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Sex, sin, and Zen: a Buddhist exploration of sex from celibacy to polyamory and everything in between

Sex, sin, and Zen: a Buddhist exploration of sex from celibacy to polyamory and everything in between

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by Brad Warner


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Book Details
 Price
 3.00
 Pages
 253 p
 File Size 
 1,278 KB
 File Type
 PDF format
 ISBN
 978-1-57731-910-8 
 Copyright©   
 2010 by Brad Warner 

About the Author
Brad Warner was born in Ohio in 1964. In 1983 he met Zen teacher Tim
McCarthy and began his study of Zen while he was still the bass player of the
hardcore punk band Zero Defex, whose big hit was the eighteen-second
masterpiece “Drop the A-Bomb on Me!” In the 1980s he released five albums of
psychedelic rock under the band name Dimentia 13 (that’s the way he spelled it),
though Dimentia 13 was often a one-man band with Brad playing all the
instruments. In 1993 he moved to Japan, where he landed a job with Tsuburaya
Productions, the company founded by Eiji Tsuburaya, the man who created
Godzilla. The following year Brad met Gudo Nishijima Roshi, who ordained
him as a Zen monk and made him his dharma heir in 2000. Brad lived in Japan
for eleven years. In 2003 he published his first book, Hardcore Zen, followed by
Sit Down and Shut Up! in 2007 and Zen Wrapped in Karma Dipped in Chocolate
in 2009. These days he travels around the world leading retreats, giving lectures,
and looking for cool record stores. At last report he was living in Minneapolis
with two rambunctious kitties.
He can be found on the web at hardcorezen.blogspot.com.

