The Great Passing Away of the First Buddhist Nun: A Benefit for the Saranaloka Nuns

Saturday, November 14,

  • 6:30 – 7:30 pm – reception
  • 7:30 – 8:30 pm – Dramatization
  • 8:30 – 9:00 pm – reception


IMC will host a grand dramatization of the great passing away of the first Buddhist nun, the Buddha’s foster mother, Mahāpajāpatī. The dramatization will be based on an ancient poem that confidently asserts the spiritual potential of women. It also celebrates the role Buddhist nuns have for teaching the Dharma and displaying the attainment of liberation.

Dramatizing the story of Mahapajapati and supporting the Aloka Vihara nuns is a way to celebrate how the practice and teachings of women and Buddhist nuns is an important part of Buddhism becoming well established in the United States.

The Aloka Vihara nuns will participate in the evening.

Women in Buddhism Symposium: In Honor of the Nuns of Aloka Vihara

On Saturday, November 14 the Sati Center will host a symposium highlighting the accomplishments of women scholars in the early years of Buddhist Studies in the West, on the one hand, and portraits of women as presented in the scriptures of early Buddhist literature on the other. We will celebrate the contributions of these women as part of a benefit to support the pioneering Theravada Buddhist nuns living at Aloka Vihara in the Sierra foothills.
Bring a bag lunch.
Lunch will be at 11 am and include a meal offering for the nuns attending. No
registration needed.

The symposium is a benefit for the Aloka Vihara nuns’ community.

9:00 Welcome and opening remarks – Gil Fronsal

9:15 a.m. – Session I: Pioneering Women in Buddhist Studies

  • Caroline Rhys Davids – Dawn Neal (Institute of Buddhist Studies
  • B. Horner – Grace Burford (Prescott University)

11:00 Food offering to the nuns (everyone invited to make an offering)

12:15 – Session II: Women in Pāli Literature (1): Portraits of Women in the Suttas

  • Women in the Majjhima Nikāya- Diana Clark (Institute of Buddhist Studies)
  • Women in the Saṁyutta Nikāya -Xi He (UC Berkeley)

2:00 – Session III: Women in Pāli Literature (2): Tales of Accomplished Nuns

  • Women in the Therīgāthā, poetry of the early Buddhist nuns – Meg Gawler (Institute of Buddhist Studies)
  • Mahāpajāpatī, the first Buddhist nun – Jan Nattier (UC Berkeley)

3:30 Concluding remarks
4:00 End

IMC October Events


Mindful Listening

The great value of mindfulness practice can be found in the ordinary activities of daily life. It is not necessary to engage in extraordinary pursuits to realize the full depth and breadth of Buddhist practice. Listening is one of the ordinary, daily activities that can serve as a powerful vehicle for cultivating mindfulness, insight, and freedom. Dharma practice is to develop the ability to “see clearly;” listening well is a way to do this. Through listening we can better appreciate what others are saying and gain greater self-understanding.

Imagine yourself standing in front of a great wall stretching far to the right and far to the left. In the middle is a closed door.  You open the door, and step through. On the other side of the wall is a vast sky and a great panorama of mountains and valleys receding toward a far distant horizon. From this view you appreciate the great vastness and spaciousness of the world. Then you turn around and step back through the door to the other side of the wall. Standing on the other side you see that here is a vista of a vast ocean sprinkled with beautiful islands. In fact, on either side of the door there is an equally wide, large world to be explored and studied. Listening can be understood as the door between two vast worlds, the world outside of yourself and the world inside yourself. The first is what your ears can hear.  The second is what is going on in your body, mind, and heart as you listen. To practice mindful listening is to reside in the doorway between these two worlds so you can be attentive and wise in both.

