SuttaCentral

Sexual Misconduct query


#22

Does it also seen strange that although the Buddha was in contact with prostitutes like Ambapali and others that he never made any pronouncements of proscriptions against them or their work? But accepted almsfood and land from them and taught the Dhamma to them generally rather than specifically referring to their work?

As for hangups, the matter of fact references to oral, anal and vaginal sex in the Vinaya and also with reference to same sex activity with men, women and pandakas certainly shows more acceptance and diversity than the Christian outlook. And the more ribald stories from the vinaya reveal a sexual landscape of astonishing diversity, with some acts seemingly quite commonplace that would make even Caligula blush! Again, these are monks rules.

The Buddha’s asubha style teachings which you refer to above, point towards redressing the imbalance that comes from seeing bodies as exclusively beautiful. This kind of teaching is usually considered a teaching for monastics, as it would be unsuitable for people living the laylife to practice this whilst involved in relationships. Revulsion is a pretty potent mindstate and can lead to very unhealthy results if practiced unskillfully, something the Buddha acknowledged after his time practicing austerities. Remember too that after teaching revulsion for the body at Vesāli, many monks actually commited suicide because they were so disinchanted with the body.

Aversion towards food also can also lead to eating disorders like anorexia, bulemia and food orthodoxy, which produces unhealthy results for the body and a lot of suffering for the mind. The practice of wise reflection on our use of the four requisites, such as the reflection on almsfood at mealtimes is a practice for monks and nuns (although others now practice it too on retreats) to help reflect on almsfood as part of their right livelihood, making sure they use almsfood correctly, practicing moderation in eating and understanding it’s essential purpose.

The Buddha taught the middle way. If our experience of the khandhas was exclusively painful we could never come out of our suffering. But because the khandhas are not exclusively pleasurable, we can become disinchanted enough with them to understand their limitation.


#23

I really appreciate your considerations on this topic bhante.

To me we need to keep in mind the challenge is always relative to where individuals are in terms of accomplishing the four ennobling tasks the four Noble truths point to.

In order to fully abandon the desire and craving that brings about the sort of pursuits such as continuous chasing of sensual pleasures including the pleasure of sex (having or not a legitimate partner as source of it) one has to have made some progress in terms of fully understanding the suffering related with it.

In order to fully understand the suffering involved, one needs to have made some progress in terms of cultivation of the noble eightfold path.

As the path is cultivated, ideally with the gradual and formal renunciation habits and practice prescribed to both lay and monastic disciples of the Buddha, a gradual but firm understanding of the peace available to those who have fully understood and given up suffering becomes available.

That in turn should only serve to refuel ones refraining from the ignoble pursuit at the heart level and translate into a real manifestation of the right livelihood idealized in the monastic lifestyle.

By seeking to constantly assess where one finds oneself in the above it becomes possible to find where one needs further work and how challenges such as the one presented at the OP can be realistically tackled.

:anjal:


#24

As I understand it, Ambapali was not what we would call a “common prostitute”, but a very prominent royal courtesan. The sexual arts would have been only one among many arts she was noted for. She also would have been a skilled singer, dancer and musician, a witty conversationalist and and companionable player of games.

And in fact, the Buddha did clearly hold all of these activities in low esteem, and regarded them as part of an inferior worldly life. His manner was not to thunder fire and brimstone condemnations of such activities, but nevertheless his attitude is clear. For example, DN1:

There are some ascetics and brahmins who, while enjoying food given in faith, still engage in seeing shows. This includes such things as dancing, singing, music, performances, and story telling; clapping, gongs, and kettle-drums; art exhibitions and acrobatic displays; battles of elephants, horses, buffaloes, bulls, goats, rams, chickens, and quails; staff-fights, boxing, and wrestling; combat, roll calls of the armed forces, battle-formations, and regimental reviews. The ascetic Gotama refrains from such shows.’ Such is an ordinary person’s praise of the Realized One.

‘There are some ascetics and brahmins who, while enjoying food given in faith, still engage in gambling that causes negligence. This includes such things as checkers, draughts, checkers in the air, hopscotch, spillikins, board-games, tip-cat, drawing straws, dice, leaf-flutes, toy ploughs, somersaults, pinwheels, toy measures, toy carts, toy bows, guessing words from syllables, and guessing another’s thoughts. The ascetic Gotama refrains from such gambling.’ Such is an ordinary person’s praise of the Realized One.

