Do you have faith in celibacy?

Tags: #<Tag:0x00007fc45ab5b640>


We western lay Buddhists experience the faith in ways that aren’t always well modeled in the EBTs.

In a sense this is only to be expected: We are literate and often we’re very well read indeed, but the EBTs come from a pre-literate culture. The texts understandably never reckoned with a laity like us. We can see this right away when we consider that the Vinaya forbade monks from teaching the laity the scriptures for recitation–a signature premodern move, found often in intellectual history, for textual preservation and institutional integrity. Modern and even literate premodern societies can use other and better methods. But these give rise to an unruly self-educated laity.

What should we do? What shouldn’t we do? What seems needed is a new synthesis, a modern primitive Buddhism that accommodates a literate and spiritually sophisticated laity that wants rather more in the way of spiritual discipline and less in the way of ritual.

I take it for granted that giving should remain central to lay practice, but even that isn’t at all like what it was in ancient times. Conditions change, indeed.




Ariyasavaka does not mean dedicated disciple, it means noble as in one with right view.
There are ,for sure, benefits in emulating what is in the suttas, so to speak, but one cannot disregard who the Buddha is referring to or who he is teaching, or what terms are used in a specific sutta.
The suttas have that distinction there for a reason.

AN10.46,yes I see that the sakyans are not referred to as ariyas, and the only indication that some might be ariyasavakas is when the say that " sensual pleasures are anicca".
But indeed it’s clear that keeping percepts is beneficial whether by a noble or an ordinary person.
A sotapanna who, although has right view, might be lazy and not keep percepts to extent necessary for further development, but he is still destined for Nibbana. The ordinary person needs to keep percepts to the extent necessary for gaining a perspective that can be conducive to getting right view.


The keeping of full celibacy,which requires no rituals, constantly, for the rest of ones life without compromise, and without even the need for a reward is quite a high spiritual discipline, which seems to be quite a difficult practice to do or even accept, for the modern literate sophisticated laity.


Being a sotapanna doesn’t require celibacy, neither does being a once-returner- only an aganagamin can be totally celibate. If you are below this you will have lust, and spiritual one-upmanship is a sign of immaturity.


Sure, I don’t dispute the meaning of “Ariyasavaka”. However, my point is that not all of the suttas extolling the uposatha include the term “ariyasavaka”. AN8.44 is another example, which talks about “lasting welfare and happiness” with fairly wide applicability. Practicing the uposatha seemed to be a recommended early Buddhist practice for all devoted followers (noble or otherwise).

Even if your point about it really being intended for stream-enterers and above is correct, that would only underscore that celibacy is not necessary for becoming a sotapanna (though, presumably, still essential for the non-returner and arahat stages).


Yes, but to be an arahant one will have full celibacy.
There is also no harm in being fully celibate, it’s not like it will obstruct a person from being a sotapanna.

Whether or not the Buddha said that full celibacy is required, it is beneficial, it takes part in renunciation, it’s in the same direction as Nibbana, which is the goal. Therefore, having the attitude of going all out in renunciation cannot be so bad.


Good luck!


Sure, ‘full’ celibacy is not required for right view, because precepts cannot give you wisdom, they only provide a space, clear enough to start to see things rightly.
Obviously, one engaged in sex or ‘entangled’ in an intense sexual relationship is not going to have ‘space’ for wisdom to arise.
Once one has the right view, the ‘space’ needs to be kept clear for further development.

I read this term ‘lasting welfare and happiness’ in the sutta you referred to, and yes I see it has wide applicability, as you say. One could think amongst many thoughts" if I keep 8 precepts for the day, I will be destined to attain Nibbana"


Have any studies been done to determine what percentage of Buddhist monastics, who have made a commitment to celibacy, actually do remain celibate? And if they violate that precept on occasion, how frequent on average are the violations? How many monks have had sexual intercourse with a member of the laity? How many have had intercourse with another monk? How many times? How frequently do they masturbate? And what instructions do the EBTs provide on how to keep the commitment to brahmacariya, beyond recommending that the commitment should be kept.


I understand this would be a difficult thing to study, because many monastics would not want to participate, and might not be entirely honest when they do.


Also, I am not doubting that some of the traditional practices do work to diminish the sex drive. They worked on me at least: reflections on the body and the parts of the body, reflection on or visualizing aging, mindful attention to all the parts of my own body, and the feelings and responses in it, and just the general pacification of my personality. But still I think it is important to ground a discussion of these matters in some attempt to achieve a realistic appreciation for what is and is not possible through the practice, and how frequently what is possible is actually attained, in light of what is known about human sexual behavior and responses.


