Courtesans and Tantric Consorts: Sexualities in Buddhist Narrative, Iconography and Ritual

By Serinity Young | Go to book overview

CHAPTER 5

WIVES AND HUSBANDS 1

Despite the great emphasis placed on monasticism, the very first followers of the Buddha were lay people. As we have seen, a lay woman, Sujātā, made the first food offerings to the Buddha, which gave him the strength to attain enlightenment and which sustained him for seven weeks thereafter until he received food offerings from two laymen, Tapassu and Bhallika. 2 Many more people soon became lay followers of the Buddha, while others became nuns or monks, and rules of conduct were established for both groups. Early basic precepts for the laity required them to refrain from killing, stealing, lying, drinking liquor, or misconduct in sexual activity. Commentaries, which were written from the male perspective, explain that misconduct in sexual activity means a man cannot have intercourse with a forbidden woman, such as: “The wife of another, a woman under the care of a guardian, a betrothed woman, a nun, a woman under a vow of celibacy.” 3 Relevant to the discussion of courtesans that follows this chapter, courtesans are not in the category of forbidden women unless they are engaged to be married. So early Buddhism defined laymen as independent agents who do not break precepts when they have sex with their wives, prostitutes, or any woman not defined by her relationship with another man or under a religious vow. During his life as a householder the Buddha was represented as having had sexual access to many women, which made it rather difficult for later Buddhists to uphold monogamy, as this would suggest the Buddha's behavior had been incorrect. Additional precepts say men cannot have intercourse with their wives “by a 'forbidden passage' (the anus), in an unsuitable place (that is, a public place or a shrine), or at

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