I have written much about mindfulness practices and sexuality here in this blog, but I would like to expand a bit more on it to also include a discussion of a broader Buddhist psychological perspective on sexuality, especially as it has so much to offer on the subject. Before I begin though, I would like to point out that by discussing Buddhism, I am approaching it more from a philosophical and psychological perspective rather than as anything spiritual or religious. My viewpoints here are purely secular, and in no way am I endorsing any specific religious or spiritual viewpoint or way of life. Indeed, Buddha himself (who was a real person) did not view his teachings as spiritual, but rather a middle ground between purely idealistic and materialistic viewpoints.
Anyway, let’s get on with it, and take a look at one of the first major points, which is that in Buddhism, there exists no concept of sin. Sure, there are various precepts of proper behavior, and the eight-fold path encompasses such elements as “right speech,” “right action,” “and right intention,” but these principles are meant to be contextual and much different from our Western views of what constitutes “sin.” In Buddhist thought, there is the concept of determining what is the right action or speech for the specific situation at hand. These are considered matters of wisdom and self-development, rather than some rigid notions of good and evil. Why this is important is that, in Buddhist psychology, there is no concept of evil thoughts or evil behaviors, there are simply right thoughts and right behaviors. A thought or behavior could be right because it brings pleasure and no harm, it is never intrinsically evil based on some random criteria.
Take a look at my previous article about the differences between thoughts, feelings, and behaviors. The point of that article is that there is a tremendous gulf between what we think and feel and what we do. We may have unsettling sexual thoughts or fantasies, but that doesn’t mean we must act on them, for example. In much of Western thought, having an unsettling idea or fantasy might mean that the person was by definition evil, since the ideas and fantasies are evil. In Buddhist thinking, there is no such thing as evil. In fact, there is nothing even stated about right thoughts and feelings. You can think and feel whatever you want, but you are defined by whether your intentions and actions are right (appropriate for the situation). Most importantly, adopting this viewpoint allows us to practice self-compassion and radical self-acceptance, instead of proceeding with unnecessary harsh judgment that only serves to create more misery.
A second major point, which overlaps with the last sentence above, is Buddhism’s emphasis on non-judgmental awareness. Indeed, the main activity involved in meditation is simply sitting and noticing what comes up without judgment. In Buddhist thinking, there is no point in fighting it, whatever comes up, as it only makes it worse. To try to fight a thought or feeling is, at its core judgmental, and only feeds into our attachment to some sort of idealistic view of what should and shouldn’t be. In essence, resisting our internal impulses is inherently shame-inducing, as it implies that there is something about our internal experience that is too troubling to tolerate. It also gives a false sense of control and feeds into the illusion of a concrete and distinct “self.”
See, in Buddhism, there is no self, it just doesn’t exist. What?? There is no self? Surely, this is madness! Not so fast. Of course, you can look in the mirror and touch your toes and see that there is someone to stare back at you, and with wiggling body parts. But that’s not what is meant here. The “self” we are describing here, in terms of Buddhist thought, is our attachment to a narrative of who we are and the resulting unnecessary rules of how we must live and what we must do. So really, according to the philosophy of Soto Zen (a specific sect within Buddhism), when the Buddha stated that the first and second noble truths were that 1) life is suffering, and that 2) the cause of suffering is our attachment, what he really meant by “attachment” was not that we have desires, that we experience love for others, that we have the need to connect, or that we want to have sex, but rather an attachment to a manufactured and unnecessary narrative of an imagined “self” that guides our life.
So, for example, and I’ve written about this before, but some people may cling to a self-identity of being a sex addict, but in Buddhist thinking that only adds to suffering, since we become so attached to this “I” that it prevents us from the awareness and acceptance of everything else that comes to be part of our lived experience. When we cling to an “I” that is self-manufactured and doesn’t truly exist, we lose vitality, spark, and creativity. All things necessary in the bedroom (or wherever you decide to have sex). So, someone may come into my office and tell me that they’re just not “good in bed” or that they’re “not the kind of person to get too adventurous.” When I hear that, what I’m really hearing is that this person has become, for some reason, really, really vested in this narrative they’ve created, and I’d like to know what meaning or value does this particular fictitious “I” hold for them.
That’s all for now. I think I’ll continue with a second part, in which I describe what Buddhism has to say about such things as empathy, compersion, and consent. But for the moment, I think between this article and the other articles I’ve linked to, I hope you’ll have plenty food for thought.