Why are the rules for the Sangha on sexuality so strict?

One of the things that struck me when looking at the rules for monks and nuns, is their strictness concerning sexual activity and I have been reflecting on the reason for this.
One reason that I have heard is this: if you engage in sexual intercourse you cannot develop deep meditation, so it’s either one or the other.
This reasoning seems to make sense, however for example in the following video the monk speaks of his experience as a student: one week he was having sex with his girlfriend, and the week afterwards he had a very deep meditation (which led him to the conclusion that meditation, for him, is better than sex).

So it seems that it is possible to have sex, and a week later a very deep meditation. This led me to think that the reason for the rules might be another one. Could it be that the rules are made to maximize the chances that the Sangha receives good support from lay people, and gives an image of itself that leads to this? By being celibate the monks and nuns set themselves completely apart from ‘ordinary’ human beings (something the catholic priests do too, at least in theory - and something which for some critics was lost by the protestants when they were allowed to marry). Also a lay person would probably be more reluctant to donate to a monk if he thinks that he enjoys sexual intercourse like ordinary people.
So what do you think: were the rules of celibacy created because they were conducive to deep meditation, or to enhance the status of the Sangha in the eyes of lay people, and thereby increase the chances that they would be well supported?

Another angle is that forbidding the monks from having sex could be designed to prevent charlatans implying that “if you sleep with a venerable, I can’t even imagine the merit that would be for you…”


OI’m still convinced that Ajahn Brahm is much like the traditional Irish seanachi; the community storyteller, whose stories impart wisdom as much as humor. It’s an art to weave these kinds of anecdotes and stories in a way to build and keep community, and to join community together using sometimes slightly ‘embellished’ or remarkable stories and tales. He’s a master at this, like the seanachi.

My own quick response to your excellent questions centers around both the precepts and the jhanas. The jhanas are, as we know, the 8th step of the graduated Eightfold Path. Thus the importance of the jhanas. It seems that the stillness, the absorption, and the resultant bliss and happiness that derives from these jhana states is inconsistent with the pursuit of the mundane forms of pleasure or satisfaction found in sexual relationships. The pursuit of sexuality would seem very inconsistent with the practices that lead to the jhanas. This is not to say that someone that is in a sexual relationship cannot cultivate the jhanas, but perhaps the two are, for most people, mutually exclusive.

Some of the scholars here will know the reasons as to why celibacy was required in the original Sangha. For most all of the rules, there is a story, it seems. But, it does seem consistent that with a life of renunciation, that the pursuit of sexuality is a necessary activity to renounce. The ordination precepts themselves involve renunciation, with this being central to the pursuit of the peace and seclusion of the monastic life.

Here’s a link to a yogic analysis of the benefits of renunciation: Brahmacharya (Celibacy) . In One Breath at a Time: Buddhism and the Twelve Steps Ajahn Amaro discusses renunciation, letting go of sensory inputs such as sexuality as the heart of meditative practice.

Certainly, removing sexuality from a monastic community removes another issue or impediment that can create complications within a community, and alleviate the concerns of the laity about monastics or teachers that might be inclined to see them in a sexual way. It would seem that removing sexuality has an important benefit to keeping the community intact and focused on matters not concerned with pleasure or conquest. Note the current traumas being experienced by some “Buddhist” communities over teachers acting as predators and sexual abusers. At the very least, with celibacy being accepted and practiced, there’s an opportunity to remove from the community a possibility of a monastic that is seeking to harm another through sexual means.

Reviewing my response, I’m not entirely happy with what I just pounded out on my laptop, but at least it’s a start to a very good OP question.


Excellent point. I’ve read many articles on this subject, such as these:

And I must add I felt myself there was something wrong when I recently went to some teaching sessions at a Tibetan place (I am in the process of exploring all traditions…)

In my experience -Engaging in sexual relations increases the likelihood of entanglement, and it produces strong reactions in thoughts and feelings, which are subject to conditioning. Because of this it becomes a hindrance, a super-distraction when practising the N8fp. I don’t believe it has anything to do with “the image” presented to lay followers - instead it demonstrates, by example, how to begin freeing oneself of delusion. I have been celibate for a good 10 years now, and really this has allowed me to deepen practice in a way that I didn’t find possible before.


To echo what Viveka said, sexual activity is born of craving and clinging, which are the proximate conditions for suffering to arise. Sexual activity also fans the flames of further craving and clinging, deepening those habit patterns in our minds. Since the purpose of the path is to overcome craving and clinging and thus put an end to suffering, it makes sense to me that the Buddha would expect his monastics, who have ostensibly given up the household life in order to devote themselves to eradicating craving, to avoid those activities that feed craving.


Yes this makes sense logically; at the same time in practice many monks seem to have greatly suffered because of these strict rules on sexuality and their inability to suppress their sexual instinct. I recently read in a book by Stephen Batchelor the story of Nanavira Thera, who ended up committing suicide…


Yes, I’m familiar with Ven. Nanavira’s story. I believe his was a special case, though, as he had a medical condition that exacerbated his situation, which is certainly not the norm for most monastics.