To listen well, it is helpful to distinguish listening from hearing.  Listening is an active, deliberate activity while hearing doesn’t require any effort or intention. With a loud sound, no effort is needed to hear it. However, one might need to intentionally listen to identify the source of the sound. If we were to mime someone listening we might cup a hand behind one ear and lean in the direction of a sound. It is much more difficult to mime ‘hearing’ because hearing is not an activity we do, it is a mode of receptivity to whatever sounds that might occur. By having a clear distinction between listening and hearing we can then choose one over the other. Sometimes, it can be deeply relaxing to make no effort to listen except to rest in the hearing, especially with meditation, music, or sounds of nature. More often in daily life however, we either listen actively or not very well, for example, when we don’t fully listen to what others are saying.

One form of active listening is to listen mindfully, that is, with clear attention and interest. Listening mindfully is to intentionally bring greater awareness to the experience of listening rather than listening habitually or perhaps half-heartedly. To make it a mindfulness practice we also give priority to listening for the purpose of listening rather than letting another purpose dominate. We attend to listening in such a way that we both listen better and are aware of our attitude while listening.

The better your understanding of what goes on within you as you listen, the better you can understand the obstruction to listening well and what you can do to listen more mindfully.  Mindful listening requires a willingness to put aside, at least temporarily, the agendas, preferences, opinions, and judgments that interfere with being able to listen well. At the same time, it can involve actively noticing the internal impact and response you have to what is heard. Then, you can choose to keep your focus on the different dimensions of what you listening to rather than easily wandering off in thought. Not only can you listen more carefully to the content of what someone is saying, you can notice their facial expressions, tone of voice, posture, and attitidude.

Without mindfulness, listening can sometimes be done with eagerness—even impatience—for someone who is talking to finish. An internal pressure to speak, or having anticipatory thoughts, can interfere with our full listening to what others are saying. In contrast, to listen mindfully is to be generous with our time; to live in the flow of time, each thing allowed its own time.

You know you are listening mindfully when you continue to listen after someone has stopped speaking. Listen to the silence. Or let the receptivity with which you listened become an additional occasion to notice what is happening within yourself or with the person to whom you are listening. Such a pause—even a two second pause—gives you time to digest what was said. It is also a time to discover what you want to say before you actually say it. Such self-awareness can protect you from saying things you later regret. The pause may also give others a chance to discover what is going on in their own minds and bodies.   

Mindful listening is embodied listening. This means that you don’t just listen with your ears. You can feel the physical impact of what you hear. What sensations arise in the body in response to what is heard? What parts of your body get energized in the hearing? What gets tense, what relaxes?

Embodied listening includes assuming a posture that supports better listening. Perhaps sitting up straighter with the chest open. Perhaps turning toward the person who is speaking.  It can be helpful to assume a posture or a gesture that indicates you are listening.  Perhaps leaning forward slightly. Or nodding your head to the points the person is making. By being actively involved in listening we listen better. It also helps the speaker to know we are really listening.

A famous story from the Ramayana, an epic poem in the Hindu tradition, illustrates the power of careful listening. The story tells of Rama walking in the forest with some companions.  When Rama starts hearing the faint whisper of a voice, he asks his companions if they can hear it. They say, “No.” Rama begins to walk toward the whisper.  As he gets closer he recognizes it is his name that is being spoken, “Rama…Rama.”  As the voice becomes louder, his friends still say they can’t hear it. Finally Rama comes to a large boulder from which the sound comes. He then places his two hands gently on the boulder. At this point the rock breaks open and inside is a person who has been stuck in the rock through a magic spell. By listening to the whisper he was able to discover what was locked up and then release it.

In this way, to listen mindfully is to give care in order to hear the faint whispers inside others and ourselves and to discover the significant thoughts, feelings, and desires that may be shy or overlooked. Once discovered, the quiet whispers then have the opportunity to be heard.

Listening—as all forms of active attention—is an intentional act, and as such is connected to our desires, emotions, attitudes, values, and preferences. Because of this connection it can be helpful to use the following questions to help explore your listening. You might take your time with each question, perhaps giving yourself a week to reflect on it before exploring the next one.

