time I think of that sutta it gives me chills.***

I really don't have a good answer. My answer, good or not, is that I both indulge and practice with the intent of having gradual insights which lead to gradual renunciations. Maybe the real answer is that I'm just not a very good Buddhist. :shrug: I dunno.

Sorry for the long post. This is a topic very often on my mind.




* It's actualy in my marriage contract. :lol:

** On a related note, I recall a conversation years ago with my wife. She expressed fear that one of us would renounce faster than the other, leaving that other feeling abandoned. We got over that fear somehow. I'll have to ask her later if she remembers how.

*** After studying this sutta in class, I went up to Bhikkhu Bodhi and asked him what I should do. And my wife, who was standing nearby, added "short of ordaining". :lol: Ven. Bodhi told me "keep the precepts". I said I already do that and so he said "observe Uposatha as well". So there's Ven. Bodhi's answer. Interestingly he did not answer "meditate".
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Re: renunciation

Postby Lazy_eye » Fri Apr 17, 2009 7:03 pm

Peter,

I think you've articulated pretty much everything that's on my mind regarding this topic. It's helpful actually just to hear from someone else -- especially someone with a lot more training in the dhamma -- who has come up against these questions, and to hear about your approach to them. And yep, I've had some dark nights of the (non-atmanic) soul after reading that particular sutta.

Since I'm practicing and studying on my own without the benefit of a teacher or local community, I often lack a needed perspective. So I'm especially grateful for your comments and insights.

A monk once pointed out that in the "east" people are first taught generosity as little children, learn about virtue as they get older, and then maybe once they are much much older do they consider meditating... while here is the "west" we sign up for meditation retreats, are surprised once we get there that we are expected to adhere to precepts, and on the way out we're given a talk on dana and shown where the donation box is. Completely backwards. :lol:


Yeah, it often strikes me that this is an area where the "Eastern" approach is wiser.

I guess my quick answer is there are times when desire for sensual pleasure arises and there are times when desire to contemplate teachings arises and I tend to indulge both whenever they arise. Maybe this isn't a fruitful way to practice? Maybe it is? Maybe it's a really slow way to practice? I don't know. I know I am a better person now that I was years ago. I know I have given things up along the way as I came to see the harm they caused. I guess I figure it's a gradual path and I'm moving at my own pace.


This is pretty much where I'm at. I know that Buddhism, in the short time I've been practicing it, has helped. The precepts have helped. Meditation helps. I have renounced some things and feel happier for it. Perhaps it's good just to do what we can -- what you said above sounds like a reasonable way to proceed.

There's a lot more to discuss, but I have to go pick up a prescription, run various other errands, and retrieve my daughter from daycare. The household life is crowded for sure! :lol:

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Re: renunciation

Postby Ngawang Drolma. » Fri Apr 17, 2009 8:59 pm

Hi Lazy_eye,

I think if you're in a marriage or long term relationship, it would be considerate to make sure that a partner agrees to celibacy at any level, or it could really mess things up. That's my two cents.

For example years back I married this nice fellow, but very shortly after the wedding he decided he didn't want sex any more. Like, ever.
I thought he should have told me that before we got married.

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Re: renunciation

Postby Bhikkhu Pesala » Sat Apr 18, 2009 8:30 am

It is not immoral to have sex with one’s own wife or husband. However, it is not wholesome kamma either. Renunciation of sexual pleasures is wholesome kamma, and chastity is essential for those intent on gaining realisation of the Dhamma. “For as long as the slightest brushwood (of the passions) of man towards women is not cut down, so long is his mind in bondage, like the milch calf to its mother-cow.” (Dhp v.284) A lay person can enjoy sex from time to time, but it will inevitably lead to attachment, grief, and despair in the long term. It is therefore wise to treat it with respect, as one treats a fire in one’s own home.

A devout lay person should observe chastity on the Uposatha days of the full-moon and new-moon. That is the traditional practice. In Wat Pah Nanachat, when I was there, some of the villagers would spend the entire night in the monastery, meditating with the monks. That is the orthodox and traditional way to properly observe the Uposatha — not as is now often the case, taking five precepts in the early evening, and going home to eat an evening meal, and sleep with one's wife/husband as usual. That is called observing the cowherd's uposatha.

Please don't worry about not being able to enjoy sexual relations if you meditate too much. You're very unlikely to become a Non-returner (anāgāmī) after just one-night in the monastery.

In the Noble Eightfold Path, Right Thought includes renunciation of sensual pleasures (nekkhamma sankappa), so renunciation of sensual pleasures is an essential factor of the eightfold noble path.
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Re: renunciation

Postby Dan74 » Sat Apr 18, 2009 11:04 am

A lay person can enjoy sex from time to time, but it will inevitably lead to attachment, grief, and despair in the long term. It is therefore wise to treat it with respect, as one treats a fire in one’s own home.


Do you really think so?

Is it not conceivable that one can develop an attitude of giving in sexual conduct, where instead of craving and attachment, there is kindness and compassion for the other human being?

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Re: renunciation

Postby kc2dpt » Sat Apr 18, 2009 1:17 pm

Dan74 wrote:
A lay person can enjoy sex from time to time, but it will inevitably lead to attachment, grief, and despair in the long term.
Do you really think so?

Yes.

Is it not conceivable that one can develop an attitude of giving in sexual conduct, where instead of craving and attachment, there is kindness and compassion for the other human being?

There may be kindness and compassion in addition to craving and attachment, but not instead of. In order for there to be an erection there must be lust. It's biological.

Although I suppose if by "sex" we don't mean "sexual intercourse" but instead other activities then maybe that's another story.
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Re: renunciation

Postby Dan74 » Sat Apr 18, 2009 1:25 pm

Peter wrote:
Is it not conceivable that one can develop an attitude of giving in sexual conduct, where instead of craving and attachment, there is kindness and compassion for the other human being?

There may be kindness and compassion in addition to craving and attachment, but not instead of. In order for there to be an erection there must be lust. It's biological.


Well erections can and do occur for a whole bunch of reasons. I would've thought everyone is of age here.. :?

But do you believe an arahant to be incapable of regulation his bodily function sufficiently to cause an erection? :jedi:

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Re: renunciation

Postby kc2dpt » Sat Apr 18, 2009 1:53 pm

See now, I've resisted using that icon in this discussion. ;)

Actually, I just popped in to share a different thought. We've perhaps been talking about a dichotomy between being someone who only makes merit and being someone who strives to give up all sensuality. But Ven. Pesala's post reminded me that a sotapanna has not abandoned sensual desire. And a sotapanna is ariya, a noble one, a goal certainly worthy of any spiritual aspirant. So if as married laypeople we set our sights on sotapanna, I don't think that's selling ourselves short.

And, yes, I have heard it said that an anagami or arahant would not be able to engage in sexual intercourse due to the complete eradication of lust.
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Re: renunciation

Postby Dan74 » Sat Apr 18, 2009 2:01 pm

Thank you for elucidating this.

I guess you know that Mahayana has quite a different approach to this, but it is not appropriate to share it in this subforum.

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Re: renunciation

Postby Ngawang Drolma. » Sat Apr 18, 2009 5:39 pm

Dan74 wrote:Thank you for elucidating this.

I guess you know that Mahayana has quite a different approach to this, but it is not appropriate to share it in this subforum.

_/|\_


Yes, the Mahayana approach is different, Dan :anjali:

But if you're a vajrayana practitioner you shouldn't be having sex with someone who isn't ripened by empowerment also, even if it's your spouse. So Mahayana isn't totally devoid of suggestions about sexual activity.
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