Monks and Sex
For the past several thousand years, monks have been the primary custodians of the wisdom of meditation. Bless them for that. Because of this, everything we know about meditation is flavored with the view over the monastery wall – and the view from within the walls, as the monks look at themselves. So we know a lot about “meditation as it is adapted to fit the needs of monks,” but we know very little from the historical literature about meditation for people with a life and a sex life, or “meditation for people who have a job, a lover, a sex life, friends, kids, and a to-do list.” We also know almost nothing about the sex lives of monks. There has been a “don’t ask, don’t tell” attitude for thousands of years.
Somewhere between fifteen and twenty-five million Americans meditate, according to surveys. The CDC - The Centers for Disease Control - conducted a nationwide survey and found that 7.5% of Americans have done Yoga (7.1% in the last month). 10.2% of the 300 million people in the United States have meditated, 7.6% in the last month. Here is a link to the research. About 70% of all American meditators are women.
Most of the teachings on meditation have been developed by and for monk–type guys, to help them adapt to life inside of a spiritual order. But what are monks? And what do they need?
The short answer is, monks are people who have taken vows of poverty, celibacy and obedience. And what they need is a meditation that acts like a medication to keep them humble and not horny. It's really important for monks to act mellow because they live on alms. Testosterone is the enemy, to monks.
Let’s just posit, from the start, that monks are as different from each other as non-monks. And each religious order, each monastery, each ashram, has its own rules and styles and techniques. There is incredible diversity, and all generalizations are lies. Keeping in mind, let’s deal with some generalizations. Because until about 50 years ago, almost everything ever written about meditation was by and for celibate males. Look at any book in yoga meditation history, or Zen, or Buddhist meditation. The percentage of monks in the literature is 99% or thereabouts. It has been generalized – watered down – to be somewhat palatable to householders, but it wasn’t designed for us. And in this discussion, I am not inferring that there is any problem with monks and nuns at all. The problem is that it is very difficult to teach someone from a different culture and lifestyle. We have been needing to rely on the monastic traditions to teach us their ways of meditation because the “householder” traditions were mostly lost.
Interior Decorators of the Spirit World
There did not used to be straight and gay. There were "householders," people who worked and were married and maintained houses, and there were "monks," who were single and lived in groups of men, and wore really chic robes.
One of the functions of monks throughout time has been as interior decorators of the inner world, the realms of spirit. They developed ways of arranging flowers on the altar, picked incense that goes well with the god being worshipped, found a color scheme for each god and each energy center in the body, invented ritual motions that say so much, and worked out sounds or mantras that go with the god, the motions and the paintings. They just knew what goes with what.
I think there has always been a Queer Eye for the Inner World, just to liven up the world for the rest of us. There is an exquisite, textured beauty in some Sanskrit rituals that is so gorgeous that it is difficult to conceive of a straight male coming up with it. I have done thousands of pujas over the years, and I am always stunned at the fabulousness and precision of the Sanskrit sounds, the colors, the motions, they way it all goes together. I am in awe of the beauty of what has been constructed into the ritual worship we call a puja. You can't really get how divine a puja is unless you have been there, any more than you can get the sense of what a Shiraz is by hearing the words, "red flavored water."
The downside to all this specialness is that regular people get the feeling they are not good enough to meditate, and that they have to accessorize extensively first. You can't just sit down in your old jeans and meditate, you have to wear the right silk, and you can't just meditate any old way you feel, you have to do the technique taught by a teacher whose name sounds exactly as foreign as a French fashion designer. You don't practice the "Joe Smith" technique. No, you wear only Louis Vuitton and Prada, and you only practice the meditations taught by Chetsang Rimpoche.
But French design is at least visible. Everyone can see it. The workmanship of the originals is superb, and if you are rich you have your own tailors to fit the dresses for your exact body. Then a year later you can buy off-the-rack imitations at Walmart. Meditation is invisible behavior, no one can see how badly the technique fits you. And when people close their eyes, they tend to be as mean to themselves as any schoolyard bully. It is not a good idea to internalize all the self-hatred that monks from the opposite side of the Earth felt a thousand years ago.
Who became a monk? Was there any choice?
