March 4, 2016; revised January 22, 2020
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 Sōtapanna. It is when one gets to the Anāgāmi stage that one AUTOMATICALLY loses the sexual urge; see, “The Cooling Down Process (Nibbāna) – How Root Causes are Removed” and “Is It Necessary for a Buddhist to Eliminate Sensual Desires?.”
- Cravings for ordinary sensory 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.
- Sense desires can be cleansed only by “cleansing the mind,” i.e., by contemplating on the real (anicca) nature of the world. In simple words, that means seeing the bad consequences of strong cravings for sensory pleasures. As we discuss below, that understanding comes through learning Dhamma and getting rid of the extreme activities first.
- Even a Sōtapanna 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 “Sōtapanna Stage of Nibbāna.”
The Bigger Picture
2. 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. That is something that people typically do not realize.
- The attitude of most people is, “I need to enjoy them to the fullest while I can.” But one needs to stay away from extreme behaviors at least. Learning Dhamma will help to avoid future suffering; one must start as soon as possible. When we get old, we lose not only the ability to enjoy such pleasures but also the ability to comprehend Dhamma (because our brains degrade with time).
Many of Our Habits Are Samsāric Habits (Gati)
3. Fundamentally, craving sex-related activities are not any different from craving other sense pleasures. Each person has samsāric habits (gati) for some specific set of sense pleasure(s).
- Some have an excess craving to eat tasty foods, some like gossiping about others, some want to go hunting, etc., and some may have the desires 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.”
- More on the subject at, “The Law of Attraction, Habits, Character (Gati), and Cravings (Āsava)” and posts therein.
Contemplate on Adverse Consequences
4. The critical and first thing to do is to get rid of those habits that can bring harm to others. A Sōtapanna in inherently incapable of doing such extreme actions because his/her mind has clearly grasped the consequences of such actions. Focusing on sexual urges, one MUST NOT DO certain things: rape and having relationships with children, or others’ spouses are prominent examples.
- Learning Dhamma helps through all stages of “rehabilitation.” Learning the adverse consequences of extreme habits such as those mentioned above is one way to convince the mind (i.e., subconscious viññāṇa) 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 the consequences of any harsh action. That is the basis of Kāyānupassanā in Satipaṭṭhāna meditation; see, “Maha Satipaṭṭhāna Sutta.”
Learning and Following Buddha Dhamma Will Help
5. It is also important to realize that one cannot remove the basic tendencies for ordinary 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 harmful future consequences of extreme habits and desires (gati), 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 gati: “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 type gati or habits in the Search button on the top right and get a list of relevant posts.
The validity of the Rebirth Process – Actions Have Consequences
6. 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. It is better to say, “realization will sink in 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 healthy seeds, and then keep weeds out. One must also provide water and nutrients regularly. 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 broader 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 create (based on how we live). The post on dasa akusala (ten defilements) is a guide: “Ten Immoral Actions (Dasa Akusala).”
7. Here is a list of critical things that is comparable to getting the soil ready to plant the seeds:
- One needs to first understand, at least to 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 make sure, because the answer to that question may have consequences for billions and trillions of years to come.
- Also, do things happen, or do they arise due to CAUSES? Cause and effect is the basis of science. Things ALWAYS occur due to (multiple) causes. People just get born out of nothing. Previous causes 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 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 the 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. Like that, EACH AND EVERY EVENT has a reason. Events based on mental causes typically are complex and not easy to sort out).
Consequences in the Rebirth Process
8. After making some progress, one needs to contemplate the implications of over-indulgences: (1) They are short-lived. When one’s ability to enjoy them goes away, one gets depressed, (2) Such over-indulgences build corresponding character or “gati,” and one’s future births are according to one’s gati.
- Another samsāric gati is the tendency to get angry at the slightest provocation. Here also, one needs to think about the adverse consequences of that behavior.
- In both cases, the harmful consequences are two-fold: The short-term result is that one gets stressed out shortly after responding to the “urge” and getting temporary relief.
- The more adverse long-term consequences are worse. Each time one does it, the habit strengthens. Furthermore, depending on the action, one may cultivate animal gati (when blinded by extreme sense pleasures) or niraya gati (when blinded by rage).
9. There is a reason that one is born human, and another is born an animal. A human-born had done a wholesome kamma that deserved being born human. Furthermore, that kamma was possible because that person tended to do that type of deeds. This tendency to do certain things depends on one’s “gati.”
- If a human displays “animal gati” 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 “gati,” then he/she is likely to born a deva, Brahma, or a human, in future lives.
- In the language of Paticca Samuppāda, “jāti” is according “bhava,” “bhava” according to “upādāna,” “upādāna” according to “tanhā,” i.e., “what one likes to do or has a craving for.” Thus if one likes to do what dogs usually do, then a future “jāti” or birth as a dog is hard to avoid. That is true for any other kind of birth.
Buddha’s Middle Way
10. 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. One does such extreme deeds due to a reason, i.e., one has tendencies or gati to do such acts. 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 overeating is as bad as the tendency to watch adult movies habitually. They are both bad habits that need to be broken gradually, with an 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 “gati” only as a human. An animal is not capable of any significant change of character, even though some of its habits can be changed if trained by a human. Even for devas and Brahmas, it is hard to improve their gati unless they had attained the Sōtapanna stage of Nibbāna as a human.
11. 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, less harmful acts will reduce over time. One needs to follow a systematic procedure as outlined in the links given in # 4 and #5 above.
- Learning Dhamma can reduce the tendency to engage in any immoral or unwise activities in the long run. In this regard it is essential 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 Sōtapanna, i.e., a Sōtapanna magga anugami.