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What would Sid do: is it okay to masturbate?

photo shot by the author in williamsburg, nyc

What would Sid do?

Before Siddhartha Gautama attained enlightenment at age 35 he was a
confused twenty and thirty-something looking to learn how to live a
spiritual life. He had an overbearing dad, expectations for what he was
supposed to do
with his life, drinks were flowing, lutes were playing, and the
women were all about him. Some called him L.L. Cool S. I imagine
close friends just referred to him as Sid.

Many people look to Siddhartha as an example of someone who attained nirvana, a buddha. But here we look at a younger Sid
as a confused guy struggling with his daily life. What would he do as a
young person trying to find love, cheap drinks, and fun in a city like
New York? How would he combine Buddhism and dating? We all make mistakes on our spiritual journey; here is where
they’re discussed.


Each week I’ll take on a new question and
give some advice based on what I think Sid, a confused guy working on
his spiritual life in a world of major distraction, would do. Because
let’s face it, you and I are Sid.

Have a question for this weekly column? E-mail it here and Lodro will probably get to it!

Is masturbation allowed in Buddhism? Some medical articles stated that it’s harmless for health, but what does Buddhism say about this issue? Thank you. – Zoe


According to the Vinaya monks and nuns
are not supposed to masturbate. In fact there’s all sorts of fun rules that
came as a result of monastics trying to cling to the letter not the nature of
the law by doing things like walking through tall grass without wearing
underwear (hey, whatever works right?). I should also mention that a few weeks ago there was a really great discussion on this blog about manual, oral, and anal sex.

For today’s discussion though I have to say that there is nothing in what the Buddha said before or after
his enlightenment that condemns lay people masturbating. As such,
to the vast majority of this site’s readers I think Sid would say
“go for it.”


In fact, sometimes pleasuring yourself can
actually save you from causing harm. If Sid was living in our modern world and
met a beautiful woman I’d like to think that instead getting horny or drunk and
dialing up the lady he’d instead take some “me time.” Granted there
are other alternatives to engaging in promiscuous behavior than masturbating
but even if you had Sid’s level of commitment sometimes you might need a
release, no?
we continue to discuss on this weekly column, he’s only human!

To address the second part of your
question I want to point out that not only is masturbation deemed harmless for
health there’s all sorts of studies that have deemed it beneficial. Even a
simple Wikipedia search shows that regular masturbation
can lower your blood pressure, help create harmony in relationships, lower the
chance of prostate cancer for men, and leave you in a relaxed and contented


The Buddha did, however, say a lot
about how we should neither be attached to nor crave sensual pleasure. In other
words, don’t overdo it. If you see yourself choosing masturbation over work,
time with friends, or your meditation practice then that’s a problem. Masturbation
can also serve as a distraction or a means of avoidance of spiritual practice.
Sure we could go sit on the cushion for a half hour but thinking of naked
writhing bodies sounds like more fun right? Agreed. So I’m sure Sid would say that you
should not over-indulge to the point where playing with yourself means less
time playing with the dharma.

For more information on this topic here’s a fun site where you can gain even more critical
insight such as “Every time you masturbate, Buddha saves a kitten from
cyclic existence.” Hard to argue with that.

Comments read comments(13)
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posted September 11, 2009 at 4:57 pm

oh yes thank you. Very much in need of laughter.

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posted September 12, 2009 at 4:52 pm

Abandon self-grasping!

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posted September 13, 2009 at 11:55 am

I guess it’s all good then….LOL
As a gay man who was incredibly promiscuous
I can honestly say the Dharma has helped me
thanks for the funny post

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Anan E. Maus

posted September 13, 2009 at 10:18 pm

In the late 1890’s, Sri Yukteswar, the guru of Paramahansa Yogananda wrote some things about sexuality that would have sounded very liberated in the 1960’s…
And the Gita Govinda is an ancient text, quite overtly talking about the spirituality of romantic love. We find the same in Rumi.
But, ya know, I have better things to do, than think about someone’s spew…
And, is it really funny, to open up a daily email about Buddhism and see the word “masturbate” there?
Yeah, it is kinda funny…and it is also kinda gross…at the same time.
you know, you don’t have to be a prude to not want to see the words “masturbate” and “Buddhism” next to each other…
So, in the spirit of performance art (as a former performance artist), here’s a few thoughts for you…
your mom saying “I love you” while eating your vomit
your lover’s sexy whispering while he moans with diarrhea
splayed intestines
more blood
horrible starvation
rotting corpses
prisoners masturbating while crying that they will never be free
Feel better?
I don’t…
grow up…please….

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Ethan Nichtern

posted September 14, 2009 at 8:02 am

I appreciate your comments on the various postings of this blog, but you obviously have a problem with Lodro’s.
I think the ethical issues he handles are real, they are questions from real meditators struggling with their experience of the path. I think this one is especially handled with maturity. They are not performance art. If they have any shock value, it’s because it’s hard to hear any “traditional” voices commenting honestly on actual contemporary ethical issues (such as homosexuality, and sexuality in general)
Just offering, I think it’s immature to assume that issues that I don’t personally connect with are somehow invalid to be discussed in a public forum. And maybe my offense is just that, mine?

