05 February 2012

Dharma Solitaire

It was only in 19th century Japan that the requirement that home-leavers be unmarried was done away with.  I've heard that part of the reason had to do with the fact that violations of clerical celibacy were by then so rampant and long-standing that it was beside the point to insist on it any longer.  Perhaps.  Given that it's also widespread knowledge that most married Japanese men today carry on extramarital affairs, I'm inclined to view all of this more as an indication of Japanese sexual mores than anything significant about the practice of the Dharma.

In any event, since Zen in America comes from Japan, Zen in America has married priests and "monks."  So it is, and I'm not going to cast aspersions on anyone. 

I am, though, going to plead the case for a way for unmarried Zen priests and monks/nuns to practice with the kind of support that unmarried practice requires.  This means, in the first instance, accepting the real possibility that one can practice this way.

I have a mid-twentysomething Dharma brother who is inclined toward such a practice.  Of course, as with anything in life, the alternatives present themselves time and again, and he gets to wrestle with them.  And it's not just about the sex, it's about the whole kit and kaboodle.  He related to me that he feels unsupported in even thinking about going it alone, about leaving aside relationship and family and all the rest.

It's funny he should feel that in a Buddhist environment.  As he pointed out to me, all the great masters, all those we hear mentioned in the koan collections, even Buddha himself – they all forswore spouse and family and home for the sake of the Dharma.   Surely, he continued, that signifies something important about practice.

Of course it does.  Of course it does.  I just wish that more of those who have taken refuge in the Buddha, the Dharma and the Sangha would see it enough to be grateful there are still men and women inclined to that kind of practice and to give them a pat on the back for taking a stab at it.

Is it for everyone?  No.  Is it a "better" way to practice?  Let's just say it makes certain things possible that practice in the context of relationship and family does not.  Is it worth cherishing as one component of the noble Sangha?  Heck, I thought that was understood from the very start!

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