The Value of Celibacy

อัมมา ฐานสันติ

The Value of Celibacy

To those interested in understanding the end of suffering, the Buddha recommended seeing the value of celibacy. It is a powerful tool for understanding desire and coming to terms with the nature of attachment. It isn’t an easy path, but it can be very helpful because one has to consciously face the habitual patterns of this deep-seated energy.

Celibacy isn’t meant to be a repression or denial of one’s sexual being, nor a condemnation of sexuality or of sexual relationships. It is not a life-denying experience. The standards of behaviour are clear: our pathway is through insight and understanding, and for me, love. When lived to its full potential, celibacy is a vital, embracing and creative lifestyle in which one is aware of sexuality in all of its manifestations and aware of the way it can be transformed into other types of energy. With celibacy, one is at ease with life as a human being.

Sometimes people think meditation is all about developing clarity, concentration and kindness, and is divorced from coming to terms with primordial energies like sexuality and aggression. Understanding these energies, seeing what sets them off, what brings them into balance, how much they are part and parcel of having a human body and how they can be used once transformed, is important in our aspiration for freedom.

Sexuality and the way aggression is experienced and expressed need to be understood in order to open up the field of one’s experience, and come to terms with what it is to be fully human. It’s scary because it takes people into a realm where they feel out of control and where they are confronting things about themselves that aren’t congruent with what they think they should be experiencing.

If we want to free the heart from suffering, we need to question our relationship with sexuality in a sincere and genuine way. We need to have the courage to look carefully at the way desire, attachment and power are embedded within our experience. We must see for ourselves what is appropriate and how mindfulness, understanding and restraint can be further cultivated. We must ask ourselves if there is room for more honesty and integrity.

…As long as one remains cut off from sexuality or aggression, one is denied full access to the heart. Cut off doesn’t mean an inability to act out; it means an inability to fully feel and understand the energy, and to allow it to flow and transform. It seems to me that spiritual maturity is when we can see through the veils of the world, the great range of our human experiences, and let everything bring us back to the stillness of the loving heart.

We’re not trying to get anybody’s attention. We’re not trying to dominate or control. We’re not trying to live up to the culturally accepted norm of what a woman or a man should be. Within a clearly defined boundary of restraint, we have the encouragement, teachings and support to let the body be the way it is, to allow the energies to be the way they are, to understand them and be at peace with them. We are given the encouragement to know what it is to be alive, to be a human being, to be a woman, to be a man, and to know it fully and completely – not so much so that we can take this as our identity, but so that this knowing can take us to the stillness of a loving and peaceful heart. One of the many blessings of this celibate life is that one doesn’t need to be tied up like a pretzel. One can be fully human, utterly alive, and be in peace.

This reflection by Amma Thanasanti is excerpted from an article in Forest Sangha Newsletter, July 2008, pp. 10-11.