One City

from Davee Evans

Sex is in the news again, surprise surprise. I’m hearing nightly about David Letterman‘s confession of romantic affairs, and recently rehashing Frederic Mitterrand‘s prior sexual purchases as well. The latter, according to the AP, stemming from his recent public statements about Roman Polanski. Clearly the karmic result of sex can be huge, and sexual misconduct so much more so. As our cultural and political icons are fallible; what of our spiritual leaders? Perhaps celibacy was a darn good idea. Nonetheless, there’s been a long list of Hindu and Buddhist leaders with sexual controversy — in particular sleeping with adherents — not to mention recent Catholic karmic fruit. To what degree should that weigh negatively on those traditions do you think?

I do expect spiritual leaders, and social leaders like Letterman even, to lead by example and avoid harming others with sexual conduct. I’m not sure Letterman’s actions were harmful exactly, because I didn’t work for him, but they had that potential certainly. Of course we’re all human, but for spiritual leaders — especially those who prefect our bodhisattva vows or similar — we could at least expect them to be good bodhisattvas too right? Is having sex with your Buddhist teacher a problem?

I don’t think that it’s necessarily a problem, but that’s an ongoing contemplation for me and it’s always going to be edgy with my WASP-y cultural upbringing. The news lately has me pondering the parameters where it’s reasonable, or if I’m just drinking cool aid.

Historically, there is a strong tradition of celibacy in various faiths and lineages and there are also exceptions to that, including leaders who marry or are polyamorous, or traditions where sex is included as a kind of practice even. And cultures vary; Tibet had a cultural tradition of poly marriages, one common form was a woman marrying two brothers there. I’m not living in Tibet though. I unconsciously expect Buddhist teachers in the US to adhere to western cultural norms for relationships, though I don’t know why that should be the case. Maybe that’s just my hang up / shenpa…

I took a class with His Holiness the Dalai Lama once and a fellow student asked for advice concerning parenting, to which he answered, “How would I know? I’m just a monk!” He then attempted to offer advice and also further qualify it as suspect coming from a celibate monk. So perhaps there is a very practical use of having spiritual leaders who are married or have lived the ups and downs of dating, because they can then better relate to what we’re actually going through. You know, if you get dumped your lama can be all, “dude, I’ve so been there.”

And then we hear rumor of the super secret Buddhist or Hindu sexual meditation practices. That’s a titillating idea, though I have a hard enough time keeping my mindfulness when a girl merely smiles at me. Would I likely be able to watch my mind-stream as a practice while having sex? Mmm, doubtful. I’d probably be fooling myself to think I could. And various lamas also warn that particular practice is only for the most advanced practitioners. I bet it totally ruins the sexiness too. I mean they weren’t designing these practices to be fun really, like Dr. Ruth might advise. I bet they’re clinical.

It seems to me that teachers who are sexually active strikes a serious nerve in our culture, and I’m not sure if it’s just a cultural hang up or if it’s really saying something is amiss. For me there was a real impact and something I’ve had to consider. But hypothetically, if you were attracted to your Buddhist teacher, would you sleep with him or her? If I was respected in the morning, I think I would.

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