Brahmacariya, celibacy survival guide: it's only as hard as you make it

Tags: #<Tag:0x00007fc7ba240ca0>


Ven. Brahmali’s translation was slightly condensed, so I expanded it back out in this very interesting section, because those lines of pali are worth memorizing, and the full repetitions spoken make it easier to memorize and remember later.

One of the places I integrate this into daily practice, is when I recite the precepts and brahmacariya (“a-brahma-cariya veramanii”), I quickly visualize these similes. It’s a really powerful practice. Just like when you visualize a lemon, the saliva and acid in your mouth gets triggerred, as if you actually tasted a lemon. When there’s a powerful visualization to accompany “abrahamacariya”, it has a similar effect of associating great dukkha with sensuality. The visualization of a poisonous snake gives you fearful goosebumps, a visceral raw fear, tangible, and then the daily association of that image linked inextricably with sensual pleasures, builds a moat around your fortress, giving you one more line of defense against getting confused by subha.

Interesting pali vocabulary new word for the day:
aṅga-jāte. Literally, factor for birth.
Both female and male sex organ uses that same word.
For a more fluent reading, I see the translators translate that as “penis” and “vagina”.

👉👄🐍 penis in snake mouth similes

Varaṃ te, mogha-purisa,
It would be better, foolish-man,
āsivisassa ghoravisassa mukhe aṅgajātaṃ pakkhittaṃ,
for your penis to enter the mouth of a terrible and poisonous snake
na tveva mātugāmassa aṅgajāte aṅgajātaṃ pakkhittaṃ.
rather than {inserting your penis into a} woman’s vagina.
Varaṃ te, mogha-purisa,
It would be better, foolish-man,
kaṇhasappassa mukhe aṅgajātaṃ pakkhittaṃ,
for your penis to enter the mouth of a black snake
na tveva mātugāmassa aṅgajāte aṅgajātaṃ pakkhittaṃ.
rather than {inserting your penis into a} woman’s vagina.

charcoal pit similes

Varaṃ te, mogha-purisa,
It would be better, foolish-man,
aṅgārakāsuyā ādittāya sampajjalitāya sajotibhūtāya aṅgajātaṃ pakkhittaṃ,
for your penis to enter a blazing charcoal pit
na tveva mātugāmassa aṅgajāte aṅgajātaṃ pakkhittaṃ.
rather than {inserting your penis into a} woman’s vagina.


Taṃ kissa hetu?
Why is that?
Tatonidānañhi, moghapurisa, maraṇaṃ vā nigaccheyya maraṇamattaṃ vā dukkhaṃ, na tveva tappaccayā kāyassa bhedā paraṃ maraṇā apāyaṃ duggatiṃ vinipātaṃ nirayaṃ upapajjeyya.
Because for that reason, you might die or experience death-like suffering, but you wouldn’t because of that be reborn in a bad destination.
Itonidānañca kho, moghapurisa, kāyassa bhedā paraṃ maraṇā apāyaṃ duggatiṃ vinipātaṃ nirayaṃ upapajjeyya.
But for this reason you might.
Tattha nāma tvaṃ, moghapurisa, yaṃ tvaṃ asaddhammaṃ gāmadhammaṃ vasaladhammaṃ duṭṭhullaṃ odakantikaṃ rahassaṃ dvayaṃdvayasamāpattiṃ samāpajjissasi,
Foolish man, you have practiced what is contrary to the true Teaching, the common practice, the low practice, the coarse practice, that which ends with a wash, that which is done in private, that which is done wherever there are couples.
bahūnaṃ kho tvaṃ, moghapurisa, akusalānaṃ dhammānaṃ ādikattā pubbaṅgamo.
You are the forerunner, the first performer of many unwholesome things.


I have the sense that it is better to acknowledge the beauty and function in a person’s body, than to shame it, or use metaphors such as this to discourage a monk from having sex. I don’t get the sense from the Suttas as a whole that the Buddha thought this way, and I am guessing that he refined his mind to such a degree that the physical atributes of our bodies need not be the focus of our dispassion, but the training of the mind to see that the clinging to these beautiful yet impermanent features to be another cultivation of suffering. From a psychological point of view, if you make something verboten, to many it becomes all the more attractive. Why not focus the way many of the rest of the Suttas seem to do, to acknowledge the human body as impermanent? Perceive others with the same regard as you’d like to be perceived, but be mindful that all of these pursuits are fuels to clinging, and dukkha.

It’s not women, or their body parts, that get you into trouble…it’s your mind.


Yes, I like to suppose that these extreme kinds of expressions are later insertions by especially overzealous monks.


We would do well to keep in mind that that simile is directed towards male monastics. I think the reason why the simile is so horrifying is because those who claim to be celibate and virtuous ascetics and gain material things, praise, etc. because of that claim, yet in reality they are unvirtuous and unchaste…this lifestyle is severely censured by the Buddha—I don’t recall the exact citations.

