Rabbi Shmuley Boteach says that the way to make the most of lust is to get married--and many religions would agree with him. In Judaism and other faiths, lust is seen as simply natural; what is more important is how the lustful believer acts (or doesn't act) on that lust. But Jesus' famous words--"But I say to you that every one who looks at a woman lustfully has already committed adultery with her in his heart," make it clear that Christianity, as well as other faiths, see lust itself as a sin. Use this guide to see where the five major religions stand on lust.
Buddhism encourages renouncing sensual pleasures. Sensuous lust is considered one of Buddhism's five hindrances. The Buddha taught that lust is a result of desire, which must be abandoned to reach enlightenment. The Buddha formulated 5 precepts of Right Conduct One of these is: "I undertake to observe the precept to abstain from sexual misconduct." Buddhists interpret this precept in different ways, but most believe that consensual sexual relations between a couple are okay, and that sexual misconduct would include adultery, rape, incest, and other sexual abuse.
Many Buddhist texts explain these teachings on lust. The "Discourses of the Buddha" states, "The pleasure and joy that arise in dependence on the eye: this is the gratification in the eye. That the eye is impermanent, suffering, and subject to change: this is the danger in the eye. The removal and abandonment of desire and lust from the eye: this is the escape from the eye."
The Dhammapada teaches, "Those who are infatuated with lust fall back into the stream, as does a spider into the web spun by itself. This too the wise cut off, and wander, with no longing, released from all sorrow (Dhammapada 13)."
Other Buddhist texts go further, to say that lust is evil. The Itivuttaka states, "Monks, there are these three roots of evil. What three?
"Lust is a root of evil, hate is a root of evil, delusion is a root of evil. These are the three roots of evil."
And as Buddhaghosa wrote in the Visuddhimagga, "Of the divine state of love the near enemy is lust, because, like love, it sees good qualities. It is like a foe lurking near a man. Quickly it finds access. Hence love should be well protected from lust."
Christianity generally teaches that lust is sinful. In the New Testament, Jesus says that to lust after a person who is not one's wife is the same as committing adultery. In his Sermon on the Mount, he explains, "You have heard that it was said, 'You shall not commit adultery.' But I say to you that every one who looks at a woman lustfully has already committed adultery with her in his heart (Matthew 5:27-28)."
Other New Testament writers affirm the idea that sex should only occur within marriage, and that natural impulses outside of marriage only lead to trouble. Paul says in 1 Corinthians, "Now concerning the matters about which you wrote. It is well for a man not to touch a woman. But because of the temptation to immorality, each man should have his own wife and each woman her own husband. The husband should give to his wife her conjugal rights, and likewise the wife to her husband (1 Corinthians 7)."
Further evidence that lust is a sin in Christianity comes from 1 John, where lust is described as being ungodly: "For all that is in the world, the lust of the flesh and the lust of the eyes and the pride of life, is not of the Father but is of the world (1 John 2:16)."
Some contemporary Christians understand lust as being sinful only if one acts upon the temptation, not merely if one is lured. But Christian denominations generally teach that lust is wrong. Catholicism considers lust a capital sin. The Catholic Catechism states, "Lust is disordered desire for or inordinate enjoyment of sexual pleasure. Sexual pleasure is morally disordered when sought for itself, isolated from its procreative and unitive purposes (Verse 2351)."
Similarly, the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints warns that a heterosexual marriage is the only proper way to satisfy lust. The Mormon Doctrine & Covenant states, "And he that looketh upon a woman to lust after her shall deny the faith, and shall not have the Spirit; and if he repents not he shall be cast out (42:23)."
In Hinduism, renunciation of selfish desire leads to wisdom, and lust is one of the primary selfish desires. Avoiding lust is one of Hinduism's yamas, the restraints that Hindus observe in following Hindu dharma.
The Bhagavad Gita teaches that lust is a "mighty enemy (3:43)," a selfish desire that must be overcome in order to reach realization.
The Gita continues, "Pleasures conceived in the world of the senses have a beginning and an end and give birth to misery, Arjuna. The wise do not look for happiness in them. But those who overcome the impulses of lust and anger which arise in the body are made whole and live in joy. They find their joy, their rest, and their light completely within themselves. United with the Lord, they attain nirvana in Brahman (Bhagavad Gita 5:22-24)."
Hinduism also teaches that followers should live a life of brahmacharya, or divine conduct. This is usually interpreted as proper sexual conduct, or sexual purity. Being celibate when single, or maintaining a faithful marriage, are ways of practicing brahmacharya.
The Qur'an and the hadith, sayings of the Prophet, prohibit lust. Lust can impinge on a person's path to Allah, as the Qur'an states, "Follow not the lusts (of your hearts), lest ye swerve (Surah 4:135)." People who act on lust are not among the believers, as the Qur'an says, "Allah doth wish to Turn to you, but the wish of those who follow their lusts is that ye should turn away (from Him), far, far away (4:27)."
Muslims view the fast of Ramadan is a way of inhibiting lust. The month-long fast during daylight hours, helps Muslims subdue feelings of greed and lust, as they are not permitted to eat or have sexual intercourse during the fast. Fasting is considered a way of "cooling sexual passion," as Bukhari reports in the hadith: "Young men, those of you who can support a wife should marry, for it keeps you from looking at women (lit., lowers your gaze) and preserves your chastity; but those who cannot should fast, for it is a means of cooling sexual passion."
Fornication is sinful in Islam, and the hadith explain that fornication is not just the act of intercourse. Similar to Christianity, lustful glances or thoughts are also wrong. As Abu Hurairah reports in Sahih Muslim, the Prophet said, "The fornication of the eyes is to look with lust; the fornication of the tongue is to speak lustful things; the fornication of the hands is to touch with lust; the fornication of the feet is to walk towards lust; the fornication of the heart is to desire evil."
Similarly, Abu Musa reported in Tirmidhi that the Prophet said, "Every eye is adulterous (when it cast glances with lust on strange women) and when a woman perfumes herself and passes a company, she is such and such" [meaning adulterous].
Jewish tradition teaches that lust is natural and that both men and women have a sexual drive. Lust is considered a result of the yetzer harah, the evil inclination, which is part of every human being. The yetzer harah is necessary, as one Midrash explains, "were it not for the yetzer hara (the evil urge), a man would not build a house, take a wife, beget children, or engage in commerce." Lust, while stemming from the evil inclination, is necessary for sex, and sex is necessary for reproduction.
But reproduction is not the only reason to have sex, and Judaism teaches that sex for pleasure is a mitzvah, or good deed, though this is traditionally as long as sex is part of a marriage. Sex should not take place to satisfy lust alone, however, as the rabbis teach that sex that is purely lustful, and not out of love, cannot build a successful relationship.
As Rabbi Joseph Telushkin explains in "Jewish Wisdom," "...the Talmud never associated saintliness with a dormant libido." He explains that the great rabbis often struggled with their sexual passions. The Talmud even states, "The greater a man, the greater his evil inclination (Babylonian Talmud, Sukkah 52a)."
The rabbis understood that women have a sexual drive as well as men. Telushkin quotes from the Mishna, "If a man forbids himself by vow from having intercourse with his wife, the School of Shammai says [she must go along with the vow] for up to two weeks [if it lasts longer, the court can compel him to divorce her], but the school of Hillel says for [only] one week."
Judaism also teaches that lust that results in male masturbation is wrong, as men are not supposed to spill their seed in vain.