tagReviews & EssaysErotica and Buddhism

Erotica and Buddhism


I believe the simple answer is that yes it is, but that a more complex answer would be much more precise. To start off I wish to start with a brief disclaimer, I will then look at the background and provide a brief description of Buddhism. After this point I wish to present the fundamental conundrum that I will be dealing with: are certain, sexual acts, inconsistent with Buddhist teaching. At this point I will offer my own analysis of the question and begin to formulate an argument.

First the disclaimer. I am not an authoritative figure on the subject of Buddhism. I am simply a lay person pressed with this question. This argument and the debate I will try and bring to the table is not an extensively researched one. I am using my own understanding of the world and of Buddhism in these arguments. Some of you who read this will have a much deeper knowledge of Buddhism and may disagree with my analysis. Please be frank and respectful in asking me or pointing out flaws it is how we all learn.

A brief introduction to the world of Buddhist thought. For the last few thousand years a religion has grown up in the world called Buddhism. Many of the thinking and teachings of Buddhism are mimicked in Western thought, most notably in the stoic tradition. Because Buddhism is built on rational thought and self reflection the individual viewpoints of practitioners tend to vary to a large degree. There are a few core aspects that stay constant though. These being the Four Noble truths and the Eightfold Path

The Four Noble Truths can be broken down as follows: Life is suffering. Suffering is caused by wanting. There is a way out of suffering. That way is the Eightfold Path.

The Eightfold path consists of guidelines on how one should live their life. It explains the proper mindset to have when approaching the problem of how to live one's life, what one should do and how one should regard the world around one's self and control one's mind. Of these the most relevant sections are about what one ought to do. One ought to have a Correct Livelihood, do Correct Actions and speak Correct Speech.

There seems to be a immediate contradiction between sexual delight, and sexual fantasy and Buddhism. It seems that desire and lust, two emotions bound up deeply with sexual pleasure are close to the root cause for our suffering. The second noble truth lays that out fairly plainly: suffering is caused by want. This is a bastardized form of it and I believe a more precise form is mirrored in the Toa Te Ching:

"Not Exalting Cleverness causes people not to contend. Not putting high prices on hard to get goods causes the people not to steal. Not seeing anything to want causes the mind not to be confused..."

From the Buddha:

" 210. Let no man ever look for what is pleasant, or what is unpleasant. Not to see what is pleasant is pain, and it is pain to see what is unpleasant.

211. Let, therefore, no man love anything; loss of the beloved is evil. Those who love nothing and hate nothing, have no fetters.

212. From pleasure comes grief, from pleasure comes fear; he who is free from pleasure knows neither grief nor fear.

213. From affection comes grief, from affection comes fear; he who is free from affection knows neither grief nor fear.

214. From lust comes grief, from lust comes fear; he who is free from lust knows neither grief nor fear."

It is because of this link between desires, lust, and wants and suffering that in initial inspection sexual activity seems to be at odds with Buddhism. This analysis holds if a person engages in Sexual activity for the sole reason of obtaining some measure of pleasure. This is usually the reason most engage in sexual activities, it is highly pleasurable to them. This approach to it is not consistent with living a life free of suffering.

Take for example a man on search for stimulation reading an erotic story. The man is searching for pleasure through these stories. While he may find some pleasure through reading and perhaps stimulation hat might be considered a lucky find. By opening up his mind in a search wholly for pleasure at some point is search will not be satisfied leading to a lack of pleasure and ultimately to suffering.

This same situation applies to the realm real. I recently read an account of a highly submissive woman who discussed the pleasures she gained from very humiliating sexual intercourse. Alone the degradations she received she did not enjoy, but she went through those degradations for an incredible release of pleasure. This is a case very similar to the one of the reader of erotic stories. Fundamentally the reason going through the pains is a pleasure. This same case applies to more mundane sexual activity as well. It is because people go through these acts for the purpose of seeking pleasure from physical satisfaction that the efforts are intimately bound up with suffering.

This is fundamentally the basic argument why sexual pleasure and sexual desire seem to be inconsistent with Buddhism. This argument relies heavily on the desires that lead a person to a certain act. While at a fundamental level there seems to be inherent problems between sexual activity and Buddhism but that may not be the case on closer inspection.

One argument could lead as follows, The Eightfold Path is the road out of suffering. Therefore if something is consistent with the Eightfold path then that too is consistent with leaving suffering. If one is able to behave in a sexual manner consistent with the Eightfold path then one could do so while still progressing out of suffering. The two areas most in conflict with this is Correct Speech and Correct Action.

A better definition of correct speech is needed, and of correct action in order to fully present the argument. In this case Correct speech can be loosely defined as speech that is benign, beneficial, and does not further suffering. Similarly correct actions should be ones that belay correct intentions, are beneficial, and should reduce suffering in the world. Any sort of sexual activity therefore must be consistent with correct speech and correct action. Similarly erotica should also these guidelines. It is through these guidelines that one should be able to find a middle ground between celibacy and hedonistic pleasures.

Fundamentally all sexual acts are the same; it does not matter if the act is done with mutual consent or is one sided. This sexual arousal in simple terms is pleasure. Therefore fundamentally sexual activity can be seen as the striving for, or the looking for pleasure. This is not good. Furthermore it is inconsistent as was explained above with the eightfold path. But could one engage in sexual activity and not be seeking pleasure.

More then anything this seems to be the question at hand. If one could engage in sexual activity not for their own gratification of pleasure, not for the sake of lust, and not for the delights of the flesh then that action would be benign, it would be beneficial, and it would be consistent with the path out of suffering. In such a case the actions and the words that are said, if they otherwise would be consistent with the Eightfold Path would thereby also be consistent. However such an ideal is hard to come by, if at all possible. Here is where the fine line comes in, or more a gradient of fine lines.

If one is on a straight and narrow path seeking enlightenment it seems the answer is simple: one shouldn't engage in sexual activities. However if one is not on that narrow path, then sexual activity seems to be a necessary evil. The degrees, the gradient, comes in when looking at the motivations beyond sexual activity. If the motivation is purely in seeking intense pleasure then that would be one end of the spectrum. If the motivation is otherwise creating progeny for example and the pleasurable aspects are simply secondary then that would be less off. Furthermore the degrees to which the individuals are engaging in the activity solely for the purpose of pleasure or some other non ideal purpose also change the balance of the stage. If those reasons are secondary to the act itself then this would be less bad. One should be careful though since it is not only pleasure that causes suffering but also attachment. Sexual activity seems to be the antithesis of detachment and so anyone trodding the Buddhist path should be careful when treading here.

These lines are thin ones drawn in sand. Each individual must find out for themselves where these lines are drawn exactly, but I believe that I have raised many of the central points to the issue at hand and have given outlines for the border of the level of sexual activity is acceptable. Because sexual pleasure is so closely bound up with the concepts of pleasure and desire one who truly embraces the path to enlightenment will also find the road to celibacy along the way. This end goal of a lack of sexual pleasure falls naturally from this. Many may find themselves somewhere along this extreme and it is the lack of desire for sexual pleasure that may help propel many into a better and more filling lifestyle.

Thank you for reading this.

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