‘There are some ascetics and brahmins who, while enjoying food given in faith, still make use of high and luxurious bedding. This includes such things as sofas, couches, woolen covers—shag-piled, colorful, white, embroidered with flowers, quilted, embroidered with animals, double- or single-fringed—and silk covers studded with gems, as well as silken sheets, woven carpets, rugs for elephants, horses, or chariots, antelope hide rugs, and spreads of fine deer hide, with a canopy above and red cushions at both ends. The ascetic Gotama refrains from such bedding.’ Such is an ordinary person’s praise of the Realized One.

‘There are some ascetics and brahmins who, while enjoying food given in faith, still engage in beautifying and adorning themselves with garlands, fragrance, and makeup. This includes such things as applying beauty products by anointing, massaging, bathing, and rubbing; mirrors, ointments, garlands, fragrances, and makeup; face-powder, foundation, bracelets, head-bands, fancy walking-sticks or containers, rapiers, parasols, fancy sandals, turbans, jewelry, choweries, and long-fringed white robes. The ascetic Gotama refrains from such beautification and adornment.’ Such is an ordinary person’s praise of the Realized One.

‘There are some ascetics and brahmins who, while enjoying food given in faith, still engage in unworthy talk. This includes such topics as talk about kings, bandits, and ministers; talk about armies, threats, and wars; talk about food, drink, clothes, and beds; talk about garlands and fragrances; talk about family, vehicles, villages, towns, cities, and countries; talk about women and heroes; street talk and well talk; talk about the departed; motley talk; tales of land and sea; and talk about being reborn in this or that state of existence. The ascetic Gotama refrains from such unworthy talk.’ Such is an ordinary person’s praise of the Realized One.

I suspect all of the activities described in that passage match Ambapali’s way of life quite well. Now you could say the Buddha is here only describing the ideal for “ascetics and brahmins”, and that he thought a different ideal was perfectly suitable for the laity. But I don’t think the Buddha established a bifurcated division of social labor or of spiritual castes with a separate system of morals for different stations. He sometimes firmly, sometimes gently, but always consistently disparaged the worldly or household life and encouraged worldlings to sit close and hear the dhamma, so that they might be guided by the influence and example of the sangha’s superior system of values toward the holy life - a life which Ambapali eventually did take up.

As far as I can recall, the Buddha is never depicted celebrating or congratulating a couple on their marriage, or on the birth of a child. There is no ritual established by the Buddha for blessing a marriage. Nor can I think of a situation in which he says something like, “I hope you enjoyed the play”; or “I hope you had fun at the concert or the ball game” or “How did your date go? Was the anal sex good?” I don’t imagine him with pursed lips and furrowed brow, sourly condemning these activities. He had too much equanimity for that, and was beyond aversion. But he regarded all of these pursuits as the activities of deluded, mind-clouded fools living a lower and untamed life, beneath the level of the higher, Ariyan morality.

In the vinaya discipline related to eating, is the sensory pleasure of the taste of the food extolled, or is the monk only to reflect on the nature of eating and its nutritional benefits? It’s hard for me to think of places in the suttas where sensory pleasure of any kind is held out as being a good thing, so long as it is moderate. The Buddha’s middle way is not an Aristotelian middle way between enjoying sensory pleasures “too much” or “too little.” It is the middle way between the Jain ascetic basically starving himself to death as his bodily functions fall apart, and the cheerful householder like Daniya enjoying his happy home, family and hearth. The Buddha adopts the middle way when he simply decides to provide himself with enough sustenance to live, and have the energy to strive, neither seeking pleasure nor cultivating pain.

By the way, Jesus also consorted with harlots, tax collectors and other people who lived lives regarded as impure in the society of his time. I don’t think that’s because he approved of their activities. But he was lovingly welcoming of people who were looking for a better way who came to him. I think that’s probably pretty close to the Buddha’s approach as well.

This is the poem attributed by the tradition to Ambapali, after her renunciation:

Black was my hair
— the color of bees —
& curled at the tips;
with age, it looked like coarse hemp.
The truth of the Truth-speaker’s words
doesn’t change.

Fragrant, like a perfumed basket
filled with flowers:
With age it smelled musty,
like animal fur.
The truth of the Truth-speaker’s words
doesn’t change.

Thick & lush, like a well-tended grove,
made splendid, the tips elaborate
with comb & pin.
With age, it grew thin
& bare here & there.
The truth of the Truth-speaker’s words
doesn’t change.

