March 4, 2016
This post is not based on questions put to me directly. But I get a list of key search words, and it seems that many people would like to know how to suppress sexual urges and to reduce the tendency to visit pornographic sites.
1. Of course engaging in sexual activities with one’s spouse is not a problem for even a Sotapanna. It is only when one gets to the Anagami stage that one AUTOMATICALLY loses the sexual urge; see, “The Cooling Down Process (Nibbana) – How Root Causes are Removed“.
- Cravings for normal sense pleasures (sexual or otherwise) CANNOT be removed by sheer will power, just like darkness cannot be removed by willing for light. Darkness can be gotten rid of only by bringing in light.
- In the same way, sense desires can be cleansed only by “cleansing the mind”, i.e, by contemplating on the true (anicca) nature of the world. Even a Sotapanna has only “seen” the futility of sense pleasures; he/she has not “experienced” the benefits of NOT DESIRING sense pleasures; see the posts in the “Sotapanna Stage of Nibbana“.
- We have had an uncountable number of rebirths so far simply because we cannot comprehend the consequences of attaching to sense pleasures and also because we become angry when we don’t get what we desire.
- Those objects that we desire so much will lose their appeal over time. Sense pleasures, sexual or otherwise, are short-lived. Even if one can have access to sense pleasures, the ABILITY to enjoy them WILL decrease with time. This is something that people normally do not think about.
- The attitude of most people is “I need to enjoy them to the fullest while I can”. But one needs to at least stay away from extreme behaviors and learn Dhamma while relatively young to avoid future suffering. When we get really old, we lose not only the ability to enjoy such pleasures, but also the ability to comprehend Dhamma (because our brains degrade with time).
2. Fundamentally, craving sex-related activities is not any different from craving other sense pleasures. Each person has sansaric habits (gathi) for some specific set of sense pleasure(s).
- Some have excess craving to eat tasty foods, some like gossiping about others, some like to go hunting, etc., and some may have the cravings for sexual pleasures, and it is usually a combination of several. Each person has a unique set, and that changes with time too.
- The danger with such habits is that under extreme conditions, they could lead to worse actions. Sexual tendencies could especially become problematic. We all have heard about cases where “good citizens” committing rape, when prevailing conditions led them to “lose control”.
3. The critical and first thing to do is to get rid of those habits or cravings that bring harm to others. A Sotapanna in inherently incapable of doing such extreme acts because his/her mind has grasped the consequences of such acts without a doubt. Focusing on the sexual urges, one MUST NOT DO certain things: rape and having relationships with children or others’ spouses are obvious examples.
- Learning Dhamma helps through all stages of “rehabilitation”. Learning the bad consequences of extreme habits such as those mentioned above is one way to convince the mind (i.e., subconscious vinnana) to voluntarily give up those habits.
- The Buddha said, “don’t do things to others that one would not like to be done to oneself”. Always try to pause a moment and contemplate on the consequences of any harsh act. This is the basis of “kayanupassana” in Satipattana meditation; see, “Maha Satipatthana Sutta“.
4. It is also important to realize that one cannot remove the basic tendencies for normal sense pleasures by sheer willpower alone. Trying to do that could bring more harm (stress) than benefits.
- The key is to train the mind to grasp the bad future consequences of extreme habits and desires (gathi), whether it is due to excess craving for sex or the tendency to get mad at the slightest provocation. These are all habits that most likely originated in many lives back.
- We either develop new habits via repeated use or more likely re-energize and further cultivate old habits from previous lives.
- The following links discuss how to change one’s gathi: “9. Key to Anapanasati – How to Change Habits and Character (Gathi)” and “How Habits are Formed and Broken – A Scientific View“, among others. One could just type gathi or habits in the Search button on the top right and get a list of relevant posts.
5. The other important thing to realize is that one does not NEED TO get rid of less-severe cravings for sense pleasures (sexual or otherwise) at once. The key is to do it gradually. Actually, it is more correct to say, “it will happen gradually as one learns Dhamma or the true nature of this world”.
- The Buddha gave the following simile: When one is cultivating a field, all one needs to do is to follow the procedures that will optimize bringing a good harvest. One needs to prepare the soil, plant good seeds, and then make sure that weeds are kept out, and water and nutrients are provided on a regular basis. There is no point in watching the plants throughout the day to see whether they are growing or to worry about them. They will grow and yield a good harvest if one does one’s part.
- In the same way, one needs first to understand the basic wider world view, i.e., that we are spending a relatively short time in this life and move from life-to-life based on causes that we ourselves create (based on how we live). The post on dasa akusala (ten defilements) is a guide on which actions are to be reduced and eventually stopped.