For much of known human history marriages were arranged. Your families worked out something, often as a kind of business deal. These arrangements could be made when the children were born. A friend of mine just came back from working in a region of India, and the girls and boys there get married at 9. They have a wedding ceremony, but keep on living with their respective parents. Then when the girl has her first period, which is usually 12 to 13, they have another ceremony and she moves in to home of the boy's family, and they start having sex. Girls in this area frequently have their first babies at 14. Things have changed somewhat in the modern West, but Marilyn Monroe, for example, was married at age 16. That was 1942.
Of course, the system varied from decade to decade, region to region, but there just has been this historical trend to push people to get married off. The pressure to conform, to obey, and get married must have been incredibly intense. But there seems to have been an outlet, where a small percentage of males was allowed to go off and do something else. Because in general, not only did you marry the person your parents picked out for you at age 9, you went to work in your father's shop, doing the same thing he did. That's the Feudal System. So maybe one of the safety valves was to let a few guys go off and do the monk thing if they just totally refuse to conform.
Some variation on this pattern may have been fairly common around the world throughout time. Each culture, each area, and each time period has its own unique flavor.
In the reading I have been doing, people become monks because:
1. They run away. Buddha, for example, ran away from his home, abandoning his newborn son, to become a monk.
2. Their parents can't afford to feed them, and give the boy to a monastery in the hopes that he will survive.
3. The parents sell the boy to a monastery because he is good-looking and they can get a good price.
4. The parents send the boy to a monastery, to learn to read and get an education, in the same way one would send a child to a boarding school.
So let's think about some hypothetical average monastery in India somewhere in 300 A.D. Who would be there? I get the feeling that it would be an extremely diverse group of people who just did not fit in to society at large for whatever reason. Either they felt revulsion at the prospect of getting married at age 9 or 13, or they did not like the family they were to be married into, or they did not want to do whatever their father did. Or maybe they were true hermits, called to just going off into the forest or the mountains and living there on roots and berries, and they needed to have a loose affiliation with a monastery just for some human contact.
There are so many reasons a child would not want to get married and start having children. Just consider, in all of human history we know about, and until about 120 years ago, most children died before the age of ten. Babies died like flies, mothers often died in childbirth or a few days later, from an infection called "childbirth fever," and then children that survived to be one or two would be ravaged by a whole series of "childhood illnesses" that tended to kill seven children out of ten. Say you lived in a village of 50 homes, and there were 50 babies born around the same time as you, by the time you were ten years old, 35 of your friends would have died. And a hundred kids slightly older and younger than you would have died in one disease or another sweeping through the village. If you were a sensitive child, and saw all this death, and saw your mother suffering with each dying child, why would you want to run off and start having sex with women and bring more babies into the world?
The reasons for wanting to go away, to wander homeless or sit and meditate, are innumerable. So really, there is no hypothetical monastery. Each one must have been full of a motley collection of the walking wounded, misfits, spiritual geniuses, loners, people who just did not identify with the stereotypical male of that time and place, people who wanted to be left alone to read, kids who were rejected by their parents, and so on. In chronological age, they would range from early teenagers to old men. And somehow they have to all live together.
We who live outside the monastery walls know almost nothing of how they did it – how did these societies of men survive for thousands of years. Only the Japanese have written openly and honestly about the sex lives of monks, apparently because they tend to see sex as a natural human function, nothing to be ashamed of. See also The Power of Denial and also Lust for Enlightenment: Buddhism and Sex.
In the sections following this, there is a whole discussion of sex. But for now, let's focus on this odd historical situation in which 98% or more of Americans are non-monks, and yet we are studying techniques developed for people who have very different needs and lifestyles.
American women meditators are every age and lifestyle, but by and large they have families and jobs and friends and loves. They are not living in cloisters. Yet the teachings on meditation are heavily weighted toward the needs of celibate males, Buddhist and Hindu monks.
These monks trained most of the teachers in America. So it makes sense that meditation teachings and books present useful techniques, and then go on to emphasize the importance of detachment, killing passion, and distancing yourself from desire. There is an anti-sex and anti-body attitude sprinkled throughout the meditation literature.
