Join 3,519 readers in helping fund MetaFilter (Hide)


"A range of about 15 feet"
May 15, 2008 8:25 AM   Subscribe

Two Buddhist teachers live a purportedly celibate life together as they strive for new heights of intimacy. But Tibetan Buddhist leaders and scholars are alarmed; the Dalai Lama refused a birthday offering. His teachings on yoga and business are controversial; so is the matter of his three-year "silent" retreat. More on Geshe Michael Roach. (Wiki.)
posted by fiercecupcake (80 comments total) 8 users marked this as a favorite

 
The most interesting part of this is the kind of fear/rejection of women normally associated with conservatives from a group normally associated with liberals.

Other items, though:

- he felt that it was impossible to keep secrets in this age of Google Earth.

First of all, that's a practical consideration, not an ethical one. Second of all, it isn't even all that practical. Google Earth is not going to resolve that he's got a chick in his yurt, especially if they are always in the same pixel.

- Explaining how their touching is non-sexual: “The surgeon lay his hand on her breast, but there wasn’t any carnal thought in his mind,” he said. “He was doing some life-or-death thing. For us it is the same.”

"Some kind of life-or-death thing"? Sounds like he's really thought this out.

- What is a deep relationship that is not sexual? It is hard to understand.

It's all worth it to make the apparently-misogynist Buddhist community even ask this question.
posted by DU at 8:40 AM on May 15, 2008


Seems apropos:

"A senior monk and a junior monk were traveling together. At one point, they came to a river with a strong current. As the monks were preparing to cross the river, they saw a very young and beautiful woman also attempting to cross. The young woman asked if they could help her.

The senior monk carried this woman on his shoulder, forded the river and let her down on the other bank. The junior monk was very upset, but said nothing.

They both were walking and senior monk noticed that his junior was suddenly silent and enquired “Is something the matter, you seem very upset?”

The junior monk replied, “As monks, we are not permitted a woman, how could you then carry that woman on your shoulders?”

The senior monk replied, “I left the woman a long time ago at the bank, however, you seem to be carrying her still.”"
posted by tachikaze at 8:41 AM on May 15, 2008 [21 favorites]


An interesting read. I find it amazing how quickly we become skeptical of this arrangement - that an older man and younger woman can live, sleep and work together this closely and not have sex.

I would find it surprising if they haven't, but the fact they are willing to struggle with that along with the burdens of living that closely together is the point of the process.

15 feet? OMG! I love my wife, but sometimes we need to not be in the same room, house, or so forth. Interesting that there is a limit on how close I am willing to be to someone for a prolonged period, but past a certain point, the distance of separation becomes meaningless.
posted by never used baby shoes at 8:57 AM on May 15, 2008


Do other Buddhists actually care about this sort of thing?
posted by Ynoxas at 9:00 AM on May 15, 2008


HOOOOOOOOOOOOOLY MOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOLY. A man is having sex with a woman?! Heavens to Betsy whatever shall be done?!!?
posted by basicchannel at 9:02 AM on May 15, 2008


So the 'retreat' wasn't actually a retreat and he practices Buddhism via diamond trading, I'm sure that 'no sex' was 'no sex'

The sound of one hand fapping.
posted by fearfulsymmetry at 9:03 AM on May 15, 2008 [5 favorites]


Soon afterward, Mr. Roach determined it should be public, even if it flew in the face of two millenniums of Tibetan Buddhist tradition.

The most interesting part of the article is that the Times apparently doesn't know the correct plural of the word millennium.
posted by The Bellman at 9:06 AM on May 15, 2008 [3 favorites]


But Mr. Roach, Lama Surya Das said, has not convinced colleagues that he has reached that level.

“He is a good guy and learned person, but the Bill Clinton question lingers over him,” he said of Mr. Roach. “He is with a much younger blond bombshell. What is a deep relationship that is not sexual? It is hard to understand.”



honestly, it seems to me that the other buddhists that are quoted in the article are jealous. "blond bombshell?" what the...? and here is surya das saying roach hasn't "convinced his colleagues." what will it take for that convincing to happen? the whole thing is just smarmy.

i just don't understand why it's so hard to believe that they haven't had/are not having sex. the whole thing just smacks of petty emotional BS.

and the whole robert thurman thing...puh-leeze. "oh oh, mr thurman doesn't speak to mr roach anymore!" big whoopin' deal. i think the arrogance and closed-mindedness of these other tibetan buddhist "leaders" is far more offensive than the suggestion that a monk and a teacher could live together in sexual celibacy.
posted by CitizenD at 9:08 AM on May 15, 2008 [1 favorite]


Well, it seems like the reason others would care is because Roach has been forceful about putting his material out there, and leaders are worried about his influence on newcomers to Buddhism. Something that paints Buddhist yoga practice as a way to get whatever you want is pretty appalling, and it's not the kind of thing that serious practitioners want associated with the system.

Roach has been banned from teaching at the "official" Tibetan Buddhist schools (FPMT), so it's something they take seriously. In addition, while he "may or may not be having sexual relations with that woman," monks aren't supposed to bring that kind of speculation upon themselves, especially by sneaking people into their rooms when they are visiting as invited teachers... The whole thing is pretty grim, and it's strange that the NYT did such a weird fluffy look-at-them-in-their-yurt piece.
posted by fiercecupcake at 9:09 AM on May 15, 2008 [2 favorites]


Competitive Buddhism at its best!
posted by Floydd at 9:12 AM on May 15, 2008


(As for the alleged sneaking: at the bottom of the page, under "Before the Retreat?")
posted by fiercecupcake at 9:13 AM on May 15, 2008


Meh. Buddhism, like most Eastern religions, gets a lot of "woooo" factor here in the US because its uncommon here and its practices seem exotic. Its a religion just like Christianity and, just like Christianity, it has a long history of misogyny. The only people who get all misty eyed over Buddhism are the people who don't know anything about it.
posted by sotonohito at 9:17 AM on May 15, 2008 [4 favorites]


It just seemed poor planning to me that their Yurt is 22' in diameter and they can't be apart by more than 15'. On the plus side I guess they're probably pretty good at eyeballing distances by now.
posted by true at 9:18 AM on May 15, 2008 [4 favorites]


In my book, whether someone consents to being profiled in the New York Times is a pretty good factor by which to judge whether they have anything to teach "spiritually" that interests me.

