March 4, 2016; revised January 22, 2020; June 25, 2022
Craving pornography is fundamentally the same as any other sensual pleasure, but it could lead to committing crimes if not controlled. One must first abstain from activities harmful to oneself or others.
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) CAN NOT be removed by sheer willpower, just like darkness cannot be removed by being willing for light. Darkness can be gotten rid of only by bringing in light.
- Sensory desires can be cleansed only by “cleansing the mind,” i.e., by contemplating the fundamental nature (anicca) of this world. Simply put, that means seeing the harmful consequences of deeply-embedded 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 sensory 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. Sensory pleasures, sexual or otherwise, are short-lived. Even if one can access sensory 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 sensory 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 desire for sexual pleasure, which 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 they could lead to immoral actions under extreme conditions. Sexual tendencies could especially become problematic. We all have heard about cases where “good citizens” committed 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 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 grasped the consequences of such actions. Regarding sexual urges, one MUST NOT DO certain things: rape and having relationships with children or spouses of others 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 give up those habits voluntarily.
- 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 Ānāpānasati – How to Change Habits and Character (Gati)” 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 cultivating a field, all one needs to do is follow the procedures that will optimize bringing a good harvest. One must prepare the soil, plant healthy seeds, and 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 must first understand the basic broader worldview, i.e., that we are spending a relatively short time in this life and move to future lives 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? Getting this wrong will have consequences for billions and trillions of years.
- Also, do things just happen, or do they arise due to CAUSES? The principle of causality (cause and effect) is the basis of science. Things ALWAYS occur due to (multiple) causes. People don’t 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 things that happen to inert objects: If one throws up a stone, we can even calculate its path back to the ground. The reason that it falls to the ground is that the Earth is pulling it down; that is the cause of 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 (those roles can and will change in the future.) A human-born had done a wholesome kamma that deserved to be born human. Furthermore, that kamma was possible because that person tended to do that deed. 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 be born a deva, Brahma, or a human, in future lives.
- In the language of Paṭicca Samuppāda, “jāti” is according to “bhava,” “bhava” according to “upādāna,” “upādāna” according to “taṇhā,” 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 sensory pleasure, we must 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 sexual activities shown in pornographic movies are suitable only for animals. One does such extreme deeds for 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 it is done 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 Brahmā, it is hard to improve their gati unless they have 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 apāyā) by any means possible using sheer willpower. However, less harmful acts will reduce over time. One must follow a systematic procedure outlined in links # 4 and #5 above.
- Learning Dhamma can reduce the tendency to engage in 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 Pāli 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 becoming a Sōtapanna, i.e., a Sōtapanna magga anugami.