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Review of Sexuality in Classical South Asian Buddhism
, José Ignacio Cabezón, from Lion's Roar. See also his lecture from 2008
Cabezón notes that “Buddhism clearly comes off as a religion that is deeply skeptical about sexed bodies and sexual acts. Sentient beings, these texts tell us, were better off in their androgynous phase at the beginning of the world cycle than they are now; and they are far better off in the upper reaches of the universe—in the higher-god realms, where one does not have to worry about sex—than in the realm of desire.” He adds, “Our biologically-sexed bodies, rampant sexual desires, and polysensual sexuality are clearly seen as obstacles to the goal of human perfection.” In other words, sex gets in the way of buddhahood.
Behind sex, of course, lies desire. Cabezón explores Buddhist theories of desire in great detail, offering this basic summary: experiencing pleasure “creates a predisposition to desire that pleasure again—to put ourselves, consciously or not, in situations where the pleasure can once again be enjoyed. The greater the pleasure, the stronger the imprint it leaves on the mind, and the more likely we are to seek it anew. And the more often we experience the pleasure, the more this becomes an ingrained psychic pattern. All sense pleasure is in this sense addictive.” This is a serious problem for Buddhists intent on reaching nirvana, as attachment to momentarily pleasurable but ultimately painful desires becomes a never-ending feedback loop of fruitless chase and frustration.
...he ends his last chapter, “to be rejected, I have argued, is the one-size-fits-all, micro-managerial approach to sex found in the restrictive scholastic code. In its place, to be accepted is a sexual ethics founded on universal principles like gender inclusivity and justice; on broad, publically defensible Buddhist principles like minimizing harm and caring for others; and on classical Buddhist relational virtues like loyalty, empathy, and the golden rule.”