(Someday when I'M featured, that'll be different though.)
posted by [NOT HERMITOSIS-IST] at 9:18 AM on May 15, 2008


Monk 1: I don't get involved with women.
Monk 2: I live with one, but it's not sexual.
Monk 1: You're crazy!
Monk 2: No, your crazy!

Buddha: You are both crazy.
Jesus: Abandon all desire, and follow me.
Buddha: What he said.
Jesus: And don't judge each other. Everybody thinks they know everything.

the Sixth Patriarch: Cork it. Everybody shut your cake holes. Speaking of cake holes, when's lunch?
posted by ewkpates at 9:18 AM on May 15, 2008 [4 favorites]


Do other Buddhists actually care about this sort of thing?

Diamon-cutter.org says he's "been black-listed from teaching in the 140 centres of the Foundation for the Preservation of the Mahayana Tradition (FPMT)." And the Dalai Lama's office asked him not to come to Dharamsala because they had "seen a photograph of you wearing long hair, with a female companion at your side, apparently giving ordination." So apparently it matters to them.

But you can't expect a tremendous amount of rationality from anyone that belongs to a religion that tells people how to wear their hair.
posted by hjo3 at 9:21 AM on May 15, 2008


boy, i'm not even going to touch this one with a ten-foot pole.

LOLZ!BUDHISTS!

(damn, and i really meant not to touch it. oh well, pissing on things i can't be bothered to learn much about sure is emotionally gratifying.)

/snark

posted by saulgoodman at 9:29 AM on May 15, 2008 [1 favorite]


But you can't expect a tremendous amount of rationality from anyone that belongs to a religion that tells people how to wear their hair.

FTFY. An no, this is not LOLRELIGION -- religion is not about rationality, it is about imposing rules on a fundamentally arbitrary world. People need to get that before they try to discuss religious practice (as opposed to religious faith).
posted by The Bellman at 9:31 AM on May 15, 2008


boy, i'm not even going to touch this one with a ten-foot pole.
How about if I gave you a 15 foot pole imported from Mongolia and illuminated by light streaming through a hole in the roof of a yurt?
Would you touch it then?
posted by Floydd at 9:35 AM on May 15, 2008 [1 favorite]


that belongs to a religion that tells people how to wear their hair.

all right. i can't let this go. buddhism does not tell people how to wear their hair. for monastics, cutting off your hair is meant to be a way of renouncing wordly attachment and specifically rejecting vanity, but there are no specific rules about how you should or shouldn't wear your hair in buddhism. and for lay-practitioners that's especially true.

buddhism is governed by the principles of the noble-eightfold path, but it doesn't have explicit rules, per se, except as rules might be imposed by specific monastic orders, sects and what have you. those sorts of rules are not a product of actual buddhist doctrine, but a product of human nature as various people engaged in trying to interpret core buddhist doctrines come up with all sorts of crazy and often contradictory ideas about what they mean (as always). humans make these kinds of rules wherever they go, and they're often peculiarly irrational and gender-biased.

like the elementary school i went to, for example. the school had a very strict policy about wearing hats: girls could wear them, if they wanted to; boys couldn't, under any circumstances.

which prompts me to offer the following speculation: currently our public schools are failing to educate kids properly at an alarming rate--but then, what do you expect from a system that tells boys they can't wear hats?
posted by saulgoodman at 9:40 AM on May 15, 2008 [4 favorites]


To the two of you above, I understand the "official sanctions" or whatnot against him. There are several self-identified Buddhists here on MetaFilter, and I'm really just more curious about "does the typical Buddhist practitioner actually care about this sort of thing"? I guess I'm also somewhat surprised that there would be such rigid top-down authority in Buddhism.

Banning him from teaching because he shares a room with a female? That doesn't seem particularly enlightened.

I did like the one phrase in the article saying that to make Buddhism more acceptable in the West, they will have to incorporate women more. How can anyone rationally argue against that?

I also find the trust issues fascinating. They will trust him with instructing someone in the care and maintenance of their entire spiritual and physical existence, but they don't trust him to not have sex with a young woman?

I don't find it difficult at all to believe living in a yurt in the Arizona desert with no running water, no electricity, and an inside toilet would put a damper on erotic feelings.
posted by Ynoxas at 9:46 AM on May 15, 2008


I have no respect for this guy and I don't see how other tibetan Buddhists being critical of him is misogynistic. If this were a Roman Catholic priest this would be a non story and no one would be surprised when the Vatican defrocked him. Roach has the option to stop being a monk and live with his wife while still being a Buddhist, but he refuses to follow the rules of the organization that he wants to be part of. It's like He wants to claim to be a vegetarian but insists on rubbing steak all over broccoli before he eats it.
posted by afu at 9:46 AM on May 15, 2008 [8 favorites]


I have this same relationship with the internet.
posted by blue_beetle at 9:48 AM on May 15, 2008 [4 favorites]


currently our public schools are failing to educate kids properly at an alarming rate--but then, what do you expect from a system that tells boys they can't wear hats?

At my friend's public high school in Georgia, all hats were prohibited; however, on certain days, as a fundraiser, students were permitted to purchase one-day Hat Permits.

