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Friday, January 23, 2009

What is the Zen of Pornography?

What does this article have to do with Zen? Not much except the author's attempt to make a two sentence statement about pornography into a koan. Other then those two sentences there is no other reference to Zen or Buddhism. YET. Yet the title of the post is, "The Zen of Porn: If Pornography is Everywhere, Is It Nowhere?"

Upon reading that I thought that the article was going to be about some Zen Buddhist porn star or something. Instead it's an article about one woman's crusade against pornography.

I don't want to get into the debate about pornography itself (Though I will say that I consider pornography along with much of sexuality to be a personal matter). That said I found it somewhat disrespectful that she was using the Zen label to draw attention to an article about pornography. It appears to me that once again Zen has been misused for a catchy, "cool" title.

I know that it's often better to ignore this kind of thing but it seems at some point we need to say something if for no other reason than for self-respect. Yes, it's important not to get angry with every misuse of our Buddhist labels but it's also important to value our traditions--and ourselves. I don't think we need to get offended at every misuse of Buddhist labels either but at some point it comes down to showing courtesy for other beliefs and people.

Yes, it's important for ourselves to not get attached to simple words but simple words also carry sacred energy and meaning too. At some point we have to say something or we'll end up with Zen toilet seat covers and Zen toilet paper. Yes, it's important to keep the peace and not get personally invested in such disrespect but it's also important to stand for something.

Imagine saying, "The Christianity of Porn," you'd get bombarded by people finding offense and rightly so. Sometimes you have to draw a line. Yes, Buddhism is more than words but there is still a tradition to it and it would be sad if we just let all of our traditions disappear. True we don't need all of those things to practice meditation but then don't we just become someone who happens to meditate?

If Buddha is just a word then why do we take refuge in it? Don't we do Buddha's gift of the Dharma to us a bit of a disservice? Maybe I'm not a "real Buddhist" but I like some tradition and sacredness in my beliefs. I enjoy having things to respect and find meaning and value in.

Some people just don't know any better so I'm not saying we should insult them back but I am advocating that we educate whenever we have the opportunity.

~Peace to all beings~

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Ted Bagley said...

I think pornography in general can be said to be an action of total exposure leaving nothing to the imagination. So an action implies a receiver of the action as well as the one committing the pornography. The receiver has nowhere to go and has a choice of either watching or looking away. This is a forced choice, as both are determined by as a result of seeing the act, that is exposed as the something else beyond words in the the act itself. That which is beyond words is the remainder of the total exposure that isn't said in the act. This something else is the Zen part. This sounds a little muddled, but it might point in the right direction, anyway.

Zita said...

BAH! Ok so my new mission, incorporate the prase, "The Christianity of______" everytime it may sound appropriate.


EZG said...

The Christianity of Pornography. Such genius.

They call him James Ure said...

Gives new meaning to "Love one another," eh?

Ted Bagley said...

HA HA HA HA, you guys are great!

forest wisdom said...

Great post, and seriously...I heartily agree with your point of view on this. I do hate to see words cheapened until they lose all real meaning. I think that has long been happening with Zen. Your approach is a wise one: not insult and scorn back, but patiently educating wherever we can.

Peace to you

Anonymous said...

Very Well Said.

Twisted Branch said...

Your lack of knowledge of authentic Dhamma teaching is astounding. It's amazing you even have the courage to call this the "Buddhist blog". All this crap you ramble on about has absolutely nothing to do with Buddhism. Your blogs are far more offensive to Buddhist tradition than any off-hand use of the term Zen. Please study authentic Buddhist teachings before claiming knowledge of Buddhism.

They call him James Ure said...

Twisted Branch:

I'm sorry that you feel that way and I never claim to be an expert. I selected the name "Buddhist blog" because I couldn't think of anything creative and it was the first thing that came to mind.

If you read in my profile I don't claim to be a teacher. I'm just trying to make sense of things as best I can. I'm sorry that you find my blog offensive but I must say that you're in the minority.

Maybe you should use your blog to teach the Dhamma the way you understand it since you seem to know it all. Rather than come onto someone else's blog and judge and insult them. Just a thought.

You can disagree with someone without being insulting and rude.

forest wisdom said...

Twisted Branch,
It's one thing to disagree with someone, but the way in which you have disrespectfully attacked James here is utterly uncalled for.

So what good is your apparently "authentic" knowledge of the Dhamma doing you then if you still walking around being an asshole to people? How enlightened is that?

Knowledge is one thing, and practice is wholly another. If someone who supposedly "knows" acts like a jerk, and someone who doesn't "know" but makes every effort to practice responds with humbleness and respect (as I commend James for doing).... Hmmmm, who are people going to listen to?

I honestly and truly wish you peace, Twisted Branch, but please, get over yourself.

L.B. said...

I love it when your explorations of this deluded world lead to such a heated debate, sir.
If someone has pornographic pics taken for money, that is certainly their personal business and none of my concern. When the lens' subject is under eighteen, then it is everyone's concern.