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Anan E. Maus

posted September 14, 2009 at 7:12 pm

I disagree. And I guarantee you that if I posted this to dharma centers around the country and solicited responses, that the consensus would be 95% or more in agreement with me.
You are a new practitioner. You should respect the advice of those who are older and have been doing it longer.
You are simply wrong here.
If you don’t believe me, then solicit opinions from nationally recognized teachers and see what they say.
Of all the subjects to dwell on…why this? why the thing about Buddha behind a bar? Ok, yeah, one thing like that is funny…two is a little repetitious…three is, well…you know, kind of lazy writing.
I know a Tibetan monk. Do you want me to have him reign in on this? I don’t think you will like what he has to say.
Do the harder work, find something deeper to address than some of the grossest aspects of human nature. And if humor is your intention…work harder. Ask comedians what they think of masturbation jokes. Sure, once and awhile it is funny…then, it pretty quickly gets old. People don’t want to see a comedy set that is one long diatribe about that kind of stuff. Move on, find something more interesting, deeper, subtler humor, funnier, whatever…
And stop defending yourself like a kid caught with cookies in his hand. You know very well you are wrong. Own your powerful spirituality, accept the criticism, apologize and learn the power of dignity.
Do I make mistakes? Sure, plenty. And I have no illusion about any superiority to you or anyone else. But that is the start, accepting the blame of being wrong. You mess up, you apologize, you make redress, you move on. You deflect blame and pretend everything is hunky dory…and you are living with the millstone around your neck. Throw it off and live.
The teaching isn’t always, “yeah, you are a great guy.” That is for sycophants. Real friends support the truth in you. You have great creativity, intelligence, and humor. These are gifts granted to you. Use them wisely. Anyone can mock and tear down. Use your gifts to support and build. You get to write about masturbation in Buddhism, after you have first explored the 98,765 topics that demand attention first. Writing about masturbation and Buddhism is demeaning the topic, is turning people away from Buddhism. If that is your intention, then I feel very sad for you. If it is not your intention, then please do something else.
This is somewhat of a national forum. Respecting that is a duty now incumbent upon you.

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Ethan Nichtern

posted September 14, 2009 at 11:42 pm

who is your comment above addressed to? Neither Lodro nor myself are new practitioners.
You do not speak for the tradition more than any other practitioner, and whatever mistakes Lodro might make in his posts, at least he doesn’t try to speak for anyone other than himself and his understanding of the teachings.
If you’ve never actually thought about the ethical content of this post that Lodro writes in your own life (my guess is that you have, as most people think about masturbating at some point), then why do you think it’s not valid for others who are thinking about it to discuss it. You keep coming back to this fictitious “95% of dharma centers.” I run a dharma center, and teach at others. I can think of at least 10 where practitioners are invited to playfully yet open-heartedly pursue real questions such as this one.
For some reason, Lodro’s posts cause you personal aversion. But it’s just that, personal. When you try to universalize your aversion, you just sound dogmatic. Sorry, I appreciate your other comments, but your comments on Lodro’s blog just strike me as unnecessary. If you don’t like the way he writes, just move along to the next article. Easy.

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posted September 15, 2009 at 2:48 am

Just a thank you for this particular post. I was reflecting on this topic just this morning and was very grateful to come across this. In the area of morality I think it’s important to reflect on these issues. In my reflection on masturbation I came to one of the same conclusions as Lodro, that it’s ok as long as it doesn’t become an addictive habit that harms ourselves or others.
Also, when confronted with something that bothers us it seems to be a wise and useful practice to reflect on why, or at least on the sensations that make up that anger, frustration, disgust or whatever it is. Even if this post provokes strong reactions, those strong reactions can be used as food for the path (like the story of a flower growing in compost perhaps).

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Your Name

posted September 15, 2009 at 4:01 pm

Anan doth protest too much, me thinks.
You come across as very full of “self” which is ironic given the nature of where you are and what you wrote. I would think your Tibetan monk friend (who is almost by definition not connected with modern concepts of health and propriety, so why use that as your litmus test) may, upon reading your posts, point out some areas where you could do some growing.
I would argue that any venue that attempts to expand awareness of Buddhist thoughts and philosophies is a benefit, regardless of the issues you might have with one particular topic or another.

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posted September 15, 2009 at 8:58 pm

hes been beside himself for quite a while already.i dont know why the hell Madonna ever gave his sorry ass a chance because there is better rappers all accross the board not some foofoo looking thing that was able to convince his audience of everything hes not.from today on i encourage anyone to boycott this man to really show him that his attitude sux!

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posted September 18, 2009 at 11:33 am

I like this view on the subject:
If you can’t make someone else happy, please make yourself happy!

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Nick Vachon

posted September 21, 2009 at 7:46 pm

I have been practicing Nichiren Buddhism for 28 years. Certainly there’s nothing wrong with masturbating. Go for it!

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Your Name

posted September 22, 2009 at 9:16 am

If you think practitioners do not benefit from Lodro’s posts just read these comment sections. People seem to get something from his writing.
Also, I know lots of long-time meditators and am one myself. I fully support these topics as they are a part of a lay person’s life. I have forwarded some posts on to my friends and they agree. Some of them run meditation centers. It is wonderful these topics are being explored. So Anan, please drop it. As a regular reader of these posts I’m tired of you dragging the comment conversation down to this whining about the topics.

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