That deceitful lifestyle is what leads to lower realms and does not not have anything to do with sexuality or the opposite sex in and of themselves. It is a shallow and uninformed reading of the simile that could interpret it that way IMO.


:slight_smile: and yet, where is any threat? Not externals; not even biological. In the minds, neh? Perhaps in the social or personal habits of a mind in training?


You’ve got to be kidding. Whether it’s Kāma sukha, kāma rāga, kāma vitakka, every list of enemies kāma tops the list as public enemy #1. It has preeminent status in the Dhamma.

  • It’s the first of 5 hindrances,
  • it’s the first of the 3 opposites to right resolve/intention
  • it’s the first āsava listed of the 3 asavas. (destruction of asavas is arahantship).

And the main antidote to kāma is asubha practice, the body as repulsive, ugly, un-attractive (if you want to try to soften the concept of asubha). If you want to classify 31 body parts and rotting corpses as simply “un-attractive”, I don’t think that word captures it.

In the Vesali sutta, SN 54.7(?), even after scores of monks practiced asubha incorrectly and committed suicde, the Buddha did not stop teaching it. That’s how important it is.

Asubha is not for people who aren’t ready for it.
If any of you fall in that category, please feel free to move on from this thread, it’s not for you.
But do not misrepresent the Buddha and try to explain away asubha and celibacy. It’s an indispensable and important part of the practice, for those who are serious about making a complete end of suffering.


I wasn’t kidding. I think there’s a difference between the asubha practices, and using a simile that denigrates another. You’ll notice that I didn’t mention the asubha practices, and also notice that the simile of the snake’s mouth is not an asubha practice. Loathsomeness and dangerousness are two very different concepts. So, you may have misunderstood what I was trying to advocate.

I watched on youtube last night the samanera ordination of Samanera Pasado at BSWA. Ajahn Brahm stated that when a beautiful young woman enters the Buddha hall, that Pasado should see her beautiful hair, skin, teeth and nails as all dead cells; impermanent, not-self. He was careful to say this is true of the handsome man, as well. There was no shaming of either sex, nor was there a suggestion that women were dangerous or harmful. So, that’s the distinction I was trying to draw, and I was glad to see Ajahn Brahm frame the issue the way he did.


I read the Buddha’s passage a few times, the full passage in context, and I don’t see any women being denigrated at all. What’s being denigrated is lust and thirst to be reborn again and again. If you keep viewing all the suttas through overly sensitive political correctness filters, and dismissing whatever offends your overly sensitive feelings as not the Buddha’s genuine words, you’re going to miss out on a lot of really important teachings. The Buddha was a pragmatist and concerned with only one thing, the cessation of Dukkha. Is it hard to believe sometimes he may deliver a sermon and say things occasionally that sound misogynistic, or cruel or harsh to other religions? Does that make him a misogynist or a closed minded elitist?

Rather than just dismiss those suttas as, “oh no, the Buddha would have used politically correct speech like Ajahn Brahm, and so it must not be genuine Buddha’s teachings, it must be a fake sutta planted by his misogynist disciples”, perhaps just give him the benefit of the doubt and assume he’s not a misogynist, and look behind that for the deeper idea he’s trying to teach. Like in the case of the snake’s mouth simile, it’s not the snake that’s being demonized, it’s not the woman that’s being demonized, it’s lust that’s being demonized. Lust and ignorance that causes snakes, men, women, to be reborn again and again.


The problem I have here is not misogyny, it’s the “demonization”. This kind of language just seems to harsh, too calculated to cultivate feelings of disgust and extreme aversion. At best, that kind of thinking can only be part of a crude initial stage in the ascetic development of spiritual attainments. There is nothing enlightened about feeling intense disgust and aversion.

Human beings are animals. Like many other animals, we reproduce sexually. Because we reproduce sexually, nature has implanted in us a sex drive. That human beings are going to experience, from time to time, a desire to copulate with members of the opposite sex, and find that copulation pleasurable, is the most natural thing in the world for creatures that need to copulate to reproduce.

It’s also worth observing, however, that these very natural sexual desires are sometimes extremely intense, and arouse powerful attendant emotional states of deep interpersonal attachment and even addiction, jealousy and possessiveness, obsessive ideation, distraction and heedlessness, etc. The pleasures accompanying sexual expression are often intense but very transient, preceded by anxious and painful dissatisfaction, and can be followed by worry, listlessness or depression. Human beings also have complex social lives, and it is a persistent challenge to harmonize our sexual desires with the norms of the social order. A large part of human literature is about the dramatic conflict between eros and society.