Ted Bagley said...

Maybe Sir Twisted Branch can let us all know what authentic Dhamma teaching is. What is it he thinks is not being said "correctly"and such. With allowed return questioning, of course.

Twisted Branch said...

Maybe I was a bit harsh, I am truly sorry for my offensive comments. Sometimes I get frustrated with the western understanding of Buddhism. I would use my blog to teach Dhamma, but it is not the place for teaching. I will no longer use this forum as a place to vent personal frustrations. Thanks also to forest wisdom for your wise perspective. said...

Thanks for mentioning this article. It inspired my own post on the subject. Check it:

elf_man said...

My thought is, the negative parts of porn that are getting normalized were already the result of a society with an unhealthy view of sexuality. So when the culture shifts to being more permissive of sexuality, you have a lot of people who can't really handle it, and end up with people getting over-sexualized. We don't have a healthy filter between sexuality that can be public, and sexuality that should remain private, so it all ends up everywhere.

Now, the real conclusion of the koan-like tagline is that porn is not the hideous, marginal, corrupting force that some people make it out to be. People like sex, they like porn, it actually is everywhere and in and of itself, that isn't a bad thing. It's just accepting people as, gasp, sexual beings. It already is everywhere, so we need to get over it and teach people to appropriately respond to sexuality.

What's also interesting is that the title, in reference to the point of the article, seems to imply that Zen can be used to justify anything. Okay, it's really just the author's ignorance bringing in the word, because it fit the phrasing they wanted to use, but again, that's the problem with this kind of overuse.

Zita said...

I mean one's political view of porn has nothing to do with this... but those phrases like, "The Tao of______" and "The Zen of _____"

are pretty annoyingly bogus... my other pet peeve is when I hear the IT guy being called "the tech guru"

GAH! CAN THESE PEOPLE JUST TAKE THE TIME TO WIKIPEDIA GURU, ZEN, AND TAO? it would only take a minute, and then they could stop sounding like, well... morons...

Dhamma81 said...

There will always be stuff like this happening in the world. You do what you can, but not everyone is going to understand nor care. If we take on the world we'll just just end up destroying ourselves in the effort to change others. We need a foundation in our own practice and lots of understanding before we should make the choice to get too engaged or not or things can happen.

Zen and pornography is a stretch, but so is a lot of the quasi Zen stuff that goes on in the West. There are many charlatans and crooked Masters who garner praise and say they are enlightened yet they sex up their students. Sex isn't something the arahants are capable of according to the Canon, so if we take the Buddha at his word in the texts nothing to do with sex is really the peak of Buddhism, Zen or otherwise. Even so getting too worked up or offended at others shortcomings or misunderstandings is just fodder for our own suffering and can cause trouble if we let it spiral out of control. I wish you and yur readers well James.

forest wisdom said...

I think there is much wisdom in Dhamma81's words here. It perhaps was not the most "skillful" of things for me to respond as I did to Twisted Branch.

Oh well, the path continues and I will do what I can to cease contributing to my own and other suffering.

I wish peace to you all

Ted Bagley said...

Maybe if The word "No" or "Nothing were substituted for Zen then there might be more truth read into the phrase being said. Probably more than intended. Turns the phrase inward as a question no matter what it's used with. What is the "No" of pornography? Or the "Nothing"?

They call him James Ure said...


Thanks, I try to keep things interesting here. Agreed about the under age stuff.

Twisted Branch:

Thank-you for the apology. I don't mind differences in opinion as long as we can respect and be nice to each other. In the end all of us are imperfect and trying out best to figure out samsara and deal with our karma.

Buddhism is bound to develop differently in the west as in did in Asia. Even in different Asian countries is have developed differently. There are some big differences between say Theravada and Zen.

I think our differences are in large part due to different karma and thus different ways of understanding.

Elf Man:

I agree with a lot of what you said. Sexuality can indeed lead to suffering. Especially when sexuality is taught to be bad because then we learn to hate ourselves. And when we become addicted to sexuality.

Then when the inevitable sexual urges emerge we aren't equipped to handle them in a healthy way.

Sexuality isn't always a "bad thing" in my view as long as one doesn't see it as a way toward lasting peace. We all have our personal views of pornography.

That said, living in free society here in America means that people have the right to view images some might find objectionable. As long as it is done in privacy. Making it illegal would violate the constitution's freedom of speech.

We can voice disapproval but in the end morality for the most part is a personal decision.


Yeah, I guess mostly I just find it annoying. What's next? The Zen of going to the bathroom???


Yep, agreed. In the end we can't control this kind of stuff. Just like anything really. I brought it up here partly because I thought it would be an interesting discussion.

But yeah, in the end...what can ya do? We all have to figure things out for ourselves and I certainly wouldn't want to limit someone's freedom of speech but the world sure does get annoying sometimes. :)

Quasi Buddhist stuff isn't just a western thing though. There is a lot of crap being pawned as Buddhism in Asia and other parts of the world too.