This system was strictly enforced.
posted by decagon at 9:51 AM on May 15, 2008 [2 favorites]


it is about imposing rules on a fundamentally arbitrary world.

buddhism doesn't impose rules, but it allows converts to buddhism to import many if not all of the rules they had already imposed on the world before the adopted buddhism. in many parts of the world, for example, spirit worship and similar local traditions pre-dating the adoption of buddhism have been incorporated into the local practices of buddhism. that's because buddhism is a metaphysical system that can incorporate ideas from any religious system. that's why there is no one set of practices, beliefs or traditions that define buddhism in the abstract.

chinese buddhism is different from japanese buddhism is different from indian buddhism is different from tibetan buddhism is different from cambodian buddhism and on and on. the basic doctrinal idea propounded by many early buddhists was that, since it would likely cause more suffering than it relieves to attempt to prohibit a community's pre-buddhist religious practices and dogmas when they adopt buddhism, it's better to simpy tolerate but recontextualize those practices and dogmas within a buddhist metaphysical framework (in other words, the idea is that converts can still recognize, make offerings to, pray to, etc., the spirits and gods they've recognized in the past, but strictly speaking, they have to come to the recognition that all those spirits and gods are just illusory projections of different aspects of their own minds and its temporary mental states).
posted by saulgoodman at 9:53 AM on May 15, 2008 [4 favorites]


They're totally bonin'.
posted by stenseng at 9:54 AM on May 15, 2008 [2 favorites]


I guess I'm also somewhat surprised that there would be such rigid top-down authority in Buddhism.

Well, ynoxas, don't be too surprised. This isn't "rigid top-down authority in Buddhism," it's rigid top-down authority in Buddhism as practiced in Tibetan Buddhism. Just as papal authority is not "rigid top-down authority in Christianity," but "rigid top-down authority in Catholicism."
posted by saulgoodman at 9:55 AM on May 15, 2008


I dunno, Ynoxas; historically, people have had a lot of sex without running water or electricity... Some of them even in the Arizona desert.
posted by kaibutsu at 9:57 AM on May 15, 2008 [1 favorite]


I lived with a woman for 18 years, was never more than 15 feet from her, and never had sex with her.
I called her "Mom".
posted by Dizzy at 10:05 AM on May 15, 2008 [3 favorites]


I'm not surprised they aren't having sex. I wouldn't do him with a stolen yurt pole.
posted by Green Eyed Monster at 10:06 AM on May 15, 2008 [1 favorite]


To the two of you above, I understand the "official sanctions" or whatnot against him. There are several self-identified Buddhists here on MetaFilter, and I'm really just more curious about "does the typical Buddhist practitioner actually care about this sort of thing"? I guess I'm also somewhat surprised that there would be such rigid top-down authority in Buddhism.

Ynoxas: You might find it instructive to compare and contrast the doctrines of the two major divisions of buddhism, Mahayana and Theravada.

Mahayana schools (of which one example is Tibetan Buddhism) strongly emphasize the practitioner's committment to the "sanga," or the community of other Buddhists, and such communities, like all human communities, somehow inevitably tend toward hierarchical organizational structures, it seems.

As a buddhist myself (although somewhat lapsed in practice these days), I'm more inclined toward the Theravadan perspective, which emphasizes individual spiritual practice and doesn't necessarily require membership in a formal community of Buddhists or study under a particular teacher (although, of course, all schools of Buddhists recognize the teachings of Siddharta Guatama, the historical Buddha and the finest teacher of all).
posted by saulgoodman at 10:08 AM on May 15, 2008 [2 favorites]


saulgoodman: understood. Thanks for the explanation. And on preview thanks for the links.

kaibutsu: You are of course correct. What I meant was that if there is some question to their fortitude or willpower, being stuck in a hot stinky yurt with a dry (chemical?) toilet and no bathtub would only help in abstaining, no?

I don't know, this whole story struck me as odd, and I think my error is trying to re-frame the situation into something I can more readily identify with.

First, I can't imagine anyone actually giving a damn. Second, I can't imagine the people I've known who identified as Buddhist giving a damn. Third, I've done very little research on Buddhism because I'm just not interested in what they are selling, but it has always seemed to me as a somewhat progressive and open belief system, so I'm a bit surprised by some of the stuff I'm seeing here.

I'll save further posts till after I have a chance to read saulgoodman's links.
posted by Ynoxas at 10:11 AM on May 15, 2008


If this were a Roman Catholic priest this would be a non story and no one would be surprised when the Vatican defrocked him.

No, I wouldn't be surprised. I'd still call it misogynistic, though.
posted by DU at 10:11 AM on May 15, 2008


Wait, celibate or chaste? They mean two very different things.
posted by Eideteker at 10:15 AM on May 15, 2008 [1 favorite]


We're all Buddhists - we all live and we all die. So this story has nothing to do with Buddhism. However, Roach has violated the precepts of the particular sect he belongs to. (Mahayana) Tibetan Buddhists have every right protest what this shyster is doing. If Roach doesn't like the rules, he should try to identify with a sect that better matches his core beliefs. Of course, Tibetan Buddhism is quite popular and well-known right now, so Roach can make more money by being associated with it.
posted by KokuRyu at 10:38 AM on May 15, 2008 [2 favorites]


But you can't expect a tremendous amount of rationality from anyone that belongs to a religion

Oh, for fuck's sake. Why does this have to be trotted out time and bloody time again? Being irrational--in your view; many people would think that finding a system which allows one to apprehend the world in a way that is personally comforting is quite rational inasmuch as it allows for psychological health--about one thing doesn't mean being irrational about everything. I understand that religion in the USA is a fairly fucked up thing--all you guys ever see is the psychotic right-wing literalists.

But make no mistake: vocal they may be, but they are very much in the minority of religious people worldwide. So please, I am begging everyone on MeFi who likes to cite that canard: stop discriminating. Tarring all religious people with the brush of crazy does everyone a disservice.
posted by dirtynumbangelboy at 10:40 AM on May 15, 2008 [10 favorites]


Let's see if this analogy is good:

In Soccer, you can't touch the ball with your hands unless you're the goalie. If you do so, then you're operating outside the rules, and playing unskilfully, because the value of the game is in adherence to the specific rules of the game.

Of course, in most other variations of football - rugby, American football, Aussie rules and so forth - picking up the ball is a necessary part of the game.

This fellow seems to be committed to picking up the ball and running with it, and not only expecting to be considered a skilful footballer, but also to be allowed to be a soccer coach.

