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In Buddhist forums where I had asked this question, there are always "advanced" practitioners who say that there is no benefit for a lay person to be celibate. So every time i read that, I stop trying to be celibate, although I see some benefit from it (though I'm not sure of it).

I would like to hear the opinions of different users on this subject. Are there any benefits from practising celibacy or is it not useful? (I mean full time celibacy, not only on retreats or at Uposatha days)

If the answer is that it's useful, then why is it not more recommended in Theravada Buddhism? Also monks do not recommend celibacy to lay people outside of Uposatha and retreats. Why not?

I am mainly interested in the view of Theravada Buddhism, but I appreciate all views on this subject also from other sects of Buddhism and other religions like Hinduism etc. All answers are more than welcome. Please specify which tradition of Buddhism or Hinduism that you are basing your answer on.

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Buddha was notorious for only saying things that no one (ethical and reasonable person) could disagree with. His doctrine of Sat Dharma (true/eternal way/dharma) was specifically designed to be irrefutable. In order to be irrefutable it had to be always true and win/win. In order to be always true and win/win it had to be well-specified. Well-specified means specified as broadly or as precisely as needed, worded very carefully. (This is portrayed in many places in Pali Canon but is subtle enough that I can't easily search for references.)

In this case we can imagine that to require the laity to be celibate would be rather "refutable":

Remember that the goal of laity is good happy living, not nirvana. While some of the Buddhist practices lead to both happy life and nirvana, some like celibacy are not conducive to happy living in the long run. Indeed, imagine if Buddha said "everyone should abstain from sex". If everyone agreed, the civilization would die out. So much for the happy living!

On the other hand, if everyone disagreed, Buddha would likely lose some of his credibility. If some people agreed and some disagreed, there would be a lot of arguments in society.

However you look at it, it just doesn't make sense to advise the laity to be celibate.

Are there any benefits from practicing celibacy or is it not useful?

Now, of course if celibacy was not useful for attaining the goal of spiritual life, Buddha would not recommend it to his serious students.

From my teachers, the main reasons for celibacy are:

  • Sexual lust is one of the strongest defilements, so being able to abstain is a huge step towards mental/emotional sobriety.
  • Sexual relationships bring up lots of people problems like attachments, conflicts, breakups etc.
  • Orgasm is a giant waste of psychosomatic energy.

In Vajrayana, there are also reasons against celibacy, particularly if you are the kind of person who has fears around sexuality and intimacy. If that is the case, your teacher may prescribe sex as a kind of spiritual practice.

  • 1
    "If everyone agreed, the civilization would die out. So much for the happy living! " Why? There would be nobody to suffer, isn't it exactly what Buddhists want to achieve? – michau Sep 28 '15 at 14:17
  • Buddhists for themselves yes, but not laity for themselves! Buddhism is not prescriptive, as in "you ought to do X", it is methodological, as in "if you want to achieve X you have to do Y". – Andrei Volkov Sep 28 '15 at 14:41
  • Any method which can help layman to be celibate? Thanks – user5954246 May 3 '18 at 13:37
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From non-celibacy arises suffering. How could that be?

From non-celibacy arises jealousy, fear, hatred, tension and all the worries and consequences that arise from lust.

I would like to hear the opinions of different users on this subject. Are there any benefits from practising celibacy or is it not useful? (I mean full time celibacy, not only on retreats or at Uposatha days)

Benefits are less jealousy, fear, hatred, tension and all the worries and consequences that arise from lust. You should self asses yourself and determine if your lust is hindering your spiritual advancement.

The more lust there is, the more the mind is cluttered, clouded and confused, and the harder it is for that mind to concentrate and attain higher concentration levels where the ultimate truth could be experienced.

If the answer is that it's useful, then why is it not more recommended in Theravada Buddhism? Also monks do not recommend celibacy to lay people outside of Uposatha and retreats. Why not?

There is no good in forcing lay-people to become celibate. They should gradually work towards detachment from their desires (including lust), and celibacy will follow naturally.

My answer is not based on any tradition of Buddhism or Hinduism. It's my personal experience gained from meditation.

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In the cycle of existence, there is no satisfaction in sensual desires, which are like honey on a razor's edge. ~Shantideva, Bodhisattvacharyavittara

Celibacy is certainly good but it isn't easy in the modern world, like being healthy is good, but being healthy in the middle of a pandemic isn't easy.

We live in a hyper-sexualized world today where even cars need sexy lines to sell.

There's a Vietnamese Zen saying that a tiger is safe in the forest, but at risk when he enters the village. Similarly, a Yogi is safest when he's away from sense triggers: sex, money, luxurious food, liquor, bad companions - all of which can bring up base desires and aversions.

