Monday, September 20, 2010

Celibacy, Chastity, and the Spiritual Life

When I was an Anglican Monk, one of the curious things was how many people would perceive the idea of a monk. Silence, living in poverty, silent prayer and meditation were never on the top of the list when "outside" people perceived the monk. It was celibacy that immediately came into their minds.

Monks are celibate. That was the perception. Many were surprised, shocked even, to find that TheCommunity of the Living Sacrifice had no vow of celibacy, and indeed allowed married couples to join. Even couples with children!

This celibacy thing is a sticking point for many in Spirituality. The Catholic Church has a vow of celibacy for it's clergy, and monastics. Hindu Saddus practice celibacy, as do Buddhist monks. It was a very daring thingto write a rule for a religious community that did not include celibacy. But I found no choice.

In Advaita, we understand that we are not the body/mind. The body/mind is a construct of the mind itself, and is therefor illusion; the mind itself, being nothing but a "bag of thoughts". To believe that this illusion is either "clean" or "dirty" is to give it way more attention than it needs or deserves. The thoughts in the mind are simply that; thoughts drifting through on their way to nowhere. If we do not "grab" at them, they drift on by, and are of no bother to one's peace. If, on the other hand, we dwell on the thoughts, they begin to take on a "life" of their own, and grow in importance to our "thought world". The simple division of thoughts and actions into "clean" or "dirty" becomes an entry into duality.

Sexual thoughts can be very strong. If suppressed, they can become even stronger. Our body/mind is a refection of the Absolute, as it is a part of the manifestation. Being part of the manifestation, it is the expression of God's, or Love's lilla, or play. It is a reflection of "Love in action". To discount or even despiseany natural function of the body/mind is a slap in the face to the creator. Sexual function, even beyond the reproductive function, can unite two souls into one. Sexual function can be as much of the "creator's" plan as any other. But this needs to be an action of Love, never desire, never selfish lust.

At this point it would be a good idea to look at the difference between "celibacy" and "chastity".
These two are often mistaken for each other, and are quite different.

Chastity is the purity of sexual expression. A non married man or woman who abstains from sexual
behavior would be considered chaste. A married couple who only engage in sexual behavior with each other would also be considered chaste. I, personally, would consider a couple who for whatever reason, can't be "properly" married, but who are spiritually dedicated to one another, and who engage in sexual union only with each other to be chaste.

Celibacy is a gift. Just as one's personality, or one's hair color, or place of birth is a gift. This all unfolds with the play of Love. If we attempt to force celibacy on souls who are not gifted with it, we attempt to twist God's plan for us. Those "gifted" with celibacy can not understand the gift of sex offered to others. Even the great Masters have had trouble with this. The Buddha, in order to follow the "true spirit" as he saw it, left his wife and child behind. Other spiritual people have done this also.
No doubt the Buddha, feeling he must follow the proscribed life of the sunyassi, saw celibacy as the only choice. Catholic Priests and Bishops, who are called upon to be celibate, often have difficulty taking on a false celibacy, with drastic results we read about every day.

If the Buddha had stayed with his family, he would have discovered another truth; the family can be a great training ground for spirituality. God calls many, if not most of mankind, to family life. The cleaving of man and woman in marriage, the responsibility of raising and caring for children are wonderful places to learn aboutlove, sacrifice, and renunciation. If God calls you to learn your way by raising children, and you willfully insist on celibacy, when it is not your call, you will not only not reach your goal, you have violated God's role for you.

Blessed are those who are called to celibacy. But also blessed are those called to family. You can not follow someone else's calling. To enter a "pretend" celibacy, against your call, because you will it, or some church or organization demands it, is to put it front and center in your mind. You will try to will sexual feelings away. This will "hold" that thought in your mind. If you dualisticlly regard sex as "evil" or "dirty", you will experience guilt and shame, again destroying any mindfulness of spirit.
God has made us all different, yet one. The "play of God" loves the diversity. The only way to the Truth is to follow your path. Try to force another path, and you are lost.

As, I said, even the Buddha felt compelled to follow the proscribed path that was laid down before him. He even added it to his own way, and now others, who may not be so called, try desperately to follow. As mentioned above, those who have the calling to celibacy can not understand the calling of others. Many of these, entering on the path of spirituality, will become teachers or Gurus and insist others "be like them". Also, psychology tells us that many people are celibate due to a sexual disorder caused by incest, or rape or other traumatic event. These people, who fear sex, will want to instill this fear in others, justifying their own fear.

We must remember, the most celibate fanatic, who insists others have to be celibate, came into this word viathe very thing they fear or despise. Were our parents non spiritual? Were we conceived in lust? Does the celibate monk, with his idea of renunciation, have anything on the father or mother, who sits up with a sick child, or the man or woman holding their dying spouse's hand?

So we must strive for chastity, in all things. Pure celibacy, as well as pure loving sexuality, are part of the functioning of the whole. Each to his calling. Spirituality ultimately is about SPIRIT. Chasity is important to Spirit. How we lovingly use our bodies is a temporal thing. If that use leads the "person" to the Spirit, we must not stand in judgment as to which is better. It is a matter of calling.

1 comment:

  1. I agree with your points here, just came across your blog for the first time, I also am enjoying your poems on the other blog. I would add here as well that some are celibate out of the natural dropping of the sex act and can fully accept and respect non celibate folks.