You can't be a monk of any kind and do whatever-it-is that you want, because not doing whatever you want is the whole point of being a monk.
posted by Grangousier at 10:45 AM on May 15, 2008 [4 favorites]


On the one hand, this is a good teaching moment for the differences between buddhism and its respective host cultures. There's a lot to look at there.

On the other hand, these two sound like goof balls.
posted by everichon at 10:50 AM on May 15, 2008 [1 favorite]


I guess I'm also somewhat surprised that there would be such rigid top-down authority in Buddhism.

My experience with that particular version of Buddhism (6 months of weekly dharma talks at a monastery) is that it's very concerned with authority, tradition and lineage. Buddhism is extremely variable across the different cultures in which it is practiced. It should be noted that no one is saying "don't do this practice in which you live within 15 feet of each other." What people are saying is, "don't do this practice and call yourself a monk and teacher of our tradition."

Even Tibetan Buddhism with its emphasis on tradition and lineage has very few hard and fast rules for lay practitioners. If you do something bad you are just hurting yourself in the long run (although karma doesn't translate well conceptually). But taking monastic vows is an entirely different kettle of fish.
posted by KirkJobSluder at 10:52 AM on May 15, 2008


dirtynumbangelboy: Irrational and crazy aren't the same. Please don't take what I wrote as a slam against organized religious practice -- it wasn't intended that way at all. There is nothing at all crazy about accepting a set of arbitrary rules in order to impose order over your life; I wasn't suggesting at all that there is. Those rules need not be, and in many religions do not claim to be, "rational" however in any traditional sense. Many monastic traditions impose strictures that do not even purport to have a rational basis simply because they are an effective tool for focusing religious or spiritual practice (whether it be prayer or meditation or what have you). My point was that it doesn't make sense to try to impose scientific rigor on those rules or strictures -- what I consider traditional "rationality" -- because they aren't aiming for that, not that it's "crazy" to embrace them.
posted by The Bellman at 11:01 AM on May 15, 2008


It's still religious lunacy imposing itself upon people, even if said people are allowed considerable flexibility in said lunacy.
posted by jeffburdges at 11:12 AM on May 15, 2008 [1 favorite]


The Bellman: Of course, a Tibetan Buddhist monk would argue that the strict rules of monastic life are the logical application of the 8-fold path. That is, if one accepts that attachment to pleasure and relationships hinders one's progress towards enlightenment, it logically follows that a monastic life that attempts to fast-track a person on the road to enlightenment includes renunciation of sexual relationships.
posted by KirkJobSluder at 11:13 AM on May 15, 2008


Many monastic traditions impose strictures that do not even purport to have a rational basis simply because they are an effective tool for focusing religious or spiritual practice

Which, within the context, is entirely rational.
posted by dirtynumbangelboy at 11:22 AM on May 15, 2008


Let's worship the rules! Yay! Don't call us crazy! Yay! Worship the oldest student in the group! Yay! Forget what the teacher said! Yay. Irrational doesn't mean crazy! Yay! Tradition will enlighten you/get you into heaven/make your life better! Yay! Tradition is a game with rules and we can kick you out for not following them! Yay!

Abandon all desire. Then abandon the desire to abandon it.
posted by ewkpates at 11:26 AM on May 15, 2008


that attempts to fast-track a person on the road to enlightenment includes renunciation of sexual relationships.

Maybe to a point, but the Eight-Fold Path as formulated by the historical Buddha doesn't say anything about prohibiting sexual relationships. Under the category of "right action," the only specific teachings on sexuality are usually translated as follows:
1. to abstain from harming sentient beings, especially to abstain from taking life (including suicide) and doing harm intentionally or delinquently,
2. to abstain from taking what is not given, which includes stealing, robbery, fraud, deceitfulness, and dishonesty, and
3. to abstain from sexual misconduct.
Now, of course, there's a lot of room for debate over what the term "sexual misconduct" means, but the idea is generally taken to mean one shouldn't engage in forms of sexual conduct that could potentially cause the suffering of others--so, for example, rape and adultery are off limits. There's no specific rule about sex taking place within marriage or some other committed relationship, but this last idea is often taken to mean that sex should be engaged in only within the context of loving, mutually-beneficial relationships.

It's still religious lunacy imposing itself upon people

What is? The specific vows this guy took when he joined the monastic order, or Tibetan Buddhism in general? In either case, he can leave the order whenever he wants, can't he?
posted by saulgoodman at 11:28 AM on May 15, 2008


They have a latch on the inside of their yurt door, as visible in the 'audio slideshow,' yet they have no possessions of value and ostensibly believe in karmic justice...

I'm just sayin'...
posted by Mr. Anthropomorphism at 11:40 AM on May 15, 2008


saulgoodman: Um, I think we are misunderstanding each other because I did not say that sexual relationships in general were prohibited. This is what was explained to me by the Tibetan dharma teacher I learned under. (And I have to say that I'm not a Tibetan Buddhist.)

Suffering is created by attachment. If we are to break free from suffering, we must be free of attachment. The monastic life is an "easy" path to enlightenment because monks renounce and abstain from many of the common aspects of life that tend to result in attachment. There is nothing wrong with working for a salary. But is easy to get attached to jobs, the money you bring home with every paycheck, and what you can buy with that money. So monks try to avoid these attachments by living on the charity of the community.

At least within that tradition, it was considered very difficult to have a sexual relationship and avoid attachment. Of course, there are these practices that are intended to convert sexual attachment into loving-kindness. But that was considered to be the more difficult path. For that matter, when asked, the Rinpoche who was the teacher's teacher of that monastery wouldn't say that violence was categorically wrong, he would just say that the ability to commit such an act with the loving-kindness and lack of attachment needed to avoid karma was beyond him.

At least within their doctrine there was a hierarchy of favorable rebirth in which rebirth with the opportunity to take monastic vows was considered to be favored over rebirth into the life of a householder. But again, we are talking about a specific slice of Buddhism in which the monastic system had a large amount of political and social power historically.
posted by KirkJobSluder at 1:17 PM on May 15, 2008


They have a latch on the inside of their yurt door, as visible in the 'audio slideshow,' yet they have no possessions of value and ostensibly believe in karmic justice...

