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I recall reading, though I do not remember where, that jains and buddhists refrain from masturbation because it could cancel/hinder their spiritual progress. I somewhat wonder:

Does engaging in coarse pleasures as gluttonous eating or sexuality actively undo spiritual progress and virtue, or does it merely consist as a distraction and waste of time?

Thank you

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The following quote comes from "Chapter Six: Daily Life" of Yuttadhammo Bhikkhu's book entitled "How To Meditate".

Basically, the five precepts are an absolute must at all times for seriously practising lay persons and monks. Without them, your spiritual progress and virtue would be strongly hindered and possibly also undone. In this case, complete abstention is required.

On the other hand, overeating, oversleeping, too much entertainment and too much sex (without misconduct) are not as critical as the five precepts, though they would be a hindrance nevertheless. In this case, only moderation is required for a lay person, not complete abstention.

In addition, observance of the eight precepts from time to time is also recommended. This is the usual observance for meditation retreats.

First, it is necessary to discuss activities that are harmful to one’s mental clarity; activities one must avoid in order for the meditation to bring about sustained positive results.

As I explained in the first chapter, “meditation” is the mental equivalent to “medicine”. When taking medicine, there are certain substances one must avoid; substances that will either nullify the positive effects of the medicine or, worse, combine with the medicine to create poison. Likewise, with meditation there are certain activities that, due to their tendency to cloud the mind, have the potential to nullify the effects of the meditation or, worse, pervert one’s understanding of the meditation, causing one to cultivate unwholesome mind states instead of wholesome ones.

Meditation is meant to cultivate clarity and understanding, free from addiction, aversion, and delusion, and therefore free from suffering. Since certain bodily and verbal acts are intrinsically tied to negative qualities of mind, they are considered ‘contraindicative’ to the meditation practice; they have an effect opposite to what is desired, cultivating defilement instead of purity. Meditators who insist on engaging in such behaviour will face great difficulty in their practice, developing habits that are detrimental to both meditation practice and personal well-being. To ensure the mind is perfectly clear and capable of understanding reality, certain behaviours must be taken out of one’s “diet”, so to speak.

First, there are five kinds of action from which one must refrain completely, as they are inherently unwholesome:

  1. One must refrain from killing living beings. In order to cultivate one’s own well-being, one must be dedicated to well-being as a principle, refraining from killing any living being, even ants, mosquitoes and other living beings.

  2. One must refrain from theft. In order to find peace of mind, we must grant it to others as well; stealing is a denial of this basic right to security. Further, if we wish to be free from addiction, we must be able to control our desires to the extent of respecting the possessions of others.

  3. One must abstain from committing adultery or sexual misconduct. Romantic relationships that are emotionally or spiritually damaging to others, due to existing commitments of the parties involved, are a cause for stress and suffering and based on perversion of the mind.

  4. One must refrain from telling lies. If one wishes to find truth, one must avoid falsehood; intentionally leading others away from the truth is harmful both to oneself and others and incompatible with the goals of meditation.

  5. One must refrain from taking drugs or alcohol. Any substance that intoxicates the mind is obviously contraindicative to meditation practice, as it is the antithesis of a natural, clear state of being.

Complete abstention from these activities is necessary if one wishes for meditation practice to be successful, due to their inherently unwholesome nature and the invariably negative effect they have on the mind.

Further, there are certain activities that must be moderated or they will interfere with meditation practice. These are activities that are not necessarily unwholesome in and of themselves but will nonetheless inhibit clarity of mind and lessen the benefit of the meditation practice when undertaken in excess.

One such activity is eating; if one wishes to truly progress in the meditation practice, one must be careful not to eat too much or too little. If one is constantly obsessed with food, it can be a great hindrance to progress in meditation since not only does it cloud the mind, over-eating leads to drowsiness, both in the body and mind. One should eat to stay alive rather than stay alive simply to eat. During intensive meditation courses, meditators eat one main meal per day and suffer no negative physical consequences as a result; whereas the positive effects of such moderation are clarity of mind and freedom from obsession over food.

Another activity that interferes with meditation practice is entertainment – watching movies, listening to music, and so on. These occupations are not inherently unwholesome but can easily create states of addiction when undertaken in excess.