Now, if someone says that one can achieve emotional peace and elevated spiritual states by restraining one’s sex drive, and ultimately even turning off the libido entirely, that is interesting and worth paying attention to. It doesn’t mean, though, that the default state of a normal libido is uniformly horrible and disgusting. And countering the negative aspects of sexual existence from which one wishes to escape with an extreme counter-psychology of sexual fear, disgust and hysteria doesn’t seem very wholesome, or a path to happiness.

Now as far as misogyny goes - or misandry for that matter - it is not possible to separate the person from the components and processes that constitute their psycho-physical life. The Buddha didn’t posit some separate spiritual “soul” floating somewhere around the body or trapped inside it. The person - to whatever extent it exists, and which is whatever it is we are supposed to feel metta and compassion toward - is nothing beyond that conditioned sequence of psycho-physical processes. You can’t regard some person’s biological existence as a powerfully aversive sack of shit, piss, snot and oozing foulness without regarding the person that way.

So I think the goal here is not to abide for long in some state of experiencing other sexual beings as disgusting, but is to reach some state where one has no illusions about what that other person is, about what kinds of substances and processes they are composed of, but where one also no longer has either aversion or attraction to those substances and processes. All that is left is metta, which is nether a push away from a thing nor a pull toward it, but just a kindly or friendly knowledge of that thing and understanding of what it really is.


Venerable Anālayo on the problem of sensuality:

The reason why early Buddhism problematizes sensual desire becomes clear in the Māgandiya-sutta and its Madhyama-āgama parallel, which deliver the stark simile of a leper who scratches the scab off his wounds and cauterizes them over a fire.21
The relief he experiences in this way illustrates the enjoyment of indulging in sensual pleasures. The more the leper scratches his wounds the worse his condition becomes, just as the more one indulges in sensuality the stronger one’s sensual desires will in turn become. In fact, according to the Māgandiya-sutta and its Madhyama- āgama parallel even a king, with all the sensual gratification at his beck and call, will not be at peace inwardly because of his thirst for sensual desires. In other words, gratification of sensual desires is not a real solution, as it only provides short-term relief at the cost of the long-term increase of sensual desire.
The Māgandiya-sutta and its Madhyama-āgama parallel indicate that, if a healed leper sees a sick leper cauterizing his wounds over a fire, the healed leper would certainly not find this attractive and would not feel any envy for the sick leper. If he is forcibly dragged to the fire, the healed leper would try with all his might to escape, as being no longer sick he would not want to come near to the fire that he had earlier approached so eagerly to cauterize his wounds.
The comparisons in the two parallels convey an emphatic rejection of indulgence in sensual pleasures. The final conclusion proposed in the Māgandiya-sutta and its Madhyama-āgama parallel is that, just as a leper only experiences the fire as pleasant because he is sick and has a distorted perception, so indulging in sensuality is only experienced as pleasant when one has a distorted perception – in other words, as long as one is, in a way, mentally sick with the contagious disease of sensual desire. Unless the proper medication is applied – such as contemplation of the anatomical constitution of one’s body – this contagious disease of sensual desire threatens to disfigure the natural beauty of one’s mind and turn one into a mental leper. - THE PROBLEMS OF SENSUAL ATTRACTION (pgs. 73-74)

I always chuckle at the mental leper bit.


@frankk " I read the Buddha’s passage a few times, the full passage in context, and I don’t see any women being denigrated at all."

Which do you mean by “the Buddha’s passage”, specifically? (i think specific citation can help in this thread, and i am really not sure which you are referening.)

It seemed @UpasakaMichael was noticing some distinctions in different texts, so characterizing his comments as “If you keep viewing all the suttas through overly sensitive political correctness filters, and dismissing whatever offends your overly sensitive feelings as not the Buddha’s genuine words” (emphasis added) seems to be not in his words here, a projected extrapolation…

Let’s converse in good faith, seeking understanding and peace together. :slight_smile: No need for shortcuts!

The Buddha was a pragmatist and concerned with only one thing, the cessation of Dukkha

Well said, imo! With unflagging compassion, this was demonstrated day after decade to this world. Lovely to contemplate i think.


There’s a good pun about moderation in there if I were cleverer.


If you study the lives of enlightened masters, such as the disciples of Ajahn Mun, and in the EBT, why do they continue to do these asubha and corpse contemplations after stream entry? Surely they don’t need to “see sexual beings as disgusting” at that point? So if they still do that practice, if all the great masters of the past and present continue to sing the praise of that practice, maybe there’s a good reason. And maybe they don’t feel “disgust and revulsion” in the way you imagine it, that Westerners with Christian baggage with repressed emotions, guilt, sexual psychosis, etc, would experience it. Maybe the Buddha deserves the benefit of the doubt, and knows something that you don’t.

