5th December 1999

Sensual pleasures: Where laymen may tread and monks may not

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The third precept and the third of the 'karma klesha', unwholesome deeds committed with intention, deals with the importance of proper sexual conduct. 'Kamae summichcha chara veramani sikkha padan samadiyami', I will train myself not to indulge in any sexual misconduct. The word 'kamaya' carries a deep meaning. 

There are two aspects to this, subjective desires and objective desires. Objective desires are external stimuli that please the senses. 'Klesha kama', subjective desires involve an avid craving that binds one to the stimuli. The fault lies not with objective desires but with subjective desires. 

In Buddhism there are two distinct segments - the lay principles, and the monastic principles. Lay principles are simple whereas monastic ones are complex. When one understands the difference between the layman and the monk, this is not difficult to grasp. The layman is a person who experiences sensual desires and considers the fulfilment of these desires to be of immense importance. They enjoy husband and wife relationships, and the bonds between children and parents. They also acquire properties, vehicles and other possessions. 

However, there are also laymen who distance themselves from all these. They are described as 'anagarika' in Buddhism. 

The monk is one who has relinquished sensual desires. They have no wives, children, houses or lands. Monkhood entails the relinquishing of all objective desires, distancing oneself and living a life dedicated to the subduing of 'klesha kama' , subjective desires. For a layman, objective desires give contentment in this life. Therefore, if a layman obtains lay pleasures without disturbing society or the people around him then he is obtaining rightful sensual pleasures, considered to be supreme among worldly comforts. However if he chases after such comforts with avid craving, sorrow and fear will inevitably follow.

It is understood that a monk does not crave for various stimuli, such as sights, sounds, scents, tastes and touch. This is why a monk is placed on a higher plain. 'Sila' means physical and verbal refinement. By these means one can control the mind which is diverted by currents of craving. By observing 'sil' we discipline our minds and bodies. There are 220 precepts which a priest ordained in high Buddhist principles is expected to observe in Sri Lanka. The breaking of a precept is not an uncommon occurrence. When a precept is broken it is necessary to bring it to mind and ensure that it does not occur again by controlling the mind, body and words. 

A layman cannot enjoy the same detachment. His dedication can only be seen in the context of the kind of life he leads. Buddhism does not forbid a lay person the satisfaction of nourishing his senses with external stimuli. Therefore a layman is equipped with the faculties to attract a woman he considers suitable to be his partner and a lay woman is equipped with the faculties to attract a man she considers to be worthy. Their senses are finely tuned towards drawing them together and binding them. This was preached by the Buddha in the Anguttara Nikaya. Since a monk has to detach himself from this male-female bonding process, his existence is referred to as 'brahmacharya vasaya', or asceticism.

Since lay people are not forbidden the enjoyment of sexual relationships, they are only restricted to proper sexual conduct. Lay men and women are allowed to enjoy all sensual pleasures. However, gaining pleasure from partners who are not ones own is considered to be wrong and sinful in Buddhism.

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