Sensual or sexual hindrance?

Textual analysis and comparative discussion on early Buddhist sects and texts.
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danielgbg
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Sensual or sexual hindrance?

Postby danielgbg » Sun Mar 09, 2014 12:58 pm

So, it was a long time ago I posted something here on Dhamma Wheel. I put my question here in Early Buddhism because I'm mostly interested in answers based on the the pali and chinese suttas.

My question is about the first of the five hindrances, that is sensual desire (kāmacchandanīvaraṇa). What is kāma really in this case, all kinds of sensual pleasures or just sexual pleasure? What is your view about that?

:anjali:

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Re: Sensual or sexual hindrance?

Postby fivebells » Sun Mar 09, 2014 4:03 pm

Hi, Daniel. It's not just sexual desire.

"Now, O monks, what is worldly joy? There are these five cords of sense desire: forms cognizable by the eye that are wished for and desired, agreeable and endearing, associated with sense-desire and tempting to lust. Sounds cognizable by the ear... odors cognizable by the nose... flavors cognizable by the tongue... tangibles cognizable by the body, wished for and desired, agreeable and endearing, associated with sense-desire and tempting to lust. It is the joy that arises dependent on these five cords of sense desire which is called 'worldly joy.'

"Now what is unworldly joy? Quite secluded from sense desires, secluded from unwholesome states of mind, a monk enters upon and abides in the first meditative absorption,[3] which is accompanied by thought-conception and discursive thinking, and has joy and happiness born of seclusion. With the stilling of thought-conception and discursive thinking, he enters upon and abides in the second meditative absorption which has internal confidence and singleness of mind without thought conception and discursive thinking, and has joy and happiness born of concentration. This is called 'unworldly joy.'

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Re: Sensual or sexual hindrance?

Postby culaavuso » Sun Mar 09, 2014 5:24 pm

AN 6.63: Nibbedhika Sutta wrote:There are these five strings of sensuality. Which five? Forms cognizable via the eye — agreeable, pleasing, charming, endearing, fostering desire, enticing; sounds cognizable via the ear... aromas cognizable via the nose... flavors cognizable via the tongue... tactile sensations cognizable via the body — agreeable, pleasing, charming, endearing, fostering desire, enticing. But these are not sensuality. They are called strings of sensuality in the discipline of the noble ones.

The passion for his resolves is a man's sensuality,
not the beautiful sensual pleasures
found in the world.
The passion for his resolves is a man's sensuality.

The beauties remain as they are in the world,
while the wise, in this regard,
subdue their desire.

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Re: Sensual or sexual hindrance?

Postby santa100 » Sun Mar 09, 2014 6:37 pm

Also see "The Hindrances" with many sutta references by Ven. Nyanaponika here..

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Re: Sensual or sexual hindrance?

Postby danielgbg » Sun Mar 09, 2014 10:47 pm

Thank you for your replies :anjali:

You are right, the desire for the five strings of sensuality is the first hindrance. But there are reasons to belive that the five strings of sensuality especially refers to sexual objects.

First, let us have a look at the opening words in Anguttara Nikaya:

1. Bhikkhus, I do not know of a form that captivates the mind of man as that of woman. The form of a woman indeed captivates the mind of a man. This is the first.
2. Bhikkhus, I do not know of a sound that captivates the mind of man as that of woman. The sound of a woman indeed captivates the mind of a man. This is the second.
3. Bhikkhus, I do not know of a smell that captivates the mind of man as that of woman. The smell of a woman indeed captivates the mind of a man This is the third.
4. Bhikkhus, I do not know of a taste that captivates the mind of man as that of woman. The taste of a woman indeed captivates the mind of a man. This is the fourth.
5. Bhikkhus, I do not know of a touch that captivates the mind of man as that of woman. The touch of a woman indeed captivates the mind of a man. This is the fifth.


Here we can see that the five strings of sensuality, of course, can refer to a sexual object. But this is no proof for the theory that kamacchandanivarana refers to sexual desire.

Now, look at the division of the planes of existence into Arūpadhātu, Rūpadhātu and Kāmadhātu. While you find two opposite sexes in the planes of kamadhatu, there is no such division of beings in rupadhatu and arupadhatu. This signifies that kama especially refers to sexual desire, which is absent in the two other dhatus. This is also no proof for the theory that kamacchandanivarana refers to sexual desire, but it points to the possibility that the word kama refers to sexual desire.

But now, let's have a look at Mahatanhasankhaya Sutta (MN 38), which is one of a few suttas that includes this text:

"Then, as the child grows and his faculties mature, he plays at children's [9] games: toy plows, stick games, somersaults, toy windmills, toy measures, toy carts, and a toy bow & arrow.

