September 15, 2010

Sex, Sin, and Zen

Buddhist blogs are abuzz with reviews of Sex, Sin, and Zen: A Buddhist Exploration of Sex from Celibacy to Polyamory and Everything in Between, a new book by Brad Warner---author, Soto Zen priest, blogger, and punk rock bass guitarist. You'll have to stay tuned to the Winter 2010 issue of Tricycle for our thoughts on the book, but for now here's what's being said in the blogosphere about Warner's latest effort, which touches on everything from porn to prostitution to the Bodhisattva vow:

Though she says that the tone of the book can be all over the place and takes issue with his critiques of Wikipedia and guided meditation, blogger NellaLou found value in Warner's personal stories. She writes:

His personal anecdotes are somewhat engaging and he does have a certain warmth and way of expressing acceptance of even those things he is uncomfortable with or even tacitly disapproves of. So there’s not a lot of real pretentiousness or distancing from the reader. I like that he’s honest and seems to just write like himself and not try to be somebody else or particularly care who is impressed with him (except maybe the babes sometimes). So that’s kind of comfortable to read. It feels like a conversation one would have with their little brother sometimes.

When he gets into the Dharma and it’s relationship to social aspects these are quite good. That would be my favorite parts of the book. His psychological and sociological explanations are not abstract and come across as pretty well grounded. I would like to see him explore those kinds of themes a little more in the future.

And I’m glad he made the effort to try to address some very complex issues. The Dharma parts are quite engaging and for the most part fairly accurate. And a little more mature than the sex parts.

Verdict
Read it for the Dharma but not so much for specific sex advice.

DukkhaGirl appreciates Warner's willingness to tackle the tough topics that often go ignored--like abortion, pornography, and what qualifies as the "misuse of sexuality. She writes:

I haven’t read/heard much about Buddhist attitudes toward sex, outside of the precept to not misuse sexuality. But what constitutes a misuse of sexuality?  There are a few things we would all (I hope) agree constitute a misuse of sexuality.  But outside of those things it’s a murky area and Buddhism largely leaves it up to the individual to decide what is “misusing sexuality.” ...In one chapter, Warner explores celibacy and some of the vinayarules on sex, but many of these are so far out (as he recognizes) that they have little bearing on the lives of modern laypeople 8.  I like the way he relates defining what would be a misuse of sex back to the Bodhisattva vows and “saving all beings…from [ourselves]:”

TMcG over at the Full Contact Enlightenment blog throws this into the mix:

Brad is able to give us some real-world wisdom on a topic that is definitely controversial, but I find that he has done a great job. The book brings you on an interesting journey in the world of sex: masturbation, dating, gender identity, pornography and so much more . . . I highly recommend this book to anyone who is curious about sex in Buddhism and is sick of always getting the same answer from their meditation teachers (you know the one that I am talking about, when they refer you to the rules of sex for monks in monastaries). Brad gives us insights and answers that we are able to apply in the real world, a much more pragmatic approach if you ask me!

And Bill at Digital Dharma offers the following take:

Sex, Sin and Zen is not an attempt on Warner’s part to pontificate about what “good Buddhists” are supposed to believe with regard to the beast with two (or more) backs.  What it really comes down to is a very personal exploration of Buddhist ethics and teachings as they seem to him to apply to situations that he has experienced, or heard, or been asked about.  He doesn’t claim to have the answers — is, in fact, excruciatingly careful to make it clear that these are personal decisions — yet he provides a first-class framework to use in thinking about such issues as they apply to us.  I mean, this book includes an entire chapter devoted to examining the practice of well-known porn star Nina Hartley, and how she incorporates Buddhism into her work and marriage.  It would take a writer with a background in blogging for “Suicide Girls” to even dream of pulling that off — but Warner does, and we feel as though we learned something.

Sounds like quite the read. If you're interested in reading Warner's new book, you can purchase it here.

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Chris D's picture

What...what kind of meditation teacher refers a layperson to the ancient monastic rules about sex? That's such a wildly inappopriate response to the situation that I barely know where to start.

Grover's picture

Gramps! You go badass Brad. Dude! Zen daddio! I hope this suplements your penshun!

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