Sex and culture

From David Brook’s NY Times column titled “Let’s Have a Better Culture War”:

“If public life were truly infused with the sense that people have souls, we would educate young people to have vocations and not just careers. We would comfortably tell them that sex is a fusion of loving souls and not just a physical act. We’d celebrate marriage as a covenantal bond. We’d understand that citizenship is a covenant, too, and we have a duty to feel connected to those who disagree with us.”…

…”If we talked as if people had souls, then we’d have a thick [not shallow] view of what is at stake in everyday activities. The soul can be elevated and degraded at every second, even when you’re alone not hurting anybody. Each thought or act etches a new line into the core piece of oneself.”

The full column is here: http://www.nytimes.com/2016/06/07/opinion/lets-have-a-better-culture-war.html

There are so many ways to talk about the Buddha’s third precept. We can broaden it to include any harmful use of our senses, to compulsions of all kinds. But in the Pali canon, when the Buddha talks about refraining from sexual misconduct, it’s very specific to types of harm that we do with our sexuality. All of the references in the canon are to men, but things have changed a good deal in the ensuing two and a half millennia. Turns out that women are every bit as capable of sexual cruelty as men. Rather than pointing fingers or playing the “who’s more of a victim” game, let’s look at why we should pay attention to how we think about and behave with each other.

Over the past fifty years in our culture, sex has changed from an unmentionable to an omnipresent consumable. The internet has made pornography many times more available than it was in print form. Electronic connectivity makes it much more difficult to shield even the very young from what used to be called “inappropriate content”. In this environment, it is hard to maintain a healthy attitude towards sexuality. It must be acknowledged that it is hardest for younger people, who have no memory of a time when explicit sexual images had to be sought out and were not forced upon us all.

But here we are. What to do? We must come back to ourselves, to the understanding that what we think, say, and do matters greatly, for others and for ourselves. As David Brooks says above, “The soul can be elevated and degraded at every second, even when you’re alone not hurting anybody. Each thought or act etches a new line into the core piece of oneself.” This is in accord with the Buddha’s (and others’) teachings that each act of body, speech, and mind is like an oar in the water, directing our canoe into calmer or more turbulent streams.

If we take ourselves seriously enough to adopt a moral code that prevents our harming  ourselves or others with our sexuality, we will have a reliable guide. We will refrain from hurting, controlling, belittling or in any way causing pain to other beings and ourselves. It is always possible (though sometimes difficult) to choose the non-harming word or action. When a sexual relationship is a confirmation of a committed and wholesome partnership, we will enjoy the rich rewards of excitement within the container of love.

1. I undertake the training rule to refrain from destroying living creatures.
2. I undertake the training rule to refrain from taking what is not given.
3. I undertake the training rule to refrain from sexual misconduct.
4. I undertake the training rule to refrain from false speech.
5. I undertake the training rule to refrain from intoxicants which lead to heedlessness.

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Filed under Causes and results, Harmlessness, Precepts, Relationships, Sex

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