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Saturday, December 30, 2006

Zen Teacher Brad Warner Writing a Column on a Porn Site

Brad Warner: A reader wrote me this week to ask:

Why are you writing for Suicide Girls? Seriously, why? I think there are real repercussions to a respected Zen teacher writing for a soft-porn website. Please give us an explanation, is it your idea of skillful means or what? Someone is getting rich by pandering to base desires, and you seem to be endorsing it through Zen. I don't understand how you came to this. Who cares how many tattoos or piercings they have, it is still internet porn, they just do a better job than most sites of making people feel OK about it. Your presence on the site, I'm sure, will help to justify many a lonely night in front of the computer screen. If I may be so presumptuous as to offer a blog title for you... "Get your hand off your cock and touch your thumb tips lightly!"

Warner: I expected a lot of this kind of reaction when I started writing here. As for SG getting rich pandering to base desires, lots of people get rich pandering to base desires. And lots of us wouldn’t have jobs at all if it weren’t for them. When something sells, it indicates a need for human beings to explore that particular aspect of their collective consciousness. I have a lot more problems with some of the base desires I see being pandered to in Buddhist publications than the ones pandered to here. When I see ads for instant enlightenment seminars and meditation machines, I wonder if everything I say about Buddhism will be taken as an endorsement of that kind of garbage. At least here I can be reasonably certain most readers don’t think I’m pushing naked boobies — not that I have any problem with naked boobies. It’s just that there’s no instant association with the rest of what SG sells the way there is with any of the scams that choose to call themselves “Buddhism.” (Which is not to say that all or even most of what goes by the name Buddhism is a scam. But scams do exist.) Am I “endorsing Internet porn through Zen” or “justifying many a lonely night in front of a computer screen?” Seriously, I have no idea what that even means. If anyone is waiting for justification from me in order to masturbate, I just don’t get that at all. I asked my teacher what he thought of my writing for SG and he said, “I think that it is very good decision for you to accept such a job. I do not find any kind of moral problem in them (the pictures on SG), however, I found only whether they are beautiful, or not. I think that we are usually influenced by old-fashioned religious criteria, but on the basis of Buddhism, there seems to exist a kind of criterion that what is moral is always beautiful, and what is beautiful is usually moral. Even though my idea is not so affirmative to me yet, I think that there are some kind of criteria to identify morals and beauty in Buddhism.” Depictions of naked women have been a part of human artistic expression — including Buddhist art — as long as humans have been expressing themselves artistically. Deal with it, already. American society is still strongly influenced by Puritan ideas of morality. When Buddhism was first introduced to this country, it was interpreted through these ideas. A long-standing misunderstanding of Buddhism has it that Buddha’s formula for achieving peace of mind was through the destruction of all desire. For people raised in a Christian society the worst of all desires is the desire to get one’s rocks off. When you examine it clearly, though, the idea that you should destroy all desire is absurd. You can’t even survive without the desire for food, water and air. The human race wouldn’t exist at all without the desire for sex. But this hasn’t stopped lots of people from engaging in a futile struggle to produce some magically altered mental state in which they want for nothing. It ain’t gonna happen. The real trick is to see all of your thoughts — desire just being one type of thought — for what they really are. How about your desire for a Buddhist teacher that doesn’t write articles for soft porn websites? Where does that come from? I’ve long felt that the reason Buddhism has been relegated to the junk heap of hippy philosophies that didn’t work in the Sixties so why bother with them now is because it’s been presented so exceedingly poorly, mainly by people who don’t have a clue what it is anyway. It’s not about some kind of mystical serenity available only to those rare beings among us who have freed themselves from their base desires. Buddhism is for everyone. It’s for what you are and who you are right now, warts and tattoos and naked pictures saved on your hard drive for those lonely nights and all.

James: Now call me a "rebel Buddhist" or whatever but I thought this was timely for our modern culture and well written with some great points. Why do some of us fear sexuality so much?? I think sexual expression of the human body has it's time and place and to deny ourselves such pleasure is too be miserable, pent-up people. Just like all pursuits of pleasure (eating, watching t.v./movies, music, sports, etc.) it comes down to balance and mindfulness. I think there can be such a thing as mindful sexuality/sexual expression.