The Thai forest monks, Himalayan tapas-yogis of Hinduism, desert fathers of Christianity all sought relief from such triggers by avoiding worldly contact.


In the Buddha's age exposure to sense desires would have been fewer, and solitude would have been easier to find (no TV, social media, electricity, mobile phones, traffic). Yet, he recommended seclusion, because sense desire is a furious fire that's hard to put out once started. It's basic mental hygiene and sanitisation.

If we are going to perform surgery on our minds (i.e.) serious meditation, then we don't want to do it in an unhygienic condition. Retreats are designed to offer hygienic conditions for the mind.

The practice of "right livelihood" ensures there are few opportunities to tells lies, act dishonestly or violently. Similarly, one must find a place to live where sexual energy is not omnipresent to learn to be celibate, otherwise frustration will set in.

Such frustration arising from ignorance of causes and conditions might then turn practitioners away from the whole of Dhamma. Some teachers might have this in mind while recommending celibacy only on retreats.

It's not a universal rule, to a determined one no wall is too high, but parents often tell their little kids to not climb tall structures until they are older.

I am independent of any sectarian affiliation, so my answer draws from my interpretation of personal experience guided by Theravada, Zen, Hinduism (several kinds), Christianity, modern science and humanities etc.

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I find a very practical approach of Bill Hamilton in Saints & Psychopaths useful (pg. 95; emphasis mine, as it concerns this topic the most; the rest is for context):

The purpose of Buddhist precepts is pragmatic in that they are directed at achieving a quiet mind. If your sex life is causing mental agitation in your meditations, you should change your behavior. While on retreat, you should avoid letting your senses wander to sexually stimulating objects and direct your attention to meditation objects. In the daily life situation this may result in becoming a horny, neurotic celibate which may not be good for your practice. It is better to be simple and direct in your views, instead of getting involved in elaborate logical reasoning about right and wrong.

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Are there any benefits from practising celibacy or is it not useful? (I mean full time celibacy, not only on retreats or at Uposatha days)

Celibacy is freedom & also saves lots of money because when sexual desire ends, most other forms of sensual attraction & desire also end. No more buying expensive flowers & restaurant food.

If the answer is that it's useful, then why is it not more recommended in Theravada Buddhism? Also monks do not recommend celibacy to lay people outside of Uposatha and retreats. Why not?

It is not recommended because monks do not want to impose heavy burdensome expectations upon lay people.

When a person becomes a Theravada monk, they are indoctrinated in a very dualistic manner that the lives of monks & laypeople are completely different.

I am mainly interested in the view of Theravada Buddhism, but I appreciate all views on this subject also from other sects of Buddhism and other religions like Hinduism etc.

A very good answer is found in the Christian Bible:

The disciples said to him, “If this is the situation between a husband and wife, it is better not to marry.”

"Not everyone can accept this word,” Jesus answered, “but only those to whom it has been given".

Matthew 19:12

It is good for a man not to have sexual relations with a woman.... I wish that all of you were as I am. But each of you has your own gift from God; one has this gift, another has that... Now to the unmarried and the widows I say: It is good for them to stay unmarried, as I do. But if they cannot control themselves, they should marry, for it is better to marry than to burn with passion.

1 Corinthians 7

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The benefits of celibacy are that you're not expending energy. The justification for using it is either to 1) create life or 2) to create more love than you're expending.

If you can't or don't do either, for whatever reason, it IS better to remain celibate and save your life force.

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Many of the rules of the vinaya and precepts are clearly concerned with the organization of a sangha in the sense of a band of people who take care of each other. Should any member get married and have kids, this would divert that member's attention to his biological family. This particular concern is irrelevant for a lay Buddhist.

The next point is that a householder's time and attention are divided, but a monk attention can be devoted to the dharma full time. This concern would be true for a lay or monastic Buddhist. The Upaseka Sutra ends each chapter with a reminder of how much more difficult it is to gain enlightenment as a lay follower.

Finally, from the traditional life story of the Buddha, householding is seen as part of the problem with the world. Householding (and by extension, having girlfriends, and all that goes with that) has certain complications (and a less pessimistic person would say certain benefits). This would be true for the lay and monastic Buddhist.

The old monastic system relies on the existence of laity-- the monks were forbidden by the vinaya from engaging in any self sufficient economic activity. So I imagine it was in the interest of the sangha to encourage the laity to farm, do business and in those days, farming meant also having a family as reliable source of labor.

