Sexual Misconduct query


I absolutely agree that this is where we do the work. May we all make progress on the path. :anjal:

@karl_lew I don’t see ‘division’ here because the shared commitment to doing this work binds us in community. :pray:


Just a clarification: When I said “we 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,” I did not mean to imply that those feelings always proceed from conscience, conceived of as some reliable guide to the distinction between those mysterious moral categories of “right” and “wrong”, but only that they are indicators of some kind of underlying unhappiness, and we should investigate their source since our goal is to understand and bring an end to suffering.

I don’t doubt at all, as @Akaliko says, that in some cases we might be experiencing unwholesome or arbitrary culturally conditioned feelings of guilt or shame, and it is the cultural conditioning that needs to be addressed and let go of, rather than the behavior that is eliciting the negative feelings imparted by that conditioning. For example, a convert Buddhist with a non-Buddhist religious upbringing might even feel guilt over meditation and Buddhist practice itself! They certainly don’t wan’t to heed the “voice of conscience” in that case.

But in the case of sexual behavior, we are assisted by the fact that the Buddha himself practiced celibacy, and has a great deal to say about sexual behavior. His main focus doesn’t seem to be on whether the sex is heterosexual or homosexual, whether it is onanistic or with a partner or with multiple partners, whether it is legitimized by marriage vows or not, or whether or not there is a short-term or long-term economic contract involved. He just seems to think it is always the occasion of more dukkha for both partners, despite the brief, ephemeral and largely illusory pleasure that is involved.

In some ways there doesn’t seem to be any more compelling image of the cyclical, rather absurd futility of everyday samsaric existence than the sad Sisyphean comedy of sex.

Think: you begin your evening at ease and are joyfully contemplating the peace of your own mind and permeating the four directions with metta. Then a restless and irritating discomfort arises in your body and mind. You begin to have obsessive and jumbled thoughts of sexual acts and human forms and bodily parts. The turbulent thoughts and bodily sensations have an addictive quality that is a weird mix of pleasure and dissatisfied pain. Soon they are swamping and clouding everything else that was in your mind. You shower and dress, you get in your car, you withdraw a not insignificant amount of cash from your bank account. You begin your hunt for the object of your need. Maybe you locate a prostitute, or maybe you go to a bar determined to engage in hours of mostly meaningless chit-chat with some candidate, hoping it all pays off in the end. Finally, everything works out and you achieve that short episode of rapidly intensified craving followed by a briefly but intensely pleasurable discharge of the craving.

A moment later, you are thinking: “What was that all about?” The craving that motivated your hunt is completely gone, so the pursuit of its satisfaction seems unintelligible. You get dressed and realize you just wasted a few hours of your life, as well as some money, in the pursuit of something that generates no lasting achievement of any kind, but merely restores you to the non-craving state of mind with which you began your evening.

Actually it’s a bit worse than that, because you haven’t been meditating or doing something peaceful and contemplative, and you are still experiencing the lingering, numbing aftereffects of several hours of heightened bodily and mental stress, confusion, bewilderment and obsession. You’re like a boxer sitting in the corner of the ring after a match you just lost, trying to to come to your senses, dispel the aching cloud in your mind and remember who you are and what you were doing before you wandered into your opponent’s fists.

The whole thing seems a bit ridiculous, no? But the joke is on you. You are bound to the preposterous wheel of samsaric human existence, a complete slave to your genetic programming by the mad scientist of evolution and to the rushing tsunami tides of vain and manic idiocy that consume much of our lives. Surely, you would have been better off if those cravings never arose in the first place. Any path out of these cravings would be worth seeking no?

If one, longing for sensual pleasure,
achieves it, yes,
he’s enraptured at heart.
The mortal gets what he wants.
But if for that person
—longing, desiring—
the pleasures diminish,
he’s afflicted,
as if shot with an arrow.

Whoever avoids sensual desires
—as he would, with his foot,
the head of a snake—
goes beyond, mindful,
this attachment in the world.

A man who is greedy
for fields, land, gold,
cattle, horses,
servants, employees,
women, relatives,
many sensual pleasures,
is overpowered with weakness
and trampled by trouble,
for pain invades him
as water, a cracked boat.

So one, always mindful,
should avoid sensual desires.
Letting them go,
he’d cross over the flood
like one who, having bailed out the boat,
has reached the far shore.


While I personally agree with this, hence my commitment to the Buddhas path, and Nibbida at many aspects as you so evocatively portray, this may not be the same goal or be expressed with the same degree of commitment by every participant in this forum.

With the issue of renunciation, again relying on personal experience, when one is ready for it, it comes with ease and a sense of freedom. If I had been compelled to renunciation before I was ready (in gradual training/understanding, maybe even kamma) I have no doubt that it would have been both unsuccessful and seen as not beneficial.

Indeed isn’t this exactly why the Buddha had different expectations of different people. Trying to force someone to ‘see things as they truly are’ before they have the capacity to do so, while having no benefit, may even have harmful results :slight_smile:


I think perhaps the institutional arrangements of traditional religious Buddhism, Theravada Buddhism at least, create an image of a stark and yawning gap between renunciants and worldlings. But maybe we can just see it all on a continuum. The Buddha is the spiritual pinnacle, the ideal, and everyone else can inspired by the ideal, and let go of whatever cravings and dukkha-generating activities they can manage to let go of. Some monks seem very worldly, some lay practitioners seem very abstemious and contemplative.


