'Without sexual union, there would be no one born capable of experiencing the great bliss of enlightenment.'
(I highly recommend reading Part.1 first. Click here) Certainly my ideas about sexuality are limited and have been impacted by the same forces as any other, but in attempting to write this closer to the Buddhism Meet Shamanism series, which hasn’t been easy, I have come to the conclusion that two essential points are at the heart of anything useful I might have to share. They are;
1. Sex is perfectly natural
2. Freedom of sexual expression is something we must be willing to own and explore
These two points require explanation, so here goes. Being sexual and making love are perfectly natural expressions of our basic humanity. This simple statement means more than it might seem at first glance. Because our sexual aspect sits in the middle of the wheel, it is impacted enormously by our relationship with the other four aspects. This means that our relationship with ourselves as a sexual being is deeply affected and condition by; our ability to express our emotions and be intimate, our ability to be connected to our body and therefore to pleasure, our ability to be open and receptive to a partner and let go of separating thoughts, and the ability to connect in a deeply human, expansive and naturally creative manner. When we engage sexually we bring in our other four aspects and the richness of the experience, outside of simply ‘getting off’, is determined in great part by how capable we are of doing this.
Because most of us have issues and because most of us are blocked to some degree in our four aspects, our ability to experience open, natural sexuality and achieve depths of pleasure and connection that so many of us deeply desire, is limited and restricted. Add onto this the challenges and trials of relationships and we can start to see that sexuality and sex are often highly complicated arenas. This complication can lead us down avenues in our relationship to sexuality that are difficult to exit from.
Many of the preconceptions we have with regards to sex come to us from popular culture. One of the most obvious and heavily recycled is that romantic love and sex are ideally inseparable. This is a highly annoying idea that is certainly supported and backed up by the religious brigade and is repeated again and again by the modern day myth making industry of Hollywood and by most of the standard soap operas and TV series which still dominate our screens.
I for one have found eastern attitudes towards sex to be quite refreshing. The romanticisation of sex can be found all over the globe but in eastern countries, which have been much more successful at avoiding biblical definitions of what constitutes right sexual behaviour, much more pragmatic and freer attitudes towards sex can be found, especially in Tibet, Japan and China. Certainly in the West it is unlikely that a family doctor would prescribe twice-daily sex in order to heal a liver complaint as can happen in China. As John Stevens illustrates in great detail, in Tibet polygamy and polyandry were widely practised and in Japan the visiting of brothels was fairly typical and accepted behaviour by Zen priests. This is hardly something we would expect from Catholic priests in the West, or Imams in the Middle-East.
'It would seem by the size of your buttocks, that your nature is exceedingly lustful.' Drukpa Kunley, a revered Tibetan yogi and Mahamudra master
This leads to the second point of freedom of expression. Sexual freedom and the freedom to explore a great variety of sexual preferences has certainly increased in leaps and bounds over the last hundred years and this is a wonderful advance in western civilisation. In spite of this I still find it amazing that the rise of the Christian right in US politics is threatening to bring about a roll back of advances in secular society over there. I still find it amazing that the Church all over Europe is still shouting loudly enough to be considered in debates on the right of homosexuals to marry. Freedom of choice sex-wise means adults being able to express themselves in whatever way they want to sexually. If it is done between consenting parties, no organisation religious or otherwise should have any say in the matter. That’s it. Although Buddhism has historically stayed out of the bedrooms of lay practitioners in a way that would be highly refreshing to those used to Christianities hypocritical moralising, archaic ideas continue to inform dogmatic declarations that homosexuality leads to hell and that women, not only disadvantaged as far as enlightenment is concerned, should ideally be submissive to their husbands and that oral sex creates bad karma!
'The passions themselves constitute enlightenment.'
Sexuality is a potent and creative force. Like our emotions it tends to be subject to change. Having very fixed ideas about sexuality in general tends to be coupled with fixed ideas about what constitutes our own sexuality and how we like or prefer to express ourselves sexually. Because these ideas are so informed by society and the hangover of religious influence it can at times be difficult to know how much of our specific sexual preferences(and limitations) are determined by external sources. By preferences I mean the actual small practicalities that determine when and how we have sex and whether it’s in a couple or through masturbation. The way to find this out is through exploration. I like to think of sexuality as a developmental process as opposed to a fixed element of our character.
Sexuality sits in the place of the void, which is the central ‘element’ and so is connected to the idea of vastness, of limitlessness and of the unknown. This brings up a thought to chew on. If sexual energy is an intensification of sensation and being, then perhaps there is a tangible link here to the idea that emptiness is not a void, a nihilistic nothingness, devoid of all feeling and sensation, but rather, emptiness is an electric, charged dimension of experience which is deeply connected to the forms of existence. Just a thought. Ideally we would approach sexuality as an ongoing exploration and adventure that is deeply informed by the curiosity to know who we truly are and how we connect up to the world around us.
