Buddhist Reflection: Sexual Misconduct

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A few days ago an acquaintance of mine brought me a certain dilemma of his he needed advice on. I’m not going to expose his personal business, lets just say that a combination of sexual irresponsibility and greediness (my opinion) cost him two very close friends.

His situation got me thinking about the Buddhist precepts. Lay practitioners, Buddhist followers not sworn into a monastery, follow very loose code of ethics called precepts. These precepts are very generic and offer no specifics, no definition. The precept governing sexuality simply advises to “refrain from sexual misconduct”. Nothing more. Nothing less. So what the hell does that mean?

A core Buddhist principle is non-harming. Therefore the apparent explanation of the precept is that it is advising practitioners to refrain from sexual behavior that includes violence, manipulation, and/or deceit resulting in harm to one’s self or others. In short,  any sexual behavior that creates direct negative results. There are the obvious things such as rape, molestation, sexual exploitation, cheating, etc. Yet there are other things that are not so obvious yet could still potentially be harmful. Flirting (or my favorite, sending naked pics of yourself to someone), if the person you’re flirting with happens to already be in a relationship.  Dating multiple people at once, if those involved don’t know that they aren’t the only one. Even starting a sexual relationship with someone under false pretenses. It’s pretty obvious that any circumstance that begins under dishonesty is going to backfire, causing problems for everyone involved.

Don’t get me wrong, I am hardly anyone’s prude. My views on sexuality are less than conservative. Notice that I did not include homosexuality or prostitution in my list of “misconducts”.  The precepts are purposefully left vague so that the practitioner can define it according to what they find most skillful. Experience has taught me that it is most skillful to engage in sexual behavior that is mindful and backed with honest integrity. Besides, in the past I’ve been reckless with my sexuality and I’ve been harmed by the sexual recklessness of others.The wisdom that I have taken from such experiences is that karma does exist and I would rather have my actions yield positive outcomes than harmful ones. Particularly when it comes to matters of the heart.

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