To the extent that a woman internalizes these negative attitudes toward herself, she will become depressed and lose her love of life. This isn't accidental – it is purposeful, because the teachings are designed to make the ordinary world seem disgusting, and make you want to join an ashram. If you think about it, of course teachings intended for monks would be designed to help them lose interest in outside relationships, sex, and the desire to do anything other than study spiritual things.
Because monks talk about sex and encourage celibacy, it is necessary to discuss their celibacy and sexuality, to see where they are coming from, and why they resist adapting their teachings to the needs of modern women.
Monks are only human, and like all humans, they can vow something one day, and in the middle of the night the next day their craving takes over. But wait, most people can hold a craving at bay for a day or a week, so let's say they go for a year or two before the accumulated charge of sexual electricity breaks through. Then what? Who knows – they may be crawling out of their skin. Where does that energy go? There are many yogic and meditative techniques that have been developed to redirect or suppress the sex drive. And quite a few ex-monks and ex-nuns have mentioned that ahem, actually there is a lot of sex going on behind closed doors.
What does it mean when someone takes a vow of celibacy? Does it mean that magically, their sex drive will disappear? Maybe. And it can also mean that they will be tormented by sex for the rest of their miserable lives.
So when we listen to monks and nuns, we are listening to people who have set their will against the flow of life. And they are not in a position to talk honesly about where they are in that struggle. They may have to lie about their actual exerience. Historically, monks and nuns could never admit to having sex – it was part of the deal with society, we will support you, grow food for you, but don't have sex and don't have kids. Even today in Asia, monasteries get burned down occasionally because a monk gets a local girl pregnant.
In the United States, sexual secrets tend to come out. Americans like to know what is really going on. People can even write books about their experiences being the sex slave of this guru or that priest or Tibetan Lama. It often takes twenty or thirty years for the truth to come out, for an individual to get ready to talk about what went on, so we are now beginning to find out what went on in the 1970's and 80's in spiritual America. What a complex and troubling thing sex is for celibates. And almost every week, there is a different story about this or that priest, monk, lama, yogi, or swami who is breaking his vow of celibacy. It is very educational to type guru + sex into a search engine every few weeks, and see what comes up. But you will never find out everything – I have met many people who will not talk publicly about the sexual experiences they had with the guru or minister, because they are afraid of retaliation.
But why would people want to be celibate in the first place? And why would anyone think that a celibate person is better somehow, rather than simply emotionally constipated?
Part of the answer has to do with the feudal system. Feudal systems depend on a division of labor, in which there are people who farm, people who fight, people who administer, and people who pray. The farmers and warriors said to the monks, OK, you can sit in your cells or caves all day and do whatever, but we don't want to hear about you having sex, alright?
And part of the reason must lie in the fact that sex is such a powerful instinct, so close to the life force itself, that to deny it, you have to invoke powerful denial in order to keep the boners away.
So, Why Did Buddha Abandon His Family?
There are many reasons why a person might come to hate sexual desire so much that they want to cut it off permanently, give themselves a psychological and emotional neutering. For example, sex can lead to pregnancy, and until recently, many women died in childbirth. How would you feel about sex, and life on earth in general, if you first week of life was spent experiencing your mother dying of childbirth fever?
A boy whose mother died giving birth to him might have tremendous guilt about existing, and might be terrified of becoming a father. He might fear that if he got married and impregnated his wife, she may die in childbirth just like his mother did, and it would be his fault. Buddha's mother died a week after giving birth to him – she seem to have lingered, bleeding and feverish for a week and then died. Little Siddhartha was raised by his mother's sister and nurses. When Buddha was 19 (or 29) his first son was born, and he abandoned the newborn baby and his wife and went out to live in the forest and practice austerities. Then he founded a religion about not existing.
If your first seven days of life are spent cuddled with your mother who is shivering with fever, groaning, and being burned up by infection associated with childbirth, then your next months are spent with people who are grieving but have been ordered to put on a happy face, your sense of the emptiness of human life is bound to be oppressive. You get it – the formula is, passion = sex = birth = murdering your mother. Yuck.
Out in the forest Buddha discovered great things, and his light shines on us all. But the particular manner of his awakening, the story around it, also influences us all. The message is there, not-so-subliminal, if you want to get enlightened, you have to give up sex, money, your family, your friends, your desires, and your ego, and starve yourself on many levels. There is the lure of using meditation to induce anorexia – where you use the power of meditation to make yourself lose your appetite for life. Buddha's path took him through anorexia and rear-starvation. Do you think you are better than him?
