Sexuality and Budhism

Buddhist teachings are usually disdainful towards sexuality and distrustful of sensual enjoyment and desire. Buddhist monks and nuns of most traditions are expected to refrain from all sexual activity (Japanese Buddhism being a notable exception), and the Buddha is said to have admonished his followers to avoid unchastity “as if it were a pit of burning cinders.”[1]

A core teaching of Buddha’s foundational first sermon is that “one should not pursue sensual pleasure (kamasukha), which is low, vulgar, coarse, ignoble and unbeneficial.” (Samyutta Nikaya V:420, Sutta Pitaka). This is reinforced in many passages of the Sutta Pitaka, such as the Simile of the Quail (Sutta 66 of the Majjhima Nikaya) where Buddha teaches that sensual pleasures are “filthy, coarse, and ignoble” and “should not be pursued, developed, or cultivated; they should be feared.” In the Simile of the Snake (Sutta 22 of the Majjhima Nikaya), Buddha strongly rebukes those who say that sexual practice is not an obstacle to Enlightenment: “Misguided man… I have stated [time and again] how sensual pleasures provide little gratification, much suffering, and much despair, and how great is the danger in them. But you, misguided man [have] injured yourself and stored up much demerit; for this will lead to your harm and suffering for a long time.”

In addition, the second of the Four Noble Truths states that the ultimate cause of all suffering is attachment and desire (tanha), and the third states that the way to eliminate suffering is to eliminate attachment and desire. Sexual practices are characterised as both attachment (kama-upadana) and desire (kama-tanha). Sensual desire (kama-cchanda) is also the first of the Five Hindrances, which must be eradicated if one is to progress spiritually. Of the three kinds of cchanda, kama-cchanda is the one that is ethically immoral.ref

Sexual desire is repeatedly described as kilesa, defilement of the mind.
Like other religions, Buddhism takes a strong ethical stand in human affairs and sexual behaviour in particular. The most common formulation of Buddhist ethics are the five precepts:
1 Refraining from harming living beings/practicing loving kindness
2. Refraining from taking the non-given/practicing generosity
3. Refraining from committing sexual misconduct/practicing contentment
4. Refraining from false speech/practicing truthful communication
5. Refraining from intoxicants/practicing mindfulness.

The precepts take the form of voluntary, personal undertakings i.e. they are training principles. Buddhists are to analyse their actions / thoughts in terms of these precepts, rather than subscribe to a divinely derived list of commandments. The third precept, sexual misconduct, has been interpreted differently by different Buddhist traditions. It is usually understood to include adultery, incest, sex with monks or nuns, but may also be interpreted to include anal sex, oral sex, masturbation and homosexuality.

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