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Buddhadharma : Fall 2008
19 fall 2 00 8 buddhadharma: the practitioner’s quarterly Send your queStionS by maiL or to teacherS@thebuddhadharma.com PHOTOSBY(l-R):BARBARAWENgER,MARYEllENMCCOURT,MARYlANg QuesTion: Sexuality doesn’t seem to be discussed much in Buddhism, yet it’s a powerful, biologi cal drive that can be destructive, especially within sangha. How does one deal with one’s sexuality on an individual level, within sangha, and especially with Buddhists in a teaching role? Zenkei Blanche harTman: It is my experience that sexuality is much discussed, although perhaps more in oneonone conversations between teacher and student or in precept study rather than in dharma talks. It is true that sexual energy is powerful. Suzuki Roshi once said that sexual energy and artistic energy are very close to zazen energy, “but they’ve already split off and taken form.” They have set up an object of desire. So my first response to your question of “How does one deal with one’s sexuality on an indi vidual level?” would be, “With restraint and mindful attentiveness.” Note how your mind can grasp an attraction and make it into an obsession—or not. Notice how you can decide to feed the fantasy—or not. I would also suggest talking with your teacher if you are attracted to someone before initiating a re lationship. I always suggest to my students that they develop a friendship first before proceeding toward a romantic involvement. The third grave precept is “A disciple of the Bud dha does not misuse sexuality.” (Another translation is “...is not sexually greedy.”) In our guidelines for residents practicing here at San Francisco Zen Center, the precepts are referred to as follows: “All residen tial practitioners are expected to practice in relation to the sixteen bodhisattva precepts ... In addition, all residential practitioners agree not to initiate a sexual and/or intimate relationship with any other resident at Zen Center until both parties have been in residence at the practice center for at least six months. This agreement allows each new resident the opportunity to fully engage in a concentrated period of practice without distraction.” There is also the understanding that if a student finds him or herself attracted to an other student, he or she will talk with a teacher before initiating an intimate relationship. This is one way of handling sexual issues in a residential sangha. Nonresidential practitioners, especially if there is teacherstudent involvement, should try their best to find another uninvolved teacher with whom to discuss any sexual situations or problems of which they are aware. When training teachers, it is very important to teach them not only about the ethical restraints nec essary to carry out the role of spiritual advisors but also about projection and transference. We should understand that students often project some ideal onto a teacher and “fall in love” with the projection. Teachers in training should learn how to recognize and avoid the pitfalls of both negative and positive projections in the teacherstudent relationship, and teachers of teachers must be very clear that if a sexual ask The Teachers Zenkei Blanche hartman is former abbess of the San francisco Zen center Geshe tenZin WanGyal rinpoche is a lineage holder of the Bön dzogchen tradition of Tibet narayan lieBenson Grady is a guiding teacher at cambridge insight Meditation center