6. Here is a list of key things that is comparable to making the soil ready for seeds to be planted:
- One needs to first understand, at least to some some extent, the long-term nature of our lives far beyond our deaths. Many people believe that it all ends with this life. What if that is not correct? One needs to be make sure, because the answer to that question may have consequences for billions and trillions of years to come.
- Also, do things just happen, or do they happen due to CAUSES? Science is based on cause and effect: things ALWAYS happen due to (multiple) causes. People just don’t get born out of nothing. There are causes that led to the birth of a human being (or any other living being). The Buddha said these causes are the kamma, what we have done in the past.
- There are certain principles or laws that the Nature follows. Scientists can explain most of the things that happen to inert objects: If one throws up a stone, we can even calculate its path on the way back to ground. The reason that it falls to the ground is that the Earth is pulling it down; that is the cause for it to fall down. Like that EACH AND EVERY EVENT has a cause. Events based on mental causes normally are complex and have multiple causes (and hard to sort out).
7. One needs to contemplate on the consequences of over-indulgences: (1) They are short-lived, and when one’s ability to enjoy them goes away, one gets depressed, (2) Such over-indulgences build corresponding character or “gathi“, and one’s future births are according to one’s gathi.
- Another sansaric gathi is the tendency to get angry at the slightest provocation. Here also one needs to think about the bad consequences of that behavior.
- In both cases, the bad consequences are two-fold: The short-term consequence is that one gets stressed out shortly after responding to the “urge” (even though one may briefly enjoy responding to the urge). The more adverse long-term consequences are worse, i.e., each time one does it the habit gets strengthened AND depending on the act one may cultivate animal gathi (when blinded by extreme sense pleasures) or niraya gathi (when blinded by rage).
8. There is a reason that one is born human and another is born an animal. One who was born human had done a good kamma that deserved being born human; and that kamma was done because that being had tendency to do that type of deeds. This tendency to do certain things depends on one’s “gathi“.
- If a human displays “animal gathi” or does things that animals do (do whatever one feels like doing without any consideration for others, have sex indiscriminately, etc), then it is likely that he/she will be born an animal in the future.
- On the other hand, if a human displays kindness, can even tolerate others’ bad behavior, etc., then he/she has deva or brahma “gathi“, then he/she is likely to born a deva, brahma, or a human, in future lives.
- In the language of paticca samuppada, “jathi” is according “bhava“, “bhava” according “upadäna“, “upadäna” according to “tanhä“, i.e., “what one likes to do or has craving for”. Thus if one likes to do what dogs normally do, then a future “jathi” or birth as a dog is hard to avoid. This is true for any other kind of birth.
9. Thus whether it is a sexual craving or any other craving for sense pleasure, we need to be careful first to avoid any extreme behavior. One cannot jump from the bottom of the ladder to the top; one has to climb step-by-step. Get rid of the worst habits first and move up on the ladder.
- The one who was born an animal, was likely to have engaged in activities suitable for an animal; some of the sexual activities shown in pornographic movies are suitable only for animals. And such bad deeds were done due to a reason: that being had tendencies or gathi to do such deeds. They do not change much unless one willfully tries to change them. Getting rid of such extreme behavior is the first step. The sooner done is better.
- Then one can tackle less severe problems. Always thinking about tasty foods and eating excessively is as bad as the tendency to watch adult movies habitually. They are both bad habits that need to be broken gradually, with understanding of the consequences. Of course pornography has different categories; one tends to watch “extreme” pornography when one has extreme habits.
- A living being can significantly change its “gathi” only as a human. An animal is not capable of any significant change, even though some of its habits can be changed if trained by a human. Even for devas and brahmas it is hard to change their gathi unless they had attained the Sotapanna stage of Nibbana as a human. We will discuss this more later.
10. In summary, one MUST stop the most harmful acts (which could lead to rebirth in the lowest four realms or the apayas) by any means possible using sheer will power. However, other less harmful acts can be reduced over time and one needs to follow a systematic procedure as outlined in the links given in # 3 and #4 above.
- Learning Dhamma can reduce the tendency to engage in any type of immoral or unwise activities over the long run. In this regard it is important to understand the different levels of greed and hate; see, “Sorting out Some Key Pali Terms (Tanha, Lobha, Dosa, Moha, etc)” and, in particular the post, “Lobha, Dosa, Moha versus Raga, Patigha, Avijja“.
- The section on “Assāda, Ādīnava, Nissarana” provides more advanced analyses, especially for those who are at least on the way to become a Sotapanna, i.e., a Sotapanna magga anugami.