  • What purpose motivates your listening?
  • What concerns and desires influence your listening?
  • Are there emotions coloring what you hear?
  • How interested and attentive are you to what you’re listening to?
  • When someone is speaking, how much are you listening to the person and how much are you engaged in your own thoughts?
  • What expectations do you have when you listen?
  • In different situations, you will have different answers to these questions. The answers may point to how to listen more attentively, with greater wisdom.

Mindful listening is a great way to cultivate greater mindfulness in daily life. Listening is always a present moment activity; when we listen we are present. When we listen actively and receptively we are developing the faculties needed for the practice of mindfulness. Practicing mindful listening is a foundation for the more difficult task of speaking mindfully. Until we have a strong capacity to stay mindful while we speak, it is good to remember the saying that “we have two ears and one mouth so we can listen more than we speak.”   

—Gil Fronsdal

October – December 2015 Newsletter is Now Available

October – December 2015 Newsletter is now Available

The Summer-Fall 2015 IRC Newsletter is now available

The Summer-Fall 2015 IRC Newsletter is now available.

The Fifth Precept and The Power of Renunciation

Renunciation is one of the most beneficial, empowering, and freeing practices of Buddhism. As its purpose is to heighten the best qualities of our hearts and minds, renunciation is not meant to diminish our lives but rather to enhance them. Abstaining from intoxicating drinks and drugs—the fifth ethical precept—is an important Buddhist practice that can reveal the power of renunciation.

On the surface, the fifth precept differs from the first four in being more personal than interpersonal. Killing, stealing, sexual misconduct, and lying all directly involve other people. In contrast, consuming intoxicating drinks and drugs is a personal choice that does not inherently affect others.

The immense personal and interpersonal damage that comes from alcohol and drugs is often invisible in the personal, seemingly innocuous decisions to consume them. This harm can be masked when intoxication, even mild inebriation, temporarily alleviates pain and brings longed-for relief. Its negative effects can also be invisible when intoxication’s temporary pleasure, relaxation, and lack of fear can seem preferable to less pleasant feelings. And yet, we’re all aware of the tremendous personal and social costs of intoxication. Under the influence of these substances—and in their aftermath—people frequently make poor choices, often with long-term consequences. The cost of human lives lost or relationships destroyed due to intoxication are incalculable.

The issue of intoxication is not only a modern one. More than 2,500 years ago, the Buddha said that intoxication can lead to “the loss of wealth, increased quarreling, susceptibility to illness, disrepute, and weakening of wisdom.” What is modern is the incredibly wide range of addicting substances and unwholesome pleasures that are readily available.

With its emphasis on mindfulness and wise intention, Buddhism helps us see how intoxication clouds the mind and diminishes our ability to make wise choices. A traditional Buddhist reason for abstaining from alcohol and drugs is that intoxication increases the chances a person will violate the first four precepts. For example, we are more likely to speak what is not true or to flirt inappropriately, if we are even a little bit intoxicated. And, as wisdom is often lacking when intoxicated, these can easily lead to greater and more damaging problems. Children can grow up in fear when drunk parents are prone to anger, violence, and neglect. Our prisons are filled with people who committed crimes while intoxicated.

The literal English translation of the fifth precept is “I undertake the training precept to abstain from alcohol, liquor, or spirits that are a cause for heedlessness.” The mention of heedlessness points to the way in which intoxication involves a loss in care, caring, and carefulness. While Buddhism links intoxication with heedlessness and lack of mindfulness, modern psychology discusses this in terms of decreased cognitive abilities, increased attention deficits, and poor judgment.

Ideally, abstaining from intoxication is not only about avoiding harm and heedlessness. Abstinence can also be motivated by the personal and interpersonal benefits it brings, which can be deeply nourishing. Any time the desire for intoxicating substances is strong and we refrain from acting on that desire, we strengthen our capacity for renunciation and self-mastery. The stronger the desire, the greater we need to rely on commitment and wisdom to avoid giving in to it. Doing so strengthens us. It also can improve our relationships with family, friends, and others.

