(WQ) What can be said about the clown princess of poor taste, media-starlet Carrie Prejean? Not much that isn't already being said. Reports surfacing today reveal that her "sex tape" was not a one off wonder, a "biggest mistake" of my life for a person I loved, as she claims. There were many such tapes sent to a young man she met on Myspace and dated for a total of four days.
What this all touches on is the über-sensitive topic of masturbation. Is it natural? Yes. Is it normal? Probably not. It is not a "necessity" as so many obsessed with the practice maintain. For instance, it is not seen in the wild among our first cousins the chimpanzees; yet, it cannot be stopped when those same chimps are imprisoned in concrete cages called zoos. As industrialized moderns locked in 12x12 rooms and even smaller cubicles -- exposed to very graphic media (thank you, Carrie Prejean), high gloss distortions of unattainable beauty, and the sexualization of everything on sale in the marketplace -- it is little wonder we behave like chimps in cages.
Is masturbation harmful? It isn't helpful. Nor is it "release" and a necessary relief, as is frequently claimed, when we ourselves are fueling the fire of sexual craving by seeking out provocative media.
What does our collective JudeoChristian heritage have to say about it? Surprisingly little. References to "onanism" (based on the Biblical story of Onan) have nothing whatsoever to do with masturbation. The "spilled seed" reference made famous by the story was in fact the self-interested result of coitus -- Onan's failure to fulfill a social obligation (impregnating his brother's widow) in defiance of a god's law: The "god" in the story sounds more like a Sumerian or Egyptian extraterrestrial-overlord than the God of Christianity. Be that as it may, the god in the story kills Onan on the spot for using the disastrous (or often-tried-and-quite-untrue) "withdrawal method."
A thorough search of the Bible for a literal prohibition on masturbation yielded only this incident as displeasing to Jehovah? Yes, but that hasn't kept Christians from condemning the practice as vehemently, and somewhat hypocritically, as various commandments. The Christian God may not be against masturbation, but conservative Christians sure are. Except for one (thank you again, Carrie Prejean).
What does Buddhism have to say about masturbation? Quite a bit more than other traditions. To progress in virtue (sila, restraint with regard to sensual craving), unselfishness (dana, generosity), and meditation (bhavana) one is wise to limit one's exposure to provocations. If someone masturbates, it is not so much that it is a terrible stain on one's mind (from a Buddhist psychological or Abhidharma point of view) but rather an unbeneficial habit being strengthened.
To shame it is to compound the act needlessly, making matters much worse. It is not sex that the Buddha warned against (for workaday Buddhists) but rather sexual misconduct. And that is very clearly defined as sexual intercourse with the ten prohibited persons (none of whom are oneself):
Sexual "misconduct" (kamesu micchacara) means sex with someone who is dependent on or "protected" by one's: parents, spouse, relatives, religious group, the state, or otherwise made off limits (as by a committment or relationship or decree).
The monastic discipline (Vinaya) prohibits masturbation for monastics. The Eight Precepts prohibit it for lay practitioners. Yet the Five Precepts generally incumbent on human beings, and Buddhists in particular, do no specifically bar the practice. One should not therefore think that it is encouraged or tacitly condoned. It is not, but neither is it a grave karmic act with heavy consequences. Purposely fueling sensual desire, on the other hand, is a dangerous thing exacerbated and strenghtened as masturbation becomes an ingrained habit or addiction.
The cause of unsatisfactoriness (dukkha: ill, woe, agitation, suffering) is sensual craving. To provoke the mind/heart/body then relieve it through masturbation is a fool's errand, a vicious circle. In fact, it is no "relief" at all. The Buddha compared it to a person suffering from a terrible skin condition with open sores. To a person suffering from unbearable itching, placing one's arm in a fire and cauterizing the wound will feel like pleasure. To anyone else, it would be unthinkably unpleasant to place one's own arm in fire. Such is the distortion caused by an itch like sexual craving.
(The prevalent practice of cutting, incomprehensible to most parents, takes advantage of the same phenomenon: The psychic pain of an individual, usually female and usually quite young and not infrequently sexually abused, is so great that the manifest and controllable pain of cutting is experienced as relief. There is a temporary psychological feeling of control or mastery and a rush and release of endorphins, the sort of endogenous chemicals released by spiritual self-mortification and extreme austerities...akin to anorexic and bulimic practices).
Sutra: The Use of Sex (AN IV.159)
On one occasion a Buddhist nun fell in love with Ananda, the Buddha's attendant. She feigned an illness to get him to visit her bedside. Perceiving her mind and understanding the situation, Ananda gently spoke to her on the foul aspects of the body in order to free her from the grip of passion:
- This body has come into being through food; yet based on food, food can be abandoned.
- This body has come into being through craving; yet based through craving, craving can be abandoned.
- This body has come into being through conceit; yet based on conceit, conceit can be abandoned.
- This body has come into being through the sexual act, but in regard to the sexual act the Buddha has advised the destruction of the bridge.
[Commentary: Setughata. This seems to be a metaphorical way of saying that a monastic should totally uproot sexual desire. The point of Ananda's discourse is that even food, craving, and conceit, which are normally factors of bondage, can be skillfully employed to attain enlightenment (arhatship). But with sexuality there is absolutely no skillful way it can be used for the goal of the higher life.]
Tantric sex, which is superior to ordinary sex, may have some practical benefits. But using it as a means to enlightenment is like treating an illness with the illness. Use media wisely because stories like Carrie Prejean's are not going anywhere...but the front page.
(FOX News) Carrie Prejean says a steamy [masturbation] tape she made for an ex-boyfriend a few years ago was “the biggest mistake” of her life. The former [Christian conservative] Miss California USA told Fox News’ Sean Hannity Monday that she shot the racy tape by herself for a boyfriend she loved when she was 17. Later he “betrayed” her and sold it.