Buddha in one of his skinny phases
Passion is Poison
One of the long-lasting effects of Buddha's teachings is the equation that passion = poison. The path through life is equanimity, calmness. This is certainly, absolutely the truth for homeless Buddhist monks, whose lifestyle is to wander and be homeless and live on donations of food and money from villagers.
The teachings of Buddha, as they show up in innumerable branches and sub-branches of the meditation traditions, are adamant in their disdain for passion. This citation from a Buddhist text is a representative example.
"Friends, in foreign lands there are wise nobles & priests, householders & contemplatives -- for the people there are wise & discriminating -- who will question a monk: 'What is your teacher's doctrine? What does he teach?'
Thus asked, you should answer, 'Our teacher teaches the subduing of passion & desire.'
"Having thus been answered, there may be wise nobles & priests, householders & contemplatives... who will question you further, 'And your teacher teaches the subduing of passion & desire for what?'
Thus asked, you should answer, 'Our teacher teaches the subduing of passion & desire for form... for feeling... for perception... for fabrications. Our teacher teaches the subduing of passion & desire for consciousness.'
"Having thus been answered, there may be wise nobles & priests, householders & contemplatives... who will question you further, 'And seeing what danger does your teacher teach the subduing of passion & desire for form... for feeling... for perception... for fabrications. Seeing what danger does your teacher teach the subduing of passion & desire for consciousness?'
"Thus asked, you should answer, 'When one is not free from passion, desire, love, thirst, fever, & craving for form, then from any change & alteration in that form, there arises sorrow, lamentation, pain, grief, & despair.
When one is not free from passion... for feeling... for perception... for fabrications... When one is not free from passion, desire, love, thirst, fever, & craving for consciousness, then from any change & alteration in that consciousness, there arise sorrow, lamentation, pain, grief, & despair.
Seeing this danger, our teacher teaches the subduing of passion & desire for form... for feeling... for perception... for fabrications. Seeing this danger our teacher teaches the subduing of passion & desire for consciousness.'"
- from the Devadaha Sutta
This is a manual for suicide written by an obsessive-compulsive. "First you kill out the desire to live, then kill the desire to have perceptions, then you kill out any love you have for anything and anyone, then you kill out even the desire for consciousness, so that you do not reincarnate." It would not be enough to kill the body – you have to kill the desire to live so that you do not reincarnate.
The word nirvana means "to extingish," and suggests the image of blowing out a fire. The fire is now gone. Nirvana means to blow out the flame of individuality.
And they haven't even really started in yet on sex.
The "middle path" advocated by Buddha can sometimes seem to be in the middle between "suicidal self-deprivation" and "mild self-annihilation." Sometimes at conferences and conventions meditators of all types attend, you can tell the Buddhists because they look peaceful as they drift along, as if they have made peace with death and are slowly having their blood replaced with embalming fluid. As with medicine, the effects of any medication vary enormously according to an individual's body chemistry. Many people I have known for decades look sort of like they are on chemotherapy, as an effect of their understanding and practice of Buddhism. They have indeed killed their passion, and indeed do have a great deal of inner peace. But is it really necessary to have such a grey pallor, as if your blood has been drained, to gain the happiness that comes from not wanting anything?
In the Devadaha Sutta text cited above, notice the repetition, the mind-numbing, soul-crushing, hunting down of any little area where passion could hide out, even in desire for consciousness. There is no sense of inquiry at all, this seems like an authoritarian, fundamentalist tract. But it has hypnotic appeal, in the way that Marxist thinking must have had in the early part of the 20th century. The first "re-education" camps must have been the Buddhist camped among the trees, where monks would sit around and confess any desires they had, any tingle of excitement about anything, and then they would take their assigned penance and go off and try to exterminate their individuality.
What an interesting take on spirituality! And more power to them, whoever wants or needs to take up this practice. I just think that practices should come with labels, like medicine do. What the effects are. What the side effects are.
