Monday, December 13, 2010

5 Questions with Brad Warner, author of Sex, Sin & Zen

What is the traditional Buddhist viewpoint on sex?

In ancient Buddhist tradition monks, both male and female, were celibate. For lay people there were only 4 rules. No sex that is unlawful, no sex with anyone still under the protection of their parents, no sex with criminals and no sex with those who are married or engaged to someone else. After a while a large list of sexual regulations for monks was developed. But later on this was abandoned and there was only one rule, do not misuse sexuality. This applied to both monks and lay people. 

Since the Meiji Restoration of the 1860s, Japanese Buddhist monks, again male and female, are no longer required to observe the rule of celibacy. But generally speaking, they remain celibate during their training period, which may be a few months or a few years. 

There are no restrictions on sex other than this. For example there is no idea that pre-marital sex is forbidden. There are no ideas that homosexuality is wrong. And so on. It is up to each individual to decide for herself or himself what constitutes the misuse of sex. 
Has the book caused any controversy in the Buddhist circles?

Not really. Most Buddhists have been very supportive of the book. On the other hand, I've noticed that a lot of the Buddhist magazines in the West are not reviewing the book. I suspect this may be because they are uncomfortable about taking any specific position on the ideas I bring up in it. They're aware that the rules about sexual behavior for Buddhists allow for a great deal of openness. But I think that the cultural background the editors and their readers are steeped in makes it difficult to acknowledge the implications of this idea. So they don't want to say anything either positive or negative about it. It will take time before this can change. 
Which chapter was the most fun to write?

I had a lot of fun interviewing Nina Hartley. She is a porn star who was raised by two Buddhist monks — one male, one female. So Buddhism has very much influenced her life. I asked her to talk about how she can do what she does for a living and still feel she is not violating the rule against misusing sex. I think her answers are really interesting. 
What can Buddhism teach people about sex?

I think Buddhism can help us get over some of the hang-ups that Christian-based culture has about sex. It's not necessary to indulge in wild sexuality and so forth. But it's good to be a bit less concerned about the morality of sex. Yes, sex can sometimes be immoral, depending on the specific circumstances and who is involved and so forth. But the very act of sex itself is neither moral nor immoral. We've been living with the idea that sex itself is wrong for far too long. It's good to see another way. And it's good to have some kind of spiritual support for the idea that sex isn't such a big deal. 
What new things do you have on the horizon?

I'm trying to write a book about God and one about Godzilla. I'm not sure which one will win out. Who is stronger? God or Godzilla? I'm also constantly on tour doing lectures and running retreats all over the world. My blog,, has all the information.


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