I'm just sayin'...


Perhaps each uses that latch to protect the other from possible harm. I don't think belief in karmic justice means you should stop taking care of the incarnations of life immediately around you in the current life.
posted by roombythelake at 1:23 PM on May 15, 2008


Um, I think we are misunderstanding each other because I did not say that sexual relationships in general were prohibited.

Sorry if I created any confusion--I didn't really mean to suggest that was what you meant. My comment was actually a little on a tangent from your original comment, but on review, it looks like I didn't make that very clear. I only meant to emphasize that it's not the core teachings but the various monastic and local practices that impose these kinds of rules--basically, just as you acknowledged in this part of your comment:

But again, we are talking about a specific slice of Buddhism in which the monastic system had a large amount of political and social power historically.
posted by saulgoodman at 1:27 PM on May 15, 2008


saulgoodman: Yeah, my point was just that there was a pretty clear logic behind chastity as an ideal:
1: attachment creates suffering
2: sex often creates attachment
3: a monastic lifestyle that avoids sex is therefore an "easier" dharma practice than that of a married householder

And I don't think this is a sect-specific quirk. Both the monastic prohibition on sex, and the overall view that sex can be a hinderance to enlightenment come from sutras that both traditions attributed to the Buddha and his immediate disciples. While only sexual misconduct is prohibited outright, there is a ton of commentary throughout the canon attributed to the Buddha that sexuality is one of the most problematic forms of attachment.
posted by KirkJobSluder at 1:53 PM on May 15, 2008


While only sexual misconduct is prohibited outright, there is a ton of commentary throughout the canon attributed to the Buddha that sexuality is one of the most problematic forms of attachment.

Well of course it is. But attachment to non-attachment can be a problematic form of attachment, too.

there is a ton of commentary throughout the canon

Do you mean strictly the Pali Canon? Or do you mean including the Sutras?
posted by saulgoodman at 2:02 PM on May 15, 2008


saulgoodman: From what I can tell, it runs through both. But this sort of thing is one of the reasons why I don't identify as a Buddhist.
posted by KirkJobSluder at 2:10 PM on May 15, 2008


I'm a (poorly) practicing Tibetant Buddhist. When I and my Dharma friends first heard about GMR's retreat, there was a lot of discussion. At that time, he admitted to doing "Yab-yum" yoga practices with his 'consort'. Most of my fellow practitioners seemed to feel he was using the the "Yab-yum" idea as an excuse to do what he wanted sexually.

I always thought it was great that he took the teachings literally - he compared his practice to that of eating meat ceremonially at a ceremony called "Tsog-khor", and I thought his comparison was fair, i.e. the act (or meat, or, in Roman Catholocism, the bread), is transformed by the ritua, and the intention behind it. I was very much alone in my defense of GMR, who I still think highly of.

Not long after this discussion, it was discovered that the Tibetan monk who was our teacher was himself having sex with street prostitutes, at times very young ones. There was no way to bring concerns about his behaviour to the hierarchy of the sect we were part of - they did not want to deal with it. There are no institutional framework to deal with this kind of issue.

It became apparent that sex with students, married to other students, was not unusual in the sect; nor was it unusual in other sects of Tibetan Buddhism, (scandals involving Sogyal Rinpoche, for example, are well known). The practice of sleeping with students has also affected other schools of Buddhism as well (the Zen Center's scandal involving Roshi Richard Baker comes immediately to mind).

So it seems to me that GMR is trying to offer a less hypocritical approach to sexual relations, and that the hierarchy, including the Dalai Lama is happy with a status quo of "do what you like, especially if you're a monk or teacher - just don't talk about it".

I'll take GMR's over the hierarchy's approach. Or, neither, and just muddle along with a couple of friends sitting here at home once a week.
posted by not_that_epiphanius at 2:11 PM on May 15, 2008


What surprises me is that the Tibetans' statement (unless I'm missing something) does not refer to his "profitability" message and where he got the money that got him all set up: from an industry that is known to cause so much suffering in the world. In other words, he doesn't stack up as a spiritual leader, regardless of how it may look between him & the chick.

And the other thing that surprises me is that so many people in this thread think that the rules of Buddhism are restricting their personal freedoms. They are not. You are free to go about your lives as you wish to live them. You don't have to renounce butt sex or cocaine or venison on the bone. However, you are not permitted to be a Buddhist monk.
posted by gorgor_balabala at 2:54 PM on May 15, 2008


You don't have to renounce butt sex or cocaine or venison on the bone. However, you are not permitted to be a Buddhist monk.

But this philosophy is completely inconsistent with American New Age religious philosophy. Today, people want to be able to bone their girlfriend on a daily basis, drive an SUV, pray for the massive accumulation of wealth as a sign of their devotion, attract a hoarde of gullible acolytes prepared to donate money and pussy and *still* get the same respect as St. Francis of Assisi.

Anyone who isn't prepared to concede the entitlement to these positions is clearly a misogynist and a religious fascist. We didn't give people the freedom of religion for no reason. If I, as a Roman Catholic priest, want to share my bed with my housekeeper and my choirboy, who the hell are you to say that I can't do it? The Pope? The Dalai Lama? Fuck them, they're all Nazi's who need to watch for the mote in their own eye.

I'm going to stop here as I'm just about to engage in some Yab Yum yogic exercises.
posted by PeterMcDermott at 4:48 PM on May 15, 2008 [2 favorites]


In a period of little work and freelancing, I was paid to make a website for this guy's visit to Mexico, to give some rather handsomely paid seminars. I don't know much about him, apart from the fact that he looks like Gollum.
posted by Joakim Ziegler at 4:53 PM on May 15, 2008


"yab-yum" is my new go-to for "ride-the-pony".
posted by Dizzy at 6:19 PM on May 15, 2008


If these two were SubGeniuses, they'd be shunned for not having sex.
posted by ZachsMind at 10:56 PM on May 15, 2008 [1 favorite]


A female SubGenius?
posted by Grangousier at 11:01 PM on May 15, 2008


The most interesting part of this is the kind of fear/rejection of women normally associated with conservatives from a group normally associated with liberals.

