Wednesday, May 7, 2014

"Unlawful Sexual Practices"

Maya, Ashley Wells, Wisdom Quarterly; "Ask Maya" with commentator Jeffery Kaung
Sex is bad? Don't look at it. Don't think about it. And whatever you do, don't wish for it. That's what our parents teach us, but that's not what the Buddha taught lay Buddhists.
According to an abbot in Theravadan Burma, the words "unlawful sexual practice" would be more clear and effective than simply "sexual misconduct" for defining the Pali term kamesu micchacara.

In the Pali discourses expounded by the Buddha, he described altogether 20 types of females [not 10, Jeffery Kaung?] with whom males should avoid having penetrative sexual intercourse.
  • See Buddhism's "Sexual Misconduct" Defined for the ten types of females who are off limits, at least from the perspective of ancient Indian society and possibly universally. We are awaiting Kaung's list of 20.
What did the Buddha teach any why? (HSUN)
Every male who is engaged in these forms of sexual relations with any of these females was said to be guilty of dire misconduct that results in the worst kinds of karmic consequences.

But for females, not every female from the given group of 20 is similarly guilty. In other words, only 12 women from the group are guilty for engaging in sex, and most of these females have already been married off or become "owned" by a particular male and his family. [It should not come as a surprise to Western readers that women were treated like chattel in European marriage contracts until very recently, and the practice is followed to this day in many places including Asia and India in particular.]

The rest of the females in the classification are not guilty since they are not married or have no contractual "owner" yet. Besides, in some of the Buddha's sutras, he encouraged most lay disciples to practice celibacy. 

Believe it or not, females have sexual agency
[We do not know of a single discourse that encourages lay celibacy except as an occasional practice for uposatha lunar observance days and periods of intensive Buddhist practice, such as meditation retreats, temporary ordination, or as the natural consequence of spiritual attainments such as the blissful absorptions and the permanent liberations beyond stream entry and once returning. Please specify, Kaung. We would be very happy to examine these sutra references.]

However, the Buddha said that if one fails to be completely celibate, because s/he is already married, then one should always refrain from "unlawful sexual practices" in his/her everyday life -- as a person with clean feet [avoids a puddle of urine on the road].

Besides, the Buddha also described four (4) features that lead a sexual relationship between a male and a female to be "unlawful conduct." In fact, the Buddha had already mentioned in his discourses how it was "noble" [enlightened] for one [with noble attainments] to stay celibate. However, he said that if one could not practice celibacy because he/she was already married...

[Kaung, if you cite these sutras, we can respond and clarify. Maybe the Buddha wants everyone to be happy, and maybe celibacy is the supreme (brahma-acharya) vehicle/teaching toward that, but it's not something he said lay Buddhists should do or had to do.  Living beings are reborn into this Kama Loka, Sensual Sphere, because of their sensual cravings. Denying them or forcing celibacy on people is not the way to transcend craving. To be reborn into the more blissful Fine Material Sphere, the Immaterial Sphere, or the supremely blissful attainment of ending rebirth (enlightenment and nirvana) requires seeing things as they really are, seeing sensuality as it really is, penetrating the disappointment (dukkha) articulated in the Four Ennobling Truths. We want living beings to be happy, the Buddha wanted people to be happy, and you probably want people to be happy. Truth is the way to that, not oppression and imposing rules on how people have to live. If we are wrong, please show us. We can show how open minded the Buddha was, how the Dharma is a path that avoid extremes, and leads beyond sensual craving to supersensual bliss and then insight and liberation from the bondage of craving, aversion, and delusion. We arrive there step by step, not by behaving like ascetic renunciants. There is a much easier way to let go than brute force and self-denial -- and it is "calm and insight," blissfully happy absorptions and systematically contemplating the 12 links of Dependent Origination. "There is no path to happiness; happiness is the path!"]
Males, Females, and Sex
Dhr. Seven and Amber Larson, Wisdom Quarterly (COMMENTARY)
The Buddha, Battambang, Cambodia, S.E. Asia (Kim Seng/
We have already been responding to Jeffery Kaung's letter in brackets. But let us go more deeply.

Kaung, everybody should always avoid "unlawful sexual practices." One need not avoid sex; yet, one need always avoid misconduct in regard to satisfying one's sexual desires. And that is easy to do... except in a repressive society that denies one sexual access. Our societies, East and West, now deny us, or try to deny us, legitimate avenues of sexual expression outside of marriage. That may make sense in conservative parts of Asia, as in rural or small communities, but it does not make a lot of sense in urbanized city environments which emphasize the individual to the detriment of extended familial affiliations.

This has to apply to females just as much as males even if India was already a patriarchal and sexist society that assumed sexual agency only for males. Females have the same agency and, therefore, are liable to get in the same sort of karmic trouble as males. Who can believe that when, for example, a man has sex with a married woman, only she is guilty of cheating on her husband? From a literal and closed minded reading of Buddhist texts (i.e., AN X.206), only he would be guilty. She would be said to have seduced him into a great deal of karmic trouble, but no mention is made of her infidelity to her husband, presumably because she has no agency and therefore no ability to make an intentional choice to cheat, which of course is ridiculous.

And with regard to child molestation, which is a severe form of "sexual misconduct" or "unlawful sexual practices," a female can certainly molest just as a male can. Would anyone in this day and age think, "Oh, she's a female, she has no sexual agency, so she can't possibly be guilty of intentional sexual conduct, how much less misconduct"? It's preposterous. Wisdom Quarterly speculates that it was the sexism influencing the Dharma, and not the Dharma itself, which left us with this one-sided set of rules for males only. We hear precious little about the nuns, Buddhist females at the time of the Buddha, or Buddhist girls and women today. 

That is our era's sexism continuing to diminish women aided and abetted by the sexism of the past, and the male Monastic Order, the Bhikkhu Sangha, has much to answer for keeping this unequal state of affairs in place. The status quo, which the Buddha did so much to overturn, was quickly set back up and given legitimacy as if the Buddha had participated in oppressing females when he was the first world-teacher to elevate them to equal status. 

If one says that the Buddha didn't go quite that far, but instead subordinated them to the Monastic Order, then one has not read the Bhikkhuni Vinaya (The Nuns' Code of Discipline with its origin stories explaining each rule), which enumerates ahistorical garudhammas or "additional nuns' rules" that could NOT have come from the Buddha (see the scholarship of Ayya Tathaaloka). 
But we are all taught that he offered eight or more additional rules to his stepmother, Maha Pajapati, the world's first Buddhist nun, who gladly accepted them to wear like a beautifying head dress or hair piece. Someone, likely sexist male monastics, inserted those to ensure the supremacy of the male Monastic Order. The abbot from Burma you quote without naming is neither likely to realize that nor admit it if he does.

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