Nowadays, economic conditions are entirely different. Serious Buddhist can take long vacations from work every year to sit and meditate, with a college education they can participate in reading and writing of Buddhist philosopy. This is a very modern phenomenon and the traditional schools haven't really decided what to do with the "very serious but not monastic Buddhist". The closest traditional thing I can find is from the Mahayana Tradition where lay Buddhist could take the Upaseka and Bodhisattva precepts as a way of being very serious about Buddhism while still being a lay householder.

  • Actually the "very serious but not monastic Buddhists" have been around since the Buddha's time. In DN 29 ( suttacentral.net/en/dn29 ) the Buddha talked about a broad spectrum of the spiritual community from elder monks to celibate and non-celibate householders, lit. "householders of the white robe, holy livers" and "householders enjoying sensual pleasures". – santa100 Sep 26 '15 at 19:41
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It's hard to answer this question directly. You're asking why "advanced practitioners" said what they did, in reply to whatever your question was. Perhaps you should ask them!


From a Theravada perspective, there's a book titled The Buddha's Teachings on Prosperity, which is written by a Bhikkhu from Sri Lanka (at least in part for an American audience).

Its premise is that there are meant to be two societies, i.e. lay society and sangha; that these support each other, and so on.

I recommend it. It identifies suttas (there are many) intended for lay people. If nothing else you might find it helpful to read a positive/prescriptive message, e.g., "If celibacy isn't recommended then what is recommended?"

  • I cant ask them - if i could have i wouldnt have asked here... – breath Aug 17 '17 at 12:42
  • Maybe you shouldn't, necessarily, believe them. You wrote, "So every time i read that, I stop trying to be celibate, although I see some benefit from it" ... I think you're supposed to note, at least to some extent, your own experience. – ChrisW Aug 17 '17 at 12:54
  • That is true that is why bottom line i do try this and why i asked this question here to hear more views on this – breath Aug 17 '17 at 15:18
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The Dhammacakkappavattana Sutta states:

"There are these two extremes that are not to be indulged in by one who has gone forth. Which two? That which is devoted to sensual pleasure with reference to sensual objects: base, vulgar, common, ignoble, unprofitable; and that which is devoted to self-affliction: painful, ignoble, unprofitable. Avoiding both of these extremes, the middle way realized by the Tathagata — producing vision, producing knowledge — leads to calm, to direct knowledge, to self-awakening, to Unbinding.

"And what is the middle way realized by the Tathagata that — producing vision, producing knowledge — leads to calm, to direct knowledge, to self-awakening, to Unbinding? Precisely this Noble Eightfold Path: right view, right resolve, right speech, right action, right livelihood, right effort, right mindfulness, right concentration.

Here we have the teaching of the middle path between two extremes (sensual indulgence and austerities).

So, based on this, the following were developed (Theravada tradition) for full time practice:

And for all categories, the Noble Eightfold Path.

The main idea is that these four different levels of practice were created or evolved, based on the four different types of needs of training of practitioners, which fall under the middle path of the Noble Eightfold Path.

It can be stretched even further in both directions, for e.g.

  • Even then, the five precepts are not mandatory to lay persons. It is a voluntary training that lay persons can choose to undergo or not. However, it is very highly recommended to serious Buddhists.
  • Bhikkhus can voluntarily follow the 13 ascetic practices known as dhutanga which are even more strict than usual.

So, while part time celibacy may be useful for lay persons according to this question, it is not a good idea to stray from the middle path by suggesting that lay persons adopt full time celibacy. Lay persons can always choose the other three paths (anagarika, samanera, bhikkhu) if they want to deepen their training.

  • i ask about celibacy but i allready keep the 5 precepts - i dont see a problem to be an anagarika - now i told this new info does your view change about it ? is being an anagarika reccomended ? i will just avoid listening to music and other forms of entertainment and eat before 12:00 why does it matter if i take all the 8 precepts or just 5 precepts + celibacy - what is the big difference when its called anagarika ? why it matters so much - that its better than being an "upgraded" lay follower ? – breath Sep 26 '15 at 13:59
  • Though it is not clearly specified, anagarika apparently do not have much personal possessions and probably spend most of their time in practice and service. So, I don't think they are employed full time in worldly jobs either, and develop careers. But like I said, it doesn't seem to be clearly specified. It seems to be like a "flexible monk wannabe" role. – ruben2020 Sep 26 '15 at 14:05
  • Of course, even as a lay person, you can also practise celibacy full time. It's just that it is not to be recommended to the masses. Not to be recommended to other people. – ruben2020 Sep 26 '15 at 14:08

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