This post is inspired by a comment/question from Upandsee. How do we get rid of lust or sexual desire? Note that I am speaking from a layman’s perspective. The monastic order is expected to be celibate.
Why should we get rid of lust?
I think there is a slight confusion about this. Foremost, we need to know that a layman is not expected to be celibate. Secondly, even a Sotapanna (1st stage of enlightenment) has cravings and desires. In the Theravada Suttas and stories, many laypeople attained Sotapanna during Buddha’s time. They still had sex after that and produced children of their own.
I had a tough time trying to be celibate as a teenager. Blame it on raging hormone but I was obsessed with masturbation. After that, it would be self-blame, and that developed into self-hate, then self-harm. I hope nobody (teenager or otherwise) ever has to go through that confusion as me again.
Why was I, a teenager, trying to be celibate?
To put it simply, I had mistakenly believed that having no lust means enlightenment. Since I wanted to attain enlightenment and I am clueless about enlightenment, the nearest logical explanation that I could comprehend about enlightenment is: [Not having any lust equals Enlightenment]
That is actually wrong. The absence of lust, desire, and craving is a by-product of Enlightenment.
While Full Enlightenment means no more lust; No lust doesn’t mean Enlightenment.
Make sense? Otherwise, all asexual people are enlightened? or people with no libido due to aging, illnesses, etc, are enlightened?
Secondly, I was taught that the monastic community is deserving of respect because of their monastic vows, particularly their vow of celibacy. Therefore, in the Theravada tradition, all women try to avoid having direct contact with monks. It is to help them focus on their training.
As a self-doubting teenager, I concluded that my personal worth depends on my ability to be celibate. I wanted to be like the monks that I looked up to. Pure and celibate.
If you looked at the above. It is ignorance and ego driving my quest for becoming lust free. (that is actually wrong motivation) Thus I created more misery for myself instead.
Praying, confessing and repentance
In the Buddhist tradition, we have 5 precepts for the layperson. The 3rd precept is to abstain from sexual misconduct only. However, I personally replaced the 3rd precept with the precept for celibacy. This is due to the aforesaid explanation. I was a very confused beginner Buddhist huh?
So I also learned that the monks confess their faults or minor breach of precepts every month. There is this confession and repentance. I copied them likewise. This created a vicious cycle of self-doubt for me as a teenager. There would be a renewal of vows, then breaking the vows, then confession and then repentance.
After a while, it seemed hopeless. So I decided to punish myself a little bit for being naughty. Initially, it was longer hours of kneeling and prostration. That slowly developed into self-harm. If you see documentaries of other religious people serving penance and whipping themselves into a frenzy, it unfolded in a similar manner for me.
Fortunately, I exited my period of self-hate quite quickly and did not have serious injury except for some minor scars that are still visible today, And recently, I read a news article about a Christian going into the other extremity. Instead of self-hate, he developed a hatred for women. That ended with murder. It was unfortunate and I think could be prevented if we have enough wisdom.
The point in my sharing the above life story is as follows:
- Don’t set unrealistic expectations for ourselves, they are not constructive. Set realistic goals instead.
- Don’t confuse the by-product of enlightenment with enlightenment. While enlightenment resulted in the absence of lust, the absence of lust doesn’t mean enlightenment.
- The risk of self-hate arising in our minds if we have wrong views/understanding instead of wisdom.
How should we practice?
While the monks/nuns need to be celibate and have a conducive environment for that, the layperson does not. Therefore, let’s be realistic and practice according to our environment.
Moreover, if we are married or attached to someone, then sex is no longer a personal choice. This is another important point to note.
As laypeople, we need to understand that achieving a state of freedom from sexual desire doesn’t mean we are trying to accomplish a mental state that is aversed to sex. Many laypeople misunderstood this. Why do I have to state this? Well, if you are married or attached to a partner, they may still wanna have sex?
Since a lust-free mind is created upon enlightenment, I think we should focus on obtaining wisdom instead.
So how do we become enlightened?
The answer is to Meditate. There is no shortcut.
We need to still our minds through meditation. We need to attain Jhana / Samadhi (see my previous posts on Kevatta Sutta). Buddha’s method is so simple that people have a problem believing it. We simply cannot believe that sitting on the floor and observing our breath can result in miraculous transformation! That is why faith is very important. We need to have faith in Buddha’s teachings.
Without faith in the method, we end up feeling silly or wasting our time. Right?
Alternatively, we can also recite a short mantra mentally. Likewise, it is so simple that people find it incredulous.
Once we have obtained Jhana/samadhi, we proceed to observe our physical sense of being and our mental sense of being. This is to break through the illusionary perception of a self. There are many methods from different traditions, all pointing to the same goal. The realization of emptiness.
When we experience non-“I”, that is the main characteristic of the 1st stage of enlightenment (Sotapanna). From there it becomes easier to purify ourselves. In fact, it is an irreversible process that will be completed in 7 lifetimes.
In the meantime, let’s not beat ourselves (as a layperson) too much over lust, if our lust is not going to harm ourselves or others. If our lust is too serious and causing harm, it is wiser to consult a professional doctor. Otherwise, I think it is better to practice meditation. Seriously meditate. This is because meditation purifies our minds, which automatically leads to the purification of speech and actions.
May all be well and happy.