Celibacy in Buddhism

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Celibacy is an important precept in some Buddhist traditions. Lay Buddhists, or "householders," are allowed to marry and to form relationships as long as they don’t commit adultery and don’t harm others in the course of sex. Buddhist monks and nuns are sometimes required to remain celibate while in the monastic community or Sangha. Not all Buddhist monks and nuns however are required to be celibate, as seen in some sects of Korean Buddhism and in all Japanese Buddhist sects.

Buddhist monks in those traditions that do require celibacy can leave the Sangha and return to lay life at any time. Then celibacy is no longer required. Buddhist monks may even leave the Sangha, try out sex as lay Buddhists and return to the monastic life later, although they forfeit a certain amount of seniority. They must leave before engaging in sexual activity or they will lose the chance to return. A Buddhist can become a monk and leave again up to seven times in a lifetime.


[edit] Tibet

In Tibetan Buddhism, the songyum was the consort ("spiritual wife") of many high-ranking lamas. Such sexual activity by the ostensibly celibate was a closely guarded secret, with only the Lama's closest associates knowing of the woman's existence as a songyum - to all outward appearance, she was just another student or nun.[1]

Some regard the taking of a consort as a legitimate tantric practice.[2]

[edit] In the West

A number of Buddhist teachers based in Western countries have been subject to allegations of sexual misconduct.

[edit] Sogyal Rinpoche

In 1994, a $10 million[3] civil lawsuit was filed against Sogyal Rinpoche, author of the popular Tibetan Book of Living and Dying. It was alleged that he had used his position as a spiritual leader to induce one of his female students to have sexual relations with him. The complaint included accusations of infliction of emotional distress, breach of fiduciary duty, as well as assault and battery.[4][5] The lawsuit was settled out of court. Related allegations were later introduced by journalist Mary Finnigan, who was also the main author of the original article in 1995.[6][7][8]

[edit] Chogyam Trungpa Rinpoche

Chogyam Trungpa's sexuality has been one of the sources of controversy, as he cultivated relations with a number of his female students. Tenzin Palmo, who met him in 1962 while he was still at Oxford, did not become one of his consorts. She mentions that she refused his advances at the time because he had presented himself as "a pure monk". However, she said that had she known that Trungpa had begun having sexual relations with women at age thirteen, she would not have declined, considering that in the higher stages of Tibetan Buddhist tantra, sexual relations (especially with tertöns) are a means of enhancing spiritual insights.[9] Trungpa formally renounced his monastic vows in 1969.[10]

[edit] Sangharakshita

Sangharakshita (born Denis Lingwood) founded the Friends of the Western Buddhist Order (later known as the Tiratana Buddhist order) in Britain, 1967.

He has been accused of pressuring a heterosexual follower, Mark Dunlop, into a sexual relationship, while living under monastic vows. The report described intimate details of what Dunlop characterised as their relationship, and claimed that Sangharakshita, who declined to comment, had told him “that to develop spiritually he had to get over his anti-homosexual conditioning.”

[edit] Footnotes

  1. June Campbell. Traveller in Space: In Search of Female Identity in Tibetan Buddhism, chapter 6. Athlone Press. 1996.
  2. Karmamudra. Sacred-sex.org.
  3. Mary Finnigan. "Sexual healing", The Guardian. 1995 January 10.
  4. Don Lattin. Best-selling Buddhist author accused of sexual abuse, The San Francisco Free Press. 1994 November 10.
  5. Mick Brown. "The Precious One", Telegraph Magazine. 1995 February 2.
  6. Mary Finnigan. Lama sex abuse claims call Buddhist taboos into question. The Guardian. 2011 July 1.
  7. Gabrielle Monaghan. Bad karma: Buddhist leader faces claims of sex exploitation made by woman who was asked to undress. The Sunday Times. 2011 June 12.
  8. Mary Finnigan. Randy Sogyal, Best-Selling Lecher. The Guardian. 1995 October 1.
  9. Vicki MacKenzie. Cave in the Snow: Tendzin Palmo's quest for enlightenment, page 31. Bloomsbury. 1998. ISBN 1-58234-004-8.
  10. The Collected Works of Chogyam Trungpa, Volume 1. Shambhala Publications. 2004. ISBN 1-59030-025-4.
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