‘Refraining From Wrong Conduct in Sexual Desires’ (1968)

Written by Rob Hogendoorn

4 minutes

In 1968, the fourteenth Dalai Lama published the English translation of his first self-penned summation of Buddhist doctrine: The Opening of the Wisdom-Eye. The Tibetan original was completed only four years after the Dalai Lama finished his religious education and fled Tibet in 1959.

The 1972 edition of this translation can be found here. Donald Lopez re-translated the original Tibetan text and published it as Opening the Eye of New Awareness (1984, 1999). Lopez explains the title of the work as follows:

“‘Opening the Eye of New Awareness’ is a literal translation of the Tibetan title, blo gsar mig ‘byed. The term ‘new awareness’ can also mean ‘those with new awareness,’ or ‘beginners.’ Quite different from the ‘beginner’s mind’ of Zen fame, here ‘new awareness’ connotes a mind yet untrained in Buddhist thought and practice, yet containing great potential, an eye that has not yet opened to see things as they truly are. His Holiness thus describes his book as ‘a treatise of few words, primarily for easy comprehension, expanding the illumination of the wisdom that thoroughly differentiates phenomena.’ Indeed, Opening the Eye of New Awareness is devoted much more to wisdom, especially the wisdom arisen from hearing the Dharma, than it is to instructions for practice. One does not find detailed descriptions of the six places of rebirth that would occur in a lam rim text; one does not find instructions on the exchange of self and other that would occur in a blos byong text. The Dalai Lama is writing a different kind of book, and for a different audience. Everything that he sets forth here would be common knowledge for a Tibetan Buddhist monk trained in the scholastic curriculum of any of the sects of Tibetan Buddhism. But in 1963 those monks were living under the most difficult conditions upon their arrival in India, some living in former British prisoner-of-war camps ravaged by tuberculosis. For such monks, deprived oftheir great libraries, Opening the Eye of New Awareness, in which the erudition of their young Dalai Lama is so brilliantly displayed, could serve as an inspiring aide-mémoire. But the Dalai Lama certainly had at least two other audiences in mind. The first were Tibetan lay people, especially young people, an audience for whom works were rarely written in Tibet. For this group, who certainly lacked the leisure to study the great texts, the Dalai Lama composed a clear and concise summary of Buddhist doctrine. And in 1963, the Dalai Lama must have had yet another audience in mind, the growing number of readers in the West who had an interest in Tibetan Buddhism, but whose previous exposure to the tradition had been fraught with magic and mystery. The Dalai Lama is thus concerned in Opening the Eye of New Awareness to present Tibetan Buddhism to the world as a tradition that holds its rightful place in the heritage of Indian buddhist thought, a heritage of reasoned analysis and systematic practice.

At the same time, the book must be seen as the work of a consummate scholar of Buddhist thought and practice. It is clearly the work of a monk who has completed the monastic curriculum and, indeed, the Dalai Lama had completed his academic training just four years before, standing for the geshe examination in 1959. His studies had been delayed by the difficulties of that decade, a series of crises that required his constant attention. Even during this period, however, the Dalai Lama did not neglect his studies, having his two tutors accompany him on his visit to China in 1954. He debated with the leading Geluk scholars of the day during the New Year celebrations of 1959, just a few weeks before his escape to India. Those who were present recall the breadth and depth of the learning of one who bore the plight of the nation on his young shoulders.” (pp. 3-4)

In the first English translation of this work, published in Thailand in 1968 and in the United States of America in 1972, the Dalai Lama says about sexual misconduct:

“The object is a member of the opposite sex with whom one should not consort, such as another’s wife or husband, a woman or man in the custody of parents or guardians, or a person of the opposite sex who in taking up a religious life remains celibate. A person from a family with whom one’s own has had connection in the last seven generations, is also included in the object. Under some conditions, to have intercourse even with one’s own wife can constitute a breach of this precept as when it takes place near shrines or in temples, at a wrong time such as upon upavasatha-day [fast-day], upon some inopportune occasion as during the day-time, during a monthly period or else when she is pregnant, or lastly by some kind of unnatural practice through orifices other than the vagina.

The second factor is intention of a woman (or man) to have sexual intercourse.

Then there must be the effort made to accomplish this.

Among the various mental stains, greed is the predominant root while both of the others (aversion, delusion) may also be found.

Accomplishment is the acceptance with delight of the feeling resulting from contact between the two sexual organs. As regards persons, this precept can be broken in three ways should sexual intercourse be had with: A woman or man supported or protected by relatives, mother, father or brother. A woman in the care of a husband (or, in the case of a man, one who is already married). Thirdly, a person protected by Dharma, including all those devoting their whole lives to religious practice. Among the various sorts of sexual misconduct, the gravest would be incestuous intercourse, being an act of rape upon one’s own mother who was at the same time a bhiksuni and an Arhat.” (p. 43)

Donald Lopez translates this section as follows:

Sexual Misconduct. The basis is an unsuitable partner, such as the spouse of another, a close relative up to seven times removed, or a nun or monk who is keeping vows, or in an unsuitable location, such as with your spouse near an image of the Three Jewels. Or, the basis is a sexual act that is performed in an unsuitable orifice, that is, any orifice other than the vagina, or at an unsuitable time, such as during the observance of precepts for one day, during pregnancy or a menstrual period, or during the day. The thought is the motivation of desire to copulate. The execution is to undertake that action. The affliction is the three poisons but specifically desire. The completion is to take personal gratification by way of attachment to the experience of pleasurable feelings that arise from the contact of the two organs.

There are three types of sexual misconduct: with someone who is under the protection of the family, such as one’s parents or sibling, with someone who is protected by a spouse, or with someone who is protected by religion, such as a nun or monk. From among perverse desires, deviant behavior with someone who is both one’s parent and a foe destroyer is an extremely bad deed.” (p. 45)

About the author

Rob Hogendoorn

Investigative reporter and academic researcher Rob Hogendoorn (b. 1964) began researching the reception of Buddhism in Western society and culture in the early 1990s. His modus operandi remained the same ever since: independent, inquisitive and provocative.