"As he grows and his faculties mature [still further], he enjoys himself provided & endowed with the five strings of sensuality: forms cognizable via the eye — agreeable, pleasing, charming, endearing, enticing, accompanied with sensual desire; sounds cognizable via the ear... aromas cognizable via the nose... flavors cognizable via the tongue... tactile sensations cognizable via the body — agreeable, pleasing, charming, endearing, enticing, accompanied with sensual desire.


Here the sutta place the five strings of sensuality in the place where we would expect sexual desire. A child that plays with toys must certainly also enjoy the five strings of sensuality - the toys and the world around the child has form, aromas, flavors and give tactile sensations which he experience through the senses and enjoy. But this text place the description of the five strings of sensuality where the boy has matured, and I think it's pretty resonable to belive that what the text refers to by "he grows and his faculties mature" is the development of sexual desire. And as you could see in the opening words of Anguttara Nikaya, each and everyone of the sense objects, even flavors, can refer to a woman (or a man).

Now let's have a look on the third precept - avoiding sensual misconduct (kāmesu micchācāra). Whats is the definition?

He gets sexually involved with those who are protected by their mothers, their fathers, their brothers, their sisters, their relatives, or their Dhamma; those with husbands, those who entail punishments, or even those crowned with flowers by another man. (AN 10.176)


Even though it is common in popular buddhism to in this precept include over eating, looking at too much TV, etc., in the suttas, for a fact, the third precept of avoiding sensual misconduct is all about misconduct in sexual activities. This also points to the possibility that the word kama especially refers to sexual desire.

Now, if we go to the Dantabhumisutta (MN 125) we find a description of the gradual practice that begins with the Tathagata arising in the world, and a householder and a householders son hears the Dhamma and gains faith in the Tathagata. Because of that Dhamma he begins as step one to develop morality, and as step two he practice sense restraint by guarding the doors of his sense organs. Because guarding the doors of the sense organs includes guarding the tounge, you would be surprised that step three is moderation in eating. Why would guarding the sense door of the tounge be a step of its own when you have already learned to guard the sense doors, including the tounge - if not step two refers to a special kind of experience through the sense doors, namely sexual objects?

Finally, we will have a look at The Discourse to the Nighantas (Madhyamagama 19). This sutta, admitadly, defines abandonment of the first hindrance as "seeing another's wealth and lifestyle, he does not give rise to thoughts of covetousness". But later on, the same sutta speaks about "five causes and conditions owing to which sorrow and suffering dissapear form the mind." And what are the five? "If one is entangled in sexual desire, and because of entanglement in sexual desire, sorrow and suffering have arisen in the mind, then on abandoning entanglement in sexual desire, the sorrow and suffering will cease... In the same way, if one is entangled in hatred... sloth and torpor... restlessness and worry... doubt..."

So, here is a direct proof for, not that lord Buddha by "kamacchandanivarana" meant sexual desire, but at least that some monks, sometime, like the compilers of this sutta, thought that kamacchandanivarana was especially related to sexual desire (but notice that you in the Devadaha Sutta (MN 101), the pali parallel to MA 19, don't find this referece to sexual desire in relation to the first hindrance).

:smile:

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Re: Sensual or sexual hindrance?

Postby fivebells » Sun Mar 09, 2014 11:37 pm

What do the hindrances hinder us from? Passages like the one I quoted suggest that they hinder us from settling down to Right Concentration. And from that perspective, any sensual desire is a hindrance in the same way, in that the fantasies they feed are an obstacle to concentration. I think this is also why the Nibbedhika Sutta quoted by culaavuso identifies sensuality with the passion for one's resolves.

Personally, I find this broader classification more useful in my practice. It is rare that explicit sexual fantasies hinder my practice, but my passions for my resolves give rise to all kinds of troublesome becomings.

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Re: Sensual or sexual hindrance?

Postby culaavuso » Sun Mar 09, 2014 11:44 pm

danielgbg wrote:First, let us have a look at the opening words in Anguttara Nikaya:
...

This suggests that sexual desire is one of the stronger and more common forms of sensual pleasure. Sensual pleasure is a broader concept, though.

danielgbg wrote:Now, look at the division of the planes of existence into Arūpadhātu, Rūpadhātu and Kāmadhātu. While you find two opposite sexes in the planes of kamadhatu, there is no such division of beings in rupadhatu and arupadhatu. This signifies that kama especially refers to sexual desire, which is absent in the two other dhatus. This is also no proof for the theory that kamacchandanivarana refers to sexual desire, but it points to the possibility that the word kama refers to sexual desire.