Vinaya parajika #1,

👉👄🐍 penis in snake mouth similes

Varaṃ te, mogha-purisa,
It would be better, foolish-man,
āsivisassa ghoravisassa mukhe aṅgajātaṃ pakkhittaṃ,
for your penis to enter the mouth of a terrible and poisonous snake
na tveva mātugāmassa aṅgajāte aṅgajātaṃ pakkhittaṃ.
rather than {inserting your penis into a} woman’s vagina.

don’t miss the big picture

While it’s great that Michael is an outspoken feminist, and I have sympathy for the power imbalance suffered by any group/minority since time immemorial, we should not let that distract us from any lesson that can be extracted, no matter if the teacher is bigotted, racist, sexist, ageist, speciest, etc. If they say something that’s true and valuable, don’t ignore it from righteous indignation. Truth is truth, no matter who says it. I’d noticed a pattern over the years here on SCDD where people get caught up in righteous indignation and miss some great insights from the suttas.


“shame”, “disgust”, “revulsion” can be used skillfully, or not. Just like fire is esssential for survival, but if you misuse it, it can kill you. Open your minds and stop clinging to one sided views of “shame, disgust, etc.”

Look at AN 7.67 for one example of how shame and fear of wrongdoing (compunction) is skillfully used:

AN 7.67 nagar’-opama
    (7 requisites of fortress)
    (7 requisites leads to 4 types of food )
    (7 requisites of monk)
    (1. saddha/conviction → foundation post )
    (2. hiri/sense-of-shame → moat deep and wide)
    (3. otappa/compunction → encircling road)
    (4. bahu-suto/learned-much dhamma → many weapons stored)
    (5. arraddha-viriya/aroused-vigor → large army stationed)
    (6. sati/mindfulness → wise gatekeeper)
    (7. pañña/discerment → ramparts high and thick)
    (with 7 requisites, 4 jhānas can be obtained easily )
    (1. first jhana → grass, timber, water)
    (2. second jhana → rice, barley)
    (3. third jhana → sesame, green gram, beans)
    (4. fourth jhana → ghee, honey, butter, molasses, salt)

A great simile helps widening the moat


…post withdrawn by author…


Can’t we at least agree that a mind colored by intense aversion and disgust is not an enlightened mind? I know that the kind of training that might be necessary for a 20 year old novice male might not be applicable to everyone.

All this talk about fear of demons and snakes and female bodies, and obsession with foulness and the disgusting, just seems like a bad and unhappy state of mind to be in for a prolonged period of time.


Pretty sure asubha practices are said to lead to samādhi, a beautiful mind state.

I’m all in support of nun ordination and hearing the voices of women, but the modern PC/feminist culture tends to take it too far imo. I think a revealing caricature of this ridiculous over-sensitivity is portrayed by Sacha Baron Cohen in his recent show “Who is America?”:
(This is satire; and I think it performs an important function. Hopefully, there’s no need for censorship.)

“Racially, how do you identify?”
“As a black man.”
“That’s an offensive term though, isn’t it, the B-word? Isn’t it Afro-marginalized?”

To be fair, he does equal parts mockery of the ridiculousness of the conservative side.

For modern laypeople, maybe some of these practices and metaphors seem extreme. I think they make perfect sense in context. We are dealing with pārājika offense, a “defeat” for a mendicant, they would not be able to re-ordain ever again for the remainder of their lifetime. Sexuality, along with survival, are the two prime driving forces of genes throughout time; these are no easy forces to fight against (they have the backing of millions of years of evolution via reproduction). That is to take a scientific approach, from the metaphysics of the EBT’s there are countless lifetimes and lifetimes of rebirth and being a mendicant in the Buddha’s Sangha is the rarest opportunity to finally put an end to the cycle — to squalor that is beyond foolish.

Would there be the same problem if the text said “Foolish woman, it would be better for you to insert a pufferfish than a penis”. I think that is the implication, the spirit, of the verse. And the same would apply to the various gendered ways sexual attraction goes.


There was never disagreement on that. You articulately explained some of the ways asubha can be wrongly practiced and cause psychological harm. But that’s nothing new, nothing unknown to the Buddha and the EBT.

What you’re failing to see, by clinging to this one dimension view of asubha, is that there are many dimensions and beauty to that practice. I’ve tried to hint and explain it a little bit, but I’m not going to invest any more time and energy when it’s clear you haven’t read what I said carefully up to this point, or I’m doing a poor job communicating.

Asubha is like Durian fruit. Smells disgusting, but if you reject it based on that, you’re going to miss out on delicious fruit with extraordinarily dense nutrients.


It’s also an illustration of the Buddha’s genius in metaphor, the mouth of a snake does in fact look like… [redacted]. To be able to recall that strong, vivid metaphor at a time when you most need it could be “robe-saving”.


What we need to do is think of a similar metaphor for men. Then everyone will be equally gross.

It would be better, foolish woman, for a scorpion’s tail to enter your vagina than to have a man enter you.