O.k. now go ahead and stone me as a Buddhist heretic but before you do remember that the Buddha rejected both worshiping the body as well as denying the body. I believe that pleasure in and of itself isn't bad at all but it's the attachment (or addiction might be a better word) to pleasure over everything else that is the problem.

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17 comments:

Al said...

I tend to agree if I don't always agree with Warner's take on Buddhism.

hitchhiker72 said...

Hi, thanks for this. I don't have an opinion on Warner's decision either way, but it's interesting to see how it impinges on our expectations of what a Zen teacher should be. Our Zen group sometimes discusses how to have a healthy relationship to money (I guess the next biggest human concern next to sexuality!), and whether it is a contradiction for Zen priests/teachers to be millionaires, or in the case of one, married to one (http://tinyurl.com/ylfjyb).

I think trying to strike that balance between the material world and the spiritual is a large part of the practice, as you well noted. I've always imagined walking the "Middle Way" like crossing a big river with the help of stones you can't see beneath the water -- you gotta keep feeling for them and risk being washed off from time to time.

Thanks for your blog and happy New Year!

awouldbehipster said...

This is a tricky subject that requires a graceful approach. 'Right' and 'Wrong' are conceptual opposites that are - when seen through eyes of the wise - inseparable and dependent upon each other for their existence. To cling to one side or the other is like holding one's breath in fear of not being able to take another breath. Every now and then, we need to let go so we can refresh our perspective and once again find the middle way.

Gurl said...

wow, this is something new to me. I don't think in something like this there's is a middle way but maybe that's cause I'm female and can't relate. still, thanks for sharing

Tim said...

You make some valid points. However, I think the negative perception might be enough to invalidate them. Slight nudity can be a part of art, but a site like Suicide Girls could hardly be legitimately called art. It's all about lust and desire...wanting something you cant have. Seems like a slippery slope.

"James" said...

Al:

Yeah I don't always agree with Warner's take on Buddhism but he does raise some good points.

Hitch:

Expectations are such snares of suffering. They almost never, EVER come to pass.

Money is another good example of striking a balance. Thanks for bringing it up. Great commentary.

Happy New Year to you as well!!!

Hipster:

To cling to one side or the other is like holding one's breath in fear of not being able to take another breath.

Well said and holding one's breath for things to change just isn't practical or do able. It's another way that we try to force our perceptions upon not only ourselves but others as well.

Gurl:

I just think that we demonize sexuality and it's expression too much. Thank-you for sharing your opinion though. All are welcome here. :)

Tim:

Hmmm, well I see where you're coming from but I personally see sexuality as art. Maybe this is stretching it but I compare it to a Picasso. Some people don't call it art and some even think it's disgusting but others see it as a masterpiece.

There are people that lust for possessing a Picasso but many others who can admire it from afar and go on with the rest of their day/life.

It is a slippery slope I guess but then what isn't in life?? This existence is all about making tough, personal decisions. The middle path often narrows to a razor's edge and if we lean too far away from embracing and enjoying sexual expression then we will fall off the path. It doesn't take long before we think the body to be disgusting and something to be ashamed of.

Just the same if we have an addiction to said expression then we fall off the edge as well.

Anyway, I may not be "right" on this issue but it's where I sit right now.

Anonymous said...

I see 'soft-porn' as harming another, which is on the list of buddhist no-nos, if I'm correct? I see a lot of rationalisation here about art, and about 'healthy sexuality' when 'soft' porn really redices the women pictured to the objects of another's gaze - slaves in fact.

Just becuase your teacher htinks its ok doesn't mean it is - he is a male, don't forget. (I am not, if you hadn't guessed.) Ask a few female teachers their opinion, if you dare.

"James" said...

Anon:

I know some Buddhist women (including my wife) who agree with me on this one. How can these women be slaves when they do it because they enjoy it and get paid good money for it?? They are free to quit and do something else anytime. AND I don't think it's fair for you to say that all men (including male teachers) want to enslave women!!

