I’m about to open up a can of worms. This is a loaded subject that can be controversial and is often avoided but sex, drugs and alcohol are such huge parts of our society that I want to give my two cents. I want to emphasize that the following thoughts are mine alone and not those of Goenka or Vipassana meditation. Think of this as me combining my meditation and life experience into a set of beliefs that help me live my day-to-day life.
Lets start with drugs and alcohol because I think they’re easier to navigate. The joy of alcohol is that it numbs your sensations so you can disconnect from reality for a little while. By escaping from some of these deeper challenges one can feel a little more free to let loose and have fun. The problem is that those experiences are built on a false base that is gone by morning. Once the buzz is gone your real problems return.
This technique is about slowly chipping away at those real problems through a constant awareness of reality as it truly is. When you’re intoxicated you lose this connection which causes you to develop stronger attachments and deeper misery. This seems like a trade-off between short term and long term happiness but as you observe the experience of intoxication through your sensations you start losing hold of the belief that you’re enjoying yourself. It definitely took me some time to stop drinking after learning this technique but I haven’t drank in over a year and I don’t think too much about it anymore.
Sex is a whole different can of worms for me. The third precept is “to abstain from sexual misconduct.” Sexual misconduct is ambiguous to say the least. In the 10 day discourse Goenka defines this as following celibacy during the course but as abstaining from rape and adultery in the world. The bar is raised in the 3 day course and to host an official group sitting to no sexual activity outside of a committed relationship. If you become more committed to the path by becoming a monk you’re expected to be completely celibate for the rest of your life. This is a huge sliding scale to navigate as a lay person.
One of my challenges is understanding this as a biology graduate student. Evolution has taught me that we are just highly evolved animals and animals need to have sex to reproduce. This is a natural part of the human life cycle. While I can see how people can abuse sex in different ways it’s very hard for me to accept that sex is an attachment that I need to be liberated from.
So on one course I asked an assistant teacher, “What is the difference between human nature and animal nature?” He responded, “Humans have the ability to change their nature and animals don’t.” I thought this was a great answer and it struck a chord in me that has led me to develop this completely made up metaphor that helps me quickly process real life situations so I can make real-time choices. This is not based on anyones teaching. It’s just something that makes enough sense to help me laugh and make a decision.
So far we have a model where animals are living in a lower realm than humans. Buddha also talks about devas which are living in a higher realm than humans. I don’t know anything about what devas actually are so I have an image of devas living in something like heaven. They don’t have physical bodies and are beyond the need for sensual pleasures. So now I visualize that humans are in a state in between devas and animals meaning we can experience life through both types of awareness. When I have a sexual urge, my animal nature is more prominent and when I’m deep in meditation my deva nature is stronger. As a human I can choose which type of sensations to cultivate. They’re both natural but the direction of the devas will lead to long-lasting peace and equanimity and the direction of the animals will lead impulsive emotional actions. Sometimes I feel that living like an animal would be more fun but I can also see the benefit for myself and all living beings to transition to a state beyond these emotional responses.
I’m not sure if this is helpful or if it even makes sense but it’s a good model to help me think through all of the emotions I experience on a daily basis. I hope some aspect of it can also be helpful to you.