This is one of Buddhism grave precepts. It’s really quite an important one because of the enormous power and drive of our sexual urges. This power is what makes sex fantastic and also what can make it hurtful or damaging. It’s powerful. If there is a misuse of this power, we can hurt ourselves and others.
I am teaching a sexuality class for high schoolers at Clouds now. Because of that, this topic is very current for me. What do I want to teach or say to young people about sex? I don’t want to shut them down by saying; sex is bad, dangerous and you should be celibate. Nor do I want to encourage them to travel down roads of sexual promiscuity and experimentation that might be dangerous or hurtful. So what to say?
When and how is our sexuality healthy? We need to notice for the most part, that our culture has extreme and mixed messages about sexuality and attractiveness, which is rampant in the media.
In the class for the High School kids this past sunday, I talked about the 8-fold path and the precepts. I am, laughingly, adding another “Right” to our 8 “Rights”. I want to add Right Amount and I have experimentally put that under Right Effort. I think Right Amount is very important for understanding moderation and not ending up in the extremes – which is Buddha’s admonition of the Middle Way. It is a lot about the discernment process, which comes under the base of Wisdom. How do we discern what is the Right Amount of any commodity let alone sex? “Right Amount” is the alternative to addictions where we lose the ability to control ourselves and our actions.
When we talk about the continuum of addiction, we have to talk about the precept of non-intoxication. In the Clouds in Water version of this precepts, we say:
Cultivating a mind that sees clearly. I take up the way of not being deluded and not giving or taking intoxicants.
I often think the precepts are best used in a cluster. When I teach the precepts, I say that you can use the other precept to help discern our decisions about following a certain precept. You can discerns if a certain action is sexually healthy by questioning using the other precepts? Am I being honest? Am I killing the spirit of something or someone? Am I putting myself above and another person below?
In the case of intoxication, we can question ourselves – is this sexual activity an escape from my life? Is it a commodity I’m using to avoid feeling or to avoid intimacy or to avoid actual relationships? Am I using sex like a drug? Is this activity cultivating a direct and clear mind, or is it used to escape the moment’s feelings?
Positively, we can investigate our sexual activity and feelings by looking at – is this activity actually bringing me closer to life, closer to aliveness, closer to relationship with all beings?
We keep coming back to discernment. Is this a cover-up and escape, or is this real connection to the life energy?