I keep wondering why the Dalai Lama plays so well with USian poor-white-trash. Could this be the reason? A deep resonance between the two groups as regards fear/obsession with respect to normal sexuality?
posted by telstar at 11:32 PM on May 15, 2008


A female SubGenius?

Indeed.
posted by homunculus at 12:43 AM on May 16, 2008


Her Hotness, Christie McNally and the pinky mutilation incident, with MP3 audio.
here
posted by SevenPercentSolution at 3:37 AM on May 16, 2008


Meh. Buddhism, like most Eastern religions, gets a lot of "woooo" factor here in the US because its uncommon here and its practices seem exotic. Its a religion just like Christianity and, just like Christianity, it has a long history of misogyny. The only people who get all misty eyed over Buddhism are the people who don't know anything about it.

The only real history of misogyny as it were is the twelve years it took for the Buddha to state that women could also become enlightened, and were worthy to teach the dharma. Coming from someone living in a pre-Christian civilization, twelve years ain't bad. Its further erroneous to assume that the necessary separation of men and women monks is an example of sexism. The point for any monk is to overcome physical longing... A homosexual monk who was truly devout, for instance, would separate himself from his peers in order to better clear his mind of distraction.

That being said, there has been institutionalized misogyny dating back to various factions' attempts to use Buddhism for governance. The same can be said of any major world religion that has become an institution. The Chinese use Taoism to justify exactly the sort of oppression and injustice it was meant to fight.

Buddhism, at its core, is not sexist. Unfortunately, once you mix religion and politics (the Dalai Lama does not speak for Buddhists, but for Tibetan Buddhists and as the political leader of Tibet), you tend to get some confusing results.
posted by softriver at 4:45 AM on May 16, 2008


While only sexual misconduct is prohibited outright, there is a ton of commentary throughout the canon attributed to the Buddha that sexuality is one of the most problematic forms of attachment.

This is a pedantic and therefore unhelpful statement. Shinran, the patriarch of Japan's True Pure Land sect, understood that, by following the rules, it would be impossible for most normal folk to achieve salvation (or whatever you want to call it). He ate meat and had three wives. But Shinran is revered (and respected) as one of Japan's greatest Buddhist leaders. But he basically dumped the canon out the door. Because Buddhism is about more than just words and rules.

But Roach is still a dubious character.
posted by KokuRyu at 7:57 AM on May 16, 2008


Without reading any of the links (I think I have before), I just wanted to say that a friend of mine from way back is a disciple of Geshe Roach, and a current good friend recently visited her on the land in the middle of Arizona. While the man's teachings seemed to have some wisdom and insight to it (I had listened in on one of his business seminars), there did seem to me, upon hearing the recounting of my friend's visit, that something ain't right in Denmark when it comes to things not normally associated with the teaching aspect. And that's all I gotta say about that, without going into details. Interesting to see it up on the blue.
posted by not_on_display at 2:43 PM on May 16, 2008


To underscore what others have already pointed out above, the controversy here, from the perspective of the buddhist community, is that Michael Roach has broken the rules of buddhist monasticism (in fact, they aren't just rules, but vows--that is, he promised to follow these rules). At the same time, he is still claiming to be a monk.

Monks (and nuns) are not allowed to have sex. They are not allowed to have celibate life-partnerships either.

Furthermore, it appears that he's lied about his activities on various occasions, and in so doing has violated another core precept (and not just for monks--many lay practitioners commit to a simpler set of vows that includes a commitment to truth-telling).

Less importantly, I want to clarify that the Vinaya, the vows of buddhist monasticism, are among the core traditions common across all schools of buddhism. Some variety in particulars emerged over time, but the essence is the same. This is not a gray area. (Incidentally, there are quite a few more rules for female monastics, which is among the major points addressed by feminist buddhists.)

***

Personally, I find their anti-restraining-order a bit wacky but simultaneously extremely interesting (irregardless of his being a monk--I'd feel the same about any couple making such a vow--far out!). I think they raise some intriguing and valid points about the growth potential of the challenges of such an arrangement. However, the fact that he's a monk, and the bit about the surgeon touching breasts in a non-sexual way, and their history of sharing a room at the retreat center where he was teaching prior to their 3 year retreat (BTW, extremely against the rules, not only of buddhism but of semantic logic, to have a partner in a solitary retreat), and the larger history of buddhist teachers engaging in this sort of hanky panky, suggests to me that it's extremely likely that they practice tantric sex--that is, sex that attempts to be entirely without desire, but a kind of selfless meditation. . .I think Thurman got it exactly right when he characterized this behavior as a sort of "superhuman" trip.

More subjectively, I first met Michael Roach in 1996. At that time he seemed relatively normal. He wore a business suit and was moslty interested in talking about the Asian Classics Input Project (digitizing the buddhist canon). When I next met him during the Dalai Lama's visit in Indiana in 2000, he wore robes and a continual blissed out grin, and was followed everywhere by an entourage of young students--they carried a parasol to protect him from the sun, the whole nine yards--and many of these students were young women--a pretty familiar trope. The vibe I got from him was that he was on a saint trip, basically thinking that he'd reached the big realization, worked it all out (and once you believe this, any possible behavior becomes permissible). A lot of other folks in buddhist circles thought he was getting pretty eccentric. . .but his students ADORED him--another familiar trope. At that particular event, only Steven Segal could give him a run for his money, vis-a-vis wacky loose canon high-profile buddhist personalities.

As a side note, a friend of mine has a very interesting psychological theory about guru-based practices in the west, having to do with parental figures and narcissistic wounding. . .she wrote her Master's thesis on this. . .

Sigh. Sexy Sadie, what have you done?
posted by flotson at 11:42 PM on May 16, 2008


There are certain mandatory aspects of being human. Certain things the body is supposed to do - that it's designed to do - and perpetuating the species is one of them.