Adorned with gold & delicate pins,
it was splendid, ornamented with braids.
Now, with age,
that head has gone bald.
The truth of the Truth-speaker’s words
doesn’t change.

Curved, as if well-drawn by an artist,
my brows were once splendid.
With age, they droop down in folds.
The truth of the Truth-speaker’s words
doesn’t change.

Radiant, brilliant like jewels,
my eyes:
With age, they’re no longer splendid.
The truth of the Truth-speaker’s words
doesn’t change.

Like a delicate peak, my nose
was splendid in the prime of my youth.
With age, it’s like a long pepper.
The truth of the Truth-speaker’s words
doesn’t change.

Like bracelets — well-fashioned, well-finished —
my ears were once splendid.
With age, they droop down in folds.
The truth of the Truth-speaker’s words
doesn’t change.

Like plaintain buds in their color,
my teeth were once splendid.
With age, they’re broken & yellowed.
The truth of the Truth-speaker’s words
doesn’t change.

Like that of a cuckoo in the dense jungle,
flitting through deep forest thickets:
sweet was the tone of my voice.
With age, it cracks here & there.
The truth of the Truth-speaker’s words
doesn’t change.

Smooth — like a conch shell well-polished —
my neck was once splendid.
With age, it’s broken down, bent.
The truth of the Truth-speaker’s words
doesn’t change.

Like rounded door-bars — both of them —
my arms were once splendid.
With age, they’re like dried up patali trees.
The truth of the Truth-speaker’s words
doesn’t change.

Adorned with gold & delicate rings,
my hands were once splendid.
With age, they’re like onions & tubers.
The truth of the Truth-speaker’s words
doesn’t change.

Swelling, round, firm, & high,
both my breasts were once splendid.
In the drought of old age, they dangle
like empty old water bags.
The truth of the Truth-speaker’s words
doesn’t change.

Like a sheet of gold, well-burnished,
my body was splendid.
Now it’s covered with very fine wrinkles.
The truth of the Truth-speaker’s words
doesn’t change.

Smooth in their lines, like an elephant’s trunk,
both my thighs were once splendid.
With age, they’re like knotted bamboo.
The truth of the Truth-speaker’s words
doesn’t change.

Adorned with gold & delicate anklets,
my calves were once splendid.
With age, they’re like sesame sticks.
The truth of the Truth-speaker’s words
doesn’t change.

As if they were stuffed with soft cotton,
both my feet were once splendid.
With age, they’re shriveled & cracked.
The truth of the Truth-speaker’s words
doesn’t change.

Such was this physical heap,
now:
A house with its plaster all fallen off.
The truth of the Truth-speaker’s words
doesn’t change.


#25

Only in a caste system can anyone be reborn a prostitute, or anything else. Thinking this way might be problematic.

“Destiny” is imo also a problematic idea. It really does not seem integral to understanding kamma.


#26

It’s getting a bit off topic so shall just make a brief final reply to you here,

He certainly did! For example the Vinaya is full of activities that are not suitable for those gone forth but are able to be done by lay people, such as cutting trees, or handling money . The sutta you are quoting from DN1 is about the ethical conduct of those who have gone forth and wrong types of view. The section you quote on virtue repeatedly and specifically speaks to ascetics and brahmins who have renounced. The activities listed there are unsuitable for monastics who rely on the generosity of others because these activities do not relate to the goal of liberation which those gone forth aspire. This sutta is not at all about the conduct of lay people. Whilst the first portion on ethics relates to the 5 precepts you’ll note that here the Buddha does not refer to Kamesu micchacara (‘sexual misconduct’) but rather brahmacariya (complete celibacy) a clear sign this sutta is indeed intended for renunciants. The 5 precepts for laiety fit into the much larger adhisila sikka (training in higher virtue) of the monastics, not the other way around!

Practice as you can and wish to @DKervick, but don’t be too hard on yourself or others. May we all be happy! :grinning:


#27

I don’t think that way @ERose. But the early Buddhist tradition seems to think that way, based on the evidence of the narratives that accompany the early verses about the theris.


#28

The comment was on the concepts, and general rather than personal @DKervick :slight_smile:

May all be happy, peaceful, ultimately freed of all suffering.


#29

Again, to be clear, I am not talking mainly about the rules the Buddha might or might not have established for different kinds of people, but what the Buddha’s words about various kinds of activity, taken together, indicate about how he viewed those kinds of activity. And I conclude from the entirety of what has come down to us that the Buddha viewed all sensual desire and sensual pleasure as a source of moha, and thus as inherently unworthy of being pursued, and he viewed all sexual activity as pertaining to a lower and self-harming quality of human existence, and thus as something that it would be beneficial for anyone to get beyond who can do so.

