An excerpt from Lodro Rinzler’s new book, The Buddha Walks Into A Bar: A Guide to Life for a New Generation, with frank and helpful advice on sex – which might very well be useful to you even if you’ve never even dreamed of having a one-night stand.
Sex is experienced as different things by different people. It can be used to show true love or affection. It can be used simply to have fun. It can be used to smooth things over when you have gotten into a fight with your spouse or as an excuse to indulge your laziness and not get out of bed. It can be a wonderful, painful, humiliating, and at times, I would posit, a compassionate activity.
In terms of Buddhism and sex, we know for a fact that even the historical Buddha, Siddhartha Gautama, had it, because his wife, Yasodhara, eventually gave birth to a son, and — as far as I know — sex is generally how children are created.
Flash forward to when Siddhartha became The Buddha. Suddenly he had a number of people coming to him, trying to live a spiritual life. He realized that his monastic followers would have to abide by certain rules, principle among them the five precepts.
The five precepts are: not taking the life of sentient beings, not taking what is not offered, not engaging in sexual misconduct, not using mindless speech (slander, gossip, lying, idle speech), and not ingesting intoxicants. Here I’ll be focusing on the third precept: “I take the vow to abstain from engaging in sexual misconduct.”
All five of these precepts have been interpreted in numerous ways over time and in different cultures. In the West there are some Buddhist communities where monastics vow to abide by these rules, but lay practitioners do not. Some communities encourage their lay practitioners to work with the precepts on an ongoing basis, while others utilize them only in long-term retreat situations.
I think any contemplation of these precepts can be helpful for a practitioner, so long as they take them to heart. However, I cannot imagine that the Buddha laid out these precepts so that thousands of years later his followers could fight over the “right” way to utilize them. If anything, I think the story of the Buddha’s teaching career serves as a signal about how we can explore the meaning of sexual misconduct for ourselves.
It is important to find our own style for bringing compassion into the bedroom. That might mean openly communicating with your lover about what you are comfortable with. Alternatively, it could be creating a safe space within which the two of you can be fully present with each other. It is up to each of us to determine what exactly compassionate sex means to us. Here’s an example:
One-Night Stands: View, Activity, and Fruition
One question that often comes my way is whether you can be a “good” Buddhist and still have one-night stands. Personally, I think so– if you seriously consider your view, activity, and the fruition of this sort of situation.
View: The important thing in any sexual activity, casual or in a long-term relationship, is considering your own motivation. Are you interested in having a one-night stand because you are too busy for a relationship, but you appreciate the other person and want to make a sexual connection with them? If so, that is one motivation worth acknowledging. Another motivation might be, “I’m drunk. I’m horny. They’re hot.” That motivation strikes me as likely to lead to trouble.
Knowing your motivation before engaging in any act is important, and this is doubly so when you are involving another person in potentially risky behavior such as sex. There are emotional risks as well as physical ones, so knowing your own intention is key.
Activity: Conduct is important. In my mind there are two ways to get enlightened. The first is to sit your butt down and practice meditation nonstop until you reach full awakening. The other is to bring meditation into your conduct, applying the principles you develop on the cushion to every aspect of your life.
When it comes to sex, good conduct could mean being very open and straightforward with your partner. It could be telling them very clearly about your intentions, or making sure you practice safe sex. Being openhearted, genuine, and caring seems simple enough, but it is especially important if you are attempting to bring someone to your bedroom.
Fruition: This may be the simplest marker of whether you have pulled off a compassionate one-night stand. Quite simply, you can examine how you feel the morning after. Applying curiosity to your own state, you can see if you find elation or humiliation. If it’s the latter, you likely won’t want to attempt such a thing again. It’s unfortunate if you feel this way, but mistakes along the path are helpful; now you know something you never want to do again, and you can vow not to repeat the same set of actions. If you feel elation, however, you may be one of those rare people who can casually have sex.
When it comes to sex, it seems that the looser you get in terms of the relationship structure, the more likely you are to cause harm either to yourself or your partner. Much of this harm can be prevented by openly communicating with your lover. It is essential to any relationship, no matter how long it runs the course, to remain open and curious about each other and how you are both changing with time. Keeping this curiosity allows you to refrain from developing set expectations that box your partner into a corner where they have no hope of satisfying your needs.
In sex and in love we have one tool that can uplift our situation and bring us indestructible joy: bodhichitta, or the mind of enlightenment. Because it is inherent to all beings, we can explore how to open our heart and how we can connect with the hearts of people we love and make love to. Opening the heart, without conditions, is our path. It is the compassionate way to live in our world. We may get hurt, but if we want to grow and find true love, or strive to love all beings, bodhichitta is the way to go.
Adapted from Lodro Rinzler’s book, The Buddha Walks Into A Bar: A Guide to Life for a New Generation, with permission of Shambhala Publications.