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Buddhadharma : Winter 2017
Buddhadharma: The PracTiTioner’s QuarTerly 107 Decades in the making, José Ignacio Cabezón’s Sexuality in Classical South Asian Buddhism is a massive, ambitious, and important project. Given its in-depth investigation of the subject, and Cabezón’s status as one of the world’s premier Buddhologists, any practitioner or scholar concerned about Buddhism’s relationship to sex and sexuality would do well to wrestle with this book. For many, though, this will prove a challenge. The world of classical Indian and Tibetan Buddhism Cabezón introduces will be unfamiliar, even weird, to many contemporary Buddhist readers, despite the fact that their own practices and lineages are directly descended from it. Modern Buddhists, especially those who have only been exposed to the minimal and highly selective Buddhist sutric and commentarial literature available in English, may be bewildered by the views of revered masters of the past, who debated endlessly over such subjects as imaginary worms living in women’s vaginas, what sexual positions are forbidden, which level of hell one goes to for having engaged in oral sex, and whether or not the Buddha had a real penis. Perhaps for that reason, Cabezón chose to open his book in the recent past, at a 1997 meeting between the Dalai Lama and a group of gay and lesbian Buddhists in San Francisco. This well-known encounter found him sympathizing with the sufferings of sexual and gender minorities, while at the same time dismaying his audience by echoing the condemnation that Tsongkhapa, the founder of the Gelukpa sect, leveled against homosexual activities and refusing to declare by fiat that homo- sexual relationships, oral and anal sex, and masturbation are acceptable for Buddhists. Buddhism and sexuality: it’s complicated sexuality in classical south Asian Buddhism by José Ignacio Cabezón Wisdom Publications, 2017, 632 pages; $39.95 Review by Jeff Wilson ©Brianenglish review