In my own practice, I don’t view the lay precepts as some kind of official moral checklist of “thou shalt nots”, adherence to which will keep me on the right side of the kammic police, but as rudimentary disciplinary training wheels that are only a first stage in learning to ride a bike. The Buddha sets an example of the highest spiritual ideal, and we can all see progress as lying in that direction, even if very few of us can get there.

I tend to view the institutional structures of Theravada Buddhist religious life - the vows, the ordinations, the sacred spaces and formulas, the elaborate rules, the ritual devotional practices, the recitations, etc. - as useful but somewhat artificial religious-cultural boundary markers and role identifiers in what is actually more of a continuum by nature. Those kinds of rites and vows don’t mean much to me any more, and I rarely go to a vihara or “temple”.


#30

But he possibly viewed the same activity pursued by one group of people differently from the same activity when pursued by another group? Thus the situational contexts of all the words uttered by the Buddha need to be considered and compared.

With metta.


#31

We become disenchanted (nibbida) because of their dukkha quality. Being part pleasure (sukha) and part dukkha won’t lead to being disenchanted.

When phenomena arise only suffering arises. This is not an emotional experience of suffering which is impossible. But it’s a wise understanding of it through panna.

Equally contemplating the drawbacks (ādinava) without a well prepared mind of the bliss of meditation could lead to aversion. People prone to depression could see a suicidal ideation with a worsening of depression and potential suicidal acts. Such people should take note. Equally any part of the dhamma can be utilised by negative mental qualities and practiced excessively or in a harmful manner. Revulsion or disenchantment is usually seen in the context of the five aggregates (Anattalakkhana sutta SN12.15?) when practicing insight into the aggregates.


#32

@Mat
This was my reference… I thought it too much to share previously, but since you’ve responded…


" Mahāli, if form were exclusively painful—soaked and steeped in pain and not steeped in pleasure—sentient beings wouldn’t lust after it. But because form is pleasurable—soaked and steeped in pleasure and not steeped in pain—sentient beings do lust after it. Since they lust after it, they’re caught up in it, and so they become corrupted. This is a cause and condition for the corruption of sentient beings. This is how sentient beings are corrupted with cause and reason.

If feeling …

perception … choices …

consciousness were exclusively painful—soaked and steeped in pain and not steeped in pleasure—sentient beings wouldn’t lust after it. But because consciousness is pleasurable—soaked and steeped in pleasure and not steeped in pain—sentient beings do lust after it. Since they lust after it, they’re caught up in it, and so they become corrupted. This is a cause and condition for the corruption of sentient beings. This is how sentient beings are corrupted with cause and reason.”

“But sir, what is the cause and condition for the purification of sentient beings? How are sentient beings purified with cause and reason?” “Mahāli, if form were exclusively pleasurable—soaked and steeped in pleasure and not steeped in pain—sentient beings wouldn’t grow disillusioned with it. But because form is painful—soaked and steeped in pain and not steeped in pleasure—sentient beings do grow disillusioned with it. Being disillusioned, desire fades away. When desire fades away they are purified. This is a cause and condition for the purification of sentient beings. This is how sentient beings are purified with cause and reason."


#33

One part of the 8 fold path is Right Livliehood, and one part of that is “No business in living beings”.

In my non-expert opinion, there can’t be a business without customers.


#34

That doesn’t seem plausible to be @Gillian. The suttas are sprinkled throughout with frequent denigrations of the pursuit of sensory pleasure and the inferiority of the household life. And these clusters of ideas are all connected. What basis is there for thinking that the Buddha thought sexual pleasure was good and wholesome when sought by a householder but harmful and unwholesome when sought by a monk? Isn’t there only one path to the end of suffering? And if he did think it was sometimes good and wholesome, where are the passages honoring or praising it?


#35

@Gillian, @Akaliko, I think that what @DKervick is trying to say is that the Buddha was always pointing in the direction of restraint leading to cessation. His choice of words about division I read non-literally. It may have been unfortunate in that it seems to have created some division (!). I would reword what @DKervick to say that the monastic/laity rules are clearly delineated steps moving in one direction, they are not opposed views in the Heaven/Hell sense.

In fact, from the Vinaya origin stories and rules, we have some former monks sometimes trying to do things that repulse us as lay people who haven’t even contemplated such behavior (having sex with a corpse? Ewwww!). I learned things from the Vinaya that I didn’t even know where humanly possible.