There are also beings living in the Kāmadhātu that do not have sex as we humans know it. This suggests that sexual desire is common as a sensual pleasure, but does not cover all sensual pleasures.

danielgbg wrote:But now, let's have a look at Mahatanhasankhaya Sutta (MN 38), which is one of a few suttas that includes this text:
...

The child playing at children's games is enjoying sensual pleasures. Craving for sensual pleasure is a cause of birth in Kāmadhātu, not something that only arises later in adults. In adults there may be a wider variety of sensual cravings than in children, requiring a broader description as given. This suggests that sexual desire may be a part of sensual desire, but is not all of sensual desire.

danielgbg wrote:Now let's have a look on the third precept - avoiding sensual misconduct (kāmesu micchācāra). Whats is the definition?

He gets sexually involved with those who are protected by their mothers, their fathers, their brothers, their sisters, their relatives, or their Dhamma; those with husbands, those who entail punishments, or even those crowned with flowers by another man. (AN 10.176)


Even though it is common in popular buddhism to in this precept include over eating, looking at too much TV, etc., in the suttas, for a fact, the third precept of avoiding sensual misconduct is all about misconduct in sexual activities. This also points to the possibility that the word kama especially refers to sexual desire.

"common in popular buddhism"? Where have you seen this interpretation? In my experience this is quite universally understood to be a precept against sexual misconduct and does not include other aspects of sensuality. Sense restraint is covered by the eight precept practices, but not by the five precept practice. If over eating and watching too much TV were covered by the third precept, there would be almost no distinction between five and eight precept practices. The five precepts are a matter of basic morality, while the eight precepts are a matter of sense restraint. This is further emphasized by MN 125 mentioned below.

For more information on the five precept and eight precept practices, it might be useful to read sila at accesstoinsight, where there is an explanation of the five precepts and the eight precepts which can be compared.

danielgbg wrote:Now, if we go to the Dantabhumisutta (MN 125) we find a description of the gradual practice that begins with the Tathagata arising in the world, and a householder and a householders son hears the Dhamma and gains faith in the Tathagata. Because of that Dhamma he begins as step one to develop morality, and as step two he practice sense restraint by guarding the doors of his sense organs. Because guarding the doors of the sense organs includes guarding the tounge, you would be surprised that step three is moderation in eating. Why would guarding the sense door of the tounge be a step of its own when you have already learned to guard the sense doors, including the tounge - if not step two refers to a special kind of experience through the sense doors, namely sexual objects?

There are more reasons for eating than purely sensuality. Someone who guards the sense doors might eat regularly out of misunderstandings about what is necessary or healthy, for example. Sensuality is only one of the reasons why immoderate eating arises. This is compatible with the idea that sexuality is one of the major sensual desires, but it is not the only one nor does it represent all sensual desires by itself. If sexual desire was specifically what is meant, then sense restraint would merely be the practice of celibacy and would not include refraining from dancing, singing, music, going to see entertainments, and other components of the eight precepts that are clearly distinguished from sexual behavior.

It's also worth noting that after sense-restraint, moderation in eating, vigilance, mindfulness and clear consciousness, only then is mention made of overcoming the five hindrances. Yet the five hindrances include sensual desire, which is referred to there as "coveting for the world". The world does not include only sexual desire, but includes all of the sense objects as defined in the Loka Sutta. Thus, equating sensual desire with sexual desire would require equating "the world" with "sexuality", which does not seem to find support in the suttas.

SN 35.82: Loka Sutta wrote:Then a certain monk went to the Blessed One and, on arrival, having bowed down to him, sat to one side. As he was sitting there, he said to the Blessed One: "'The world, the world' it is said. In what respect does the word 'world' apply?

"Insofar as it disintegrates, monk, it is called the 'world.' Now what disintegrates? The eye disintegrates. Forms disintegrate. Consciousness at the eye disintegrates. Contact at the eye disintegrates. And whatever there is that arises in dependence on contact at the eye — experienced as pleasure, pain or neither-pleasure-nor-pain — that too disintegrates.

"The ear disintegrates. Sounds disintegrate...

"The nose disintegrates. Aromas disintegrate...

"The tongue disintegrates. Tastes disintegrate...

"The body disintegrates. Tactile sensations disintegrate...

"The intellect disintegrates. Ideas disintegrate. Consciousness at the intellect consciousness disintegrates. Contact at the intellect disintegrates. And whatever there is that arises in dependence on contact at the intellect — experienced as pleasure, pain or neither-pleasure-nor-pain — that too disintegrates.

