Brahmacharya: The Wise Use of Sexual Energy
**Brahmacharya: The Wise use of Sexual Energy**
**Where is the Love?**
The main difference between Theravada and Mahayana Buddhism is that in Mahayana, the maha (majority) move away from the pursuit of becoming a Buddha and instead hope to become a bodhisattva, which is someone who puts aside their own enlightenment in order to enlighten others. The way I imagine this is that you’re trying to wake up everything around you through the way you are. From the Mahayana perspective you can’t study that in a sutra. You can’t get that even by following ethical rules. Sometimes they’re helpful. But the Mahayana split because in a certain sense it wasn’t helpful anymore to have so many lists and rules. The question that the Mahayanas posed to the Theravadans was: Where is the love? So instead of becoming a Buddha, our goal is to live as a bodhisattva, which is someone who serves and awakens others. I always think of it as: you’re trying to get everyone get out the door, and you’re letting them go first. Oh no you, really, first, please, after you. Over and over again. Until the last slug and worm and blade of grass is served.
**Here and Gone**
The Heart Sutra takes this very far, if you really get the Heart Sutra then you should abandon the Heart Sutra and just chant Gate Gate Paragate. Parasamgate. Bodhi Svaha. Which usually gets translated into English as “Gone gone beyond.” Usually people say this in a funeral, that someone now is gone. They’re not just gone, they’re gone beyond, and they’re not just gone beyond, they’re gone beyond, gone beyond. Today scholars are retranslating it etymologically, and have found that the words actually mean: “fully arrived.” To be fully gone means to be fully arrived, and that we arrive together. This is what we’re chanting when we’re chanting the Heart Sutra.
I’ve been thinking a lot about the Heart Sutra when thinking about sexual energy because one of the things that Mahayana Buddhism is suggesting to us is that if we’re all interconnected, if we’re all Buddhas and bodhisattvas, then we’re all on the same path, and misusing sexual energy really shuts down our path. It obscures the path. Not misusing sexual energy means not doing harm. I think we can all connect brahmacharya and ahimsa (the first precept). Mostly harm comes from greed, anger and confusion. In the realm of sexual energy, most harm happens out of greed. One of the ways this is often translated is rapacious sexual energy, which I like to think of as greedy sexual energy. I looked up the word rapacious and it comes from the word raptor, which is something that preys on other life, like a vampire. The misuse of sexual energy has a lot to do with the last precept, which is greed, aparigraha.
Since Roshi’s been here, I’ve been going through my old Ikkyu book which she quoted a few times. I wanted to read this poem which consists of just this single line: “This lust, my ceaseless koan.” Sexual greed arises from two things: one is craving and the other is objectification. To really have craving you have to have an object, and we all know that the more you objectify something, the more you really feel ungrounded. And maybe the belief in objects out there is really our deepest wound, and is what we’re really trying to heal in our practice.
**Using Both Hands**
In the sexual act with another person, if you don’t use your whole body, this is a way of misusing sexual energy. Of stealing from yourself and your partner. Of harming and being greedy. I’m sure that no one in this room has ever done this, but it’s possible apparently.
**Right in the Middle**
Sexual energy is something to be respectful and careful of. If you avoid it you freeze, and if you grab it you burn. Somehow we have to be right in the middle, and I think for people that are not in touch with sexual energy, it’s dangerous. I’ve often wanted to say in certain spiritual communities, if you haven’t felt sexual energy this week, then you’re a walking time bomb in your community. I see this so often, where people cut off that part of their life, cover it over, and then it inevitably explodes in some way.
I also think that to be intimate with your emotional and sexual wounds brings sexual greed to an end, because maybe sexual greed is motivated by not being connected to our wounds. And as I said earlier, maybe our greatest wound is the constant process of objectifying, which we’ve all done.
**Loveless Love Story**
I wanted to read a story about Eshun that is told in both China and Japan. There is a temple where 20 monks and one nun practice, and the nun’s name is Eshun. They do Zen meditation and allow men and women to practice together, because Eshun was so keen on learning the form. Many monks secretly fell in love with her. You all know this from going on retreat, you go on a silent retreat and spend 10 days watching someone’s spine and you fall completely in love with them… then there’s also the vipassana enemy and father and lover… and then on the last day when you get to talk you can’t believe once they open their mouth that you were interested even for a moment. This is a good experience because you can see how you were obsessed with this person, and what that obsession is really made of. So anyways, several monks fell in love with Eshun, and one day one of the monks slipped a note into her sandal. She opened it and discovered it was a love letter. But it was unsigned. So after the dharma talk, Eshun stood up and said, “Whoever wrote me the love letter, stand up and come embrace me.” No one stood up. What’s the point of this story? She is saying: if you really love and want me, stand up. This is a good example of not owing up to sexual energy, especially in the context of community.