Also, I may be wrong, but I believe he was living largely in isolation, i.e., not among a larger community of monks. The Buddha often emphasized the importance of spiritual friends, not only for learning the Dhamma but also for moral support. That may not have helped Ven. Nanavira, but perhaps it would for other struggling monks.

I think it’s important for serious practitioners to develop the sources of joy along the path that aren’t based on sensual desire – sources like devotion/love for the path; reflecting often on one’s generosity, one’s virtue, etc.; the subtle joy of being mindful; the joy of the brahmaviharas; the joy, happiness, contentment, and peace of the jhanas; the joy that comes from insight; and, of course, the joy of liberation – even of levels below full awakening. Directing the mind toward these sources and cultivating them goes a long way toward becoming disinterested in the more coarse, more agitating, and less fulfilling pleasure of the senses.

Also, it may be that not everyone who ordains is really ready for it.


being subject to craving is suffering, whether it be sex or something else. Many ‘rules’ cause suffering - until one eradicates craving by eradicating delusion. I suppose sexual activity and intimate relationships is something that people in the west have been conditioned to view as highly pleasurable and even necessary for happiness (living happily ever after with your Prince Charming or beautiful princess) - fantasy and delusion :sweat_smile:


Ven Nanavira also had ongoing Amoebiasis (aka Amoebic Dysentery), which is a debilitating and excruciating physical ailment. I know this personally, as I contracted it when I was in South East Asia as well. He had no hope for relief. I can just imagine his body must have been a source of endless torment… :sweat:


His wikipedia article says that he suffered from hypersexuality, which you also mentioned here.

Is this a real medical condition? I have always known about it, but I didn’t know it was “real”…?

If someone believes the Buddha as ‘the one who accurately knows how the things happen’,
then he has to believe that ‘engaging in sexual intercourse’ causes a bhikkhu a ‘Parajika’ and will definitely fail in meditation.

If someone doesn’t still believe The Buddha’s wisdom, he has to keep investigating at least until he reach the point in which he decide that believing The Buddhas words is the only wise option with the highest probability. Above asked kind of many questions may arise until he completely believes in The Buddha, as he has not yet arrived up to the point of faith.

If someone think that ‘engaging in sexual intercourse’ doesn’t cause a bhikkhu a permanent failure and think that the rule has only laid for social reasons, he is still a non-believer or researcher.

If someone has already decided The Buddha as The Buddha, he accept The Buddha’s words as it is.

“Bhikkhus, whatever the Tathāgata speaks, utters, or expounds in the interval between the night when he awakens to the unsurpassed perfect enlightenment and the night when he attains final nibbāna, all that is just so and not otherwise; therefore he is called the Tathāgata.


well the monk in the video I posted above seems to have succeeded in deep meditation when he was a layman and had a girlfriend (and had sex with her the previous week). So unless a bhikkhu fails in meditation if he has sex, but a layman does not, (which doesn’t make any sense) what you state would appear to contradict the story in the video.

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It is because sexuality is a gross and completely unconscious craving activity and bhikkhus and bhikkhunis strive to eradicate suffering through the complete cessation of worldly sensual endeavours and deep seeing. Whether one can have a deep meditation or not is irrelevant and if it was sufficiently deep to deliver oneself forever from suffering there would be so much more bliss that is lasting than the coarse pleasure from sex would be seen as a complete and utter waste of time. As well, the desire simply wouldn’t arise in an enlightened one and therefore if one wishes to become enlightened it makes sense to think, speak and act in the direction one is heading instead of the opposite way.

Also, sexuality is what leads to rebirth and if one wishes to end the cycle of rebirth, why would one wish to participate in the activity that leads to the rebirth of other beings?


I believe it is - or at least was classified as such (DSM reclassifies things frequently such as homosexuality is no longer considered a mental illness).


It is normal to have this kind of opinions, before one become familiar with the Karma doctrine. The difference of the karma of engaging in sex by a layman and a bhikkhu is very huge, since the bhikkhu has weakened his determination in a higher fraction. And also he had broken a major rule of the Buddha. The bhikkhu’s karma and the extent of down-fall is very huge in this scenario.

Even for a layman this can be a big down-fall though they don’t like to accept. Not every layman can attain higher states of meditation after a week from having sex. Such a thing can only be done by the people with huge bundle of past wholesome karmas, which obviously including celibacy in past lives. If the vast majority try to copy such a person, they will be in a huge trouble.

Even for such a merited person, it is a down-fall. May be he could attain higher states in meditation or attain faster than he did if he hadn’t engaged in sex. He has driven his car for 1 hour in reverse gear and 2 hours in first gear. If he had driven all the 3 hours in first or top gear, he would have been the wiser person.

The Blessed One Buddha’s opinion must be significantly different from an ordinary person’s opinion. That is why he is called The Buddha the perfect one. That’s why we need to decide to believe him first, before going along the path.


