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Project Conversion

Sounds like a title from the “Self Help” section, doesn’t it? Hmm, maybe it should be…

Many times here on Project Conversion, the social issues that affect the faith hit close to home. Remember when I did this:

I decided to shave my head to at least partially experience what it’s like to be a Buddhist monk. There are other factors included, at least for the novice, including: wearing the robes, not handling money, no music or entertainment, and…no sex.

“But…dude, you’re married.”

Yeah, I know. And because I’m such a hot piece of man meat, even as a monk, this comes as a great injustice to my poor wife.

"Oh Andrew, why not return to the--ahem--Lay-ity?

Because I’m striving for Enlightenment, woman. I cannot be distracted by your bewitching allure and temptations. But really, what’s the big deal, it’s only one day of the week right? Surely it’s not that dramatic. And what’s so bad about sex anyway?

Sex itself isn’t bad, it’s the craving for sex that causes problems. If we look back at the Four Noble Truths which constitute the foundation of Buddhism, we find that craving or desire is the root of all suffering. When our emotions/feelings/desires condition our actions, we are subject to suffering because these occurences are never satisfied. Our sexual desire is never satisfied because we always want it again. Anger/excitement/obsession will always snowball if we do not release ourselves from the craving to continue the sensation. Ever notice that smiles and bad attitudes are “contagious?” This is why the monk renounces sexual pleasures (and attachment to emotion/feelings), because the desire for sex is a craving that leads to suffering (You don’t get laid, you suffer). If we defeat the root cause, then the need for sex naturally falls away.

The Buddha says:

There is no satisfying the passions even by a shower of gold coins; the wise man, knowing that sense delights are of fleeting pleasure and productive of pain, finds no joy even in celestial pleasures. The true disciple of the Fully Enlightened One delights only in the destruction of all worldly desires. –The Dhammapada, Canto 14, verse 186-187

Well, that’s great for the monks, but not every Buddhist is a monk. Does that mean it’s wrong for the laity to have and enjoy sex? This is where terms such as “right” and “wrong” become a slippery slope. The Buddha preferred “skillful” and “unskillful.” Basically, he said, if you want to reach Enlightenment and Nirvana, you’ll have to let go of desire. The side effect: you probably won’t look at the opposite (and for some of us, the same) sex again.

The cool thing about this month is that I straddle both worlds. For one day out of the week, I’m as monk-like as I can be. The other days, well, I’m not.

 But that’s not where the story ends.

Something I’ve noticed in the last five months of Project Conversion is that my entire personality changes each month. My wife has actually told me on a few occasions that she’s ready for me to quit speaking/acting/thinking/looking a certain way. One of the aspects that changes dramatically is my libido.

OMG! You said libido on a website about religion.

Honestly, it’s a little weird. Out of the five months we’ve covered so far, it’s the traditions out of the Indian subcontinent (Hinduism and Buddhism) that have stunted my desire. What’s up with that? I think what it really comes down to is a focus realignment. Within some schools of Hindu thought and much of the Buddhist tradition, the effort of liberation and Nirvana lie within the individual, meaning there’s more of a personal workout involved. In theistic traditions, much of the heavy lifting is worked out in devotional and outward practice.

The difference becomes inward vs. outward. 

My wife has said on many occasions that I seem more withdrawn during the Hindu and Buddhist months. I honestly hadn’t noticed, until she mentioned it. This is part of the Buddhist practice of meditation which involves analyzing one’s actions, emotions, sensations, and feelings. Why does this happen? Because as opposed to many theistic traditions where salvation is sought outwardly, within Buddhism and much of Hinduism, “salvation” is found inside. Naturally it requires one to focus all of their attention and energy to achieve this state. One of the side effects is that with my radical change of focus, I’m not giving my wife a suggestive smack on the behind every time I walk by. Now she has to hit on me. Which, honestly, is kinda cool sometimes.

So it begs the question, how much introspection, how much self-analysis is too much? I have read a few accounts where men and women adopt Buddhism or Hinduism (and some other faiths) and leave their families to pursue the monastic or ascetic lifestyle. This practice is very common and even honorable in the East. In fact, the Buddha himself left his wife and son to accomplish this goal. Many of our religious leaders felt compelled to abandon the life of a householder in order to acquire the knowledge/experience of the subtle truths and bring them to their people.

Is this going too far, or are some of us just not strong enough to go the distance? What would the world be like had these folks not gone the distance?

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