Sexual Restraint is the Bare Minimum

Almost every spiritual discipline that I have ever read about includes as one of its very basic instructions some form of sexual discipline. There may be other entry-level beliefs and practices that are unique to a particular tradition (a belief in God; a faith in the Dao; a practice of simple prayer; other basic rituals), but they all share in common the notion of sexual restraint, and for all of them this is a basic practice, not an advanced one.

In Eastern religions, life essence (or jing in the Chinese Daoist nomenclature) is not the exact same substance as sexual fluids (semen, menses), but it is so closely linked that to discharge one’s semen is to discharge one’s jing, one’s life essence. In order to even enter into the lowest stages of spiritual cultivation, one must retain the jing for a bare minimum of 100 days. This is not just an act of repression, but a daily renewal of the commitment to practice emptiness (turning one’s will over to the will of the Divine).

This is like filling a car with gas. Without a full tank, you aren’t going to get very far down the road.

In orthodox Christian traditions, sex is forbidden except between husband and wife for the purposes of procreation. For priests, nuns, monks, total abstinence is the rule. In our modern, deluded and degraded age, these rules are seen as some kind of evil imposition; a denial of life and the crazed demands of a control-freak patriarchy (or whatever).

But in fact, without sexual restraint, we cannot even begin to fuel the tank. Everyone knows that the body and the spirit are linked. We intuit it constantly. It used to be common knowledge and only massive thoughtlessness and delusion has made modern people think otherwise. Many people are convinced the spirit doesn’t even exist. And of those who do believe in the spirit, they can’t even entertain a simple (obvious) notion like the idea that the body’s most intense phenomenon may be (must be) cultivated and restrained so as to feed the spirit.

The brainwashing about the idea of sexual restraint is almost completely triumphant in the West. Not only is sexual restraint considered unnecessary, it is considered evil. While chastity is in fact life-affirming, it is portrayed as life-denying. While chastity can be the basis of intense joy and pleasure, it is portrayed as a practice of grinding, hateful dryness.

But I say it is “almost completely triumphant” because it is not totally triumphant yet! For it is possible — even today, I can attest — to be completely on one side (the wrong, deluded, degraded, hopeless) of this equation and somehow (quite miraculously) end up on the other side.

The great thing about the Truth is that it does not stop being the Truth no matter how many times the lies are repeated. It is still there at all times and in all places. It never goes away. The lies have to be repeated constantly, ever more loudly, to keep people from discovering the Truth. Just a little bit of light shining through can be enough sometimes. Everything we do and say is important and meaningful. What a terrible responsibility and what a liberating thought!

15 comments on “Sexual Restraint is the Bare Minimum

  1. Wyandotte says:

    Well, isn’t this an interesting subject. According to health writer Paul Pitchford (about healing according to Asian traditions but he doesn’t exclude western outlook), monks and nuns in the west have been experiencing a particularly difficult time dealing with sexual urges because of a dairy food and meat-rich diet.

    By the way, he doesn’t mention this in his book, I don’t think, but In the far east the monks would not merely avoid these foods but also eat foods that actually drain excess desire.

    For those interested, Pitchford’s book is available on google books and you will find reference to the topic of jing/sexuality/abstinence etc. on Pages 364 & 648.

  2. zhai2nan2 says:

    There are lots of people who call themselves Buddhists in Taiwan, who never meditate. They are not celibate. They eat meat, they don’t go to the temples – are they Buddhists in name only? I don’t think so. It’s just that they are not monks.

    ‘In order to even enter into the lowest stages of spiritual cultivation, one must retain the jing for a bare minimum of 100 days.’

    First, that sounds like a highly specific idea, not a general prohibition.
    Second, I’d like to know the title so that I can check the original text.
    Third, is that for spirituality or just for magic?

    • outofsleep says:

      I’m not sure what your point is about the non-meditating, non-celibate Buddhists in Taiwan. Obviously there are also countless analogous Christians in the West. You can be part of a group and still not be going very far along the spiritual path. Heck, in the United States you can hold a high school diploma and barely be able to read or do multiplication. Just because someone holds a diploma does not make him educated, and just because someone is called a Buddhist or a Christian does not make him a seeker on the spiritual path.

      It should be clear from the context of this post and this blog in general, that I am talking about people who wish to advance along the spiritual path. The fact that there are many, many, many lazy people in the world changes nothing about what the wise have always advised.

      The 100 days is pretty common in Chinese Taoism. Try googling the concept. Sometimes it’s referred to as 90 days, or as three months. I’ve seen it in the Secret of the Golden Flower Treatise. There are books by Lu Ku’an Yu, Nan Huai-Chin, and Hans-Ulrich Rieker. I’ve also come across the concept of three months introductory chastity in essays about Thai Buddhist initiates, but I can’t find you a source right now. Naturally not *everyone* believes this concept (and I am not saying that I necessarily do either)… my point is that it exists. There’s also a rather lengthy and repetitive article about Jing-Qi-Shen transformation here (that guy is selling stuff on his site, so it makes me highly skeptical of his ultimate wisdom, but the essay I’m linking here is extensively footnoted and documented and worth reading if you are interested in these thigns).

