This is an article posted by Reverend Ray Innen Parchelo who is a novice Tendai priest and founder of the Red Maple Sangha, the first lay Buddhist community in Eastern, Ontario, Canada, Sunday, August 28, 2011 in answer to Buddhist lust and the question “Are lascivious thoughts immoral if not acted upon?”
First, let’s clarify Buddhist morality. Buddhists don’t talk about sin, in the sense that an act corrupts or stains some eternal essence or soul. In Buddhist teaching, our actions either lead us closer to or further from Awakening. That is, they are either wholesome or unwholesome (kusala/akusala).
Further, the consequences flowing from our acts are in proportion to and in the direction of the quality of the acts.
This is what is meant by our karma.
Karma is widely misunderstood and misrepresented. It is not punishment, nor is it a one-for-one consequence. An unwholesome act, such as you stealing a loaf of bread, for example, sets in motion a set of consequences, which might include, guilt/relief, regret/pride and the impulse to avoid/repeat the theft, depending on your values and intentions.
This example from the novel Les Miserables shows that it is the intent, at least as much as the act, that matters. Unlike the harsh legalism depicted in that novel, stealing a loaf for the hero’s starving child carries different karma than if he stole it to buy cocaine. Karma, then, is less a judging hammer than the momentum from an act.
Back to those lascivious thoughts. Any thoughts do not stand alone, there is a connection between our thoughts and actions. Likewise, thoughts themselves are connected to patterns of wanting something we believe is valuable. There is a continuum of values-thoughts-actions. This is all part of the larger cycle of how things are interconnected and impacted by Karma (“conditioned arising” in Buddhist terms).
When these lascivious thoughts arise, it is because we have a desire to possess some person or object, and, in this case that desire is unwholesome. The momentum for those thoughts have consequences, although quantitatively and experientially less than if we were to act on them. We must remember too, thoughts of all kinds will arise (from previous karma), so we ought not battle ourselves “to control” our thoughts. Far more important that we evaluate how we will act on those thoughts.
Religion and Porn
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