Now, this is very un-Japanese. Buddhist monks and priests aren’t actually expected to be celibate — the Precepts just say to avoid misusing sex, and even then the Precepts are basically suggestions: there is no special punishment for violating them, they just are hints that, if followed, lead to less unsettling, disappointing drama in life. There’s really no concept of “sin” in Buddhism, so nothing, not even sex, can be “sinful”. But there are a lot of Baptists in black robes in American Zen, and so every so often there’s a furor over a “sex scandal”. In fact, there’s a current furor about Sasaki-roshi (pictured above), who at 105 years old is now at the center of a controversy himself.
(I was talking with a friend in Hiroshima last night; the Sasaki-roshi controversy has now been noticed in Buddhist circles there. Her response, roughly translated, is “Are you guys nuts?” The horny concupiscent priest has been a running joke in Japan for a thousand years, and is considered about as scandalous as Americans would find a Catholic priest who plays golf four times a week and cheats on his scores.)
Brad may be too Japanese now for American Zen; when he pointed out that perhaps people should calm down and ask what really happened and who had been hurt by it, he was called everything from a fake Buddhist to a closet pederast.
Reading Sex, Sin, and Zen is probably a disappointment for the black-robe Baptists and the people looking for a sexual carte blanche both: Brad consistently takes an open, compassionate view of sex, and how the Precept of not misusing sex applies. The book includes an extended interview with Nina Hartley, the porn star and sex advocate, who it turns out was raised in a Zen temple from the age of ten and is shown to have a pretty deep understanding of Buddhism. It also includes discussions of homosexuality and Buddhism, BDSM and Buddhism, pornography and Buddhism … you get the idea. His take I think can be summarized as: no, sex isn’t sinful; yes, if your mind becomes fixated on sex, in whatever form, that is harmful to your peace of mind.
Overall, I recommend Brad’s books. You won’t necessarily learn a lot about the traditions and underlying philosophy of Zen and Buddhism except by osmosis, although he does manage to mention the Four Noble Truths. (If you want to learn that, look for my upcoming book, Undecorated Buddha, he said shamelessly.) You will learn a lot about how one Zen Master thinks, and it will be in an amusing, and even Enlightening way.
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