October 22, 2014

Do no Harm: The Sexuality of Spirituality

Anyone who cares to investigate advanced spiritual practices of the Buddhist traditions (and many others), or has delved into them directly, quickly comes to realize that the exalted spiritual states referred to, most often obliquely, actually entail considerable sexual experience. The difference being that this experience is an internal experience and does not involve another person or, in Jungian terms, require the projection of the anima or animus upon another individual.

A response to Fa Gong's "The 'Dreaded' Third Precept"

This moment this love comes to rest in me,
many beings in one being.
In one wheat grain a thousand sheaf stacks.
Inside the needle's eye a turning night of stars."
    - Jalaluddin Rumi

Few will argue that sex presents a tremendously strong psychological force and can consume a measurable fraction of our waking life. So it's no wonder that so many eastern (and western) religious traditions hold a special regard for sex - it's simply too prominent an aspect of our lives to be ignored. But there sometimes appears a rift over the issue of sex in Buddhism. On one hand, people who have taken refuge are told that sex is okay -- just don't misuse it. And on the other hand, Buddhist monks and nuns are required to uphold especially strict rules governing sexual conduct - celibacy. Why the apparent "double standard."

Anyone who cares to investigate advanced spiritual practices of the Buddhist traditions (and many others), or has delved into them directly, quickly comes to realize that the exalted spiritual states referred to, most often obliquely, actually entail considerable sexual experience. The difference being that this experience is an internal experience and does not involve another person or, in Jungian terms, require the projection of the anima or animus upon another individual.

Although Chan does not readily lend itself to delineation of anything, delineation allows us to develop the semblance of a picture, which, in whatever degree of accuracy, allows us the opportunity to gain a corresponding increase in understanding. With that in mind, Buddhists often refer to the notion of a "physical body" and a "spiritual body". In reality, there is no separation of these, but that usually doesn't become apparent to us until we've done quite a bit of spiritual labor. Most of us begin the spiritual journey in our physical body - that is, we are confined to our understanding of the world through our sense organs: touch, thought, sight, smell, etc. Our actions and reactions are consequently in response to these senses and our interpretations of them. Sex, in our physical body is a complex interaction of hormones and other chemicals that stimulate the primary somatosensory cortex and other parts of the brain -- the "pleasure centers". With enough stimulation, sexual desire consumes us; our senses are on high alert for the opposite sex - our eyes for shape and form, our ears for pitch and inflection of voice, our nose for pheromones (Androstenone), etc. Without any brakes applied by social or religious rules (or common sense!) we will readily pounce or allow ourselves to be pounced upon.

But we always have a choice. Do we act upon our carnal instincts or not? When we apply reason to the question we may quickly follow the pouncing route - for the intellect has an uncanny way of rationalizing even the most unanticipated acts. But if we reason with our hearts, the result is often different. The compassionate side of us has the benefit of the perspective of the other person, and not just of ourselves - of our own desire for gratification. Considered this way, it then becomes a matter of doing right for all. When we consider the wellbeing of others, it can quickly stop us in our tracks. It is this greater ability of reflection and empathy that perhaps is the most distinguishing feature of human beings, for it gives us the ability to see the world from another person's perspective and to recognize the intimate inter-connectedness we all share, just be virtue of being alive.

The third Buddhist precept is to abstain from improper sexual conduct. It's there to remind us to not limit ourselves to our immediate passions - to not be led astray by carnal selfish lusts. It reminds us to put the brakes on our actions and to think with our heart as well as our brain. It's part of our "Do no harm" philosophy.

But as we move deeper into our spiritual lives, sex takes on a new significance. No longer is it projected as a carnal lust upon another person, it's assimilated into Self in such a way that the projected-upon becomes the Self that is projected. A self-referential paradox that is quite real to anyone who has experienced it. The sexual experience is there without an exterior subject as the recipient but, nonetheless, there is a recipient and there is a projector. There are countless direct and indirect references to various internal sexual experiences in spiritual literature - we may recognize them as "spiritual alchemy", "androgyny", "divine marriage", or "samadhi" - these are experiences that defy description as they embrace our dual male/female nature in an especially personal way. These experiences should not be seen as an objective of Zen effort, but rather as views out the open window as we're moving along the path. From wherever we are, there's always more to come.

When we begin our spiritual journey, it's enough to be wise about how we engage is sex with another individual. As our journey progresses, our own discoveries move us away from the desire for sex with another person and at this stage celibacy comes naturally. If we're working toward that in our spiritual labor, then we also want to avoid projecting sexual energy on others, for doing so will hinder not only our own ability to channel this energy for spiritual purposes, but the person we've targeted as well.



To learn more about sex and spirituality look for these books at your local library:

The Yoga of Delight, Wonder, and Astonishment, a translation of the Vijnana-bhairava with an Introduction and Notes by Jaideva Singh, 1991.

Kundalini, The Arousal of the Inner Energy, by Ajit Mookerjee, 1982.

Yoga, Immortality and Freedom, by Mircea Eliade, 1958.

The Essential Rumi, translations by Coleman Barks with John Moyne, 1997.

The Secrets of Chinese Meditation, Lu Kuan Yu, 1964.

The Androgyne, Reconciliation of Male and Female, by Elemire Zolla, 1981.

The Psychology of Kundalini Yoga, Seminar notes from 1932 by C. G. Jung, edited by Sonu Shamdasani.

Kundalini, Evolution and Enlightenment, edited by John White, 1990.

... or keep meditating!

 

Articles by Chuan Zhi

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