Monday, July 17, 2017

Masturbation: What does Buddhism say?

Dhr. Seven, Amber Larson, Ashley Wells, Crystal Quintero, CC Liu, Wisdom Quarterly

Karma: The Buddha offers enlightened advice.
This is a perennial question. It's tough to answer because it borders on telling Buddhists what to do and what not to do.
Morality is good, morality is great, but imposed morality is offensive and a problem. Who can tell us what to do? It's our karma! They can advise. They can opine.

But we will rebel and reject being told what is right and wrong, what has to be done, what has to be left undone.

One way to make the right decision is by gaining experience, and one way to gain experience is by making the wrong decision.
Even in the Kalama Sutra, the invitation to free inquiry, the Buddha doesn't really tell the Kalamas what to do or what to believe.

Is sex bad? Is it wrong? Is it allowed?
Instead, he asks them -- from your experience -- are greed, hatred, and delusion to a person's advantage or detriment, a community's advantage or detriment? From their own experience they realize that they are both to a person's detriment as well as a community's.

So the Buddha goes on to say, should these things be done or left undone? Left undone, they say. How about nongreed, nonhatred, and nondelusion -- advantageous or detrimental? Advantageous, they say. That being the case, starting from that point, the Buddha teaches them the Dharma, and they are delighted and grateful because he did not say it was one way or the other.

He did not ask them to believe anything. He did not denigrate any other teachers. He did not exalt himself. He merely taught them from a point they could agree on, finding common ground, and developed the thread all the way to showing how the Dharma is of great advantage and leads to liberation.

There's a bliss (piti) beyond and better than sensuality!

So in the same way, if we are "preached" to, sermonized, admonished, ridiculed, shamed, condescended to, we quickly grow resentful and do not -- will not -- listen. We're like Cartman that time he was on the Maury Povich Show: "I do what I want."

Before long, porn will ruin one's sexual ability.
Does greed (lobha -- lust, craving, pining, obsession, grasping, clinging) arise to someone's advantage or disadvantage?

Well, here's the twist: In our normal way of thinking, as in a recent Wisdom Quarterly translation from the past few days, sensual pleasure is the only escape or temporary relief we can imagine from our suffering (dukkha -- disappointment, frustration, lack of fulfillment, unsatisfactoriness, pain). So anyone or anything that stands in our way of indulgence becomes a source of anger (dosa -- hatred, aversion, animosity, annoyance). Why?

We are steeped in delusion (moha -- wrong views, ignorance, confusion, misinterpretation) about what "suffering" is and what the actual escape from suffering is. So in our limited way of thinking, pleasure is good. Pleasure is great. Pleasure is release. We are junior hedonists; only it doesn't work. Hedonism is not a viable philosophy. Try it. We'll wait. See you back here in 50 years?

When you're shaking with palsy and decrepitude and claiming you lived a life of wine, women, and song...and are no closer to release than ever, except that you're now an addict and can't stop. The spirit is willing, but the body is failing. Your overcome by craving and sadness and frustration, hoping there's rebirth and future lives, fearing that there may be karma for how you got all your good times by wrong means. Trust us: hedonism does not work as a life philosophy.

What do you think, Kalamas?
That doesn't mean you can't have a good time. Have a good time. Have a great time. Enjoy. Indulge. Live a little bit. But riddle us this: Does lust, craving, and clinging arise in a person to that person's detriment or advantage? We can all think of times when it seems like an advantage. But, overall, how is it? Does it burn to crave? Is it hard to obsess? Is it pathetic to cling?

Now, getting back to masturbation. Is it good, is it bad, is it neutral? Is it wholesome and skillful or unwholesome and unskillful? Does it accrue good karma (merit) or bad karma (demerit)? Is it something to be proud of or neutral about? It's certainly not something to be ashamed of, as "religion" inculcates in us.

When hormones rage in our youth, when TV and media provoke and incite (excite) us, when we're molested in this society, when we think "Everybody's getting some but me!" it's common to think we "have to" have it (sex in one form or another).

In time we calm down, learn restraint, self-control, sublimation. People, even avowed hedonists, don't do everything they want when they want (except for Cartman).

Monkeys in cages in zoos are not models of human behavior. They're not even models of monkey behavior in the wild. Their obsession is an aberration brought on by being locked up in an impoverished environment. Rats in cages prefer drugs. Rats in enriched, naturalistic environments might like drugs but they don't obsess and cling. They don't become addicts.

Monkey mind: Don't think about sex.
Sex addiction is an actual thing, even if it's unusual. You are probably not a sex addict, but it's normal to wonder if anybody is -- and if they are, "I must be!" we think.

Canadian addiction treatment specialist Dr. Gabor Mate explains that addictions to sex or drugs or anything are due to being set up by early childhood trauma and subsequent stress and exposure to some distracting stimulation.

Any dysfunctional source of stimulation can become an "addiction" or pernicious habit [masturbating, watching porn, texting, acting out, drugs, alcohol, sugar, shopping, etc.] even if the thing in and of itself is not addictive (because if it were, everyone exposed to it would become addicted, and they clearly do not).
  • Rule 34: Porn on any subject
  • Addiction: In The Realm Of Hungry Ghosts
  • What should a Buddhist do? The Buddha explains in the lengthy discourse translated by Wisdom Quarterly, The Sigalovada Sutra ("Advice to Sigala")
  • Look, technically, it's not disallowed (
  • Epic History of Masturbation Around the World: I (Josh O'Connor) remember being a 12-year-old Catholic schoolboy, cloistered in a dark confessional, admitting the sin of masturbation to a priest who I saw every day and who knew my voice. Thank God for the code words “impure thoughts” and “impure acts.” Father Joe  --  who’d sat through the confessions of every other boy in my class in the past half hour  -- let me off with three Hail Marys.

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