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Buddhadharma : Summer 2009
buddhadharma: the practitioner’s quarterly summer 20 0 9 60 Rethinking Buddhism and Sex Ilove texts. Of all the wonderful gifts my Tibetan teachers have bestowed on me, none is more dear than the training I have received in reading texts. I don’t mean simply the ability to read the great texts of Indian and Tibetan Buddhism in their original languages, though this is no small thing, but the ability to think through them: to think about what they mean, and what the world means in light of them, to come to an understanding of the world—what we are, what our responsibilities are, and what constitutes a meaningful life. This, I learned from my teachers, does not mean simply understanding the literal meaning, but also engaging the classic tradition critically: questioning it, using reasoning to determine whether it is valid and, if so, how, and being willing to wrestle with the great thinkers of the past in a spirit of free inquiry. The texts are not the endpoint of reflection, but rather the beginning of it, and the great masters of old are not irrelevant “dead brown men,” but living conversation partners whose thought, as reflected in their writings, can help us reconstruct our lives so that they lead to the flourishing of self, of others, and of the communities in which we live. I want to make a case for the importance of this enterprise through a spe- cific lens—one focusing on sexuality and sexual ethics. It is particularly useful lens because of the issues it forces us as Buddhists to grapple with. And now, in the words of Salt-N -Pepa, “Let’s talk about sex!” ON A wArm June day in 1997 I walked into the Fairmont Hotel in San Francisco for a meeting with His Holiness the Dalai Lama. A group of gay and lesbian Buddhists had requested the audience with His Holiness to discuss his views on homosexuality and to ask for clarifications about statements he José IgnacIo cabezón is a professor of religious studies and the X1V Dalai Lama endowed chair in Tibetan buddhism and cultural studies at the University of california, santa barbara. This teaching is adapted from his Frederick P. Lenz Distinguished Lecture given at naropa University last september. COURTESYOFThEARTISTANDBOSEPACIAGALLERY,NY When it comes to sex, Western Buddhists tend to be fairly liberal. But as scholar José Cabezón explains, Buddhist tradition takes a much more conservative approach, prohibiting, among other things, oral or anal sex, male homosexuality, and even sex during daylight hours. he challenges us not to dismiss traditional Buddhist views on sexuality but rather to critically examine them, beginning with the study of sexual ethics in Buddhist texts. paintings by bari Kumar