And there are also lay people in the suttas who were celibate by loving choice and kindness. Etc.

The gradation, the separation between monastics and laity is the strictness of the rules. We are all bound for extinguishment, bound for the ethical life. We all respect and uphold the need for the monastic life.


#36

I agree with everything you’ve said, @DKervick, the Buddha does repeatedly disparage “the act which ends in a wash.” However, in this instance, the topic was regarding how to interpret sexual misconduct in relation to the five lay precepts. Yes, any indulgence in sense desire is unbeneficial in the larger view, and those who understand this will act upon it, but as relating to the foundational training, sex was allowed so long as it involved willing participants in the proper context.


#37

Nevertheless, the OP, while acepting that sleeping with prostitutes might not be misconduct, “technically speaking”, finds that answer doesn’t “sit well with him.” I think we should l attend to those feelings in us that don’t sit well, because they are are indicators of underlying sources of unhappiness or suffering.


#38

It’s that little voice…

May others not know this of me.


#39

I totally agree. Well said.


#40

This reliance on that voice as @timothy calls it, or heart , as @Viveka called it, or feeling as @DKervick calls it, all fail to take into account the social construction of attitudes to behaviours and activities that are rooted in specific places and times. For many, it’s these cultural constructed scruples that are responsible for feelings of shame and guilt or wrongdoing when it comes to sex. For example homosexuality was commonplace and socially acceptable in ancient Greece, so one wouldn’t necessarily have a sense of guilt or shame (the feeling, the voice, the heart) but for someone growing up in an zealously religious Irish Catholic household in the 1950s, for example, would have felt guilt and shame, a sense of not quiet sitting right… Why? Because they had been conditioned to regard that behaviour unnatural and ‘sinful’. Repent! Similarly our idea of visiting prostitutes has also been culturally conditioned, and is perhaps quite different in some cultures today from say an Australian context, or Japanese context, and certainly from the time of the Buddha. In Tibet the practice of women having more than one husband was common, in Saudi Arabia having more than one wife is fine. Examples abound in different cultural attitudes to sexual behaviours and what is considered ‘normal’ or ‘taboo’. (Its a bit ‘left field’ but I’m just thinking now about how even something like left handedness was made out to be ‘sinister’, a source of shame and guilt.)

Having grown up gay myself, knowing the pain and suffering of feeling judged and shamed and excluded by society in my youth, I am sceptical of the feeling based approach to morality. After all, if we were going on feelings alone, most people would say sex feels good! However… I was repeatedly told that gays were unnatural - I even felt that i was, believed I was a freak, a pevert, even though I also knew that it was a completely natural feeling too! I now understand that those feelings were nothing to do with my sexuality itself, but rather the culture that I live in. It’s interesting that young queers today are feeling this sort of shame less and less, because of changes in society’s attitude.

My point is if something was genuinely wrong doing, the voices/feeling/heart should be the same across all cultures at all times, yeah? But unless we are enlightened and can see into the truth of cause and effect, the best we can do is reply upon the words of an enlightened being like the Buddha and hope to understand good and bad from things like the precepts, whilst understanding that they were also a product of people’s attitudes at that time.

I’d like to restate what I said earlier:


#41

I suppose we need to clarify between a ‘mundane’ solution and a ‘Buddhist path’ solution.

Mundane situation; Ease comes when there is congruence between values, beliefs, desires, actions and acceptance. Stress and suffering are the result of dissonance and lack of congruence. The way to a solution is to bring about this congruence, either by 're-conditioning of values and beliefs, or changing behaviours or environments. This then results in less stress and less suffering, and is the approach of psychological type interventions…
I’d classify all of this as operating within the mundane system and “re-conditioning

Buddhist style reduction of suffering; To reduce suffering by reducing ignorance and delusion > to identify conditioning and to dissolve it. N8fp, precepts, mind training. The result being a cessation of conditioning, seeing reality as it truly is, realisation of non-self all the way to Nibbana.

So horses for courses… While one can have compassion for those stuck in Samsara, the only way to really be free from suffering is the Buddhas path. I always feel this tension when people ask for advice… does one address it mostly in mundane terms or does one try to communicate some aspects of the 4 noble truths. Normally I stumble through with some combination of the two :slight_smile: But as far as I can ascertain there is no ideal solution or attitude that can be applied, apart from universal compassion and kindness.
:anjal: :dharmawheel: