evaṁ me sutaṁ – ekaṁ samayaṁ bhagavā sāvatthiyaṁ viharati jetavane anāthapiṇḍikassa ārāme. tatra kho bhagavā bhikkhū āmantesi "bhikkhavo"ti. "bhadante"ti te bhikkhū bhagavato paccassosuṁ. bhagavā etadavoca –
nāhaṁ bhikkhave aññaṁ ekarūpampi samanupassāmi, yaṁ evaṁ purisassa cittaṁ pariyādāya tiṭṭhati, yathayidaṁ bhikkhave itthirūpaṁ. itthirūpaṁ bhikkhave purisassa cittaṁ pariyādāya tiṭṭhatīti.
Thus have I heard: One time the Blessed One was residing at Savatthi, in Jetavana, in Anathapindika's Park. Then the Blessed One addressed the bhikkhus: "O bhikkhus." "Venerable Sir," the bhikkhus replied. The Blessed One said this:
"Bhikkhus, I am not aware of any other single form which obsesses a man's mind as does, bhikkhus, the form of a woman. The form of a woman, bhikkhus, obsesses a man's mind." (Or, more literally, "the mind having absorbed it, it stays.")
The discourse above is the very first sutta of the Aṅguttara Nikāya (A1.1). It is usual for the first sutta in a collection of texts to be a key discourse; its foremost position suggests that the compilers and editors of the Canon considered that text to be of special importance. So this discourse of the Aṅguttara is probably no exception. Ancient monks probably considered the message of the sutta to be of great importance, something very beneficial for members of the Sangha to know.
As it turns out, modern science has corroborated the essential theme of this presumed cardinal sutta. For example, back in the 1970's a famous psychology experiment was conducted at an American university to determine what forms or images people in general especially like to see. A large sample of people, mostly college students, sat in a room one at a time, and were shown, one at a time, many pictures of many different kinds projected on a screen, and the pictures each person especially liked were noted. Now, humans are not entirely ingenuous, and it was anticipated that experimental subjects might claim to dislike pictures that they really liked, but which were of a socially unacceptable nature, or might claim to like pictures to which they were indifferent at best (like maybe a picture of an American flag, or the President); so, to prevent this kind of political correctness dishonesty (PCD) from biasing their data, the scientists measured the subjects' liking of what they saw by measuring pupil dilation. When we see something that we really like, our pupils dilate. After doing a statistical analysis of the final data, the researchers found that only one kind of image consistently, to a statistically significant degree, caused men's pupils to dilate: and that was pictures of naked women. On the other hand, interestingly, there were two kinds of image that caused women's pupils to dilate: pictures of naked men (remember, these were American college girls), and pictures of babies—cute, cuddly, adorable little babies. Whether we men are more fortunate for having simpler, one-track emotional drives, I can't say.
Needless to say, the human being is a relatively very lustful animal. We apparently are not the most lustful of all animals, however. For example, the billy goat's libido is strikingly obvious and proverbial; and I have read that the chimpanzee, biologically our nearest relative, has sexual intercourse an average of about twenty times a day in his/her natural state, and that's when the females are not in estrus; when the girl chimpanzees are "in heat," the number of times goes up considerably. But still, we are up near the top of the lustfulness list. Most animals are sexually active only during mating seasons, and some, like a salmon or a praying mantis, may have sex only once in their life, if they are lucky; but the human is one of the relatively few animals who is sexually active all year round, with the females having "concealed ovulation" so the males will want to have sex pretty much all the time, to make sure of reproductive success, among other reasons. (Of course, in some human cultures this more or less constant sexual receptivity of females occurs especially after marriage, or the forming of a "pair bond"; although I've been told by more than one married American man that the American female may be the other way round, being more sexually receptive before marriage. This may be a consideration to be remembered later on in this article, in part 2.)
But although we are rampantly lustful beings, we are also neurotic about this rampant lustfulness. From a more spiritual point of view, this is largely because of the sheer emotional and karmic power of sex; sometimes it can overwhelm us. From a more biological perspective, it can be said that we are somewhat confused because we as a species are in a transitional state between the orgiastic polygamy of our tree-dwelling ape ancestors and the monogamy of more prolific ground-dwellers. A female chimpanzee, for example, can usually have only one small child at a time, since she must carry it through the trees with her, and thus she is limited to about one baby every six years. After our ancestors phased into a more ground-oriented existence, the females could have several small children at a time, thus being more efficient at reproduction—although they needed a devoted male for steady support, especially during the time that the children (and pregnant female) were most vulnerable to danger. But our trend toward monogamy is nowhere near complete; men especially may be polygamous if they get a convenient chance, but taking lovers is apparently built into the biological system even for females. A human female will naturally wish to have a steady mate, but may still be unfaithful, especially with a male of higher status than her spouse. Scientific studies have found that a woman is more capable of conceiving (getting pregnant) with a lover than with her own husband, and that if a man has been away from his mate for at least several hours, he will emit more spermatozoa than usual the next time he has sex with her, presumably as an evolved mechanism to compensate for any lovers she has been with during his absence. To add to the neurotic confusion, many women cover their body with clothing, etc., to prevent men from getting out of control, but then wear clothes that reveal and tantalizingly accentuate the contours of their body, accentuate their sexual attractiveness with cosmetics, and so forth, practically nullifying the effect of the non-nudity. And then there are culturally conditioned sexual ideals that people feel pressured into living up to, and which may be the source of severe anxiety if they fail.
Add to all this that the female body is designed to arouse lust in men, in accordance with mechanisms of Darwinian sexual selection. One magnificently obvious example of this is the female breast. I would guess that most people naturally assume that women have rounded, protruding breasts all the time, even when they are not lactating, for the purpose of nursing babies; but this is certainly not the case. Most female mammals do not have protruding breasts unless they are nursing babies, or are soon to do so; consider dogs and cats, for instance. The fascinating rounded contours of the female bosom are created not by milk-secreting mammary glands, but by subcutaneous fat deposits. In fact, the zoologist Desmond Morris in his revolutionary book The Naked Ape pointed out that the rounded shape of the human female breast actually makes breastfeeding babies less efficient: the large breasts of a buxom mother may actually interfere with the baby's ability to nurse from them. The smallness of women's nipples also sometimes causes problems. All other primates, including our cousins the chimpanzees, have flat chests (or almost flat) when they are not lactating, plus much longer, more easily suckable nipples. So the rounded protuberances on a woman's chest really are not for nursing babies, but are essentially sexual ornaments, for the purpose of alluring men (or at least one man) into wanting to have sex with her. Desmond Morris put forth the fascinating hypothesis that the curvaceous female breast evolved as a result of our ancestors coming down out of the trees and, partly because of our altered posture, adopting the missionary position for coitus—instinctively the males retained a liking for two smooth, rounded globes to stare at and grope, so when sex transitioned from front-to-back to front-to-front, they favored females who had such shapes on the front side. So we have the rather strange theory that a woman's breasts are actually imitation buttocks! This theory may seem so bizarre as to be dismissed out of hand by most, but it is the only plausible explanation I have ever come across for the existence of perennially protruding breasts in women, aside from Schopenhauer's idea that men are attracted to large-breasted women because of a perception that they would be better at nursing babies. But, as has already been mentioned, this is not actually the case. Regardless of the exact reason why our prehistoric female ancestors began growing a bust-line, the process was very probably reinforced by an evolutionary phenomenon called neoteny, i.e. the retention of infantile characteristics in the adult form, which is common to human evolution—in this case, a profound fascination for Mama's titty. And even if female breasts are not false buttocks, it remains extremely likely that they are there primarily as sexual ornaments, for the purpose of arousing males, not primarily as milk factories.
Another example of the female body's design to arouse male lust is the fact that a woman's armpit sweat contains relatively high concentrations of pheromones, i.e. chemical sexual attractants. It is no coincidence that this is also one of the few places on a woman's body where she is likely to grow relatively thick hair (unless maybe she shaves it off or is East Asian). So the hair under a woman's arms (and male armpit hair has essentially the same purpose) is to act as a scent trap for concentrating and prolonging the arousing, musk-like aroma of sex. I could give many more examples, but this is enough for present purposes. Maybe I'll write another article someday systematically cataloging the sexual ornaments and attractants (at least 14 of them) of the female human body. I'll do my best to resist the urge to give it a title like "The Female Sex Machine."
Before proceeding any further with this article, I may as well point out the rather obvious fact that it is written from a male's point of view, mainly for the benefit of other males, especially celibate ones, or those considering celibacy. I may make some observations (like the ones above about breasts) which women may dislike, especially when I get to reasons why a man might be better off celibate. Some men also may dislike them. But I assure one and all that I intend no disrespect to women. I am fully aware that women are equal to (but not the same as) men. I love women. I'm sure a woman could write a similar article from a female point of view, and no doubt such articles have already been written. That's fine with me, especially so long as it is intended to tell the truth, and not to be some kind of sexist propaganda. Anyway, women might find the discussion presented herein to be interesting as offering insights into the male perspective. Feel free to read it as an anthropological study. Plus some advice is equally applicable to both genders, and goes both ways.
I must admit that human sexuality is a fascinating subject for me as well as for a few billion other humans. I wouldn't be surprised if this article gets significantly more hits than the average posting on this blog. If you find the subject interesting also, yet PCD inspires you to conceal this fact from others, feel free to go into a bathroom and lock the door before you continue reading this.
I should also point out that this is just an assemblage of ideas on the subject(s) of lust and celibacy. I could never hope to exhaust the subject, and make no attempt to be comprehensive.
That said, an important point about lust which should be remembered from the beginning is that all libidos are not created equal. Some people are naturally, constitutionally hornier than others. Anyone who has read the Kama Sutra may remember that toward the beginning of that book it divided people up into categories with regard to sex drive. (I don't remember now, but I think the male with the highest level of intrinsic lust was called a "bull man.") So someone with a weak libido may find a raging hormone case incomprehensible, or even willfully perverse. But for many it just comes naturally.
I derived some insight into this matter by reflecting upon my attitude toward obese people when I was young. I would think things like, "How can they let themselves get like that? Don't they have any self-respect? They're practically crippling themselves out of craving for food. All they have to do is just eat less!" Food has never been one of my major attachments in life. But then I became celibate, and found myself in a similar position to a food addict. We often don't realize how stuck we are so long as we indulge our desires, but when we renounce and stop following the current, we may realize with a shock that we have very deep, very strong desires that are veritable forces to be reckoned with. So a person whose major attachment is not sex should think twice before judging a struggling lecher, and perhaps should even experiment with having compassion, even though the other's position may seem something incomprehensible. (Also, those who think that renouncing worldliness and living in seclusion in a forest is just some kind of arbitrary career choice should think again. To the worldly, renunciation seems unnecessary, maybe even easy, but most of them couldn't do it themselves, because they don't see how stuck they are.)
When my father was about 80 years old, his wife (not my mother), almost 30 years his junior, had surgery for uterine cancer, and much of her female plumbing, so to speak, was removed, rendering her no longer capable of fulfilling her "wifely duty." My father—about 80, mind you—was sitting in his chair one day with a wistful look on his face, saying that he was sorely tempted to be unfaithful to her, but their marriage was based on trust, and he couldn't bear to do anything that would hurt her…so he realized he must reconcile himself to the fact that he would just have to be celibate for the rest of his life. And I, apparently, am a chip off the old block. Once I was lamenting to him about the challenges involved in celibacy, telling him of how I recently had had three erotic, sticky dreams (ESD) in four nights, and he said, "Give it up, David. The whole family's oversexed." It really can run in families, not only because of upbringing, but because of genetically conditioned constitutional factors. All libidos are not created equal. And as William Blake's Devil has said, "Those who restrain desire, do so because theirs is weak enough to be restrained; and the restrainer or reason usurps its place & governs the unwilling."
Which leads us to the issue of restraint, or REPRESSION. Considering that some people's lust is weaker than that of others, repression is clearly more effective for some than for others. Nevertheless, it does work, at least superficially, and if you practice it strictly you probably won't explode. If one's hormone-conditioned desire for an orgasm becomes strong enough to create sufficient strain on the system, the system has a kind of self-regulating capacity. In my own case, I had an ESD on average about once every three weeks until around the age of 42, when they mysteriously stopped (and I missed them after they went away). This self-regulation of the bodily system may not be entirely satisfactory, but it helps to keep one from exploding or going completely insane.
But as Freud pointed out, and Freud knew what he was talking about here, simply repressing a desire does not really make it disappear. It pushes the desire under the surface of the mind, where it accumulates and builds up pressure in the subconscious, until it finally builds up enough pressure to manifest itself as hysterical symptoms. Celibacy through sheer force of will may keep you from breaking rules or social taboos, and may keep you out of trouble at a superficial level, but it also leads to frustration, chronic strain, hysteria, and misery, and may eventually result in such an imbalance of the physical system as to manifest in severe illnesses. This leads to the interesting spiritual question of which is preferable: to be "pure" yet clearly hysterical, or to be more easygoing and also less saintly. It seems to me that many great saints of various spiritual traditions have been very repressed and hysterical; and many have been afflicted by strange health problems that may have been conditioned by the strain of their unnatural virtue. The answer to this question is for each person to answer for himself, or herself. Hysterical sainthood may be well worth it, but it may not be completely healthy.
One piece of advice that I can give without reservation is that struggling to be celibate, like a fat lady struggling to stay on a diet to lose weight, for example by counting how many days since the last orgasm (maybe even making corresponding marks on the calendar), applying irritants to one's genitalia, visualizing rotting female corpses hanging from meathooks and crawling with maggots, etc., doesn't work. Making a big deal of it doesn't work—because making a big deal and struggling are simply making more sexually-oriented karma that is reinforcing the whole problem. Struggling against something tends to strengthen it. So make little of it: for example, if temptation arises, and you are able, just dismiss it with "not appropriate" and don't give it another thought. It's not a big deal. There are some methods short of stinging one's gonads with nettles that do have some beneficial effect, though. For example, ven. Taungpulu Sayadaw's advice to spiritual seekers to eat less and sleep less can reduce one's sex drive. If one is tired and skinny one may have less extra strength to indulge in orgiastic behavior. Also a vegan diet may help, or a "sattvic" one, using Hindu terminology—i.e., a relatively bland vegetarian one heavy on grains, fruits, nuts, and dairy products.
Also—and this is an important one—it is much, much, MUCH easier to do something a second time than to do it the first time. Not to mention the third, fourth, and five hundredth time. So don't give in the first time and start up a new, troublesome habit. You can learn indirectly from my own adventures on that one. Or take it from The Mother, former spiritual leader of the Sri Aurobindo Ashram in India: "…as soon as one yields to temptation, even 'just for once,' one lessens the resistance of the willpower and opens the door to every failure." But no regret if you don't fully succeed, as regret (as opposed to intention to do better in future) poisons the system with unnecessary negativity, and makes things worse than they already are. Regret is an unskillful mental state.
Sexual karma that has been made, and that one continues to make in one way or another, is something that must be dealt with. It consists of the momentum of our past sexual habits, mental and physical, as well as the new karma we add through our struggles. The following example, or long digression, is a classic example of this from my own experience.
In early summer of 1992 I decided to take a bus trip from the monastery in California up to Washington state to visit my parents before the big trip to Asia. In those days I had been a monk for a little more than a year, and had been living in relative sensory deprivation in a tiny shack (about 7½ feet by 5 feet) in a forest, practicing intensive meditation the whole time. I was very strict, and would look at a woman's face only with a single quick glance to see who I was talking to, and then modestly avert my eyes. Sexual urges would be pushed away with impatience, although I still had plenty of them, naturally. Anyway, I figured that as a monk I would fit in better riding the Green Tortoise "hippie bus" than by riding more mainstream mass transit, so that's what I did.
On the trip north a young woman was riding in a bunk directly above me, and she was very friendly and curious about my life as a monk; so occasionally she would twist her body over the side of the bunk and hang her head upside down in front of me to ask questions. All she was wearing from the waist upwards was a tank top, and on one occasion when she contorted her body to look at me her left breast poked out right through the large arm hole of the tank top. I looked up when she addressed me and found myself looking right into a large, brown, bare nipple. I could easily have reached right out and touched it. But, being strictly modest in those days, I immediately looked downward and answered her questions without ogling. Later the bus stopped at some property owned by the bus company, a kind of combination headquarters and neo-hippie community, to have lunch. I didn't want to break the rules by helping myself to food, nor did I want to hint around for someone else to offer me some, so I decided to fast that day. After turning down an offer to sit in the clothing-optional sauna, I went out to the creek and sat on a large flat rock to meditate. After I had been sitting there a few minutes I heard a fast thumping sound steadily growing louder behind me, so I turned my head just in time to see a completely naked young woman bouncily run past me and *sploosh!* into the water she went. On the return trip from Washington I was required to stop at a meditation center in San Francisco to await a convenient ride back to the monastery. I was climbing a flight of stairs on the outside of the building to wait on a sun deck on the back of the building, when I happened to look down into the neighboring yard—and saw a magnificently beautiful woman, maybe in her early 30's, sunbathing there, wearing nothing but a scanty bikini bottom and, furthermore, with her generously endowed, shapely breasts (false buttocks or no is irrelevant) all oiled up and glistening in the sun. My first impulse was to stand there staring with my mouth open, but I quickly decided that that would be inappropriate. My second impulse was to look for a knothole or a crack in the boards so I could ogle her without being so obvious about it, but that was ruled out also. I finished the climb up the stairs with an aching heart.
The thing is that never before in my life had I had women that I didn't even know (three of them) exposing themselves to me in practically public places like that, during a single road trip. It was remarkable; and the fact that it happened at a time when I was particularly repressed sexually makes it seem very likely to me that it was a manifestation of my own sexual karma, which was having few opportunities to manifest itself in those days. Hence a sexually repressed person may have temptation thrust upon him in ways that a more self-indulgent person may never experience, as a result of blocked momentum and the karma that results from it.
Another readily apparent case of the fruition of sexual karma in a lustful yet frustrated celibate person is my experience with The Priestess, especially in 2011. It was such a glorious, miraculous, beautiful case of deep wish fulfillment for both of us that we were firmly inclined to believe that the momentum of our own longing, over the course of years, resulted in its manifestation. It also had the invaluable purpose of showing me ways in which I was very undeveloped; and it also eventually reminded me of reasons why I became celibate in the first place. That whole time is something that I can never regret, regardless of others' disapproval. How can one regret a dream come true? I am a better and happier person for it, even if less popular.
So if one is repressed, the temptations may become bigger and stronger, as though the natural workings of karma imitate the conduct of Māra, the Buddhist tempter. Māra is built into the system, but sometimes may be of service to spiritual seekers.
The key to victory for one wishing to be purely celibate seems to be absolute faith, the wholehearted certainty that one should not indulge in sexuality. As Blake's Devil says, those whose desire is weak enough to be restrained may be successful; and absolute stainless-steel faith can overcome any desire. This is one reason why medieval saints and devout Asian Buddhists may be more successful than modern Westerners: we Westerners have insufficient faith. So if we don't have weak enough lust to begin with, our celibacy may be a chronic struggle, and for most, an eventual defeat. Sheer brute willpower cannot be maintained indefinitely. Sooner or later it flags, so absolute certainty is practically essential. Or else maybe a weak libido to begin with.
And as for me, I'm still not 100.00% convinced that I would be better off without a woman. I can't stop desiring a woman (at least one) because I can't wholeheartedly even want to stop desiring one. I like liking women. I do realize, though, that my liking for them is conditioned by blind animal instinct, and is not so much a deep desire for a mate as something more esthetic—a deep appreciation of feminine beauty, not just physical, although that is obviously important, but emotional too. My acceptance of the glories of womanhood is such that my heart opens much more easily than it does under just about any other circumstances; I can see perfection and "God" in a beautiful woman more easily than I can in almost anyone or anything else. But thus far living a deeply spiritual life and getting gloriously laid has not been feasible, and may never work out. If that's the case, then that's the way it's supposed to be, in my case anyhow. I can live with that.
Even if our deep desire is not entirely stoppable, and we reconcile ourselves to living with it, it is very important to remember that if desire is unstoppable, then suffering, dukkha, is also unstoppable. So we should do our best to accept and bear that suffering with as much equanimity as we can manage. The Second Noble Truth: Desire is the cause of all suffering. Especially if we insist upon getting what we want.
(End of Part 1)