By refraining from drinking and drugs we maintain the mental clarity that is essential for mindfulness practice. Furthermore, mindfulness can be increased by staying alert to the ways in which desire for substances can get the upper hand. Restraining these desires strengthens our will power, a faculty that can free us from all kinds of compulsive desires, not just ones for alcohol or drugs.

Abstinence also develops and supports wisdom. Through it we can better understand how the mind works, how it can delude us and how it can heal us. We’re better able to recognize the desire to get intoxicated as an indicator that something in our life is out of balance. Are we using alcohol as a way to deal with stress? Do we drink or take drugs due to social pressure from friends or colleagues who do so?

For those walking the Buddhist path, abstaining from intoxication is a strategy for our long-term happiness. It is a training in personal maturation and growth. Rather than relying on short-term pleasures and highs, the Buddhist path relies on an increasing self-understanding that brings enduring wisdom, on developing compassion that provides ongoing forgiveness, and on cultivating personal strengths that keep us steady in the face of life’s challenges.

One of the biggest supports for abstaining from intoxication is the faith that it’s worthwhile to do so, and confidence that we can do it. Such faith and confidence grow best in community with people who inspire it in us. To be around others who restrain themselves from drinking or taking drugs can inspire us to do the same. To be accompanied in our efforts by friends and other practitioners means we don’t have to rely solely on our own efforts. If we are less likely to consume alcohol or drugs when we have the support of others, making sure we have this support may help us to relax effort that may be too forceful, and thus counterproductive. To have the loving acceptance of community can help us to be more self-compassionate and less moralistically harsh toward ourselves. All too often the regular use of alcohol and drugs ruptures relationships, and with them our own self-worth; practicing the precepts in a community of other practitioners can be a way to heal this wounded part of ourselves.

Practicing with the fifth precept has a lot to do with being truthful with ourselves, which is a very significant form of mindfulness. One way we can know we’re being truthful is by having a friend or a community with whom we can tell the truth. If you are using alcohol and drugs and aren’t willing to tell this to your friend or community, you’re probably not being truthful even to yourself. Done wisely with people who support you, truthfulness is one of the most powerful supports for the fifth precept.

While some people live by the fifth precept as a way to avoid the dangers that come with intoxication, it’s also helpful to be motivated by the benefits it can bring.   Having increased clarity, wisdom, personal freedom and improved social relations can provide motivation to use every act of renunciation as an opportunity for much more than abstention. Renunciation has the power to bring out the best in us. It is an opportunity for making the world a better place for ourselves and others.

—Gil Fronsdal

The July-September 2015 IMC Newsletter is now available

The July-September 2015 IMC Newsletter is now available.

Summer Food Drive – May/September

Benefits Second Harvest Food Bank


 THE POWER OF GENEROSITY: The struggle to end hunger in Silicon Valley -Toren Fronsdal

Most-Needed Foods 

The Food Bank accepts all non-perishable food donations, but especially needs these nutritious items:

    • Meals in a can (stew, chili, soup)
    • Tuna and canned meat
    • Peanut butter
    • Canned foods with pop-top lids
    • Low-sugar cereals
    • 100% fruit juices in single serving boxes
    • Canned fruit packed in juice
    • Canned vegetables (low salt)

Collection canister is located in the community hall, left rear from main entrance.

Monetary donations can be submitted here.

Food drive is sponsored by IMC’s LGBTQ Sangha. imcqueersangha@gmail.com


The April-June 2015 IMC Newsletter is now available

The April-June 2015 IMC Newsletter is now available.

The Winter-Spring 2015 IRC Newsletter is Now Available

The Winter-Spring 2015 IRC Newsletter is now available.

Memorial Day Weekend Family Retreat information

Memorial Day Weekend Family Retreat: K- 8th Graders and Parents

Saturday May 23- Monday May 25.

Jikoji Retreat Center, Los Gatos.

Practice together as a family during a relaxed weekend that will offer structured retreat practice and small group sharing with other parents, teens, and children, along with hiking and appreciation of the forest, grasslands, and views from the top of the Santa Cruz mountains.  The site features camping and a limited number of shared dorm rooms. .  Registration by lottery will open on the IMC website at the beginning of February.