"Insofar as it disintegrates, it is called the 'world.'"


danielgbg wrote:Finally, we will have a look at The Discourse to the Nighantas (Madhyamagama 19). This sutta, admitadly, defines abandonment of the first hindrance as "seeing another's wealth and lifestyle, he does not give rise to thoughts of covetousness". But later on, the same sutta speaks about "five causes and conditions owing to which sorrow and suffering dissapear form the mind." And what are the five? "If one is entangled in sexual desire, and because of entanglement in sexual desire, sorrow and suffering have arisen in the mind, then on abandoning entanglement in sexual desire, the sorrow and suffering will cease... In the same way, if one is entangled in hatred... sloth and torpor... restlessness and worry... doubt..."

What is the source for this translation for MA 19? The example of covetousness of wealth is a good example of how sensual desire is much broader than sexual desire, but that sexual desire is one of the stronger forms of sensual desire. It seems possible that this confusion is due to a translation error.

As one final point, it's worth comparing the drawbacks of sensuality to see what they have to do with sexual behavior in particular. The theory of sexual desire being equivalent to sensual desire does not seem to find support.
AN 4.37: Maha-dukkhakkhandha Sutta wrote:And what is the drawback of sensuality? There is the case where, on account of the occupation by which a clansman makes a living — whether checking or accounting or calculating or plowing or trading or cattle-tending or archery or as a king's man, or whatever the occupation may be — he faces cold, he faces heat, being harassed by mosquitoes & flies, wind & sun & creeping things, dying from hunger & thirst.

Now this drawback in the case of sensuality, this mass of stress visible here & now, has sensuality for its reason, sensuality for its source, sensuality for its cause, the reason being simply sensuality.

If the clansman gains no wealth while thus working & striving & making effort, he sorrows, grieves, & laments, beats his breast, becomes distraught: 'My work is in vain, my efforts are fruitless!' Now this drawback too in the case of sensuality, this mass of stress visible here & now, has sensuality for its reason, sensuality for its source, sensuality for its cause, the reason being simply sensuality.

If the clansman gains wealth while thus working & striving & making effort, he experiences pain & distress in protecting it: 'How will neither kings nor thieves make off with my property, nor fire burn it, nor water sweep it away, nor hateful heirs make off with it?' And as he thus guards and watches over his property, kings or thieves make off with it, or fire burns it, or water sweeps it away, or hateful heirs make off with it. And he sorrows, grieves, & laments, beats his breast, becomes distraught: 'What was mine is no more!' Now this drawback too in the case of sensuality, this mass of stress visible here & now, has sensuality for its reason, sensuality for its source, sensuality for its cause, the reason being simply sensuality.

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Re: Sensual or sexual hindrance?

Postby danielgbg » Wed Mar 12, 2014 8:15 pm

Thank you for your comments. There is no need for us to state a categorical answer to the question if the first hindrance in the suttas relates only to sexual desire or not. Because as your point is, sexual desire is included in a wider view of sensual desire as the strongest desire of them all. But as we could see in MA 19, some monks did regard sexual desire exclusively as the definition of the first hindrance. So there are diffrent views in the suttas. There are, though, different implications to be drawn out of the different views. As my friend said: "If the first hindrances is just sexual desire, you can be in jhana and long for an ice cream!". My point is that sexual desire is deeply rooted in our minds and the base of our identity. We have male and female bodies, male and female jobs, male and female patterns of behaviour and we regard our selfs as male and female. We are sexual beings even when we don't think about sex. Our sexual identity is so fundamental that many of our "weaker" desires arises from it. Sex sells food, clothes and cars. To go forth is to rip off all of this sexual identity, by shaving the hair off from our heads and stop doing all of this male and female stuffs. Brahmacariya is mostly about living without identity, and in the human society the identity is mostly about sex. I think that is why kayanussati in early buddhism, according to Ven. Analayos comparative studies of the Nikayas and other collections of suttas, mainly circles around our body parts. We learn that our body is just a conglomeration of filthy body parts, nothing really to build desires on. When we disintegrate the body in our minds, we're not only dropping our sexual arousal. No more we see the point with society.

Culaavuso wrote:"common in popular buddhism"? Where have you seen this interpretation? In my experience this is quite universally understood to be a precept against sexual misconduct and does not include other aspects of sensuality.


Well, I've seen it. Many buddhists don't know their religion and they don't read the suttas. Maybe it's not common.

Culaavuso wrote:What is the source for this translation for MA 19? The example of covetousness of wealth is a good example of how sensual desire is much broader than sexual desire, but that sexual desire is one of the stronger forms of sensual desire. It seems possible that this confusion is due to a translation error.


The source is no other than "The Madhyama Agama Volume I", BDK English Tripitaka Series, with Bhikkhu Analayo as a co-editor.
Last edited by danielgbg on Thu Mar 13, 2014 8:50 am, edited 1 time in total.


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