Sunday, July 19, 2009

Lust And Enlightenment?

In a comment on yesterday’s post NO mentioned that he vaguely remembered a story from the Tipitaka where a monk attained enlightenment motivated in part by sexual desire. No asked me to correct me if he is wrong so I will.
Nanda was the Buddha's half brother. In the Tipitaka he is depicted as something of a Buddhist Adonis. He was ‘finely formed, beautiful and handsome’ (A.IV,66) and even after he became a monk `he pressed his robe on both sides, painted his eyes and walked around with a beautiful shiny bowl' (Vin.IV,173). I suppose we would call him a metrosexual nowadays. He was pretty much dragooned into the Sangha but after becoming a monk he could not stop thinking of his lover who had said to him on leaving: ‘Come back soon, young master’. Informed of this problem, the Buddha took Nanda by the arm and transported him up to the a heaven realm ‘where the nymphs have feet like doves’. Pointing to these nymphs, he asked Nanda: ‘Which is more beautiful, these nymphs or your girlfriend?’ ‘Compared to these nymphs my girlfriend is like a mutilated monkey’, Nanda replied. With this new and more beautiful image in his mind Nanda began meditating diligently in the hope of being reborn in the company of these nymphs. When the other monks heard of this, they smirked and laughed at Nanda’s motives, calling him a ‘day labourer’, i.e. someone who works for meagre wages. In Buddhism, seeking rebirth in heaven is considered more lofty than rebirth in purgatory, but decidedly inferior to attaining Nirvana. This teasing made Nanda feel somewhat ashamed of himself but eventually this was replaced by self-respect and the determination to practise for the right reasons. Living diligently and in solitude he eventually became enlightened (Ud.20 ff). So very clearly Nanda did not attain enlightenment by means of lustful desire but rather by being shamed into meditating with the right intentions.
It is interesting how half understood, second or third hand versions of stories or sayings from the Buddhist scriptures are used to justify all sorts of odd-ball ideas. NO did not do this; he merely mis-remembered the story. But I have certainly heard Nanda’s story told in such a way as to justify the idea that lust and desire can lead to enlightenment. The motto of the story? Go back to primary sources!
Incidentally, a new translation of Asvaghosa’s delightful retelling of the Nanda story, the Saundaranandakavya, has been published in the Clay Sanskrit Library. It is a beautiful little hardback volume with the Sanskrit text and the translation on opposite pages. A treat to read.
The picture shows is of a Gandhara sculpture showing Nanda looking back at his girlfriend as he is lead away by the Buddha.


reasonable said...

Hi Bhante,

I am saddened by what the Christian missionaries did to some hill tribes in the video u posted, and will look at that video again (I scanned thru it quickly in the midst of a seminar so I need to look at it again).

I have a question regarding using sex as a tool to attain enlightenment by some unBuddhist Buddhist sects (e.g. certain "Buddhist" Tantrism or Trantric "Buddhism"):

In one important Mahayana Sutra there is this famous verse: "form is emptiness and emptiness is form".

I can imagine some people can thank use the idea behind that verse to serve as an intellectual basis for using tantric sex to experience at least a glimse into some degree of enlightenment. It is like using the sexual experience to digest deeply the meaning of "form is emptiness" and to experience a sudden breakthrough of what some Buddhists might describe it as the mind being trapped in duality. The idea of "form is emptiness and emptiness is form" is to point out the illusion of duality, including what some Buddhists would call the false duality of samsara versus nirvana/nibbana. Hence some people may say "samsara is nibbana & nibbana is samara". Against such an intellectual/philosophical basis people may justify the use of tantric sex for spiritual purpose.

What is your frank comments on this duality and non-duality idea and its potential justification of tantric sex?

Thanks :)

Metta & Shalom

reasonable said...

My last sentence in my previous post "Against such an intellectual/philosophical basis people may justify the use of tantric sex for spiritual purpose." should be changed to

"Some may claim that this non-duality idea is an intellectual/philosophical basis to for the use of tantric sex to achieve spiritual advancement."

Walter said...

Dear Venerable,
Thank you, once again, for straightening up my memory. When I was in Christianity, I was exhorted to memorise scriptures and I tried and prayed very hard, but still was able to memorise only a pitiful number of verses. I wondered what was wrong.