      The 100-days is “highly specific,” yes (though I think it’s a wide-spread specificity among Chinese Taoism and Taoist-influenced Buddhist sects… though I could be wrong). But the idea of chastity being a prerequisite to holiness is by no means “highly specific.” It’s almost totally universal. Rather than prove this, I’d ask anyone who doubts this to show me any major religious tradition that did *not* contain strict rules about chastity for the seeker.

      • zhai2nan2 says:

        ‘You can be part of a group and still not be going very far along the spiritual path. ‘

        One problem is that spiritual achievement is hard to discern and hard to quantify. A person who doesn’t seem to be very holy might be holier than outwardly pious persons. (Jesus, of course, was regarded as a drunken, gluttonous, Samartian-lover.)

        A non-celibate householder (i.e. someone sexually active, but only within marriage) might be good at treating others with compassion.

        A celibate monk might lose a lot of compassion.

        Someone who is empathetic but sexually promiscuous would probably do a lot of damage to other folks, emotionally and socially, regardless of how “compassionate” he might appear to be.

        I’m not sure that celibacy is a good approach to spiritual attainment. It is certainly possible to be very celibate because one hates humanity.

        • outofsleep says:

          Valid points.

          I’m going to go out on a limb, though, and say that at least where I live in the United States, what people need is more chastity and celibacy, not less.

          Sometimes playing the Devil’s Advocate is just that.

          • zhai2nan2 says:

            Sexual restraint is necessary but not sufficient, perhaps.

            I’m thinking, in particular, of angry men who don’t have sex and don’t masturbate but who are still obsessed with sexual issues. Such men are not in an ideal position to let go of ego – indeed, such a state can be highly attached to ego.

            I’m not advocating sexual license.

    • outofsleep says:

      Oh, and it’s for both spirituality and magic, I presume. I think most spiritual things can be turned toward magic with improper motivation.

  3. bgc says:

    This is not something I would recommend, but Charles Williams was fascinated by and practiced some kind of ‘tantric’ activity which was also (he says, in Descent of the Dove) practiced by some early Christians – specifically, this entails arousing sexual desire and then ‘using’ the energy for devotional activity or (in the case of CW) creative activity – specifically poetry.

    If you read the later biography by AM Hadfield, or the Letters to Lalage, Williams seems to have done things involving physical contact – touching hands, embracing, some mild and ritualistic corporal punishments like slapping with a ruler, games of tasks and sanctions, and also rituals of a rather sexualized nature (involving a young woman volunteer and a sword). This was as far as it went, and CW said (in so far as he said anything) that it was ‘necessary’ for the poetry.

    (However, CW did fall in (Platonic but utterly obsessive) love with a rather flighty and feckless younger woman at his work, and never got out from this – at times it inspired major work – eg on Dante, but it became a torture to him and seriously damaged his marriage; and indeed himself.)

    It all seems weird and creepy to me, and I am sure that the dishonesty and concealment involved were a source of extreme guilt to the man, but in the larger scheme of things it was probably venial.

    At any rate, the point is really that there was a clear link between *not* having sexual consummation and the generation of energies for other (more important) things; and that this link has been lost from modern culture.

    • zhai2nan2 says:

      ‘there was a clear link between *not* having sexual consummation and the generation of energies for other (more important) things’

      I have known some pretty weird and destructive people who were celibate.

      Just because celibacy generates energy doesn’t mean the celibate person has the spiritual maturity necessary to direct that energy into actual spiritual development.

      This doesn’t mean that casual fornicators are spiritually superior – it just means that attempts at spirituality are fraught with all kinds of challenges.

    • outofsleep says:

      There seem to be two different notions of “harnessing sexual energy” at play here.

      One, the basic one, which I attempt to endorse in this post, is the simple notion of chastity. Sexual energy is ever-renewing. The idea, at least for men, is to refrain from ejaculating or getting sexually aroused about fantasies (there’s nothing wrong with an erection “for no reason” like in the morning upon waking… in fact, that’s a good sign; and there’s nothing wrong with having sexual urges… it’s the purposeful dwelling-upon of sexual fantasies that is to be avoided). All that energy *can* and *does* get transmuted into more sublime forms of energy which can be directed to spiritual practice. You don’t have to do anything special or exotic. Just be chaste and go about your business as you otherwise would.

      The second is the idea of purposefully waking your sexual energy and then trying to direct it to some spiritual endeavor. That sounds like what Williams was doing. All the touching, arousing, slapping, etc; and the various practices of Tantra are attempts to arouse the fierce demon of sexual energy and then turn it towards more purposeful ends. I don’t know enough about all this to say whether it’s good or bad. Enough people that seem like pretty advanced people endorse it that I’m not willing to dismiss it out of hand. But I simply don’t understand it. What I do understand is that sex energy can be VERY intense for many (all?) people. So for those of us (me!) that have trouble controlling it on the mundane level, it’s a bad idea to go playing with tantra and all that.