One of the great bonuses that can come from working with this very simple wheel of the five aspects is to gain the perception of how these five aspects are distinct, sure they are totally interdependent, but they are not one and the same and as an aside their collective togetherness does not constitute the self. By recognising what is sexual and what is emotional we can begin to see that they are not one and the same. By perceiving them as distinct aspects of our being we can see how they have separate functions and different modes. We can also find a more conscious and balanced way of honouring the two and this applies to the other aspects as well.
Freedom of expression means recognising how our inability to express certain emotions or allow a more fuller or stronger emotional expression can impact greatly how far we are willing to go in permitting ourselves an expression of sexuality that is open and expansive and subject to change.
Our ability to be present in sex is determined by our ability to be mindful and to integrate into mindful presence these five aspects. When we approach sexual activity in an inclusive manner it becomes a much richer experience. Being present when making love and orgasming is ultimately no different to being present when sat on a meditation cushion. In fact incorporating integrative awareness and presence into sexual activity allows the catalysing nature of sexual pleasure and orgasm to open us to, or intensify, our experience of naked awareness. We don’t necessarily require Tantric techniques, Buddhist or otherwise, to experience this possibility. Although ‘spiritual’ sexual practices can be worth exploring if you are so inclined. Just be aware that Buddhist Tantra usually avoids discussing sex explicitly and that Sexual Tantra, usually found in Hindu leaning teachers, tends to be very flowery and excessively ritualistic and spiritual.
Within longer term sexual relationships our ability to engage mindfully in sexual practice leads us to face the same root urges of attachment and aversion that we meet on the cushion in the dynamic that plays out in sex. Our overall attraction and aversion (repulsion too) can be extremely evident in how we act our sexuality. What do the objects that arouse us tell us about ourselves? Which are the no-go arenas of sexual diversity that fill us with fear or dread? For some it can be a worthwhile adventure to explore some of the more taboo sexual experiences in order to discover more of their sexual nature and go beyond the status-quo. For others through such adventurous exploring is left aside for a willingness to explore the depths of openness and naked being with another.
On a practical note mindfulness principles can be very helpful for a man in learning to relax and not race towards orgasm, or for both partners in letting go of the need to consume the partner, to devour them as an object of desire. Although there are various techniques for semen retention that can be found in a whole host of books on sexuality; as most men know, the key to avoiding premature ejaculation is either distraction or deep relaxation. The former tactic works against the purpose of meditation, which is to be present within experience, so is best avoided. The latter is a most simple of techniques to bring us more deeply in alignment with what is taking place and thus become more able to embrace experience without chasing after peak moments. The build up to orgasm is often experienced as a highly impulsive drive, which is fine of course, yet, learning to relax and breathe with the phases of increasing sexual excitement can increase our sexual capacity, passion, connection to our partner and the intensity of the orgasm when we do come. As orgasm is also healing and balancing, doing so can lead to sex leaving us not only more satisfied, but balanced in our 5 aspects. This can be useful to explore when in a longer-term relationship where inevitably for most the initial period of intense and seemingly in-exhaustive desire for sex can subside.
Freedom of expression means learning to embrace the cycles of sexual desire and the avoidance of habitual and reactive sexual expression. Shamanically it means recognising sexual energy as a force, a power, that catalyses our four aspects of emotions, body, mind and spirit. In actively establishing clearer alignment between our 5 aspects, we learn to balance through free, healthy, sexual expression as an ongoing exploration of meeting the edges of pleasure and going further. As a meditator we learn to be more fully in the moment of sexual expression and attraction without falling into impulsive yearning for goals. We learn to open to experience and embrace and integrate the elements that make up our being and allow orgasm to feed our ability to be naked in the face of the vastness of experience.
Finally, in discussing sex it is important to avoid extremes. Sex is not to be excluded, taboos are not to be avoided, sex is not be made into something it is not and that includes granting it some super special status. It is part of the human experience. It is perfectly natural.
This concludes the series on Buddhism Meet Shamanism. It has been a very interesting exploration for me personally and I hope that you have gained something from my writing.
Two books have informed this post; ‘Lust for Enlightenment’ by Buddhist author and academic John Stevens and ‘The Sexual Practices of Quodoushka’ written by Amara Charles, a shamanic ‘sexpert’. Both texts were limited in their own way, but each had something to offer. For those who are interested in learning more about the historical role of sex and sexuality in Buddhism, I would recommend John Stevens’ book. Incidentally he has also written a book on the Japanese Tachikawa-Ryu sect if you are curious to explore some of the unconventional ideas they expressed towards sexuality and enlightenment. I will leave you with the words of Babhaha, the Free Lover:
Pleasure! Pleasure! Unconditional pleasure!
Unconditional desire-less pleasure!
Every thought-form perceived as pleasure!
O what unattainable secret pleasure!