FAST AND LOOSE WITH THE CANON?
In his recent column (“What’s the Opposite of Jealousy?” Summer 2006), Jorge Ferrer indicated that unwholesome states such as jealousy and anger in someone opposing a partner’s promiscuity show a lack of Buddhist principles. Truly, according to the Buddha, even if someone is brutally murdering you, you should dwell in lovingkindness toward him (Majjhima Nikaya 21). However, that doesn’t make his actions acceptable. One may lovingly tell the philandering partner, “I love you deeply and I feel happy for you as you enjoy pleasures with others. But I seek monogamy, and therefore, goodbye.”

To refute the professor’s bold statement that the Buddha never set down guidelines for marriage, please see the conditions for marital harmony that he gave in the popular Sigalaka discourse (Digha Nikaya 31), which includes being faithful to one’s spouse. Also in that talk, he called adultery one of the “six things [that] destroy a man,” and “a lower, baser course.” Another time, the Buddha told men to be satisfied with one spouse.

The most basic moral standard expected of all Buddhist lay disciples, the Five Precepts, includes the pledge against “sexual misconduct.” The bottom line is: Don’t harm others in your expression of sexuality! If you, or your liaison, have a partner at home who wishes for monogamy, yet you fail to respect that wish, then your selfish actions cause harm to another. How cruel it would be to breach a partner’s trust and then suggest that his or her normal emotional responses indicate spiritual immaturity!

Even if no one else gets hurt, why make efforts to increase the sexual heat in your life? The Buddha deemed pursuit of sensual desires the cause of all quarrels, conflicts, and wars (Majjhima Nikaya 13). In the very core of his teaching, the Four Noble Truths, he named desire as the source of each person’s inner pain. On attaining enlightenment, he hesitated to try to teach because the dhamma—“subtle, deep, difficult to see”—cannot be seen “by passion’s slaves” (Mahavagga 1).

A disciple who, like Professor Ferrer, advocated sensuality, triggered the Buddha’s fiercest scolding: “Misguided man, to whom have you ever known me to teach the dhamma in that way? . . . I have stated how sensual pleasures provide little gratification, much suffering, and much despair, and how great is the danger in them . . . . But you, misguided man, have misrepresented us by your wrong grasp and injured yourself and stored up much demerit; for this will lead to your harm and suffering for a long time” (Majjhima Nikaya 22).

Do the editors of Tricycle stand as neutral observers toward whatever you choose to publish? Or do you remain subject to the unfortunate karma that comes to those who profess views that are the very opposite of the Buddha’s teachings?

Bhikkhuni Sudhamma
Abbess, Carolina Buddhist Vihara
Greenville, South Carolina

Jorge Ferrer Responds:
Bhikkhuni Sudhamma’s letter, though well-intentioned, contains a number of inaccuracies and distortions of my position that require clarification. First, I did not make any claims about what the Buddha taught. I did, however, state that “historically Buddhism never strictly defined the rules of marriage.” This is simple fact. In the ancient Buddhist civilization of Tibet, for example, several forms of marriage—monogamous, polygynous, and polyandrous—were widely tolerated. Likewise, Buddhist attitudes toward sexuality have been extremely diverse—from the early Theravada stress on ascetic celibacy and sexual continence to the more relaxed Mahayana and Ch’an/Zen tolerance of sexual activity by lay practitioners and sometimes even by monks to the radical Vajrayana affirmation of the nonduality of desire and awakening and the “transgression” of sexual rules at the service of liberation.

Second, the passages cited by Bhikkhuni Sudhamma to support her views are conveniently selective. Why not also mention that the Buddha once advised a Brahmin to give all his four daughters to a virtuous man instead of to several suitors (Jataka 200), thereby supporting polygamy? I do not wish to debate “what the Buddha really taught” (a discussion I find both futile and misleading), but I do think it worth pointing out that in every era and culture Buddhist teachings have been adopted and adapted in different ways. Indeed, given the vast differences among the cultural contexts in which Buddhism has thrived, the process of reinterpretation and reintegration may be both inevitable and necessary.

Third, I am baffled that Bhikkhuni Sudhamma would misread my plea for integrating eros and agape into embodied love as a desire to “increase . . . sexual heat” and that she would characterize the idea of exploring nonmonogamy “in the context of mindfulness, ethical integrity, and spiritual growth” (which clearly entails both honesty and mutual consent) simply as “cruel” and “selfish . . . philandering.” It leaves me wondering whether she read the essay at all, and if so, through what kind of lenses.

It is ironic that an American Buddhist nun insists on sticking strictly only to certain words attributed to the Buddha. Why not take it all the way and recall also that the Buddha originally denied entrance to women in his sangha on the grounds that it would hasten the decline of his teachings? Does Bhikkhuni Sudhamma’s writing about the dharma conform to the Eight Strict Rules inscribed for Buddhist nuns in ancient times? Unless Bhikkhuni Sudhamma is using double standards, her writing is at odds with the very canonical authority she so zealously upholds.

In any event, Bhikkuni Sudhamma’s letter offers a valuable opportunity to reflect on the dialectic between orthodoxy and innovation in Buddhism, as well as the creative tension between the original form of a teaching and the historical unfolding of its essence.