I think that the pursuit of such a study would have many difficulties, to say the least.
There is no central register, for example, which every monk goes to report their sexual offenses.
How would knowing the percentages of such things be relevant or useful in anyway?

The Vinaya provides instructions for how monastics should go about in confessing their breach of precepts and if they need to be rehabilitated.

It is unfortunately quite well known in Buddhist countries that monks, in general,i.e the priestly caste, are not dedicated to brahmacariya. There are many incidents involving all sorts of sexually related crimes etc unfortunately this has become the norm, people are not as surprised as one would think.

Even in Thailand, some monks who have been busted for underage sex trafficking are still supported by laity???!

However, although these dodgy monks are known as monks, they are more like a new type of ‘Buddhist priest’, In a sense they are not celibate or practioners in any sense, but are just there to perform superstitious rituals on behalf of laity, while making loads of cash etc


Nibbana will never be something which is attained by many people, it is nearly impossible,but still possible.
Just because the attainment is not frequent enough for ones liking, does not mean that it is impossible.
If one realistically wants to attain Nibbana, then one has to be realistic and do what is required; you might fail but you are already in samsara, and any attempts of trying to attain Nibbana or practise that which is wholesome will make some difference.
If you give your all, you might actually succeed.


I think it would be helpful for both monastics and lay people to have a realistic view of what the life of the monastic is actually like. We are supposed to practice to see things as they are, and not project veneers of pious fantasy and wishful thinking over the the reality of what is happening.

For the monk, it would be useful, I would think, for them to be able to view their own failures to attain fully the celibate ideal within a realistic understanding of how hard it is to attain that ideal. If they are constantly castigating themselves as being unusually weak and unsuccessful in comparison with their brother and sister monks because of their violations, when in fact their violations are not that unusual at all, a corrected picture of the real situation could help to restore their morale and self-confidence.

For the laity, it is important to have a realistic understanding of human life and its sexual dimensions. If they are imagining that the monks in the vihara are all living lives of exceptional sexual abstinence, they might end up with a kind of inferiority complex: thinking themselves much more lowly, impure and offensive than they actually are.


Actually there was monk who was veeryaadika that is was considered the foremost in endurance, so much so it is said he would do so much meditation walking until his path for walking looked like the grounds in a slaughter house - his bleeding feet turned the ground red! He tried too hard and eventually wanted to return to the lay life. Here the Buddha appears and says like a stringed instrument shouldn’t be tightened too hard and it should not be too loose either, the energy of practice should be even and not in fits and starts, ie like a car accelerating and breaking on and off.


Do you have the reference?


Er… it doesn’t contain the car bit (hope you don’t mind…)

What if I were to disavow the training, return to the lower life, enjoy wealth, & make merit?”
Then the Blessed One, as soon as he perceived with his awareness the train of thought in Ven. Sona’s awareness—as a strong man might stretch out his bent arm AN 6.55: About Sona (English) - Chakka Nipāta - SuttaCentral

There are suttas to the contrary. About practicing like you head is on fire etc. But the skill of knowing what to apply where comes from experience. If we are to consider rebirth as real then our predisposition to sex didn’t start just recently.


Yes, I do not doubt or challenge this. But people who have that aim need to have a realistic understanding of their own human nature, so they know what they are up against, and can assess what practices will be conducive to the goal, and can measure their own progress against realistic standards. I’m sure, and know from experience that the EBTs contain a wealth of resources, but I don’t think a fundamentalist reliance on ancient texts alone is likely to be sufficient.

For example: caterpillars? Really?


I think this needs to be ‘fleshed’ out…

  1. mundane right view- about kamma, rebirth
  2. right intention to let go of sensuality (as opposed to kama cetana), non-harming, non-anger
  3. keeping the 3rd precept (right action)
  4. enjoying talk about sensuality
  5. enjoying thoughts about sensuality - breaking this down with asubha, elements, cemetery meditations, skeleton meditation, nutriment, dispassion with seeing,
  6. Sense restraint
  7. converting theory into practice- practicing it when it arises rather than in one’s head.
  8. developing samadhi and jhana.
  9. developing tilakkahana, asubha sanna (as opposed to kama sanna)
  10. Reading the suttas and listening to the Dhamma talks.
  11. Associating with kalyanamittas who practice at this level.
  12. Metta to oneself and others.

[avoiding caterpillars: :bug:]