Every person who hears or reads such a text will respond differently. From interviews, I know that some meditators are relieved to know that people in the past, maybe even Buddha, were just as insane and neurotic as they are. That is their actual response: "God, I thought my self-hatred and suicidal tendencies were bad, but these people really took it to the limit. Those guys were as wacked-out as I am." There is a therapeutic technique developed by family therapists, in which the therapist describes in endless and obsessive detail the behavior the patient has been struggling with, and this sometimes breaks the grip of the obsession on the patient.
Others hear the words of the text being recited by a Mike Myers-like inner character, and they take secret delight in the offbeat deadpan nihilism. Still others take it like an injection of chemotherapy for the soul, praying it will kill off all their bad thoughts and feelings. And some are just poisoned by it.
One thing that begs to be considered –maybe by the history department at some university – is how do you keep a country together and defend your borders when you don't believe you should exist? I would think that Buddhism may cause such deep confusion about identity and passivity that you would not be good at playing the game of survival as a nation. You wouldn't be paying attention to the work that needs to be done and you would miss or misinterpret all the signals.
I saw a bumper sticker recently, with a Buddhist symbol and the words, HONK IF YOU DON'T EXIST.
Buddhist Attitudes Toward Sexuality
You can read for yourself about Buddhist attitudes toward sexuality over the millennia. Bernard Faure's The Red Thread is a fascinating read. The author is a professor of religion at Stanford, and the book is thoroughly researched and full of funny stories.
Faure discusses the predicament Buddha was in as head of an order of monks. First of all, his path was called "Going forth into homelessness." He was creating a new order, a new path. And they had to wander from town to town, begging. The Buddhist scriptures record the goings on as Buddha led his band of homeless wanderers around the country.
Every scandal you can think of happened. The monks would have sex with each other, and then confess, and Buddha would rule that this was a sin and that henceforth a monk would be expelled. A monk fell asleep and had a huge erection, and girls passing by mounted his penis. When he woke up, there were dried juices on his body and his robe, so another monk ratted him out, reported him to Buddha. Buddha ruled this was OK, as long as you are asleep – but monks should sleep inside if possible, so as not to be used in this way.
Once Buddha was approached by a monk with a penis so long that he could suck on it. Obviously, having sex with a woman was a sin, but what was wrong with sucking on his own cock? It is recorded in the scriptures that Buddha ruled that sucking on your own cock is a sin. A different monk had a penis so long that he could fuck himself in the ass. He approached Buddha respectfully and asked, "Sir, is this a sin?" Buddha ruled that yes, this was a sin. (Faure, p. 84)
Buddha ruled that this is a sin
Google Books link to The Red Thread
A rich source of insight about monastic sex are Faure's chapters on Chinese and Japanese Buddhism. Faure quotes from a Chinese novel from the 16th century:
Once a Buddhist priest and his disciple went to a benefactor's house with some papers. The papers were, they thought, safely tucked into the disciple's belt, in the small of his back. When they reached the door, they found that the disciple's belt had come undone, and the papers had fallen out.
"It looks as if you have no ass at all," the Priest said.
"If I had no ass," the disciple replied, "You wouldn't be able to exist for a single day."
(Faure, p. 267).
The full spectrum of Buddhist thought is wild. It is just wild, and the people I know who thrive in Buddhism, or Hinduism, or Yoga, or Taoism, know it's wild and thrive on the wildness. They get the jokes and they know that everything is totally contradictory, human, flawed, and varied, and they have to make up a path that works for them.
Remember also that none of this philosophy and rule-making has much to do with meditation. The rules are about how to adapt to live in a community of people who do not work, but beg for a living. And how to get the villagers to keep taking food out of the mouths of their children to feed the monks. I only bring it up because everyone if you are not a monk or nun, you have no business internalizing their rule set. If you are playing volleyball on the beach, you don't put on ice skates, as if you are going to be playing hockey in a rink.
This is religion, and sometimes philosophy, and sometimes, "How to eke out a living in ancient India or Nepal." How to get dirt-poor farmers to give some of their precious food to dirty homeless people wandering through.
I mention all this because when you meditate, make sure that you are not imposing religious ideas on yourself. Be your natural self, and see what happens. And if you are going to get all religious, study the religion of your parents first, or your grandparents. Don't go to the opposite side of the world, you'll just get sick. Their water is different.
When you meditate, be in your own religion or lack of religion. See how you evolve.