Note: Applications with a $200 deposit received by 3/15/15 will be entered into a lottery. Retreatants will be notified in late March if they have been admitted or are on the Waiting list. Subsequent applications will be added to the Waiting list.

Registrar: Questions? Email Liz Powell at eapowell@aol.com

Teachers: Richard Shankman, Liz Powell, and others

Protecting the Peace through the Fourth Precept

Fundamentally, Buddhist practice is a training in peace—and Buddhist ethics serve as a protection of this peace. As our sense of ease, harmony, and calm deepen with our practice, we begin to understand how our ethical choices impact our experience of peace, and we see that the five Buddhist precepts safeguard our well-being.

Because we so frequently talk and communicate with others, the fourth precept—avoiding false speech—is particularly relevant in our daily lives. Living by this precept protects us, and those we interact with, from the hurt, betrayal, and conflict that come from lying. Avoiding false speech promotes social concord and the interpersonal trust that social harmony depends on. It also supports the foundation of Buddhist practice, which bases our lives on what is true. For those who are motivated to walk a path of peace and freedom, lying is counterproductive because it moves us in the opposite direction.

Honesty is key to mindfulness practice. There can be no mindfulness practice without honestly acknowledging what we are experiencing. Telling lies interferes with the purpose and power of mindfulness. On the other hand, speaking truthfully—i.e., “mindfulness out loud”—keeps us in the flow of mindfulness, and our communications have the chance to be in harmony with the goodness that arises through careful attention.

States of calm, relaxation, and peace provide us with important reference points for living by the fourth precept. In the same way that a clean cloth will better reveal a new stain than a cloth that’s already saturated with dirt, a calm mind will better highlight mental agitation than a mind that is unsettled. Because lying agitates the person who lies, a peaceful mind can reveal the way dishonesty disturbs the quality of our inner life.

Lying involves a tension, tightness, and narrowing of the mind, and it often produces a fear of being caught. It can also lead to a stressful preoccupation with keeping the lie going. When we lie we create distance from others because dishonesty blocks our ability to build relationships based on genuine rapport and mutual understanding. Furthermore, lying leaves a legacy of shame and guilt to be experienced sooner or later.

The common motivations for lying—greed, hostility, and fear—bring their own unease to our minds and hearts. Sometimes these are called “afflictive emotions” because of the pain they cause. Lying doesn’t free us from these afflictive states; if anything, it strengthens them.

While avoiding these negative consequences can be reason enough for avoiding false speech, a commitment to the fourth precept can also be supportive in maintaining states of peace and ease that may exist within us. Experiences of settledness and peace can be deeply satisfying and nourishing. When we are experiencing such states, it’s good to take care not to lose them too easily, especially by doing or saying things we might later regret. When we know for ourselves that telling a lie disturbs our peace we have greater motivation to avoid lying. In this way, the fourth precept is more than preventive medicine for avoiding affliction; it is a tonic that supports our well-being.

Avoiding false speech does not mean we have to say something just because it is true. The truth can be hurtful, and it is important to take into account the impact our words have on others. Buddhist teachings emphasize that the truth should only be told if it’s timely, useful, and delivered with goodwill. This means that truthful speech should work together with wisdom— with our ability to discern the context, purpose, and the likely consequences of what we say.

Wisdom is nurtured by states of peace. When we are agitated, in a hurry, or impulsive, it’s hard to be wise. We don’t have the time or the mental bandwidth to take into account the range of information that wisdom needs to function. We’re less likely to recognize when speaking is useful or not, and less likely to know what is or isn’t true.

The fact that wisdom operates better when we’re peaceful is certainly a good reason to protect our peace. And while various factors contribute to remaining peaceful, the commitment to the fourth precept can be particularly useful when it comes to our social life. The care and ongoing attention needed to “avoid false speech” develops our ability to be mindful, discerning, and free of compulsive speech. It entails pausing just long enough—perhaps imperceptibly to others—to recognize what we are about to say before we say it. It allows us to investigate the reasons we want to say something.

