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Buddhadharma : Summer 2009
65 summer 2 00 9 buddhadharma: the practitioner’s quarterly justice and equality, for instance—that are just as important in the task of critically appraising the tradition. what’s more, many of the critical tools that have been developed in the west over the past decades—in fields like discourse analysis, gen- der studies, queer theory, and cultural studies—can be useful when critically reflecting on Buddhist doctrines, though here I think we have to be cautious in the way we appropriate these theoretical perspectives. In the end, the authority of a Buddhist doctrinal or ethi- cal claim—whether we are warranted in believing something or in living our lives on the basis of a certain principle—is determined by whether it passes unscathed through the criti- cal gauntlet. This puts us at times in the position of arguing with our own teachers, with the great saints of India, and even with the Buddha himself. But so be it. when I sometimes find myself in disagreement with Tsongkhapa, Asanga, or Buddha, I remind myself that these great men disagreed with others who came before them, that they spoke up about what they believed, and that none asked us to follow them blindly. when the Dalai Lama suggested at our meeting in San Francisco that certain aspects of the doctrine of sexual mis- conduct were problematic by today’s standards (such as the acceptability of married men buying the services of prosti- tutes), he was of course suggesting that this doctrine con- tained elements that were culturally and historically specific, elements that by today’s standards we would consider not only anachronistic, but indeed ethically difficult. more generally, His Holiness’s comments, it seems to me, opened up the pos- sibility of rethinking the doctrine of sexual misconduct as a whole, encouraging us to subject the ethical norms found in the classical texts to the same type of critical scrutiny that we would any other aspect of the Buddhist tradition. Let us recall how the doctrine of sexual misconduct was formulated in its most elaborate version. Our scholastic authors tell us that sex is unethical if it involves inappropri- ate partners, organs, times, or places. “Inappropriate part- ners,” these texts tell us, are all “protected women” (such as married women or girls who are under the protection of their parents); but inappropriate partners also include boys, men, and hermaphrodites. The list of inappropriate partners explicitly excludes prostitutes or courtesans, at least so long as they are hired directly and not through an intermediary. “Inappropriate organs” refers to the mouth, anus, hands, and in between the thighs of one’s partner—by which is meant the insertion of the penis into any orifice or fold of skin other than the vagina. “Inappropriate times” refers both to the daylight hours and to specific times in the life of one’s female partner, such as when she is menstruating, breastfeeding, or has taken the one-day precepts. Finally, under “inappropriate places,” we find a list of sites where sex is not permitted—a list that includes sacred sites, public spaces, but also the number of times that orgasm is permitted. Part of the process of critically reflecting on such a doctrine involves paying attention to the subtleties of the text, includ- ing its gaps, what is missing. For example, something that is not at all obvious at first blush is that the presumed audience here is men. From the language used in these texts it is clear that only men are being addressed. The case of what consti- tutes sexual misconduct for women was simply not considered by classical Indian or Tibetan authors. That in itself is a good ImAGESCOURTESYOFThEARTISTANDBOSEPACIAGALLERY,NY Say Something, 2008 Oil on canvas 60 x 72 inches