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The Middle Path, One Day At A Time


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Book Review: Sex, Sin and Zen, a Buddhist Exploration of Sex – by Brad Warner

Apart from their both being Buddhist teachers, one does not often think of Brad Warner and the Dalai Lama in the same context.  Over the years, I’ve come to see that as a mistake.  Warner and His Holiness have one major thing in common: no matter what they write about, at the end you’ve gotten a good education in basic Buddhist philosophy and practice.  They give good Dharma.

One of the things that I find most charming about HHDL’s writings is the way he sticks with the basics.  My understanding of practice is that it is about incorporating the Eightfold Path into my life.  Many writers and teachers, even Zen teachers, get carried away with the details and seem to forget that Buddhism is about living, not about having scholarly discussions.  Both Brad and His Holiness manage to make their teachings accessible — albeit in radically different ways — without getting bogged down in esoterica.  I like that.  A lot of my own practice has been about getting over myself and my IQ, and they both help me a lot when it comes to simplifying my thinking.  Steve Hagen is another favorite for the same reason.

Sex, Sin and Zen* is not an attempt on Warner’s part to pontificate about what “good Buddhists” are supposed to believe with regard to the beast with two (or more) backs.  What it really comes down to is a very personal exploration of Buddhist ethics and teachings as they seem to him to apply to situations that he has experienced, or heard, or been asked about.  He doesn’t claim to have the answers — is, in fact, excruciatingly careful to make it clear that these are personal decisions — yet he provides a first-class framework to use in thinking about such issues as they apply to us.  I mean, this book includes an entire chapter devoted to examining the practice of well-known porn star Nina Hartley, and how she incorporates Buddhism into her work and marriage.  It would take a writer with a background in blogging for “Suicide Girls” to even dream of pulling that off — but Warner does, and we feel as though we learned something. (I felt a couple of shifts in my attitudes while reading it, and I consider myself about as sexually liberal as you can get.)

Of course the book is written in Brad’s eminently readable — albeit sometimes joltingly non-traditional — style:

We reflect on the effort that brought us this piece of ass
and consider how it comes to us.

We reflect on our virtue and practice, and whether
we are worthy of this piece of ass.

We consider sexual greed to be the obstacle to freedom of mind.

We consider this piece of ass to be good medicine to sustain our lives.

For the sake of attaining the Truth we now receive this piece of ass.

And:

If you’re too goddamned horny to think straight, then perhaps the best way to avoid misusing sex is to log on to Suicide Girls, or whatever website you enjoy, masturbate furiously, be done with it, and then go out into the world more mellow, less sex-crazed, and less likely to misuse sex in a far more damaging way.

See what I mean?

Sex, Sin and Zen may shock you, it may leave you flabbergasted at the idea that an ordained priest of any religion would think it appropriate to write in the way that Warner habitually does.  But you know what?  You won’t be bored; you won’t feel you’ve wasted your time; and — unless you work hard** at avoiding it — it will give you a lot to think about.

____________________

*Available in your favorite bookstore this Labor Day weekend.

**Hee hee, I said, “hard.”

Disclaimer: the writer was provided a complimentary copy of this book by the publisher.