The Renunciate Path vs. The Path of Affirmation
Monks give us non-monks the name, "householders." And one thing monks do not seem compassionate or skillful about is discerning the difference between the path of renunciation and the path of affirmation.
The path of renunciation is characterized by denial of sex, money, and property. Those on the path of renunciation take some sort of vows, usually celibacy, poverty and obedience. Renunciates live on alms or welfare and are supposed to pray for the rest of us, and be harmless.
The path of the householder has a totally different set of challenges: tolerating intimacy, handling close personal relationships, working to support everyone who depends on you, managing your time, sorting priorities, and above all, honoring all your commitments. I just made up the term, "the path of affirmation," to describe this path, because you have to actively embrace sex, working to make money, and owning things.
And anything that interferes with your ability to be committed wholeheartedly to your actions can really be damaging. Householders are always having to finish one thing then zoom off to another. Each action requires your full attention. If your spiritual practice is undermining, if it damages the very foundation of your life, then you will pay a serious price, and not necessarily wind up with any enlightenment as a booby prize.
If your meditation practice makes you feel slightly reluctant to have sex, because you have killed your passion, then you may kill your marriage as well. And therefore your kids will grow up as children of a divorce. What is so spiritual about that? This is very common, in my experience: the husband or wife will start meditating, and then get attracted to a Buddhist teaching, and along with the meditation they are absorbing attitudes that are presented as universal but actually are only good medicine for monastics. Over time, they lose their zest for life and sex starts to seem disgusting, rather than a sacred communion. The couple does not know why they are breaking up. The partner who is left out in the cold – the one who has been rejected by their spouse for years, because the spouse turned off his or her sex drive – is usually the one who is blamed the most for the divorce.
The following quote is from a book titled, How To Meditate: A Practical Guide. by Kathleen McDonald, an ordained Buddhist Nun.
"If you feel strongly attached to an attractive body (including your own), think about it in the following way.
"First, analyze just what it is you find so attractive. Then mentally penetrate the surface and examine what lies beneath the skin: the flesh, bones, blood vessels and organs. Visualize the mucous, pus, blood, excrement and urine. Imagine it all in vivid detail. What is it you find so attractive now?" (McDonald, p 101).
Perhaps this type of meditation book should come with a warning label such as medications have, antidepressants, tranquilizers, "Warning, use of this technique may cause loss of libido, digestive troubles, possibly an eating disorder, and long-term depression." Even low-fat potato chips, with their artificial indigestible oil come with warnings about leakage.
The technique described by McDonald, whose ordained name is Sangye Khadro, is stated in almost the same words in other introductory books on how to meditate, and in texts read out loud by the Dalai Lama at events across the United States. This is not an isolated practice. It is being presented as something everyone should do.
Cultivating disgust for bodies is a powerful tool that may serve the lifestyle of a monk or nun. If you are not a monk or nun, then you may just wind up homeless in your own body, alienated and dissociated. This is the meditation equivalent to a medical procedure, such as a surgery to sever the nerves in your clitoris or penis, injection of a chemotherapy drug, or exposure to x-rays. Of course this technique will weaken and then destroy your attachments. And destroying attachments is a highly cherished Buddhist ideal. But after you have destroyed your attachment to your own body, and to your spouse, and your children, and you have learned to be nauseated by bodies, then what?
Whether learning to be nauseated by your own body and that of your partner is a good thing or a bad thing depends on your path.
If your dharma or destiny is to abandon your family like Buddha did, and go off to meditate somewhere, then sure, do this technique if this is one your spiritual advisor has prescribed. But if your path is the path of the householder, of commitment, involvement and affirmation, then this is absolutely the wrong technique to do.
Because meditation techniques are held to be "sacred," no one dares to question them. How can people who are so insightful one moment be so unskillful the next? This is just one of the things you will have to get used to if you do any reading in meditation literature. Meditation texts tend to shift into weird medicine without warning and without labeling, and many people I know are seriously poisoned by their exposure to this type of teaching.
The path of affirmation is about committment, which is daring. You commit to your marriage, your lover, your friends, your job. People are depending on you. You have to manage, to balance, to make up a yoga of balancing many commitments. It's challenging – you have to make up your life, day to day. This is totally different than just committing once to a spiritual tradition and a master.
