Why the Dalai Lama doesn't date?

Sex, Celibacy and Spirituality: Why the Dalai Lama Doesn't Date
By Stephen A. Diamond, Ph.D. on July 5, 2012 - 10:51pm
CNN's Piers Morgan recently interviewed His Holiness the Dalai Lama, at one point asking him candidly about sex:

MORGAN: As a monk, you obviously subscribe to a vow of celibacy.


MORGAN: Is that hard?

DALAI LAMA: No. If you just, you see, physically experience, then you sometimes—you may find a certain desire. But then whole picture —I often used to telling one occasion in England, some Buddhist monk. European Buddhist monk. I told them, when we watch the people who have family, sometimes I notice my first visit, another woman, another wife. Second visit, another woman, another wife. Previous wife, some children. Then another occasion, third, third wife.


DALAI LAMA: So, these, see, really, children suffer much when divorce, when parents divorce. And I told the married people, their mental state, their emotional state, too much ups and downs. Compare that with celibate people sort of mind more steady. So, long run, we have some advantage.

MORGAN: Do you ever feel temptation when you see a woman?

DALAI LAMA: Oh, yes, sometimes see people. Oh, this is very nice. But then thinking—thinking it's a real job, then feel, too much problem—


DALAI LAMA: Too much dirty things like that.

This is why the Dalai Lama doesn't date. Does the 14th Dalai Lama really think sex is "dirty"? Well, as the saying goes, it is when it's done right. But I don't believe he meant "dirty" as much as messy. Not necessarily physically messy. Though surely he knows having sex can lead to contracting or transmitting diseases like chlamydia, gonorrhea, genital warts, syphilis, pelvic inflammatory disease, herpes or HIV. (Well, he may not be familiar with all STD's.) But he sees the bigger problem: Sex is psychologically messy. Emotionally messy. (See my prior posts.) Even dangerous. This is why there is really no such thing as the oxymoron "safe sex." Sex always entails some risk, either physically or emotionally. Sure, we can and do try to minimize the risks in various ways. But, as the Dalai Lama suggests, sex and romantic love is not particularly conducive to peace of mind. Sex complicates life. And can be the source of immense suffering. As well as pleasure. As we all know, sex and romantic love tend to wreak havoc with our emotions, not unlike a bipolar rollercoaster ride, taking us to both the heights of ecstasy and depths of despair. Sexual love can feel like having been infected with some exotic virus or possessed by some erotic spirit or demon. Soon after meeting the beloved, the classic symptoms ensue: anxiety, sleeplessness, agitation, appetite disturbance, obsessive longing, compulsive calling, alternating elation and apprehension and countless other little signs lovers learn to live with. This potent state of intoxication is the polar opposite to psychological serenity. Daimonic passions like eros or lust tend to undermine one's peace of mind.

Of course, he wouldn't have any way of knowing about sex from personal experience. The Dalai Lama is, with his birthday being celebrated today, a seventy-seven-year-old virgin. A Buddhist monk since boyhood, the Dalai Lama believes that sex offers fleeting satisfaction but leads to trouble and tribulation, while celibacy offers a better life and "more independence, more freedom." He has noted that problems arising from sexual relationships can, in some extreme cases, lead to suicide or murder. For the Dalai Lama and other religious practitioners like priests and nuns, the solution seems to be to avoid such disturbing drama altogether by being celibate. But obviously, this is no prescription for humanity in general. If we all became celibate, there might be more serenity, but the human race would come to a screeching halt. No procreation, no people. Not to mention no more love songs, romantic poetry, self-sacrificing acts of devotion, etc. So how can the rest of us preserve our precious peace of mind without avoiding sex and sexual entanglement entirely?

Modern life has become increasingly complicated. And nothing complicates like love and sex. Simplicity promotes peace of mind. Simplicity and the avoidance or renunciation of what Buddha called dukkha, desire or attachment, the root of most human suffering. So if we want peace of mind, and mental and emotional stability, simplifying life seems the obvious solution. Not getting overly involved in life's messiness; remaining aloof and detached from life's passionate human drama. This is a traditional approach to spiritual practice. And one which, as we have seen in the perverse sexual escapades of supposedly celibate priests in the Catholic Church, evangelical preachers and various and sundry spiritual gurus, is dubious at best. Repressing the instinctual sexual impulse is, as Sigmund Freud insisted, a recipe for disaster. But there are alternative approaches to sex and spirituality too. For instance, Tantric yoga uses sexuality and sexual energy to facilitate spiritual growth, and has been doing so for millennia. So sex is not necessarily detrimental or antithetical to spirituality. Indeed, it could be argued that sex is an essential part of psychological, emotional and spiritual growth and development.

Still, sex certainly makes life much more complex. The institution of marriage, monogamy and fidelity is one way society tries to keep things simple for people regarding sexuality. Marriage attempts to control and make sex simple: one has but one sexual partner and foresakes all others. This traditional arrangement simplifies matters significantly. Or is at least intended to. But in practice, marriage is itself a complicated relationship, typically leading to children, in-laws, power struggles, financial conflict, etc. And, in a majority of modern marriages, to disillusionment, cheating, animosity and divorce. Which are anything but simple. Being single and dating is an equally complicated activity today, one which can engender significant anxiety, confusion, frustration and pain. So much so that many singles avoid dating altogether; in effect, choosing celibacy.

Is it possible to have peace of mind without avoiding sex, love or marriage? Without choosing celibacy? This is the true challenge. Avoiding life's complications makes maintaining peace of mind comparatively easy, as the Dalai Lama suggests. Sitting on the mountaintop or monastery contemplating one's navel unperturbed by and detached from civilization and its discontents, free from constant carnal temptation, is one thing. Not that such an austere life is easy. It takes immense self-discipline. But it takes more courage to embrace life completely. Even the Dalai Lama cannot rise above all of life's inescapable little dramas and passion plays, as exemplified in his ongoing personal and political struggles with China regarding Tibetan independence.(See my prior post.) No one is immune. Life eventually lures us all in. Maya, the hypnotic power of illusion, cannot be completely resisted. Reality compels us to relate to life. And to each other. As does biology. Society. And psychology. This is what it means to be human. So how can the ordinary person cultivate peace of mind, serenity, psychological and emotional stability while at the same time being fully engaged in life's incessant drama? In what Nikos Kazantzakis' Zorba the Greek called "the full catastrophe"?