One of the things about sexual energy is that whether it gets acted on or not, as soon as there’s sexual energy you create a new life. You can do this with gay sex, with contraception, if you’re infertile, it has nothing to do with having a baby. Once you have sexual energy with someone then you have created a Buddha, and if it’s not seen, or avoided, this is where the trouble starts.
**Touch the Ghost**
On Monday night I gave a talk at Mt. Sinai hospital, and a patient who has Parkinson’s talked about how they had an experience in brain therapy, deep brain stimulation, where afterwards they had hallucinations. He would see someone in front of him in the hallway, and then he would go up to that person and touch them, and the hallucination would vanish. This is the way he would deal with his new form of seeing. No one could have taught a better meditation technique. When sexual energy arises, you have to touch it to see that it’s not real. It’s not you, it’s a fabrication, it’s a condition. But it’s also real, you can’t say it’s not there, for him the people in the hallway were there. But when we fix it in space, then it causes suffering.
**Angel in a Red Dress**
When I first started practice I went to go live at the Kripalu Centre for a little while, and when there were special events, everyone would dress in white. It also came out within a couple of years that a lot of people were sleeping with Amrit Desai, who was the main teacher, who was eventually forced to leave. One day a Jungian analyst from London Ontario arrived named Marion Woodman. She gave a talk on the archetype of the prostitute wearing a red ballroom dress. What she was pointing out both in her talk and her dress was the shadow of the community. It was a really interesting moment.
There’s a free book you can download from the internet called Broken Buddha: Critical Reflections on Theravada and a Plea for a New Buddhism by S. Dhammika. It’s a story about a Theravadan monk studying in Asia, and the shadows of Buddhist practice. One of the wonderful stories he tells is that one day while he is at the monastery two sex workers arrive because they’re interested in Buddhism. He’s impressed with their courage, and brings them inside the monastery. According to the rules, a monk isn’t allowed to be alone with a woman, and a sex worker isn’t allowed to be inside the monastery, and he received a real punishment for having done this. He ended up teaching the dharma to these two women and he uses that experience to critique institutional practice. It really changed things for him.
Ten day retreat in a monastery made me restless.
The red thread on my feet is long and unbroken
If one day you come looking for me
Just ask for me at the fishmongers,
in a tavern, or in a brothel
Talking about this poem he says, “When some people are thirsty they dream of water, when some people are cold they dream are fire. Mostly I dream of a girl’s boudoir. That’s my nature.” This is a famous Japanese monk. Here’s his last poem:
A gorgeous prostitute wears silk robes that hang open about an inch.
That inch is his koan. That one inch. The point of these precepts is to really notice craving, and greed and anger and also delusion in the sexual realm. There’s not one way to act. Mostly when you read about sexual energy in Buddhist scriptures it seems as if there’s a way to act. I think we need to contemplate that so that we can acknowledge this energy in our lives, and act appropriately. For Ikkyu, the silk blouse on a prostitute is hanging open one inch, and it’s hard to not remember Roshi’s teaching this weekend, and the poem she read by Ryokan: “One minute of sitting, one inch of Buddha.” What is that inch for you?
I’ve never been in any kind of yoga or Buddhist community where they’ve ever actually covered this topic, in as many hours as we have. I’m not saying this to make us all feel ethical, but only to say that it’s rare that people take this precept and think about it. It’s a rule and sits there and people have their own internal or private relationship to it. But I’ve never encountered as much communication about it as we’ve managed. I’m just happy that we’re able to do this. Even if you’re hearing conversations about things that aren’t happening in your life, they contribute to internal communications.
**The Sangha of Your Own Life**
Becoming aware of what you reject in your own body and psyche, and in other bodies and psyches, is yoga, is healing. It is intimacy. Some people who have been traumatized can’t fully be in their bodies. I think it would be naive to believe that we fully heal all the time. There may be experience residues that are too traumatic to go near again. Or maybe certain relations with others trigger those wounds, but just being aware of that is being complete. Being aware of what you reject is the sangha of your own life. To be intimate with your sexual wounds uncovers sexual greed. It heals sexual greed. Often when we think of sexual greed we think of acting out, doing something with our greed, but another way is acting inwards. Withholding for example. In psychotherapy, one of the most usual kinds of abuse is withholding, it’s not striking out. Anybody who has been in a long term relation probably knows a little about this. You haven’t been hugging me every time when I get home from work so there’s no sex tonight.
Some of you have used sexual energy wisely, and used your wounds to become a path of healing. And maybe some of you in sexual relations have been healed. And maybe some of you are the healer, and you’ve helped other people heal. Maybe some of you are too much on one side, other people are healing you all the time, or you’re always healing other people. This can happen, the Marvin Gaye story was like this. If you know his biography. I really encourage you to reflect on your own life.
*photo credit: caitlin strom*