Buddhist precepts are not obligatory moral rules. They are, however, required if we want to safeguard both our personal and interpersonal peace. The greater our peace, calm, contentment, and clarity, the more we have something that is worth protecting from the agitation that results from lying. Similarly, the greater our interpersonal harmony, friendships, and trust, the more these are worth safeguarding from the disruptive consequences of deceiving others.

This is one reason why people who engage in contemplative practices, such as meditation, tend to value ethical behavior. Knowing all too well what is lost through unethical behavior, they understand they are better off being ethical. When it comes to speech, they know they are better off not deceiving anyone, including themselves.

—Gil Fronsdal

The October-December 2014 Newsletter is now available

The October-December 2014 IMC Newsletter is now available.

Freedom Through the Third Precept

The avoidance of sexual misconduct is the third of the five cardinal Buddhist ethical practices. Sexual feelings and behavior are deeply rooted in our biology, psychology, and social life. After puberty, many people spend significant amounts of time thinking about and involved with their sexuality. Even celibate monastics can devote much energy addressing their sexual feelings.

As an ethical precept, the avoidance of sexual misconduct means striving to refrain from causing harm through our sexuality, even unintentionally. Rather than defining sexual misconduct in terms of any specific sexual behavior, the emphasis is on considering the impact the behavior can have on others and oneself. It means taking into account much more than the particular sexual activity one may be involved in.

Practicing with the third precept requires bringing mindfulness to some of the most intimate and personal areas of our lives. As such, great care and respect is warranted as we bring greater attention to our sexuality. In terms of sexual relationships, mindfulness includes considering the intentions, expectations, and commitments of everyone involved. Without clarity about these it is easy for people to feel disappointed, hurt, or betrayed. Mindfulness in sexual relationships also includes awareness and acknowledgment of any emotional vulnerabilities our partner may have. Past hurts may be re-triggered from what may, on first impressions, appear to be appropriate sexual relations. Mindfulness can also be extended to awareness of the wider social contexts for our behavior. Are commitments being broken with our sexual activity? Are there others—partners or relatives—who would be hurt?

Because the sexual drive can be strong enough to override a person’s wisdom, compassion, and common sense, help is sometimes needed to avoid engaging in inappropriate sexual behavior. The commitment to the third precept can provide this help. It is a safeguard from unexamined, impulsive sexual behavior. It is also a protection from later regrets or worse.

Our sexuality can be a part of the Buddhist path to liberation. Rather than something that is outside the purview of Buddhist practice, sexuality can be a rich arena for practice when we bring mindfulness and investigation to it. One way to do this is to consider our sexuality through the perspective of the Eightfold Path, the Buddha’s most common description of the path to liberation. These eight practices are comprehensive enough to address the complexity of our sexual lives. Together they contribute to “Right Sexuality”.

Right View, the first practice of the Eightfold Path, is applying the perspective of the Four Noble Truths to our sexual intentions and behavior. The first Noble Truth asks each of us to consider whether there is any actual or potential suffering—to ourself or to others—connected to our sexual behavior. The second Noble Truth asks us to notice any craving or compulsion that may be part of sexual desire. The third Noble Truth is learning to recognize—even if just as a potential—the possibility of the cessation of any and all suffering connected with our sexual desires. It means to realize a peace and deep abiding sense of fulfillment that dissolves sexual compulsion. The fourth Noble Truth is the Eightfold Path; it is a set of practices that can bring this fulfillment.

Through practicing Right View we use our awareness of suffering to help us become free of suffering. When suffering and craving are not recognized, suffering can remain the backdrop for ones’ life. Recognized, we can begin to dissolve the backdrop.

The second practice of the Eightfold Path is Right Intention. Discovering the deeper and often subconscious motivations that drive sexual behavior and feelings is one of the very important ways to have Buddhist practice become thoroughly integrated into one’s life.

