Mondo Zen Blog

In Defense of Promiscuity

Monday, February 14, 2011

by Jun Po Kelly Roshi (published on Integral Life)

Should spiritual teachers sleep with their students?  It seems this is a question whose time has come. 

Every worldview has a very strong option on this.  Red says “Of course!”  Amber usually says “No!”, but on occasion “Yes!” if the mythology permits it.  Orange will say “yes,” but that decision is related to “status” (both the teacher’s and the student’s).  Green screams “NO” and points to the lack of a “level playing field,” lecturing about the (im)balance of power, especially if the teacher is a man (oppressor) and the student a woman (oppressed).  So what says the Integralist?

Let’s start with the act itself.  Sexuality is sacred. This is where the genders, the two faces, little god-man Adam and little god-woman Eve actually touch faces, and through that embrace reincarnate.  Magical thinking and mythic beliefs tell us that our egos will continue through the Law of Karma - good boys and girls get to be reborn as spiritually-aware people, bad boys and girls are forced into painful rebirths to burn and purge their sins.

The real truth of reincarnation is not based on subtle-state fixation or the ego’s desire to perpetuate itself beyond its death, or on Amber superstitions that promise an eternity of rebirths and ever-increasing happiness to True Believers.  Reincarnation is the sacred sexual act of divine union, where sex leads to pregnancy, pregnancy leads to birth, and birth leads to a newly embodied spirit that is not your son, not your daughter, but rather is two-who-have-become-one. 

As above, so below.  In a true Tantric embrace of sexuality with a partner, the small self is transcended as you become one with the Divine - there is no separate self, no isolated ego, no other.  And out of this real-world karma a child can be born, a child who is literally two-who-have-become-one, a combination of genes and impulses passed down equally from each parent, karma in-action.  

Dance, dance, dance and lose your small selves within this passionate emergent sexual embrace that promises such powerful real-world karma!  Divinely, unconditionally love, surrender your egos, dance and coming together, disappear into your wondrous mini version of that first big bang orgasm.  This is part of what makes sex so sacred, but many things stand in the way of us seeing it. 

We are blinded to the sacred nature of sexuality because of many different obstacles: our animal nature, tempting us to do all manner of reckless things; Puritanical ideas about monogamy and self-sacrifice; greed and selfishness that tempt us to hoard lovers and experiences; lust that takes us out of our divinity and out of our hearts; denial of our sexual and deeply sensual nature; jealousy’s distortions that turn love into a spasm of need and contraction; the politics of sex, where power and control reign supreme; and ignorance of the truth of the ephemeral gift of life, which is nothing less than Unconditional Love manifest.  

All of these distortions of the sacred nature of sex are rooted in the belief that our egos are real.  We believe that our reactions to external stimuli are who we are; we believe that we have permanence in this world; we believe in a future for ourselves and our desires.  What we do not see is that our egos - us - are wholly conditioned, Pavlovian responses that are triggered without consciousness or free will.  Someone cuts you off in traffic, and you get pissed off and think “this is who I am.”  “I’m someone who gets pissed off in traffic,” goes your story.  The truth is that no one made me angry, getting pissed off is merely a valuated, unconscious conditioned reaction, and this reaction prevents you from experiencing who you really are.  

A pretty woman talks to you, and you feel desire, lust, curiosity, and ten other emotions arise within you - and then a conditioned reaction occurs.  Or you sit in front of an attractive spiritual teacher, emotions arise, and a conditioned reaction occurs.  In both cases, there is an emotional stimulation that is too often followed by unconscious chosen response.  Our conditioning makes the choice instead of us making the choice, and compassion, love, and wisdom are left outside the door. 

What we need is a different philosophical construct to redefine our neurolinguistic reaction to the most powerful stimuli in our lives, the places where conditioning binds us and those we love.  We first need to understand how we can react differently, and then we must begin to practice reacting differently.  If we remember that we are not real or permanent, that we are simply a figment of Divine imagination, we will begin to understand the exquisite joke that God has played.   The good news is it really is a joke.  The bad news is you’re the punch line. 

