Buddhism: Rethinking Sexual Misconduct

By Bao, Huai | Journal of Community Positive Practices, April 1, 2012 | Go to article overview

Buddhism: Rethinking Sexual Misconduct


Bao, Huai, Journal of Community Positive Practices


Abstract: Man has actively engaged in creating religions ever since the beginning of humankind. Religion, reversely, creates an illusory reality for man to live in, which sets its systematic moral sanction that can be rendered a double edge sword: one edge works as moral enhancement and the other what I call moral terrorism, derived from the dominant moral claim and the fear of inability or failure to fulfill. This article explores under the revival of Buddhism in post-Mao China, how the dominant interpretation of sexual misconduct has, instead of functioning as initially intended, victimized women and queer bodies, pushing them to the forefront of moral criticism. Through textual analysis and sociological approach, the article attempts to give an up-to-date interpretation to sexual misconduct, largely not only helping man, oftentimes stuck in such a dilemma, abstain from growing materialism but liberate from fear created by man himself.

Keywords: Buddhism, sexual misconduct, collective unconscious, sexuality, religion

1. Introduction

Discourses over China's booming economy and the obsession with money for a culture have been dominating domestic and international media, while not so much attention has been given to the increasing need of spiritual fulfillment across China. If enhancing the standard of living is the prerequisite of a happy life, once that goal has been largely achieved, the disillusion of a communist utopia will generate an earnest expectation for a new illusion and a new utopia. Thus, it is not hard for us to understand the current revival of religions in the PRC (People's Republic of China), especially Buddhism, which remains the most popular religious belief in the PRC. It is notable that though the PRC is officially an atheist state, Buddhism has a history of about 2,000 years, having played an instrumental role in shaping the collective mindset of the Chinese people, let alone their art, literature, architecture, philosophy and their indigenous religions.

People need spiritual fulfillment and yet feel intimidated by the precepts and all discourses regarding the outcome of violating these precepts. As people rediscover Buddhism in present-day China, however, they also find the dominant interpretations of the precepts horrendous, especially the discourses around sexual misconduct, leaving them struggling between thoughts about their acts and corresponding moral judgments. Sexual misconduct as a sociological term is understood as a range of behaviors that include sexual assault, sexual harassment and child abuse, but as a religious term, the interpretation is much broader. Buddhism, Christianity and Islam all talk about sexual misconduct in the discourse of commandments or precepts, but what is exactly sexual misconduct? Adultery? What is adultery? Masturbation? Homosexual acts? Who has the right to interpret sexual misconduct? It has been the concerns of many in a context of globalization and glocalization in China in terms of values and morals being perceived. Arguably, any religion, which is founded by the early predecessors and edited, interpreted, reinterpreted and manipulated by the successors, may lose the original meaning given to it over the course of the long historic evolution, as our perception, cognition, knowledge and technology about ourselves have been greatly developed over the last few centuries. In studying the prevailing Buddhist discourses with misogynous concepts, homophobia and transphobia, I argue that the dominant interpretation of sexual misconduct particularly in China's Mahayana Buddhism has largely victimized women and the queer bodies. It does not justify compassion and fairness; it only rejects those who seek spiritual asylum. I will seek to elaborate these two areas in this paper, examine the discourses, societal reality and responses through textual analysis and literary criticism.

With rare exceptions, we are all sexual beings as much as spiritual beings. …

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