Right Intention means to avoid three forms of wrong motivations. These are intentions motivated by cruelty, ill will, and lust. Rape, coerced sex, and sexual aggression are examples of extreme sexual behavior that can be motivated by cruelty. Asserting oneself on one’s partner or ignoring his or her well-being can be driven by anger or hostility. Objectifying and disrespecting one’s partner can be a consequence of dominating lust.

Applying Right Intention in our sexual lives involves having our sexual behavior motivated by compassion, loving-kindness, and renunciation. Sexual behavior can be a valuable way of expressing appreciation, love, care, and respect for others. Having these as part of our sexual behavior ensures that sexual relationships are more than skin-deep affairs. They can be nourishing and nurturing of some of the best qualities of our hearts.

Renunciation is an important part of healthy sexuality. Renunciation is the capacity to let go of any desire which might cause suffering and hurt. Without being able to let go of sexual desire, there is no freedom. Spiritual freedom is not to be free to act on our desires; it is being free to choose wisely which desires to act on. It is to be free of compulsive desires.

The third step of the Eightfold Path is Right Speech. For our sexual lives to be an integral part of the Buddhist path it is crucial that we tell the truth. Sexual misconduct often involves deceit and secrecy, activities which undermine efforts to be mindful and transparent. To practice Right Speech in relationship to our sexuality means to be honest. Sexual relationships between people in committed relationships may not appear to have sexual misconduct, but, if there is no honesty, it cannot serve as part of the path of practice.

Next is Right Action. This is usually explained by the first three precepts, not to kill, not to take what is not given, and not to engage in sexual misconduct. To not take what is not given is very important in sexual relationships. It means not expecting or requiring one’s partner to agree to one’s sexual advances. It means avoiding any assertiveness in which one forces oneself on an unwilling partner.

Right Action is followed by the practice of Right Livelihood. This means we participate in the economic life of our society in ways that avoid causing harm. When Right Livelihood is applied to our sexual behavior it includes not paying for sex or pornography. It also means not participating in a line of work that perpetuates harmful sexual behavior and attitudes. For example, someone pursuing a path of liberation would not create sexualized advertisements. Also, they would not facilitate the sexual exploitation and dehumanization of others.

The next step in the Eightfold Path is Right Effort. One way of practicing this is to make an effort at cultivating skillful, positive states of mind such as happiness, contentment, calmness, compassion, and equanimity. These and other positive states are the primary source for having an abiding sense of inner fulfillment and well-being. In terms of our sexuality, developing these positive states of mind is an antidote to using sex to fill an inner void, anxiety, or depression. When we have the pleasure of positive mind states, the physical pleasure of sex may be less alluring or even necessary. Instead of a pursuit of pleasure, sexual activity can then be an expression of love and appreciation.

The seventh Eightfold Path practice is Mindfulness. Sexual behavior and sexual relationships are among the most complicated, multifaceted aspects of our inner psychological life and outer inter-personal life. Sex and sexuality involves hormones, social conditioning, beliefs, motivations, emotions, and the mysterious activity of “chemistry” between people. Sex is seldom about simple pleasure. To be mindful of our sexuality is to begin to unpack all the complexity it comes with. As the different aspects of this complex stew are seen clearly, we can learn where our freedom is found in relationship to it.

Right Concentration is the eighth and final element of the Eightfold Path. Here concentration is synonymous with a profound sense of calm and well-being. The mind that is settled and concentrated is said to be unified. This means there is a strong sense of integration or wholeness when we are concentrated. These benefits of concentration practice have a direct effect on our sexual lives. On one hand, we are much less likely to have our sexual desires motivated by the desire for recognition, belonging, security, approval, pleasure; or to avoid anxiety or unhappiness. On the other hand, it can support sexual intimacy as a vehicle for deep communication, respect, and love for our partner.

In Buddhism, monastics practice celibacy, a path which can be a meaningful and healthy path to freedom. The task for sexually active lay practitioners is to discover how their sexuality can be a meaningful and healthy part of their path to freedom. One way to do this is to apply the Eightfold Path towards a thorough investigation of our sexual lives.

—Gil Fronsdal