Saturday, November 29, 2008

Saturday Tautology Blogging: Sex Is Trouble

The Dalai Lama thinks sex is, all things considered, a bad idea, possibly threatening his popularity among the I'm-not-sure-what-I-believe-but-I'm-very-spiritual set:

The Dalai Lama, the exiled Tibetan spiritual and temporal leader, on Friday said sex spelt fleeting satisfaction and trouble later, while chastity offered a better life ... "Sexual pressure, sexual desire, actually I think is short period satisfaction and often, that leads to more complication," ... "Too much attachment towards your children, towards your partner," was "one of the obstacle or hindrance of peace of mind," he said.
All Mr. Lama has really said here is what every viewer of Cheaters and Nanny 911 already knows; which is the same thing that every reader of Shakespeare or Jane Austen already knows; which is, in fact, an insight that people have to work pretty hard to avoid no matter what sort of culture they absorb and reflect: that sex, love, and family are rife with risk, compromise, and conflict.

To say that life would be more serene without sex is something like saying elephants would make splendid house pets if not for their size, or that winter would be just as pleasant as summer if not for the poor weather. Dude needs to waste his life in orange gowns and a shaved head only to arrive at tautologies?


Mike said...

Yes, life would be more serene right up until there was no one left. Reproduction is a messy business.

God - or whatever it is he worships - forbid someone should be devoted to family rather than to supporting the lifelong "woe is me" world tour of someone who has never had any experience with the situations he criticizes.

Aimée said...

Dale & Mike,
I’m not well versed in the specifics of Tibetan Buddhism, but in “big picture” Buddhism the fundamental reality of physical life is suffering- sickness, death, grief. Our attachment to the physical, mental, and transitory aspects of life also cause us suffering, and while this is not an extremely positive view of life, they are aspects of life we could probably agree on. The idea of Buddhism is to move away from our desirous nature and cultivate an appreciative awareness of the present - sans attachment – in hope of moving toward enlightenment.

Sex of course is wrought with desire and is a very physical pursuit. I think most Buddhist would lump it in with other base desires that cause distraction from their spiritual quest. That said, I’ve never practiced celibacy as a spiritual endeavor, but I have a few friends who have. They never classified themselves as Buddhists, but they recounted that their celibacy and other acetic acts enabled them to shed their bodily appetites. They found they were extremely creative, and they had more time to purse more “noble” interests. They also expressed that they found it easier to stay present in the moment and that they were able to behold the intricacies of day to day life that usually went unnoticed.

I’ve also never watched Nanny 911 or Cheaters, perhaps they covered something similar :). I agree with Mike though; life is easier in a spiritual vacuum. If you’re never tempted to engage in acts that are contrary to your belief system, it’s probably pretty easy to abstain – even more so if you’ve never experienced the act.

I’m not a Buddhist, but I know that if I was secluded in an Ashram, I’d be extremely fit and blissed out all the time, but that is not the life I live or want to live. I think the challenged is presented to all of us: how do you live the life you truly wish to live even in the face of daily pressures, stressors, and desires.

Dale said...

Aimee, Mike,

No doubt I'm missing some of the precious subtleties, but the Buddhist idea of detachment has always struck me as a dressed-up, ennobled version of clinical depression. I do understand the idea that suffering is inextricably linked with attachments, but it's also true that attachments make life worth living.

The person who has genuinely concluded attachments don't matter might thereby achieve something properly called serenity; and then again he might realize there's no good reason not to jump from the nearest high-rise.

I can see the value of making conscious choices to distance onself from certain kinds of desires -- to pick an easy example, I keep certain foods out of the house because this is a realistic way of moderating my indulgence in them. No doubt people have found ways to do something like this with sex.

But I think it's harmful, sooner or later, to move from that to something more like berating yourself inwardly over the desire -- telling yourself over and over that the desire itself is a sign of weakness, cowardice, evil, whatever -- in hopes of achieving a state of "enlightenment" in which the desire is no longer present. This is sickness or the prelude to sickness, or so it seems to me (and it's not exclusive to Buddhism).

larryniven said...

As my mother said when I showed her this story, "for someone who doesn't believe in earthly attachments, he's pretty attached to tibet." Zing.

Laura said...

In all my years of meditation, yoga, abstination, prayer, attending churches and temples, and searching for enlightenment in others and myself, I've never found it.

Oh sure, I've read books about people who supposedly achieved it, or had it happen to them; but until I see or experience it for myself, I think it's another of those ideas put out there to keep us on the treadmill of chasing after some spiritual ideal, not to mention quite lucrative once those books and cds hit the shelves.

I remember Ram Dass saying, after he had his stroke, that he was remarkably pedestrian in dealing with it for someone who who's been a spiritual teacher for so long. At least he was honest about it.

My feeling is that if I'm not doing something tangible to ease the suffering around me, I'm wasting time. All the prayer and meditation in the world isn't going to feed the homeless, save animals from cruelty, or help lonely senior citizens. It also hasn't helped the people of Tibet. And I doubt, even if it helped me achieve enlightenment, it would ease the suffering of anyone but myself.

Without sex, I wonder where the DL would be today.