This term, according to the Parivāra, derives from a verb meaning to lose or be defeated. A bhikkhu who commits any of the four following offenses has surrendered to his own mental defilements to such an extent that he defeats the purpose of his having become a bhikkhu in the first place. The irrevocable nature of this defeat is illustrated in the Vibhaṅga with a number of similes: “as a man with his head cut off… as a withered leaf freed from its stem… as a flat stone that has been broken in half cannot be put together again… as a palmyra tree cut off at the crown is incapable of further growth.” A bhikkhu who commits any of these offenses severs himself irrevocably from the life of the Saṅgha and is no longer considered a bhikkhu.


Let me ask back,why should the rules for the monastic community not be strict when it comes to sexuality?

Also, let me share that when I read (and translated) the first chapters of the Bhikkhu Vibhanga what impressed me the most was how full of compassion and tolerant was the Buddha in regards to all the weird stuff he had to clarify or amend in terms of how the rule applies!

To me, the strictness of the rules are there to make clear the distinction of what makes one a contemplative.

It must be emphasized the the rules do not demonize those non-compliant with the rules, i.e. lay disciples.

And it does not prohibit someone from moving in and out of the spiritual community whenever the rules become a too hard of a commitment given where they are in terms of cultivation of the factors of renunciation, discipline and simplicity necessary for a successful spiritual endeavour according to the Dhamma-Vinaya handed down by the Buddha to us all.

I really appreciate the clear cut baseline the rules provide us for not only us gauge ourselves how much we are ready to invest ourselves in the path, but us as well for us to not be fooled by an eventual opportunistic clergy or greedy cult leaderships - as we sometimes witness in other spiritual traditions.



I wasn’t going to say this, but the reason that first led me to wonder about the rules is that sometime ago I visited a monastery; some of the lay people there told me that one of the monks had had an affair with a woman but they were striving to keep it quiet. They were making so much fuss about it - and the whole idea of covering it up was so distasteful to me - that I reflected that if sex had been less taboo it might have been a lot less suffering for everyone. The story of Nanavira Thera is another reason. And in general, when you prohibit something you make it more desirable so people may experience more suffering just because they are prohibited something.

Anyway I was not saying that there should not be strict rules in place on sexuality. I was asking why there are such rules. Your last sentence, besides being a snide remark I suppose on leaders like Ikeda who is married (btw, are snide remarks ‘right speech’?) seems to correspond precisely to the second option I gave: you think that celibate people are more advanced on the eightfold path and as such more worthy of your respect - and of your Dana I suppose.

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You’re reading too much in what I write @irene.

I didn’t have in mind Mr. Ikeda as he is not the subject of this topic! That conversation about this individual is to me long gone and pertains to another thread.

Now, on the topic, there is nothing stopping those unable to keep celibacy from cultivating the eightfold path.

The monastic community was started by the Buddha to allow for those who can keep it and want to practice further the elements of renunciation to do so in a way supported by those who cannot. This was not an invention of the Buddha himself and reflects a sramana system already present in the Ancient India of 2,500 years ago.

If the line is not traced on the sand, we have situation in which Dhamma becomes a business.

In ancient India and Greece this was the business of paribbajakas and sophists - individuals who shared their wisdom with the world as long as an established price was paid for that.

To a good extent, the culture of lay meditation and dhamma teachers found in contemporary western buddhism looks like that. And we often hear of sex scandals involving those individuals.

And yes, I think that fully compliant monastics are more advanced on the eightfold path than I am and, as such, are more worthy of your respect, reverence and generosity.

This understanding is supported by what I read and reflect from EBTs by the way! :slight_smile:


This time I am only quoting.

Discipline is for the sake of restraint,
restraint for the sake of freedom from remorse,
freedom from remorse for the sake of joy,
joy for the sake of rapture,
rapture for the sake of tranquillity,
tranquillity for the sake of pleasure,
pleasure for the sake of concentration,
concentration for the sake of knowledge
and vision of things as they are,
knowledge and vision of things as they are
for the sake of disenchantment,
disenchantment for the sake of release,
release for the sake of knowledge and vision of release,
knowledge and vision of release
for the sake of total unbinding without clinging.
— Parivaara.XII.2 (BMC p.1)

“Should any bhikkhu, overcome by lust, with altered mind, address lewd words to a woman in the manner of young men to a young woman alluding to sexual intercourse, it entails initial and subsequent meetings of the Community.” (Sa"ngh. 3; BMC p.110)

“A monk who lies down with a female in the same building under the same roof and within walls, which are complete or almost complete, commits [a Confession Offence.]” (Paac. 6; BBC p.120)

“Traveling by arrangement with a woman from one village to another is [an offence of Confession.]” (Summarised Paac. 67; BMC p.434)

“Whatever Dhamma and Vinaya I have pointed out and formulated for you, that will be your Teacher when I am gone.” (Mahaaparinibbaana Sutta, [D.16])

The Bhikkhus’ Rules A Guide for Laypeople

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