Eating. Breathing. Drinking. Seeking shelter. Reproducing. Cultivating community. Health and hygeine. Seeking knowledge. Pursuits of happiness. These and other behaviors are intrinsic to being human. Even if one were to get to the bare necessities, reproducing would still be among them

Any religion or philosophy that tells human beings they should not do one of these things is absurd. It's an act of insanity to deny oneself and call it fulfillment.

"The only people who get all misty eyed over Buddhism are the people who don't know anything about it."

I used to get misty eyed over Buddhism, but when one looks into it even on a cursory level, it reveals itself to be as controlling and manipulative as any other religion. That is a grand disappointment.
posted by ZachsMind at 6:01 AM on May 18, 2008


ZachsMind--

Buddhism does not tell people not to have sex. Monastics choose not to have sex (and take a vow of poverty, etc.) in order to simplify their lives, to increase their focus on meditation and other aspects of Buddhist practice.

I used to get misty eyed over Buddhism, but when one looks into it even on a cursory level, it reveals itself to be as controlling and manipulative as any other religion.

How so?
posted by flotson at 4:58 PM on May 18, 2008


Any religion or philosophy that tells human beings they should not do one of these things is absurd. It's an act of insanity to deny oneself and call it fulfillment.

Denial can be wonderful for focus. Consider denying yourself MeFi for a week, and see how much more you get done. Now apply that to the spiritual realm. Sure, Hedonism has arguments going for it, too... but then, 'many paths, one source,' yeah?
posted by dirtynumbangelboy at 3:33 AM on May 19, 2008


"Consider denying yourself MeFi for a week, and see how much more you get done."

*sound effect of rolling eyes*

There have been weeks and months when I've forgotten this place was even here. I didn't consciously do it, but I left and then I came back. There have been other times when I consciously chose not to come here, and did other things.

These are not roads to spiritual enlightenment. Neither is anything else. Spiritual enlightenment is something we tell ourselves exists. Kinda like Santa Claus for adults.

"How so?"

Buddhism is a form of mental control. It is an argument for a way of thinking. Maybe this is good for people. Maybe it's better for some than it is for others. Still, good or bad, it's manipulation. That makes it as controlling or manipulating as any other religion.

I'm beginning to find I see little to no difference between 'religion' and 'cult.' I'm also beginning to question presumed differences between 'theology' and 'philosophy.'
posted by ZachsMind at 4:31 PM on May 22, 2008


...or the presumed differences between "accepting things on faith" and "consciously allowing oneself to be conned."

These two people purposefully choose to live as it has been described to them a buddhist should live. They also choose to remain no more than fifteen feet apart from one another. Others have chosen to determine that these two choices are contrary to one another. These two choose not to see it that way.

What does any of this have to do with anything sane and real? Why do we place so much weight and value on things that aren't even things? They're ideas. Abstracts. Constructs of the mind with no valid substance in reality beyond our subjective perspectives - if we choose to have them. Am I the only one who finds all this kinda stuff incredibly bonkers crazy?
posted by ZachsMind at 7:51 AM on May 25, 2008


ZachsMind writes "I used to get misty eyed over Buddhism, but when one looks into it even on a cursory level, it reveals itself to be as controlling and manipulative as any other religion. That is a grand disappointment."

I wouldn't call it "manipulative", since "manipulation" implies "controlling someone without their knowing it". But, yeah, it's incredibly controlling.

But it's a system of self-control. I don't see how on earth you could find it a grand disappointment that a system of self-control is very controlling. I'd find it a grand disappointment if it weren't as controlling as other religions.
posted by Bugbread at 3:44 PM on May 25, 2008


I'm beginning to find I see little to no difference between 'religion' and 'cult.'

I think you're throwing out the baby with the bathwater, by equating all religious practice with its worst manifestations. I can't deny all the shenanigans that have been perpetrated in the names of various figures and creeds, but I've also seen very positive transformative qualities, though these seem to be on a smaller scale--religion seems to work best individually or in small groups.

Spiritual enlightenment is something we tell ourselves exists. Kinda like Santa Claus for adults.


I guess there's no real argument to be made here--this is your personal conviction. I'm not personally that interested in some kind of perfect, transcendent state--it's a little too abstract for me. But I have known individuals who are exceptionally kind, patient, insightful, and a lot of other good things, for whom spiritual practice is an important part of life.

And I personally have benefitted from meditation, yoga, tai chi, and the worldviews underlying these practices.

What does any of this have to do with anything sane and real? Why do we place so much weight and value on things that aren't even things? They're ideas. Abstracts. Constructs of the mind with no valid substance in reality beyond our subjective perspectives - if we choose to have them. Am I the only one who finds all this kinda stuff incredibly bonkers crazy?

Your point, in general, is a good one. But I would add that these mental constructs are also things we share--they have social meaning, and this meaning has value. That's where the objection lies. Michael Roach claims to be a monk, but also lives with a woman. For Buddhists, for those who share the subjectivity of Buddhism, this is problematic. Ultimately, the average Buddhist probably agrees with you in the sense that "well, it's his own karma". But his position as a spiritual teacher/leader makes it more troubling
posted by flotson at 7:38 PM on May 28, 2008


Uhm... God where do I begin?

You can be manipulated and know it's happening to you. Happens to me every time I go to a fast food restaurant. The second you walk in you're being manipulated. The color choices. The lighting. The way the menu is presented. The choice of words the cashier is given to greet you.

Heck. At my own job I'm manipulated. My boss tells me how to do whatever so that she's more satisfied with it. I choose to do what she says cuz if I don't, I'm out on the street. Make no mistake though, if given a choice I'd do it how I wanted to do it. I choose to be manipulated so that I can keep my job. And more often than not she's persuasive in a nice way so I don't feel like a complete and utter mule, but we both know who's holding the leash, here.

Television shows are designed to get you to stay in your seat for the commercials. Sometimes it doesn't work. Sometimes it does. Sometimes you know it's happening. Commercials are REALLY designed to manipulate you - and they don't hide that fact.