Introduction
My chest hurts. That’s the thought that keeps recurring as I sit cross-legged
and stock-still in front of a room full of dedicated meditators. A wood-burning
stove in the corner keeps the early-morning mountain chill at bay, the sun is
shining, and it is calm and peaceful, with only the pine logs crackling sutras to
disturb the quiet.
I want to die. Or cry. Or cry myself to death.
My chest hurts.
I’m the leader of this three-day retreat at the Southern Dharma Retreat
Center near Asheville, North Carolina. I’m supposed to be the calmest and most
in-control guy in the room. These people have paid good money, and some have
traveled long distances, just to be in my presence, just to have me give them the
secret to being as together as I am. They look up to me, respect me. And all I
want to do is evaporate, disappear, dissolve into the ether, never to be seen again.
What’s even worse is it’s all because of some girl.
What a fucking Zen master I am.
That day I finally understood exactly why they call it “heartbreak.” My
heart hurt just as if someone had punched a hole through my chest and ripped it
out still beating, as in some Aztec sacrifice ritual. Sometimes it hurt really bad.
Sometimes it was just a dull persistent pain. Sometimes it hurt for a while and
kind of came to a crescendo and then stopped just as suddenly as it had begun. I
tried as best I could to let go. Sometimes I found myself obsessing over some
fantasy, maybe one in which we got back together or I told her exactly how I
felt. Or maybe one in which she was happily meditating next to some bearded
douche-nozzle at the retreat center where she was staying who liked to tell his
friends he was “a very spiritual person,” after which he fucked her from behind
like a hyena in heat while she squealed Sanskrit chants of ecstasy he’d taught her
during phony-baloney “tantric” rituals.
What’s that you say? As a so-called Zen master I should be above such
matters? I should be able to allow my thoughts to simply float past like clouds in
a clear blue sky? I should be beyond the tawdry things of the world like romantic
entanglements? Otherwise why would anyone care what I had to say about Zen?
That’s what I would have thought, too. But I wasn’t like that. In my twentyfive
years of Zen practice and training no such perfection had come. And yet I
handled this breakup differently from how I’d handled them before. I’ve never
been a good breaker-upper. I remember when Becky Wagner dumped me and I
couldn’t get on the phone to her because I was sharing a punk rock house that
had one telephone and Logan, one of my housemates, was on it. So I ran,
literally almost blinded by tears, to the gas station on the corner and kept feeding
quarters into the pay phone to leave increasingly distraught messages on her
answering machine.
This time I’d been able to accept what needed to be accepted. I didn’t beg, I
didn’t plead. Not much, at least. As one Zen monk said, “A man never got a
woman back by begging on his knees.”* I didn’t yell or go red-faced with rage.
When thoughts appeared in my mind of my love rolling around in the back of
the ashram with one of those god-awful generic “mystical dude” types that
always stink up those places with their patchouli-stench presence, I let them
pass, knowing they were just thoughts in my head* and that any corresponding
reality that might have existed was far different from what I was imagining.**
Oh, I could allow these thoughts and worse to pass. That’s true. But I
couldn’t stop them from coming up. And that doesn’t mean those thoughts didn’t
hurt when they did come up. Or that it didn’t hurt when I dropped them. This,
too, is part of the process. Dropping thoughts like that often hurts worse than
holding on to them, since dropping thoughts you’re convinced are correct is like
denying the existence of your self.
So maybe you’re wondering, if this Zen stuff can’t even cure a broken
heart, what the hell good is it? Sometimes I wonder that myself. But Zen practice
has shown me the clear way never to have a broken heart ever again. Wanna
know the secret? Never fall in love. Some Buddhist practitioners have put this
into effect very successfully and live absolutely free from heartbreak. We’ll talk
about them in a little bit. But that’s not the answer you wanted, is it? Maybe you
wanted a magic mantra that would make it all go away. Sometimes the true
answer isn’t one we like. But it’s always the best answer because it’s true.
A lot of what gets written about Zen is based on abstractions and idealism.
Too many people who write about it don’t have a clue. They write all about the
way things can be, or might be, or should be, not how they really are. Because
very often they don’t even know how they really are. The caricatures of Zen in
pop culture are even worse, picking up on these abstractions and turning them
into parody. I’m not interested in telling you what I might be like or what I could
be like if only I did this or that. I’m interested in reporting on what life is actually like.
Still I sat there, leading the retreat. And I sat. And sat. And when the bell
rang, I got up and joined everyone for the formal walking practice that
punctuates each round of zazen. And then I sat some more.
And as I sat things changed, as they always do. Thoughts and sensations,
feelings and perceptions, flowed through like a Technicolor river. Some were
pleasant. Some were not. Most were neither. They just were. Sometimes nothing
seemed to go on in the conscious portion of my brain for a long, long time. I
didn’t pass out or enter some mystical zone. It’s just that the thoughts sort of
gave up. And sometimes after a long while of feeling great my chest would start
to hurt again. So it goes.
But I made it through. Just like everyone else at the retreat. We all survived.
All of us, with our broken hearts, our family issues, our fears, our desires, our
aspirations, our losses: we all sat through them together, and it was beautiful.
Let me tell you about that retreat in the back hills of North Carolina,
though, because it was a really special one. There were more women than men, a
first for any retreat I’ve run, if not for Zen retreats in general. Two devout
Christians stayed through the whole thing and sat just as hard as anybody else. It
was a group, for once, not made up entirely of white folks. Motley heavy-metal
dudes mixed with middle-aged ladies. I loved hearing the language of the
bodhisattvas spoken in that melodic lilting down-home drawl. It was an
astounding scene — a truly Southern dharma retreat!
We did a ton of zazen, raked a bunch of leaves, cut some wood, talked, read
bits of Joshu Sasaki’s Buddha Is the Center of Gravity, ate spectacularly good
food, walked, and talked some more. Many corn muffins and beans were
consumed. Many farts were stifled in the silence of the zendo. Demons were
wrestled with and conquered. Poetry was exchanged and dead dogs duly
mourned. Live Buddha cats purred as they were petted. The sun shone. The rain
rained. The wind howled and roared. Sexy white-butted deer trotted down
mountainsides, followed by Carolina panthers. Doubts were raised about the
wisdom of swallowing the Kool-Aid given by trusted teachers.
A lot more happened than just my silly little broken heart.
Sex is a big part of all of our lives. So are romance and heartache and all the
rest of what goes along with it. Even when we give up sex and become celibate
— something I have never tried* — sex seems to follow us.
Zen has been a big part of my life since not too long after the time I first
discovered sex. I’m not quite certain which came first, my first period of zazen
or the loss of my virginity. I had a girlfriend in high school, and we got naked
together. But because I was too mortified to ask the old guy behind the counter at
Brenneman’s corner drugstore in Wadsworth, Ohio, to sell me some condoms,
we never actually went all the way. That didn’t happen until I got to college and
you could buy rubbers at the university bookstore without having to ask
someone for them. College was also the place where I discovered Zen practice
through a wonderful potty-mouthed bodhisattva named Tim. So most of my
personal encounters with sexuality have been informed in some way by Buddhist
philosophy and practice.
I don’t claim to be any kind of expert on human sexuality. A lot of the
theories current these days about gender and sexuality leave me a little confused.
I simply don’t have enough interest in them to sustain the kind of study needed
to understand them thoroughly. I’m a bit of a fuddy-duddy, I suppose. It’s not
that I hate the whole idea of there being, like, two dozen different genders and
whatever else they’re saying nowadays. I just really don’t care.
I know that probably sounds blasphemous to some of you. Please
understand that I have no difficulty with any of the ways people choose to define
themselves in terms of gender, sexual orientation, or whatever other factors we
use to enhance our ego-based notions of self. I understand the social usefulness
of these new ways of defining ourselves, and I’m not against them in any way.
Others have written about that subject far more eloquently than I ever could. It’s
just that I personally don’t have a whole lot of interest in ego-based notions of
self. But who you choose to fuck and how you choose to do it, well, that’s none
of my business or anyone else’s other than the people you fuck.
You should always be true to who you really are and never just accept what
society tells you that you ought to be. But it takes a lot of work to discover
exactly who you are.
This book represents my best effort at giving a very personal Buddhisminformed
view on the subject of sexuality. Ultimately, though, it’s my personal
take. The opinions expressed in this book are not necessarily those of Buddha,
the Soto School of Zen, or their supporters, adherents, and affiliates. And yet it’s
a view informed by more than twenty-five years of serious Zen practice, as well
as about the same number of years of sexual experience.
This is not a textbook about the history of Buddhist approaches to sex. If
you want that, check out The Red Thread by Bernard Faure or Lust for
Enlightenment by John Stevens. I did! Most of what you’ll read here about the
approach Buddhism has taken throughout its history to matters of sexuality
comes from these books.
This book consists of two different types of chapters. The main chapters
look at aspects of sexuality and discuss them from a Buddhist angle. But after
I’d written those it occurred to me that it might also be useful to discuss certain
aspects of Buddhism from a sexual angle. The chapters where I do this are titled
“Sexual Angles on Buddhism,” with a subtitle regarding the specific topic under
examination. Sometimes I’ve repeated information in these chapters that can
also be found in the main book chapters. But when I’ve done so I’ve tried to
look at that information from a different perspective. So I hope you’ll bear with me.
I’m trying to provide something entirely different from any other book I’ve
seen on the topic of Buddhism and sexuality. No other Zen monk that I know of
has ever written a comprehensive book about sex. Even Dogen, the thirteenthcentury
monk who wrote about nearly every aspect of the lives of Buddhists,
both monks and laypeople, barely even mentions sex.
You can think of this, perhaps, as a pioneering work — a seminal one,
even.* And it has all the pitfalls such works always have. I hope that someday
someone better qualified will write a more comprehensive book that addresses
all the issues I leave out of this one, a book that’s better informed about
contemporary thinking regarding sex and gender, that gives something closer to
the view that perhaps most Buddhists would take on the subject rather than one
individual’s opinions, or that gives the female perspective on these matters. A
book on Buddhist sexuality by someone who isn’t as poor an excuse for a Zen
monk as I am might be good, too.
Unfortunately, I am unable to deliver on any of these counts. Still, I hope
this book does you a little bit of good, or at least makes you laugh.
* Leonard Cohen, ordained by Joshu Sasaki Roshi, from the song “I’m Your Man.”
* Probably.
** I hope they got deep, painful splinters in their unmentionables.
* Not by choice, anyway.
* Heh, heh! Seminal!