How do we transform and let go of these conditioned blockages, of these egoic reactions that prevent us from living in the truth of the Divine Love that surrounds us, that penetrates us, that is us?  To start we need to experience a deeper truth, not just believe a deeper truth.  We need to have genuine insight into who we really are and be able to frame this insight in the correct way. 

Insight alone is not enough.  There have been many Awakened teachers who did not have the correct view to understand their insight in the face of their relationships, their sexuality, their emotions, and their cognitive understanding of the world.  Because of this, we need insight, but we also need a philosophical re-indoctrinate that allows us to develop emotional maturity and mental stability.  From this disciplined state of mind, intelligent compassion enlightens passion.  It is only through the insight of meditation, the mental discipline of philosophy, and the emotional work of uncovering our psychological shadows that we can reform our heartbreaking and restricting ignorance that obscures the sacredness of sex.

Should Teachers Sleep with Their Students: A Case Study

Once upon a time, during my bachelor monastic training years, I completed a period of celibacy.  Three years before I took on the mantle of lineage holder, 83rd patriarch in my ethnocentric patriarchal sexist tradition (when I became a Rinzai Zen Roshi), I had the opportunity to be instructed and subsequently enlightened and liberated to a deeper truth about sexual union.

This was kindly, rudely, and playfully demanded by the Sacred feminine I encountered. The year was 1989, and I was serving as head monk and vice abbot at Dai Bosatsu Zendo in the beautiful Catskill Mountains of New York State. I was at Syracuse University giving a dharma talk to perhaps 150 interested Green and Orange altitude seekers and state junkies.  I wasn’t always a Zen priest and abbot, and in a former reincarnation had been a rather infamous name in the underground world of the counterculture.  So I was wearing one of my leftover Armani suits over a silk shirt and exquisite tie, all wrapped somewhat ironically in my Buddhist rakusu.

At the end of my talk on the integration of Rinzai Zen into American culture, I opened the floor for questions.   A delicate hand came up from an absolute beauty in the front row, a young Swedish coed whose blond hair, blue eyes, and fair skin had already caught my eye, more than once.

“May I ask a personal question,” she said.

“Of course,” I replied from the lectern.

“Well,” she said, crossing her legs, “Considering your position, can you be with a woman?”

I smiled.  “That depends,” I said, baiting her (or so I thought).

“Upon what,” she responded.

“On what you’re doing later.” 

Everyone laughed.  The Zen priest made a joke.  About sex.  Funny stuff. 

The lecture ended, and I made small talk with people until they eventually left.  Only the Swedish coed remained.  She walked up to me, smiled, and asked, “So where are we going?”

I blushed and laughed.

“How old are you?” I asked.


“Nineteen, huh?  What’s your story?”

“I study physics, speak 5 languages, have a passion for Arabic poetry, have lived all over the world, and now am very interested in Rinzai Zen.”

“You like Rumi?” I stalled. 

She did, and it turned out we both had his poem “The Guest House” committed to memory. 

She paused.  “So where are we going,” she repeated.

I looked down at this young Goddess.  Teachers and students must have boundaries, I told myself, feeling my stern inner Amber judge lording over me.  Thou shall not! he breathed.

“We’re not going anywhere,” I said.  “Not if you want to learn from me.  It wouldn’t be appropriate.” 

She laughed, took my hand in hers, and bid me to come close to her.  I leaned in.

“I thought you were Awake,” she said, shaking her head with laughter in her eyes.  “You fool—I’m not trying to hurt you, nor will I ever hurt you.” 

I stared back, at a loss for words.

“I’ve slept with every teacher I’ve ever respected and that could meet me here.”

“Oh,” I managed.   

Now that I have your attention, know that I do not in any way support unconscious, lust-driven sexual relationships.  When the Integralist asks the question, “Should a spiritual teacher sleep with a student?” you can bet the answer is going to be complex.  And incredibly simple.  And if you don’t understand that, you should probably stop here. 

To Be Continued....


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