Addiction is a form of insobriety in a sense, since it involves chemical processes in the brain that inhibit clear thought and clarity of mind. Since the pleasure that comes from entertainment is momentary and unsatisfying while the addiction and obsession carry over into one’s life, a serious meditator should determine to make the best use of their short time in this life by cultivating peace and contentment, rather than wasting it on meaningless activities that don’t lead to long term happiness and peace. If one wishes to find true happiness, one must therefore moderate one’s engagement in entertainment. Socializing on the Internet and similar activities should be undertaken in moderation as well.

The third activity one must moderate is that of sleeping. Sleeping is an addiction that is often overlooked; most people don’t realize how attached they are to sleep as a means of escape from reality. Still others become insomniac, obsessed with the thought that they are not getting “enough” sleep, leading to increased stress levels and further difficulty in falling asleep.

Through the meditation practice, one will find that one needs less sleep than before since one’s mind will become calmer. Insomnia is not a problem for meditators since they are able to meditate even in the lying position and keep their minds free from stress. People who have difficulty falling asleep should train themselves to watch the stomach rise and fall, noting “rising”, “falling”, all night if necessary. Even if they are not able to fall asleep (which is unlikely, given the calm state of mind while meditating) they will find themselves as rested as if they had slept soundly through the night.

Finally, it is worth mentioning that to truly gain results in the meditation practice, a meditator should set aside at least a period of time to remain entirely celibate, not just avoiding immoral sexual activity, since all sexual activity is invariably intoxicating and will be a hindrance towards attainment of mental clarity and peace.

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The mind is an organ of habits and reactions. Those habits and reactions appear after sense contact, and it is based on the before learnt patterns of the mind. In turn, those patterns become ingrained due to repeated intentional behavior.

What I just mentioned is a -shallow- summary of kamma (intentional deeds) and the effect on the mind, in short and long term.

It's hard to know when will the mind establish a pattern, and when that pattern will become an habitual tendency, which is the source of habitual reactions and responses.

The mind is like a glass of water, but we don't know how filled it is. That's why we should be wise, prudent and cautious, because we don't know how much water does it take to overflow that glass; maybe it takes a lot of it, or maybe a few drops.

We don't know when our past actions will gave fruition to their consequences. We don't know exactly how the past kamma has influenced our minds and our habits/responses. We don't know for sure how will a new act affect our past kammic story.

In the Dvedhavitakka Sutta, it is said:

"Whatever a monk keeps pursuing with his thinking & pondering, that becomes the inclination of his awareness. If a monk keeps pursuing thinking imbued with sensuality, abandoning thinking imbued with renunciation, his mind is bent by that thinking imbued with sensuality. If a monk keeps pursuing thinking imbued with ill will, abandoning thinking imbued with non-ill will, his mind is bent by that thinking imbued with ill will. If a monk keeps pursuing thinking imbued with harmfulness, abandoning thinking imbued with harmlessness, his mind is bent by that thinking imbued with harmfulness."

https://www.accesstoinsight.org/tipitaka/mn/mn.019.than.html

Have a wonderful day!

  • This answer doesn't address the above question – Val Mar 6 '19 at 5:38
  • @Val Hmm. I feel it's a good answer it seems to suggest that the pursuit of sensuality hinders progress and may undo previous progress. – PeterJ Mar 6 '19 at 11:40
  • IMO it's saying that canonically our intentions after sense-contact create mental habits and reactions, which results in e.g. "thinking imbued with sensuality" (instead of e.g. "thinking imbued with renunciation " which "fosters discernment, promotes lack of vexation, & leads to Unbinding"). I guess it says it doesn't "undo" spiritual progress, but that it is not the condition that allows the purification of the mind and spiritual progress from there. This answer says we also don't know how much sensuality might too much i.e. perhaps enough to be habit-forming, or to cloud not purify the mind. – ChrisW Mar 6 '19 at 13:32
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Being at least temporarily celibate is required for intensive practise which can lead a person to enlightenment in a short period of time. Temporary celibacy and intensive mindfulness practise all day long with effort can lead a person to enlightenment in a short period of time. So refraining from sexuality and sensuality in general can make the spiritual progress easier. Ven. Yuttadhammo's teachings can be helpful for the people who has an intention to start an intensive practise: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=W5Lg9P-VekA

But most of the human actions can't stop progressing in the path or even attaining enlightenment(except things like hurting others etc. can lead a person to hell or hell-like future lifes instead of Nibbana), so it is better to not to see life through some of the belief systems wrong and harmful ideologies. Buddhism is not about suppression but is about understanding things as they are and becoming free from any kind of attachments.

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