H.E. Khenpo Sonam Gyatso Rinpoche, scholar and charismatic Master of the Drukpa Lineage, talks about love, sexuality and relationships from the Buddhist point of view. The interview was given to Jigme Karma on Khenpo Sonam Gyatso Rinpoche´s visit to Europe while he was staying at Drukpa Hamburg.
Jigme Karma: Many people associate intense emotions with their romantic attachments and sexuality. Dharma however proposes, not to identify oneself with your emotions. For many couples this seems to be a contradiction in itself and very difficult to achieve. Many do fear a loss in not identifying with emotions. Is this a valid concern?
Khenpo Sonam Gyatso Rinpoche: Buddhist philosophy is very profound. Mostly, when people are talking about love, they truly speak about attachment instead. Attachment and sexual desire can create many problems in our lives. These are troublesome emotions, even obsessions and therefore cannot bring real happiness into our lives. On the contrary: Many people get themselves into big trouble because of these emotions. They might even kill or get killed. Desire and longing should not be mistaken for love, kindness and compassion in the Buddhist sense of the word. Love, kindness and compassion will bring us happiness and peace of mind. Attachment, lust and craving will stir up our mind instead.
Jigme Karma: Devotion is looked upon as a central spiritual accomplishment. What is the difference between devotion in a relationship and devotion in the Dharma?
Khenpo Sonam Gyatso Rinpoche: For ordinary beings like us, it is often not enough to rely on our inner wisdom and on our intelligence. We often bring about the exact contrary of what we hoped would be the outcome of our efforts and desires. When we engage in a sexual relationship, sexual desire is naturally linked to the wish for happiness. But often enough suffering will be the result of our desires instead of real happiness. We create even more difficulties through attachment, delusion and interfering emotions. Thus Buddhism encourages us to develop love and compassion between men and women and for all sentient beings as well. Attachment and sexual lust are very different from compassion and loving kindness, especially with regard to the motivation of our actions and to the result of our actions.
Jigme Karma: The act of love between a man and a woman or more specifically between male and female principle is considered to be a particularly advanced spiritual practice in Buddhism. What is the benefit of sexuality as a spiritual practice? What are the important requirements for a practitioner with this regard?
Khenpo Sonam Gyatso Rinpoche: Indeed, this kind of practice of taking delusions and mental poisons into the spiritual path exists. This practice is not for everyone however. One of the key requirements for such a practice is the insight into the true nature of attachments and desires. We need the wisdom of discrimination which allows us to see into the primordial pure nature of an attachment. A delusion is impure as it creates suffering. In Vajrayana or in the Secret Mantra we speak of taking the fruit, or the result into the spiritual path. In apprehending the nature of the pure essence of delusion, we can set it free. Men and women normally the enjoy happiness and joy during sexual intercourse, but at the same time both partners are distracted as well. A Yogi or a Yogini however would instantly realize the true nature of this state of bliss and would understand that the nature of this state of bliss is emptiness and the nature of emptiness is happiness. This way a high realization can be reached. Very special skills are needed for this kind of advanced practice. Once enabled to such practice, there is no need to get rid of the mental poisons any longer, we will then be able to take them into the path and transform them.
Jigme Karma: Sexuality is a vital and powerful energy. In the western hemisphere it is believed that a subdued sexuality might lead to diseases of mind and body. Should we therefore act on our desire for sexuality as a means to maintain our health?
Khenpo Sonam Gyatso Rinpoche: Happiness created through sexual unification does not necessarily depend upon the unification of two bodies. You can achieve this happiness without sexual intercourse as in the secret mantra, in Vajrayana. This is a secret practice though, which is why I cannot talk about it in more detail. It is a basic principle that we all have the white element in our bodies we received from our fathers and the red element we received from our mothers. Usually the white element can be found in our crown, while the red element is located in our navel. When these two drops (Tibetan: Thigle) or spheres, meet in our hearts, where the white element will float upwards and the red element downwards, we can experience the same happiness as we would feel in sexual unification. The unification of the two drops does not serve only to experience such bliss. As a premise we need the acquired skill to perceive this happiness as empty. In this mental state it is possible to recognize the emptiness of all phenomena very clearly. For this aim we use the Yoga of Chandali (Tibetan: Tummo), which we practice in our tradition as well. I cannot discuss this in more detail right now. It is important however to clarify that the aim in Buddhism is not to become unemotional. Buddhism aims to deal and work appropriately with feelings through certain practices.
