"Mahamati, as for their attachment to codes, how do srota-apannas cease their attachment to codes? When they become adept at seeing the suffering where they might be reborn, they cease attachment. Attachment, Mahamati, refers to how foolish beings resolve to undertake ascetic practices for the sake of attaining greater bliss. Hence, they seek rebirth. But when they are not attached and [they] turn instead toward undertaking those practices and upholding those precepts that are free from projection and passion and that lead to the peerless realm of personal realization..."
"Attachment, Mahamati, refers to how foolish beings resolve to undertake ascetic practices for the sake of attaining greater bliss." brings me to the words celibacy and sublimation. This came up for me when I attended a Zen Center event, a discussion about relationships and intimacy with Tibetan Buddhist scholar Robert Thurman and Zen Center's President, Ze Sho Susan O'Connell, and David Bullard, PhD.
During this discussion, Robert Thurman stated that when he was a monastic practicing celibacy for three or four years, he experienced happiness, described a sublimation of sexual energy, mentioned that Daido Loori wasn't celibate but referred to himself as a Zen monk, and that Zen Center could be a real force for bringing back the celibate tradition to Soto Zen.
Susan O'Connell kept it pretty simple; she said having non-celibate residents and married priests has ensured that men and women receive equal religious training.
I told this to my Buddhist academic friend, and he said, "HHDL is a strong supporter of equal education (and has recently awarded the first female Geshe degree), and he is not looking to end monastic celibacy."
But it's 2013 and Geshe Kelsang Wangmo received this honor in 2011, the first geshe degree being awarded in 1101, so it took a little over 900 years for this to happen. And a quick search shows that Tibetan nunneries are not supported in the same way that male monastic communities are; they farm, work, and operate small business to sustain their life, while their male counter parts are largely supported by the lay sangha.
German theologian Uta Ranke-Heinemann inspires this thought; There's a strange request that our mothers remain virgins through immaculate conception. There's a strange expectation that human spirituality or Buddhist practice can and should some how transcend humanness. And that when a male becomes celibate he distances himself from women, and therefore distances himself from a patriarchal symbol of weakness (women).
Does that mean celibacy isn't a legitimate practice? Of course not- I know a few long term celibate Zen priests (voluntary in our tradition) who really benefit from the practice. I personally benefit from my sexual renunciations, which means being monogamous with my wife (although we weren't always monogamous, experimenting with bisexuality and poly-amory- a thorough exploration of our hetronormativity, and today we feel very queer together). I benefit from the renunciation of porn; but does this mean you will? No. I could never say what practices of renunciation would be good for you.
I can say that I did spend one year as a celibate resident and it would be hard to parse out the causes and conditions of that year and explain why it wasn't beneficial for me. But I think it's rooted in my home leaving roots. I've written before about what it was like to be a military brat and to experience my parents separation and the sense of having two dads, two moms, two homes. I'm the one who was moving out before my high school graduation; I'm the one who didn't call home; my practice is calling home and remembering my family. It's far too easy for me to avoid it.
It's easy to call the Soto Zen approach to celibacy an aberrant political issue from the Meji era. But Neither Monk Nor Layman points out that Zen monks were were having sex with women long before 1870. As a result, when a Roshi died, the mysterious children and women living at the temple would be left homeless. And more controversially was the pederast tradition of nanshoku - a an age-structured system of homosexuality among priests. Other "aberrant" traditions could include the Tibetan tradition of Yab-yum or Karmamudra or the history of songyum, "celibate" Lamas' secret consorts who appear as nothing more than a nun.
Missteps abound whether celibate, poly-amorous, or monogamous. How could anyone offer a universal admonition? Kosho, a Zen teacher in Austin, Texas told me before I got married, that whether I chose a celibate or monogamous path, I would be choosing my own suffering. Liberation could only come from continual awareness of that path.
Maybe this is why in the Soto Zen tradition we fall back on "Chop wood, carry water." To talk about the bliss of some practice is to insinuate its assurance of your bliss and happiness should you proceed in lock step. It's just not so. I sign off with the Blue Cliff Record's 3rd case's admonition:
"One device, one object; one word, one phrase-the intent is that you'll have a place to enter; still this is gouging a wound in healthy flesh-it can become a nest or a den. The Great Function appears without abiding by fixed principles-the intent is that you'll realize there is something transcendental; it covers the sky and covers the earth, yet it cannot be grasped. This way will do, not this way will do too-this is too diffuse. This way won't do, not this way won't do either-this is too cut off. Without treading these two paths, what would be right? Please test; I cite this for you to see."