      The practice of chastity for a modern like me is tough and interesting enough! And I suspect it yields better results.

  4. Wyandotte says:

    Well said, zhai2nan2. I’d add that if it’s not part of our particular racial culture, maybe we should not fool with it.

    My husband used to do yoga every day, lots of it. He found it changed his mental capacity in a strange and undesirable way though he still struggles to describe and quantify this. He is of a more materialist conformation, lives life in the here & now, not worrying about heaven or the afterlife, etc. The yoga clashed with his inherent constitution, I would opine.

    • outofsleep says:

      I agree that various esoteric (or are the exoteric because the body is involved) sex-yoga techniques are better left aside. But if the general proposition is that one should be chaste and let the resulting energy (and there *will* be extra energy for men at least, and this has nothing to do with one’s sect or race) go towards seeking the Divine, I would submit to all that this *is* the traditional way of the West. Or at least of our greatest spiritual exemplars in Christianity (of all stripes), in Judaism, and indeed even in Islam.

      And in the pagan cultures as well!

      There’s nothing foreign about harnessing sexual energy!

  5. ajb says:

    @outofsleep, what do you mean by ‘chaste’ here? In Catholicism, for example, a main component of the idea of marriage is for the couple to have chaste sexual intercourse.

    • outofsleep says:

      I’ve been a bit vague about what I mean by “chaste,” I do realize. My bare-bones definition would be to abstain from masturbation and from meaningless sex (referring to *obviously* uncommitted sex like one-night-stands and extra-marital affairs, etc). As for what counts as “meaningful,” I’m not a Catholic so I don’t necessarily endorse their specific strictures (nor am I familiar with them… I always learned that for Catholics, meaningful sex is sex between a married man and woman, without contraception). I’m aware that there are points of contention, like the situation where a woman is infertile and the couple knows it, but I’m not familiar with Catholic doctrine on these points, and therefore I’m unwilling to comment.

      I would say, for the purposes of my own blog entry, that avoiding masturbation and cheap sex are the starting point. From there, I’m massively ill-qualified to comment. But I also know that sexual “liberation” (which is really sexual slavery) has progressed so far that there are literally hundreds of millions of Westerners out there who don’t even consider the prohibition against masturbation to be valid and yet still feel a spiritual calling. My blog entry is merely meant as a cry in the wilderness against such attitudes.

      Incidentally, I don’t think that a single act (or even many acts) of masturbation or unloving congress condemns one to everlasting damnation… nothing of the sort, in fact. But every such act takes one further from God. Anyone who wants to turn towards God and one’s true meaning as a human being will refrain from such acts as a matter of course.

  6. Eramen says:

    This post is enlightening and so very valid, especially for our modern society. It’s something that really needs to be heard.

    Brahmacharya/celibacy is without any doubt the starting point for every man, and indeed woman, on his/her search for meaning, metaphysical insight and religious learning. To say that it’s not needed, or that it’s not part of the Western tradition is a fallacy. I think that these objections have more to do with a person’s personal opinions and habits than any genuine study of ourselves and our history.

    From Pythagoras, the philosophical schools, the pagan rites, to the orthodox Christian traditions, to a new popular alternative on the internet/popular culture; it’s firmly established in our cultural & spiritual sphere, even for the common person.

    Also, while it may be a means to esoteric knowledge, it’s also applicable to practical yogas (disciplines) and everyday living. Examples such as Bhakti yoga (A God devotee, the essence of Christianity) or Karma-Yoga (selfless service based on action for the here and now, Akarmic action nullifies one’s karmic consequences). Clearly we see this in Christ and his disciples, the Saints, the great men of the past. Celibacy is still the basis.

    Not to mention, there are numerous health benefits to the body and mind, as well as to the spirit. One connects to the other, affects the other, changes each other. Be certain in this. The health benefits are still being explored and new scientific studies turn up more and more good news.

    Any man who says differently simply hasn’t tried to restrain himself to know the advantages and the creativity that it inspires. I really think that one should only listen to those who have practiced sexual restraint, and those who continue to do it, because they are the only source of knowledge about the process.

    I am delighted to say that myself and two of my good friends have embarked upon this journey. Certainly we have agreed among ourselves that we have improved in many ways, even beyond our initial beliefs and expectations. I have also – through what I believe is part of the process (for a future householder) – found a lovely, genuine lady, whom I think that I would have not met at all or would have not have had the confidence to really get to know, if I had not taken to celibacy and meditation. (And no, I’m not some social awkward)

    Onward I say, the new life is just over the horizon, where the fingered trees meld beneath the sky-softened borders! Therein’ the jewel of Fate lies.

    Here’s a few links that may well be indispensable for those interested:

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