The Dalai Lama, the exiled Tibetan spiritual and temporal leader, on Friday said sex spelt fleeting satisfaction and trouble later, while chastity offered a better life and “more freedom.”
“Sexual pressure, sexual desire, actually I think is short period satisfaction and often, that leads to more complication,” the Dalai Lama told reporters in a Lagos hotel, speaking in English without a translator.
He said conjugal life caused “too much ups and downs.’
“Naturally as a human being … some kind of desire for sex comes, but then you use human intelligence to make comprehension that those couples always full of trouble. And in some cases there is suicide, murder cases,” the Dalai Lama said.
He said the “consolation” in celibacy is that although “we miss something, but at the same time, compare whole life, it’s better, more independence, more freedom.”
Considered a Buddhist Master exempt from the religion’s wheel of death and reincarnation, the Dalai Lama waxed eloquent on the Buddhist credo of non-attachment.
“Too much attachment towards your children, towards your partner,” was “one of the obstacle or hindrance of peace of mind,” he said.
What would we expect a celibate religious leader to say about those who made different choices? That his way was better, of course. Couldn’t he be content without having to devalue others’?
It’s highly predictable that those who cling to their notions about the spirit world are quick to condemn what they view as the inferior pleasures of the flesh. But for those of us who are actually living–sex, partnership and children represent not just the height of fulfillment–but include the full range of what’s possible to experience. It’s not either sex, family, children or a life of spirituality. It’s and.
“Spiritual” people should stop trying to represent the way of material deprivation as the only way or the best way. I find it disingenuous and hostile for those who purvey the immaterial to devalue the strongest pillars of material life–which represent not only essential continuity–but also our best attempts to navigate the maze of conflicts, struggles and rewards life brings.
The Dalai Lama’s statement is equivalent to sitting on the sidelines saying: “that game looks too stressful for me, so I think I’ll just declare it irrelevant and distracting.”
Khalil Gibran has a much better take:
When love beckons to you, follow him,
Though his ways are hard and steep.
And when his wings enfold you yield to him,
Though the sword hidden among his pinions may wound you.
And when he speaks to you believe in him,
Though his voice may shatter your dreams
as the north wind lays waste the garden.
For even as love crowns you so shall he crucify you.
Even as he is for your growth so is he for your pruning.
All these things shall love do unto you
that you may know the secrets of your heart,
and in that knowledge become a fragment of Life’s heart.
But if in your fear you would seek only
love’s peace and love’s pleasure,
Then it is better for you that you cover your nakedness
and pass out of love’s threshing floor,
Into the seasonless world where you
shall laugh, but not all of your laughter,
and weep, but not all of your tears.
I used to read that poem while performing wedding ceremonies.
It doesn’t take a Dalai Lama to know that love is hard and love is not all about pleasure. But to make a categorical statement that it invariably spells trouble?
Lots of people revere the Dalai Lama, and over the years I have found him to have taken many admirable positions. I met him in Dharamsala when I was six years old–having no idea of his significance. I later came to respect his views on the primacy of science. But with this interview, he has just exposed his shadow to all of us. He has shown himself to be closer to the position of a Pope than what I had come to think of as an evolved humanist. I’m disillusioned and very sad he would lend his voice to the age-old sex-negative religious funeral dirge.
This is what the Dalai Lama has now demonstrated with certainty: because it declares interior warfare on humanity’s strongest impulse, long-term celibacy breeds bitterness and warps the mind. It leads to inescapable regret.
I shudder to think what it would be like to inhabit the world where we laugh, but not all of our laughter, and weep, but not all of our tears. I utterly reject that notion. I choose to live the full catastrophe!
Update: The recognition of “asexual” as a rare but valid category of sexual orientation puts an asterisk by what I’ve said here about celibacy. But for the vast majority of human beings who are not asexual, involuntary lack of sexual fulfillment leads to serious pathology. Just look at the spreading online sickness in the incel community, or the continuing sex scandals that plague religions which demand a celibate priesthood. –Sean Prophet, September 2022