A DIFFERENCE OF TRUTHS

Thank you for your section about the Dalai Lama and science (Spring 2006). I would like to add a historical-philosophical perspective.

When the Dalai Lama says that if Buddhism contradicts science, Buddhism must change, he merely repeats a similar statement by Saint Augustine, who urged Christians not to contradict Greek knowledge so they wouldn’t be seen as fools. Thus, the vast majority of Christian theologies claimed that the earth was a sphere, contrary to what the Bible said.

The problem of Buddhism and science is not that Buddhism uses dough-ball divination (Newton wrote treatises about apocalyptic visions in the Book of Daniel, and it didn’t stop him from being a great scientist). The problem is that they have different motivations for inquiry.

For Buddhism, truths (of impermanence, unsatisfactoriness, and nonself) are given; every inquiry needs to affirm them, and if it doesn’t, something is wrong with the meditator. For science, truths are transient and impermanent, and if the inquiry contradicts held theories, it is (at least ideally) the theories that need to change.

Orr Rachlevsky
Exeter, England

©Neal Crosbie
©Neal Crosbie

 

WELCOME TO THE PURE LAND

Thank you so much for the interview “Ordinary Struggles” by Clark Strand with Socho Ogui (Summer 2006). As a member of the Buddhist Churches of America, I was thrilled to see my tradition (Jodo Shinshu) mentioned in Tricycle.

As a non-Japanese American, I have come to appreciate the rich history that Jodo Shinshu brought to the U.S. over one hundred years ago. It seems that most Americans and even American Buddhists are only aware of a few traditions such as Zen, Theravada, and Tibetan Buddhism. With Socho at the helm, hopefully others will grow in understanding Pure Land Buddhism.

Dean O’Shields
Seattle, Washington


FLUSH WITH HUMOR

I laughed so hard when I read “Growing Ground” (Summer 2006). Not only because Steve Krieger is so funny, but also because I too have lived with a composting toilet, only it was inmy house. It was nearly the size of a VW Bug. My husband called it the indoor outhouse.

I toilet-trained two kids on that composter. My daughter was terrified of falling into the “big black hole.” My son was completely startled when he first saw a toilet with water in it. He refused to use it. And my in-laws have only visited us once in fourteen years after spending a week with that composting toilet.

I think the folks at Mount Baldy Zen Center ought to bag up their composted crap and sell it. They can give it a catchy name like “Dharma Dirt” or “Bodhi Chit.” They could sell it on eBay and make a fortune! Hey, Steve and Tricycle, many thanks for the hearty chuckles!

Dakini Sheila
Concho, Arizona


CORRECTION
In the Summer 2006 Letters section, an incorrect response was given to a question regarding a Pali phrase referenced by Reggie Ray in his article “Touching Enlightenment” (Spring 2006). The phrase “touching enlightenment with the body” does not come from the Dhammapada as stated, but is part of a description of monks devoted to jhanain the Anguttara Nikaya, book VI, sutta 46 and book IX, suttas 43-45.


Tricycle
welcomes letters to the editor. Letters are subject to editing. Please send correspondence to: Tricycle: The Buddhist Review 92 Vandam Street New York, NY 10013 Fax: (212) 645-1493 Email address: editorial@tricycle.com

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

WELCOME TO THE PURE LAND
Thank you so much for the interview “Ordinary Struggles” by Clark Strand with Socho Ogui (Summer 2006). As a member of the Buddhist Churches of America, I was thrilled to see my tradition (Jodo Shinshu) mentioned in Tricycle.

As a non-Japanese American, I have come to appreciate the rich history that Jodo Shinshu brought to the U.S. over one hundred years ago. It seems that most Americans and even American Buddhists are only aware of a few traditions such as Zen, Theravada, and Tibetan Buddhism. With Socho at the helm, hopefully others will grow in understanding Pure Land Buddhism.

Dean O’Shields
Seattle, Washington


FLUSH WITH HUMOR

I laughed so hard when I read “Growing Ground” (Summer 2006). Not only because Steve Krieger is so funny, but also because I too have lived with a composting toilet, only it was inmy house. It was nearly the size of a VW Bug. My husband called it the indoor outhouse.

I toilet-trained two kids on that composter. My daughter was terrified of falling into the “big black hole.” My son was completely startled when he first saw a toilet with water in it. He refused to use it. And my in-laws have only visited us once in fourteen years after spending a week with that composting toilet.

I think the folks at Mount Baldy Zen Center ought to bag up their composted crap and sell it. They can give it a catchy name like “Dharma Dirt” or “Bodhi Chit.” They could sell it on eBay and make a fortune! Hey, Steve and Tricycle, many thanks for the hearty chuckles!

Dakini Sheila
Concho, Arizona


CORRECTION
In the Summer 2006 Letters section, an incorrect response was given to a question regarding a Pali phrase referenced by Reggie Ray in his article “Touching Enlightenment” (Spring 2006). The phrase “touching enlightenment with the body” does not come from the Dhammapada as stated, but is part of a description of monks devoted to jhanain the Anguttara Nikaya, book VI, sutta 46 and book IX, suttas 43-45.


Tricycle
welcomes letters to the editor. Letters are subject to editing. Please send correspondence to: Tricycle: The Buddhist Review 92 Vandam Street New York, NY 10013 Fax: (212) 645-1493 Email address: editorial@tricycle.com

 

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