You say that I am rationalizing it by calling it art but you have no right to say what someone should see as art and not. Nor do you have the right to say what someone should do or not do.

Who put you in charge of making such decisions?

I don't mean to be pissy but you kinda of called me out. There's a way to disagree without over-exaggerating and insulting people. And yet you talk about not harming people??

And by the way, next time please post a name. It's easy for someone to sit and throw rocks when you remain anonymous.

V for Vendetta said...

The mind tells stories. Stop believing them!

Andrew Lachaine said...

I find it good to bring out sexuality into the open. I'm always uncomfortable when people start advocating giving sexuality up altogether in the name of Buddhism or whatever religion or philosophy.

Sex can be good, if no one is harmed.And as long as there is moderation.

Why do we have to feel that others have to be judged?

Sex = OK. As long as one doesn't do it all day long. Just like one wouldn't brush one's teeth all day long. (As a Zen teacher said, whoever he was.)

Love & Peace.

"James" said...

Andrew:

Exactly. I wouldn't want to have sex all day long. I enjoy the diversity in life too much.

It's like enjoying a piece of sugary candy. It's a yummy treat but after awhile you get sick to your stomach if you eat them all day long.

Sachman Bhatti said...

Is soft porn not divine? What is buddha, and what is not buddha? All is buddha. There is no buddha.

Alan Watts said it is funny how in western religions people hear of a priest having sex and think of it is a tragedy...but would not a spiritual person be so in love with life as to engage in it fully.

To love everything, is to love Samsara as well. Being faustian is evidence of great love.

"James" said...

Sachman:

I agree with your points. We like to try and segregate all things into little boxes and categories. However, that is an exercise in delusion and suffering.

Sexuality too often is seen as taboo and bad. How can we hate our bodies and their functions so much?? Are we not to neither reject nor worship our bodies?? Finding balance means embracing our sexuality too. We can not reject sexuality and claim that we are balanced in our approach to life.

I just fail to see the "bad" in watching the beautiful body engage in the most touching and lovely action the body can do. Sure, like all things one can be off balance with sexuality. However, why do we assume right away that everyone who enjoys pornography is addicted to it and suffering because of it??

Do we assume that everyone who drinks a cup of coffee is addicted to caffeine?? No of course not.

Assumptions are very dangerous.

Anonymous said...

I do not lable myself with any religion, i dont agree with getting a package of beliefs so maybee i cannot disagree. I am not so much interested in the topic. What interest me is how you needed to consult your teacher on what he thought. He seems to be a leader I think if you find out what makes him a spiritual leader you may find that your articles will better show your true intention. I say this with no ego I am myself trying to find myself I look to the dahli lama as a role model because I am also in the search of knowledge but relize I will only gain it through my quest for it. I would like to here a response. to aid my quest I would also like to hear what your teacher thinks. My email is tampabay05@aol.com

"James" said...

Anon:

Well first of all that is not my article. I was quoting someone else who wrote it. That person being Brad Warner. I am James. :)

I don't really have a teacher...except the Buddha. The Buddha said not to believe anything unless we find it to be so ourselves and I have not found the sexual restrictions on lay people to be balanced. That's just me though. I realize that not everyone agrees with me and that is more then fine.

I certainly don't pretend to be an expert on Buddhism. I'm just a humble , imperfect traveler on the path myself.

I don't know what else that I can tell you.

Anonymous said...

Who established the rule that pious Buddhists, or even outright realized humans were supposed to behave in a manner considered virtuous, sin-free or "good?" Do his actions imply that he isn't "good" by nature? Goodness and virtue by definition vary widely from person to person. Forget about subjectivity.

I firmly beleve "it" can manifest itself as much through the least moral and most evil human being as well as those who rarely "sin." And if you believe "it" chooses, well, then you need to re-evaluate your belief systems.

Above all, stop wallowing in your surface assumptions and challenge yourselves with some hard questions.

The Uncreated

James Ure said...

The Uncreated:

Well said. Lots to think about. Thanks for commenting.

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