Jigme Karma: Those are means for very advanced practitioners. How can we who are not that advanced yet, live our sexuality and what kind of conduct is important? Where are the limits in this approach?
Khenpo Sonam Gyatso Rinpoche: Sexuality is not prohibited for lay practitioners in Buddhism. Ethics however should be the parameter for all lovers. It is important to trust one another, to be loyal and honest. Ethical discipline implies also to respect the appropriate times and situations when to share sexuality with each other. It is also important that sexual intercourse should only take place when both consent. It is good to be very cautious at those times because women are much more vulnerable. Ultimately a desire for sex arises out of sheer lust. Lust always generates suffering. A mind that is constantly craving for lust, will be agitated and has lost its capacity for inner peace. The motivation behind the desire to have sex is always lust, even when we believe the motivation to be a desire for happiness. Ideally the motivation for sex with happiness as its result should be used as a means to realize the nature of the mind. Normally this aim is not achieved. Even if we experience short-lived happiness through sexual intercourse, we will also always experience suffering because of it. So very much depends on the mindset in a sexual relationship between men and women. A western friend of mine works as a masseur. She told me about an elderly male client who got aroused during her treatment and wanted to have sex with her. Out of compassion and because she knew this man to be old and his difficulties to have sexuality at all, she agreed. Afterwards she told him that what they had done was absolutely okay for this session but that she would not treat him again. When I heard about it I was very surprised. This woman really is like a Bodhisattva. Her motivation to have sex with this man was not her own sexual desire but her compassion for him. This made me realize something: Even if western people might not understand all which Buddhism teaches, many of them are very intelligent and have a good common sense which helps to cope with certain situations. The right motivation makes all the difference.
Jigme Karma: Relationship issues can be very stressful for Buddhist practitioners. Out of an inner attitude to take difficulties as an assignment, they won’t easily consider a separation because this would be seen as a failure. When is the right time for letting go? And what do you personally think about divorce or separation?
Khenpo Sonam Gyatso Rinpoche: The central viewpoint In Buddhism, especially in Mahayana is the importance of the other. From this viewpoint it is essential to develop an inner gratitude for the other and for what she or he might have given us. We do experience the joy through our partner. Often enough we forget all the good things we got from them and cannot stop listing up all the bad things. That is how we create our problems. Let us leave the negative things aside and concentrate on the good things and let us emphasize on the resulting gratefulness. This way we could thoroughly avoid many problems all together. Let us also realize that nobody forced us to be with our chosen partner. We made this decision ourselves. Many animals stay together and raise their cubs together. They do not need a priest or laws to keep them together. They just adhere to an ethical discipline. It is in their nature to do so and nobody has to instruct them about it. When you are with someone you should be aware of the fact that you alone have chosen this someone. Even in case that a separation is unavoidable the above-mentioned attitude will be helpful in the process. It is important that neither hatred nor ill intend or negative thoughts are created against the former partner. Normally that is working out quite all right here in the western hemisphere. We should realize that in the end it is not very important if we stay together or not. Compared to all the problems that exist in this world we are talking merely about a side issue here.
Thank you, Khenpo Rinpoche La!
Khenpo Sonam Gyatso Rinpoche is a major scholar of Tibetan Buddhism and belongs to the Drukpa and Kagyu Lineage. He was born in the Tibetan province of Kham and fled to India where he was ordained in Darjeeling by the first Thuksey Rinpoche. He was taught by H.H. the 14. Dalai Lama, H.H. the 12. Gyalwang Drukpa, Je Khenpo Drukpa, Je Khenpo Yönten Ö. Gyen Khentse and a wide range of other great Teachers. Khenpo Rinpoche studied Buddhist philosophy and Logic at the University of Varanasi (Benares), India for over nine years.
The title "Khenpo" was given to him by H.H. the 16. Karmapa and H.H. the 12. Gyalwang Drukpa. This title refers to his profound knowledge and his great wisdom.
For the last 35 years Khenpo Sonam Gyatso Rinpoche has been teaching Buddhist philosophy and logic at the Central Institute for Tibetan Academic Studies in Benares.
He is a regular guest speaker at international congresses. Many people worldwide were able to benefit from his great realization, compassion and wisdom. Last year, on request of H.H. the 12. Gyalwang Drukpa, he visited the European Drukpa Centers in Germany in Kassel, Frankfurt and Hamburg and in Spain on La Palma among other countries and gave teachings.
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