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Monday, June 16, 2008

Celibacy

After reading a recent post on Fr. Finigan's blog about a petition by priests in England and Wales asking the Bishops to end the discipline of celibacy and ordain married priests I thought about celibacy in other religions. As I continued to think about it I wondered why there is no public outcry for Buddhists to end their practice of celibacy and their "rigid" rules for seperation between the sexes? Where are the petitions from the monks and nuns? What about all of the married Buddhists who are being denied their "right" to become married monks and nuns. Oh wait, maybe it's because they understand that their's is a spiritual life, one dedicated to prayer and asceticism - and they willingly embrace it, young men and women, in large numbers. As are an ever increasing number of young men and women in the Roman Catholic Church.

From The Buddhist World: Lay Buddhist's Guide to Monks Rules

Relationships

Monks and nuns lead lives of total celibacy in which any kind of sexual behaviour is forbidden. This includes even suggestive speech or physical contact with lustful intent, both of which are very serious offences for monks and nuns. As one's intent may not always be obvious (even to oneself), and one's words not always guarded, it is a general principle for monks and nuns to refrain from any physical contact with members of the opposite sex. Monks should have a male present who can understand what is being said when conversing with a lady, and a similar situation holds true for nuns.

Much of this standard of behaviour is to prevent scandalous gossip or misunderstanding occurring. In the stories that explain the origination of a rule, there are examples of monks being accused of being a woman's lover, of a woman's misunderstanding a monk's reason for being with her, and even of a monk being thrashed by a jealous husband!

So, to prevent such misunderstanding, however groundless, a monk has to be accompanied by a man whenever he is in the presence of a woman; on a journey; or sitting alone in a secluded place (one would not call a meditation hall or a bus station a secluded place). Generally, monks would also refrain from carrying on correspondence with women, other than for matters pertaining to the monastery, travel arrangements, providing basic information, etc. When teaching Dharma, even in a letter, it is easy for inspiration and compassion to turn into attachment.
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Update: From the combox, I thought I should post a clarification of what I was thinking when I created this post - This post was not meant to be a perfect comparison. Rather, it was meant to highlight that there are other religions that practice celibacy in one form or another or at one time or another (particularly Tibetan Buddhist monks who most people seem to be enamored with, especially the Dalai Lama who is himself a life-long celibate). What I had in mind is the simple fact that many people, Catholics and non-Catholics alike, see some Buddhist monks and are deeply impressed by their life of asceticiism and sprituality. Yet many of those same people look at Catholic priests, brothers and sisters and think only, "How could they give up sex?" I once took a group of nominal Catholic students (art class field trip to the Museum) to see Tibetan Buddhist Monks create a "sand painting". They were "blown away" by the monks and thought they were "so cool". They were very excited about Buddhism, their habits, their chants, their asceticism, etc. When I mentioned that we have monks in the Catholic Church who are equally ascetic they were not particularly impressed and eventually got to the point that Catholic monks had to be celibate, which in their mind was a problem. When I mentioned that these Buddhist Monks were celibate they thought that was OK because it was somehow more "mystical" in their minds. Obviously there is a much larger problem here, but it serves to highlight the disconnect in most peoples mind about the nature of celibacy in the Roman Catholic Church.

4 comments:

Osgood said...

WOW!!! This is an amazing outlook on it that I have never thought of, and I am sure many of other people never thought about either.

Great job!!!

Michael said...

I'm not sure it's a fair comparison. I don't believe there are many calls to allow vowed, consecrated religious (monks & nuns) to marry.

Yes, there are many celibate buddhists, particularly in the theravada tradition. Frequently, young children, of 1st or 2nd grade age, become attached to a monastery. (Something which would never be permitted in the Church.) All of these kids do not stay. Some leave to pursue marriage, or something else. In another tradition (i.e. zen buddhism), marriage seems to be common. I believe that I have seen statistics for Japan that indicate that the vast majority of clergy are married.

Brad Watkins said...

Michael,

Thank you for your comment. This post was not meant to be a perfect comparison. Rather, it was meant to highlight that there are other religions that practice celibacy in one form or another or at one time or another (particularly Tibetan Buddhist monks who most people seem to be enamored with, especially the Dalai Lama who is himself a life-long celibate). What I had in mind is the simple fact that many people, Catholics and non-Catholics alike, see some Buddhist monks and are deeply impressed by their life of asceticiism and sprituality. Yet many of those same people look at Catholic priests, brothers and sisters and think only, "How could they give up sex?" I once took a group of nominal Catholic students (art class field trip to the Museum) to see Tibetan Buddhist Monks create a "sand painting". They were "blown away" by the monks and thought they were "so cool". They were very excited about Buddhism, their habits, their chants, their asceticism, etc. When I mentioned that we have monks in the Catholic Church who were equally ascetic they were not particularly impressed and eventually got to the point that Catholic monks had to be celibate, which in their mind was a problem. When I mentioned that these Buddhist Monks were celibate they thought that was OK because it was somehow more "mystical" in their minds. Obviously there is a much larger problem here, but it serves to highlight the disconnect in most peoples mind about the nature of celibacy in the Roman Catholic Church.

Michael said...

I agree with you. I wouldn't say that it is just youngsters who are so enamored by all of this. I think that much of the interest in eastern religion is just part of the wider appeal of anything 'new age.' It's like a wonderful big new menu that one gets to pick and choose from. Most of it is a fad, and very superficial. It will pass. The Blessed Sacrament is the Source and Summit of life.

Buddhism in particular seems to have a lot of appeal right now because of the environmental movement. While I was viewing the YouTube videos of the Carthusians of Calabria, I happened to notice a series of new videos from a new 'Gethsemani III' encounter between western 'catholic' religious and buddhists. This conference is on the environment, and supposed shared concerns. You may wish to check this out. All I can say is, uh, interesting.