Table of Contents
Introduction: Brokenhearted Zen
1. The Piece of Ass Chant
2. Are Buddhists Allowed to Jack Off?
3. [SEXUAL ANGLES ON BUDDHISM] All Sex Is Suffering: Sex and the
Four Noble Truths
4. You Celibate, I’ll Buy a Bit!
5. [SEXUAL ANGLES ON BUDDHISM] Saving All Beings … from My
Dick!: Sex and the Bodhisattva Vow
6. Attached to Nonattachment
7. [SEXUAL ANGLES ON BUDDHISM] Ouch! Mind Where You Put That
Thing!: Sex and Mindfulness
8. Is Orgasm the Highest Form of Meditation?
9. How Have I Come to This?
10. Zen and Porn
11. [SEXUAL ANGLES ON BUDDHISM] Filling the Void — If You Know
What I Mean!: Sex and Emptiness
12. Women, Evolution, and Buddhism
13. Getting Naked
14. [SEXUAL ANGLES ON BUDDHISM] How Can I Play with Myself If I
Don’t Have a Self?: Sex and Nonself
15. Paying for It
16. The Real Porno Buddhist
17. What’s Love Got to Do with It?
18. [SEXUAL ANGLES ON BUDDHISM] I Love It When You Do That: Sex
and Metta (Compassion)
19. Hug Is the Drug
20. BDSM and Cult Behavior
21. I Fuck, Therefore I Am What I Fuck?
22. [SEXUAL ANGLES ON BUDDHISM] I Prefer Being Juked with a Baby
Octopus: Sex and Preferences
23. Is Zazen Dangerous?
24. God Knew My Soul Before I Was Born
25. [SEXUAL ANGLES ON BUDDHISM] If You Do That, You’ll Go Blind:
Sex and Karma
26. Zen Dating and Marriage Advice
27. When Good Spiritual Masters Go Bad
28. When Good Spiritual Masters Go Really, Really Bad: AIDS and Other STDs
and Buddhist Practice
29. [SEXUAL ANGLES ON BUDDHISM] Sex with All the Lights On: Sex
and Enlightenment
30. Happy Ending, Buddhist Style
Appendix: How to Do Zazen
Acknowledgments
About the Author


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BROKENHEARTED ZEN
Every night I tell myself
I am the cosmos
I am the wind
That don’t bring you back again.
— Chris Bell, “I Am the Cosmos”

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