Forest Wisdom:

No worries. No of us are perfect. I'm certainly no where near enlightened but I keep on plodding along the path doing my best. And that's really all we can ask of ourselves and each other.

We are going to have disagreements from time to time in life though. I do think it was necessary to stop the insults though so thanks for speaking up.


I think laughing about stuff is a good way to deal with things.

elf_man said...

The Zen of going to the bathroom? mean the dried shitstick?
Hah, now we can talk about the overuse of koans. :D

And I agree, sexuality isn't something to idealize, or turn into a value; don't want to go too far the other direction.

Paul said...

This problem of using Zen goes back to 1974 when Robert M. Pirsig published his book Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance. To his credit he does say on page 1 that the book has nothing to do with Zen Buddhism. But some people may have already purchased it at that point. But you are right James, it is wrong to do this as you rightfully put, if we replaced the the word Zen for any other religion, well, wars could start over it.

I won't go into detail about my views on pornography as this is not the corect forum for my views and also it is not answering what your post is asking which I read to be about the use of the word Zen in this context.

Not much I can add to what you already said as you have covered all the bases with another awesome post.

You do an awesome job on this blog, i've been reading some of the archives of late. So, be you enlightened or not. Be you buddhist or not. You can certainly capture an audience with your words.

They call him James Ure said...

Elf Man:

Ah, yes...the shitstick. :)

I agree, about balance. I think that the middle-way is one of the central pillars to Buddhism. It is such a wise and true teaching from my experience.


Thank-you again for your kind words. I just enjoy writing out my thoughts and make no claims of genius, guru status or teacher statues. Simply writing out my journey as I try to stay on the middle-path. Thank-you again though. You are so kind. :)

I bow to the Buddha within you Dharma brother. _/I\_

davin said...

James, I found this post while searching for "Buddhist view on porn."

Your post doesn't really speak on that, but I appreciated your sound-off on the over-use of the label "Zen". The author of that article clearly was trying to hook readers with the title.

At least it mimicked a koan instead of being a fancy synonym for "The Way." Then we could say "Porn-Tao" or something. ;-)

I confess I am a Christian, not a Buddhist. However, I have studied Buddhism, and have known some practicing Buddhists. Oddly, I think my faith as a Christian has been influenced by my study of Buddhism.

From my shallow knowledge of Buddhism, the use of pornography seems to show duhkha not only in that momentary pleasure is craved and passes but also because it is feasible that others have trouble by one's consumption of pornography in ways that the consumer may not even be aware. Others being porn producers or people who could be harmed by one's an addiction to pornography. (I have vague thoughts of existentialism and Camus.)

If part of right intention is desirelessness, porn seems alien because it is thick with desire.

If right action includes restraint from sexual misconduct, porn seems to work against the noble eightfold path of cessation of suffering.

My question towards peace on this is what is the cause of the desire for pornography? Being mindful of the cause could lead to letting go of it, right?

As I was reading with this question in mind, I looked to the copy of the Dhammapada I have and the chapter of verses on craving.

"[338] As long as the roots are unharmed, firm,
A tree, though topped, grows yet again.
Just so, when the latent craving is not rooted out,
This suffering arises again and again.
[339] For whom the thirty-six streams,
Flowing to what is pleasing, are mighty,
That one, whose view is debased,
The currents, which are thoughts settled on passion, carry away."

I've been thinking about this because I work for a company that deals in this topic. There are many people who want to overcome their temptation towards online porn, and we provide what we call an Internet Accountability service that helps many people do just that.

One of our execs asked employees what our message is, and in the course of thinking about that question, it occurred to me that one model for thinking about and expressing our message might be seen in the Four Noble Truths.

Admittedly, that would be a little odd because the company identifies with a Christian audience. Still, it's interesting to consider.

Best wishes to you, James.

nigel said...

I am christian but have followed most Buddhist philosophy. I believe the truth of pornography might be ascertained by greater understanding of personal and sexual relationships. Despite freedoms of expressions and speech I do not believe it to be mainstream the adulation of the physical being in art known as pornography. Should this be distinguished from eroticism which pervades much culture? Eroticism would be defined as those aspects of human nonverbal and verbal signals that augment or kindle sexual desire. The shape of the Coca-Cola bottle could be considered as imagery that conveys the nonverbal signal of fertility by a woman shaped thus. But this could not be considered pornography. While I agree with Ted that there is pornography that leaves nothing to the imagination - eroticism actually works on the imagination to engage the user/viewer in their personal sexual fantasy.
I think that either way those who view this material do have a choice, and many do actually seek it like a drug and can be addicted to this material. I believe as Davin mentions that this is latent craving that needs to be meditated on by the user of the material to determine the source of such craving and resolve human relationships that may make the user retreat to the fantasy world of pornography and eroticism.
Again I do not believe the two terms should be used interchangably. There is pornography that is not erotic.

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