Whenever you go to the circus, or a concert, or a movie, or one of those sit down restaurants with cozy music and subdued lighting, you're being manipulated. They're trying to make you have a good time. You go there cuz you wanna have a good time. It's a mutual choice, but it's still manipulation.

You may argue that's not the same thing. There are shades of grey here, but it is the same thing. Sometimes manipulation can be a good thing. Someone with a petition persuades you to sign in order to help spread awareness about something important and get something done about it. I argue whether that's useful. Nine times out of ten my signature means nothing, but every great now and then that pile of signatures adds up and something actually does get done. No harm in that. Still, you gotta really manipulate me to get me to sign and I know you're doing it when you do.

Sometimes persuasion is good. The best manipulation I'd argue is the manipulation that is up front about it. I'm trying to persuade you now. I want you to see my side of things. That's all well and good, but it's still manipulation.

In the most general of description, Buddhism as an abstract, is a tool of education, that teaches a choice for a way of life to other like-minded people. So is pretty much any theology or philosophy. Some are better at it than others. Some are more detailed than others. Some are liberal. Some are conservative. Some are dismissive of labels.

Being manipulated into choosing to control oneself is still manipulation, in my book.

I wish I could just convince people to stop following other people's teachings and do what comes naturally, but that would be turned into a theology too. Actually.. it already has been. A few times.

Manipulation is everywhere. I read recently over at discovery.com that there are orchids which have evolved to make themselves look and smell like female bees in order to attract the males. In fact chemically the flowers improved on the model, and male bees prefer the flower to their female counterparts if given a choice. Even bees are susceptible to manipulation, and eventually the male bee is gonna figure out that the female bee he's humping ain't real, but I doubt he gives a shit in that moment.

You can't escape it. Manipulation is everywhere, and it's very much in our face all the time.

Question is, why are we so hellbent on following the theologies that manipulate us to deny the very things that make us human? Why the hell is reproduction such a sinful thing? Why is defecation so taboo? These are things we MUST do. We're in these bodies. We HAVE to do them to function normally and perpetuate the species. And yet it seems most of the more successful theologies and philosophies teach that we are to shun activities that make us human, or at the very least not discuss them in public, and pretend they don't happen except in private.

All philosophies and ideologies and theologies that claim to allow mankind to rise above its own state of being are LIES. Those who continue believing in them are FOOLS. I'm one of them. I KNOW! It sucks.

Religion is beginning to behave upon me in a way similar to how I've heard alcoholics describe their battle with booze. I find my mental faculties constantly falling back on a faith in Christian doctrine like a crutch, and I'm seriously wondering why I am still drinking the koolaid. I can't dismiss a belief in God outright - but all the rest of it is seriously taking a beating when put up against facts and common sense.

Denial of self. It's called insanity. Look it up.

ZachsMind: "I'm beginning to find I see little to no difference between 'religion' and 'cult'."

Flotson: "I think you're throwing out the baby with the bathwater.."

Yeah? Well the babies we're stuck with now all grew up to be a psychopaths! We woulda been better off had we thrown out the babies five thousand years ago and kept the bathwater.
posted by ZachsMind at 8:15 PM on May 28, 2008 [1 favorite]


The science of happiness
posted by homunculus at 8:55 PM on May 28, 2008


Duuude! I so totally missed this one! Or like, if I did see this one when it was mentioned in The Blue, I musta spaced.
posted by ZachsMind at 11:59 PM on May 28, 2008


homunculus-- Wow, I didn't realize Alan Watts was still around. He's a favorite.

ZM-- I get where you're coming from. I've been going through a similar process. . .untangling myself from the dogma and the trappings (of Buddhism).

In important ways, it looks like our positions are pretty close. I'm skeptical of the same things, and my spiritual life is very personal, and private--something I might share with close friends, not a matter of public record.

The thing is, many of the serious problems with organized religion are not actually in the teachings themselves. And most or all of the problematic moments in various scriptures should be easy to view in a historical context, and do away with--a rational approach. But, apparently human beings are not the most rational of creatures. . .and so we manage to create all this hurtful, confused nonsense out of something that was originally very clear, simple and good.

I guess the only thing to do is watch Life of Brian again and have a good laugh. . .
posted by flotson at 3:47 AM on May 29, 2008


The Zen master Mu-nan had only one successor. His name was Shoju. After Shoju had completed his study of Zen, Mu-nan called him into his room. "I am getting old," he said, "and as far as I know, Shoju, you are the only one who will carry on this teaching. Here is a book. It has been passed down from master to master for seven generations. I also have added many points according to my understanding. The book is very valuable, and I am giving it to you to represent your successorship."

"If the book is such an important thing, you had better keep it," Shoju replied. "I received your Zen without writing and am satisfied with it as it is."

"I know that," said Mu-nan. "Even so, this work has been carried from master to master for seven generations, so you may keep it as a symbol of having received the teaching. Here."

The two happened to be talking before a brazier. The instant Shoju felt the book in his hands he thrust it into the flaming coals. He had no lust for possessions.

Mu-nan, who never had been angry before, yelled: "What are you doing!"

Shoju shouted back: "What are you saying!"


There is no doctrine. The is no koolaid. There is no self control, because there is no self. There is no manipulation, because there is nothing to manipulate. It's all Santa. Dig it.
posted by ewkpates at 6:23 AM on May 29, 2008 [3 favorites]


Santas all the way down, eh?
posted by flotson at 5:30 PM on May 29, 2008


I think it's really unfair that Zachsmind probably walks away feeling relatively unchallenged most of the time simply because of his tendency to ramble on and on until gleaning and dissecting his point feels like way more work than it's worth.

I'm sorry you have these issues with religion and with Buddhism, ZM, but it's not going to ever get any better (in fact, many other things won't, either) as long as you keep considering all theoretical possibilities beyond your comprehension to be worthless and insane.
posted by [NOT HERMITOSIS-IST] at 7:17 PM on May 29, 2008 [3 favorites]


« Older The very angry caterpillar is a film made by the p...  |  The Adventures of God-Man... Newer »


This thread has been archived and is closed to new comments