Nonetheless I am happy that my post has prompted you to make another wonderful entry in your blog, though certainly it was no excuse for me not to have checked up the source before posting. :-)

aah-haa said...

In secondary school, I was told that sex was for procreation. Of course, that innocence has left me a long time ago. Sex is for everything and you need to be creative in sex to achieve whatever you desire - tantric or some other tangibles.
Whether Christianity, Islam or Buddhism or any other religion, sex has been invariably used for various motives and justifications. Every creature except asexual ones engage in sex. Shouldn't aligators, bees, cockcroaches attain Enlightenment?

Shravasti Dhammika said...

Enlightened cockroaches? Mmmm, interesting idea.

Walter said...

Regarding Reasonable's post...

I have a few thoughts on the matter. The idea that form does not differ from emptiness and vice versa, and that they are identical, is well encapsulated in the celebrated Heart Sutra. To me, this appears to be the perspective from the vantage point of enlightenment. Before enlightenment, the human mind is only capable of perceiving in duality. Even in expressing the notion, it had already fallen into duality. However, having said that, for those well grounded in the Dharma, the Heart Sutra is considered an ultimate guide to practice, I believe.

For Tantric practitioners to use this as an "an intellectual/ philosophical basis for the use of tantric sex to achieve spiritual advancement" is, therefore, like using "nothing" to justify "something", if you get want I mean...

reasonable said...

Hi No,

Can u elaborate and explain what u meant when u said that "For Tantric practitioners to use this as an "an intellectual/ philosophical basis for the use of tantric sex to achieve spiritual advancement" is, therefore, like using "nothing" to justify "something", if you get want I mean..."

Thanks :)

Also, dunno if u like to share you thoughts on these questions:

1. You said that "for those well grounded in the Dharma, the Heart Sutra is considered an ultimate guide to practice". Am I right that the Heart Sutra is not treated as the ULTIMATE guide for Theravada Buddhists who are well grounded in the Dhamma?

2. Though most people have not experienced their believed goal of non-duality, perhaps different persons have reached different degrees of closeness to non-duality? So for those closer to non-duality, could they not justify Buddhist tantric sex base on "form is emptiness"?

3. I am not saying "form is emptiness" is true, but for those who believe in it, are they not right to say sex is a type of "form" and therefore "sex is emptiness"? Logically they might then view the fear of sex to have arisen from a duality-mind and hence they seek to overcome it not by running away from sex (which to them running away is actually reinforcing a duality-mind) but to confront sex directly, such as bring the mind to a state of "mindfulness" while engaging in sex. Their sexual act is not for pleasure but for spiritual breakthrough to experience and internalise (at least to a certain extent) their belief of "form is emptiness". Is this not a reasonable move?

Thanks :)

Walter said...

Dear Reasonable,
I will try to let you have my few thoughts on the matter with considerable trepidation as I am speaking only from my own understanding, without having undergone any formal research or training in Buddhism.

Yes, I understand that Theravada Buddhists, at least those who would strictly follow Theravada, do not regard the Heart Sutra with the same status as Mahayana Buddhists do.

When I used the word "enlightenment" in my post, I was using it in the strict Buddhist sense, that is, the complete realisation of "reality" according to the Dhamma/Dharma with the mind released from all mental fetters. Nowadays, I understand no Buddhist will believe that we can reach that state, at least not in this life. Thus, nobody can actually understand non-duality "as it is" but only in terms of concepts of the mind that is yet freed from non-duality. (Perhaps one can have an idea of non-duality through the research in sub-atomic science where sub-atomic particles can be regarded as either matter (form) or energy (formless), depending on how they are observed, but the contradictory conclusions have yet to be reconciled I believe.)

So, following from the above, it appears to me that using an idea which we have yet to realise its meaning to support another idea, is really not having any support for the other idea. My view is that it can be used to justify tantric sex, for spiritual breakthrough, as much as it can as be used to justify anything else, when one has already believed the particular practice is desirable in the first place.

Incidentally, Buddhists do not have any "fear of sex", that is Buddhist teachings do not teach them to fear sex, so much so that they need the concept of "emptiness" to overcome the fear. Personally, I think it would be better if we learnt the practice of mindfulness (satipathanna) and when we have sex the next time, do it mindfully, and we will have a better understanding of what it is (but I can't see it as a "spiritual breakthrough").

Hope I make sense :) Perhaps the Venerable can correct my views where they are wrong or inadequate.