So I thought I would write about the little I have learned regarding this uber-secret world of monks and sex. If monks never spoke of sex, I would not speak about them. But monks do speak about sex in disgusted terms, the way people with eating disorders talk about food. So their ideas need discussing.
Monks in the Media
Monks are everywhere in the media these days, especially Tibetan, Hindu and Buddhist monks, radiating peace and encouraging people to be compassionate and to meditate. The light they bring to the world is important and can be clarifying. They bring confusion also, because at the same time they teach kindness, they teach traditional notions of hatred of the body, hatred of individuality, and hatred of sex. So they are a bit like doctors who go around suggesting that everyone be castrated for their own good.
Also, by the way, they kind of suggest or encourage celibacy and devotion to the lineage of male gurus from which all wisdom comes.
We know something about Catholic priests and sex, because of the rampant sex scandals in the United States the past few years. We have learned that Catholic priests are human and want to have sex, and many of them are gay, and because they are denied regular outlets, they use their altar boys as their sex slaves.
But what about all these Buddhist and Hindu monks teaching in America? What are they up to? What is happening under those robes?
The Aura of Secrecy
The monks and priests from Asia have been able to keep an aura of secrecy about their sex lives, which leads us to think of monks and monasteries as luminous and peaceful places, rather than hotbeds of gay sex. It turns out that there is a lot going on under those robes and behind the closed doors of the monasteries. People who have been there and emerged to tell the tale have talked a little, discretely, about their experiences.
In the interests of full disclosure, I want to say that I have never had sex with a monk or nun and that what I know is from interviews and informal discussions with those who have. Also, I don't care at all whether monks have sex with other monks, and if nuns have great lesbian sex. If they do, more joy to them. Whatever.
Since 1968, it has seemed like my primary job in the world is to listen to meditators and make notes. What works, what experiences the different techniques induce, what are the side-effects, what are the catastropies. I also want to disclose that I, like many people of my generation, have an extremely high regard for monks in general. I myself have never had a bad experience with a guru, lama, rishi, yogi, or meditation teacher. But people talk to me, and over the decades I have spoken with quite a few meditators at length about their experiences.
And one thing is clear: meditation awakens the senses and awakens all kinds of energies in the body. Deal with it.
Are Monasteries Hotbeds of Gay Sex?
Monk performing "auparashtika" on a princely visitor. Hmmm!
Temple of Chhapri, Central India, 12th century CE.
Mindful Blow Jobs
On a meditation course in Majorca in 1971, I met a guy who had evolved his own form of sexual-spiritual tourism. For years he had been going to India, Thailand, and other Asian countries to visit temples and monasteries and attend meditation retreats. And the sex, he said, was "The best he had ever experienced anywhere. Those monks really know how to give a blow job. They come to your room at night and do you with total mindful awareness and incredible skill. And from meditating all day, your body is so tuned that you can have the longest and most intense orgasms ever."
continued at Penis Worship.
So it may be that one of the secrets going on in monasteries and nunneries is that they are occasionally having really incredible hot sex, in the most drawn-out, subtle seductions anywhere. The "forbidden" nature of it makes it all the hotter. And they absolutely can't talk about it.
By the way, I just discovered a wonderful book, Lust for Enlightenment, by John Stevens. Like The Red Thread, it's about Buddhism and sexuality, but LUST is a breezier read and has better illustrations. I recommend it.
Letting It All Hang Out
So whenever you think of teachings that come from India, Nepal, Tibet, or anywhere else, remember there are people there with the same desires as you. And when a desire is blocked in one arena, it will come out sideways, or in a perverted form, or in a sublimated, covert form.
When you encounter the meditation traditions, you are dealing with something that millions of people have been involved in for thirty centuries or so. Every form of kinkiness that can be discovered, they probably invented in 300 B.C. Even if you were born in Asia, there is no way one individual can comprehend the diverse theories and practices that millions of people can make up over dozens of centuries of intense experimenting. If you are a Westerner, there is no way you can match that cultural heritage. Personally, I don't think anyone in India understands India. It is too vast.
A Sadhu smoking hash
Face it – you will never completely understand India, Tibet or ancient China. You have no idea what they were up to.