Inspied by several comments and commentators in this thread, these thoughts occurred:

The Buddha’s entire life is instructive but not a model to be emulated. He spent many years in extreme asceptic disciplines, some under instruction of a teacher, some self imposed. Explicitly, he rejected this as not The Way.

He established a four fold sangha.

He established the Noble 8 Fold Path. It is Noble, not worldly, because it leads to liberation.

His liberation was enough for that life stream to finish. But he taught, for 45 years, out of compassion for life. He established rules for monastic disciples. He counseled and taught lay disciples.

He did not appoint a successor to rule the sangha.

Based on this, it seems best imo to accept that diversity of practice is neutral or a goodness, and to be restrained in instruction or rule making for the Buddha’s disciples.


Being open to different practices does indeed allow one to clarify understanding and develop awareness. For me each sutta studied has been a different training, a different consideration, a different checkpoint for understanding. And where the study of suttas get most interesting is when conflicts in understanding come up. The Buddha was quite consistent in his teachings, so the conflicts perceived during study are really points of ignorance. This becomes most sharply apparent with regard to rules, the Vinaya.

I really look forward to the forthcoming Vinaya translations and the origin stories in particular. Many rules make sense. Some seem downright daft. Yet it is the daft rules that need to be studied exactly for their point of confusion. I still have no idea why bhikkhunis cannot shave their armpits. It seems quite illogical. I think of armpit shaving as hygiene, like wiping one’s butt or shaving one’s head or brushing one’s teeth. Why should there be a counter-hygiene rule? Did the Buddha make that rule? Did bhikkhunis make that rule on their own? Did the bhikkhus make that rule for the bhikkhunis to avoid being swept into lust by a bare bhikkhuni armpit? All these questions will be answered in the study of the origin stories.

Till then I simply have a neutral feeling.


I’ve been on several monastic led retreats (Ajahn Chah tradition), of three days and seven days, and visited a monastery quite regularly, over a period of about eight years.
My felt-sense, was that the ordained, and the lay practitioners, were on parallel paths.
What separated them, was aspiration and commitment. The monks, first and foremost, were a refuge for each other. Unlike in economics, there was a trickle-down effect, and the householders did appear to take some benefit from their teachings and their example.
Still, I sometimes think (perhaps erroneously), that lay dhamma followers would be best served sympathetically, by an awakened lay teacher.


The mutual support of monastics is also available amongst laity. I do see it here on DD every day. Each of us lay folk has experiences from outside the Vinaya to share that can help others new to such struggles.

Even though I have learned things from both monastics and laity here, I would find myself hesitant to seek out a lay teacher simply because the Vinaya itself is quite the rigorous test. Doubt would arise whether such a lay teacher could effortlessly abide by the Vinaya.


It seems like this discussion is moving away from the query posted by the originator of this thread, so I searched some on Sutta Central and found a few teachings that mention prostitution in the times of the Buddha. It is apparent that prostitution was common in the lands where the Buddha traveled. There is some denigrating language regarding prostitution, but it would also seem that prostitutes themselves were afforded more dignity than is the case in some places in the contemporary world.

While prostitution was common in ancient India and surrounding lands, it also is obvious that the Buddha’s teachings advised against indulging one’s desires involving paid sex. The Buddha did not advocate for universal celibacy as a way to extinguish human suffering (i.e., he did not advocate for the total cessation of procreation which would lead to species extinction), but it’s fairly obvious that paying for sex is not conducive to cultivating the path to Nibbana.

Of course, as has been noted, the rules for monastics and laypeople are different. To use a metaphor, a layperson has a wider path than monastics to stray from. So patronizing sex workers would seemingly entail fewer negative consequences for a layperson than a monk. Still, whether or not it technically violates the five precepts for laypeople, it’s probably not advisable for promoting one’s practice.


Thanks @Metaphor for returning us to the topic.

There are a variety of views on this topic and a variety of approaches from strictly textual and exact definitions of precepts, to inferences made from general trends in the sutras, to heart based responses, ethical and and moral perspectives and contemporary ideas about sex positivity…
As you said in a previous post (to a thread I’ll link to below)

I agree with your sentiment but not your conclusion! :yum: I also don’t concur that the things you mention as ‘obvious’ in your post above are actually so clear cut.

I don’t think people will ever agree entirely, there have always been those with tendencies towards puritanism and those who tend towards more liberal views and a wide variety in between…

Just one thing I’d like to add; I note that the OP left the conversation early on. I think thats a significant thing for us to take on board.

A thread from last year on sex work:
Is sex work micchā-ājīva

A more general thread on desire:

For those interested in what the 3rd precept meant in a historical context, and a discussion of this topic that is more rigorously academic, this essay might be useful:


It seems like a good moment to close the thread. Bhante A has left us some useful threads to read, and where we can consider whether there is value in continuing discussion.