Hot Tub Zen: Enlightened Sexuality
THE MAXIMUM DELICIOUS TUMULT of all creation filled the space in between their physical love, and their sweat, and all their rising-falling dream breaths, and with the wild he of it and the the wild she of it, and all of it, and then none of it, they rose up and embraced before descending into dust and the light dancing in between the particles of dust, and then back into the warm earth.
She shifted her torso on the soft, white sheets. She said, "I love the way you touch me. And I love the way you move."
He studied the very tip of her nose, and smiled. He enjoyed nothing more than studying her good face, from her smooth, caramel skin, to her wide brow, to the tip of her intelligent nose.
She took in his complete attention, his intoxicated focus, and smiled from within, almost audibly, not unlike the deep coo of a pigeon. She leaned over, kissed him. He felt the rustle once again, and wrapped his right arm around her side, placing his right hand on the center of her spine. Immediately, they were kissing deep, and they took off yet again.
They rose and fell, rose and fell; rose until there was not any high place to go, fell until there was no more down place anywhere. He grabbed both of her hands, they interlaced all their fingers, and raised all four arms above their heads, They kissed hard again, crushing themselves together until they were gone and forgotten, and away from all their homes and fences, fortresses and moats. They were gone from all of it, including themselves, and deep they went in this departure, swinging away and back, one into another, one into no one, gone, together, until it went all bright white, then pitch black, and then everything.
RIGHT OFF THE BAT, it is a fair question to ask: why all this focus on pain and suffering? Sure, there is a lot of suffering in this world, but isn't there a great deal of pleasure too? Haven't any of those devout people ever gone to a tailgate party or the South Beach portion of Miami? What is with most religions, Buddhism and Zen included, that they are drawn to the flames of suffering like grim moths?
It is a good and worthwhile question. Yes, there is the life-affirming party that is an Irish wake, the dancing Hasidic Jews, the dazzling Sufi Whirling Dervishes, the joyous noise of a loud African-American Gospel choir, and a few remaining pagan rituals of the earthy sort, but for the most part there an incessant, depressing focus on the dark side, the downside, and of course, everyone's favorite breakfast topic, death.
In the yin and yang perspective, isn't there a flip side to Life is Suffering? How about Life is Bliss? The answer is of course yes. If we intend on being even mildly optimistic and occasionally joyous then we have to look at the larger donut, not just at the hole. After all, if Zen and Buddhism are so concerned about being present, and thus more fully living our lives, why not pay equal attention to romping in the ocean, pick-up basketball, comedy and laughter, that ice cream cone dripping down one's arm, or that naked body right before us? Why not indeed.
We all know about the fear and mistrust our ancient Judeo-Christian forefathers had about pleasure and the earthly delights. The Muslims were just as resistant, and some are even more fearful of the body, especially the female body. Many of the Hindus and Taoists were a little less puritanical, but there are also many dour Hindus who frown on Eros and the playful side of life. As for the Buddhism, most early Buddhists were monks who refrained from playing around.
Today Buddhism and Zen are in Europe and America, and you can count on this: some of the lighter side of life will be reintroduced into the enlightenment culture.
You can get Americans or Europeans up at four in the morning to do zazen, but when the day or week of focused meditation is over, count on a lot of noisy dining and no small amount of partying. We are a culture more inclined to living with gusto like Zorba the Greek, and not like humble monks. Frankly, I think this will do all forms of Buddhism a world of good. Many of the sects, Zen included, needed a good, fresh breeze.
Of perhaps greater importance is the fact that a lot of of Western Zen students and teachers are women, and more than our infectious enthusiasm, openness and playfulness, it will be the role of women which will surely change the face of Buddhism in the West as well as the very path toward self-realization and awakening.
Women excel at bringing us down to earth and back into our bodies. Women, I find, are also more inclined toward inclusiveness and less likely to be regimented. Dozens of female teachers will change not only what is to be Buddhist in the West, but even what it means to be an enlightened being. Surely, they will redefine the meaning of enlightened culture.
But back to the hot tub, please. Can one really be a mindful hedonist? Can one be fully of this world and an open hearted, empty handed Bodhisattva too? Isn't the desire for sex and pleasure one of the biggest deterrents to prudent and simple living, not to mention a major, kaleidoscopic distraction?
Not in my view. Sexuality is the racing pulse of existence, the warm wellspring of life. Sexual love is not just a human trait, it is universal current. It is hardly an accident that Divine Nature has made our sexual experience so enjoyable. First we tingle and then we arch toward transcendence, eyes closed in a waking dream, mouth open in bliss.
Our sexuality too is divine, and the healthy expression of it is inherently joyous and expansive. It not only involves a a potential act of creation -- the procreation of our species -- it is also the quintessential act of Creation itself: unifying, radiant, giving, yielding, achingly pleasurable, carnal, magnificent.
It is no surprise to me all of the established Zen teachers that I have studied with are sexual beings. Many are married (some several times), they like to have a roll in the hay as well as a hardy laugh, and a trip into the city along with a hike in the wilderness.
Can it be more of a struggle or a lengthier process to alter one's perspective and to clarify one's vision while at home, at work and with the family? You bet. But it can be done, and besides, after we wake up, we almost always return to the relationships, the unfinished business, the tumult and the distractions, both pleasant and painful, that we left behind.
In fact, if we do not return to our loved ones and to the world, then what is our realization really about? Do we wake up to sit on a mountain top, humming to ourselves until we pass away? Or do we go back into our families and into the bustle, the entanglements, and the noisy, messy marketplace of life to live it even more fully and to make a difference in the lives of others? For me, the choice is clear. It is also the choice of a fully realized Bodhisattva, the most compassionate social workers in the universe.
I also believe that a more enlightened society will not shun Eros and human sexuality, but rather celebrate it in positive and meaningful ways. Increasingly, in the West and many other parts of the world, we are leaving the shame behind and entering the more sublime aspects of erotic play and a healthier sexual liberation.
(c) 2004 and 2013 Ken Taub, excerpted from Waking Up In America