Simple question: Is the Noble Eightfold Path a path of celibacy?

[Note that this isn't given for Sex, stacks, trade, exchange but for escape from this wheel]


7 Answers 7


And what is right action? Katamo ca, bhikkhave, sammākammanto?

Avoiding killing living creatures, stealing, and sexual activity. Yā kho, bhikkhave, pāṇātipātā veramaṇī, adinnādānā veramaṇī, abrahmacariyā veramaṇī—

Magga-Vibhanga Sutta

  • Brahmacharya is one of the prime teaching of Buddha. You have a very deep understanding of Buddhism. Thank you for those original words from Pali. Buddha also talks about restraining all 5 senses and taming the desire. Maybe it is for this path of Brahmacharya he never went back to household life as well.
    – user17389
    Commented Jan 10, 2020 at 10:59

No, the canonical definition of the Eightfold Path does NOT include any explicit mention of celibacy. The actual language is both broader and goes further than mere sexual abstinence.

The right action (samma-kammanta) is defined as abstaining from (three) major types of wrong conduct, one of which is:

Kamesu micchacara

Kamesu is a form of word Kama, which is the same word as in Kama-Sutra and means something like "pleasure of the senses".

Miccha means false or wrong, and Cara or Acara means practice, conduct, behavior.

The literal translation is either "wrong conduct motivated by desire to enjoy sensual pleasures" or "the wrong behavior of enjoying sensual pleasures".

You may interpret this in any way you want, but you have to accept that celibacy is only one of several possible meanings.

Given the usual Buddhist emphasis on the danger of "indulging in the binding types of pleasure", and how it leads to craving and then to suffering, I think we can safely interpret this more broadly as abstaining from all sensory indulging and not just one of sexual nature.

This would therefore include abstaining from indulging in food and deserts, indulging in bodily comfort, indulging in spectator's arts, music, theater, and binge-watching TV, dressing up and using cosmetics or decoration, and all other forms of behavior connected with indulging in pleasures, however harmless and even healthy it may seem to non-Buddhists.

  • 1
    Yes I think that brahmacariyā too is "both broader and goes further than mere sexual abstinence".
    – ChrisW
    Commented Jan 11, 2020 at 10:58
  • Yes, this was the norm. e.g. Wikipedia: "The fourth of the five great vows of Jain monks, for example, is the vow of celibacy, which in this case means a total abstinence from the sensual pleasure of all five senses, including the avoidance of sexual thoughts and desires".
    – Andriy Volkov
    Commented Jan 11, 2020 at 13:31
  • where in the suttas does it say this andrei: "The right action (samma-kammanta) is defined as abstaining from five major types of wrong conduct, one of which is:" . I've only seen samma kammanto defined as a 3fold, with 'kamesu micchachara' sometimes replacing 'abrahmacariya'.
    – frankk
    Commented Feb 17, 2020 at 16:27
  • yup, you're right - updated the answer
    – Andriy Volkov
    Commented Feb 17, 2020 at 16:36

Gautama Buddha explicitly called his teachings 'The Middle Path,' in the Dhamacakkappavattana Sutta:

Monks, these two extremes ought not to be practiced by one who has gone forth from the household life. There is addiction to indulgence of sense-pleasures, which is low, coarse, the way of ordinary people, unworthy, and unprofitable; and there is addiction to self-mortification, which is painful, unworthy, and unprofitable.

Avoiding both these extremes, the Tathagata (the Perfect One) has realized the Middle Path; it gives vision, gives knowledge, and leads to calm, to insight, to enlightenment and to Nibbana. And what is that Middle Path realized by the Tathagata...? It is the Noble Eightfold path, and nothing else, namely: right understanding, right thought, right speech, right action, right livelihood, right effort, right mindfulness and right concentration.

The question this raises is whether or not celibacy is done as an act of self-mortification; if so, it is not 'right' in senses the Buddha outlines.

I understand why celibacy is often a feature of monastic settings. Sexual urges are strong, and those who are not yet developed or established on the path are easily caught on that hook. A rigid 'no sex' policy places a barrier against sensual indulgence, keeping those caught on the hook from debasing themselves by imposing a form of self-mortification. Such a rule creates a tension between extremes which is a substitute (although a poor substitute) for a calm middle-ground. After a monk has found his footing, the hedonistic urges attenuate, and the celibacy restriction becomes less necessary; I suspect monks maintain it out of habit, convention, or even the compassionate act of 'setting a right example,' but I do not think it's essential at that stage.

The difficulty of the middle path is that it is a path of constant awareness. Rules are by their nature unconscious — actions we take without reflection — and rigid rules ultimately become a hindrance on the path, like any empty ritual. I'm not suggesting that monks shouldn't be celibate, or that they should; I'm saying that we must develop the right understanding to navigate right action in each situation the world presents to us.


To avoid misunderstanding, "a path of celibacy" means "to walk on a path that requires celibacy". Question is not asking for "a path to celibacy"?

Very straight and simple answer:: Yes.

What is Celibacy?

An activity that is done & maintained to prevent loss of semen(in physical way) and loss of viriya in spiritual way.


Celibacy from what?

Celibacy from defilements.

What are defilements?

This is a term given for a particular behaviour pattern which consists of sankharas within.

What are sankharas?

These are at atomic scale which act as force for Wrong View, Wrong Livelihood,...

What is Wrong?

Opposite to Right.

What is Right?

This is Noble 8 Fold Path, which I assume is already known by you.

[This is given for those engaged in Sex, Stacks, Trade, Exchange etc. to knock them out of their sleep in darkness]


pācittiya 68 (From the Theravadin monastic code);

Not to affirm that things such as sexual pleasures are not an obstacle to the development of ariyā stage or to jhāna realisations, nor to rebirth in the deva world, when the Buddha explains that these things are precisely an obstacle to those, and not to maintain erroneous views. Those bhikkhu who hear or see another bhikkhu make statements such as these, or saying incorrect things that Buddha never taught, must tell him not to attribute such statements to Buddha, because he never taught these things. In giving him the reasons that cause obstacles to attainments or to favourable rebirths, they must tell him that this is what Buddha taught. They must tell him that such is the dhamma that must be explained to those around us. Next, they must forbid him three times in succession to renounce those words. If he retracts, he does not commit the offence. If he refuses to abandon his view, he commits a dukkaṭa.

People in general hold varying opinions on what exactly is the 8FNP but i can't recall anybody holding that; '8FNP is neither the development nor the attainment of ariyā stage or that of jhāna realisations'

Therefore most would have to accept that in a categorical sense; '8FNP is not a path of sexuality but is rather a path of celibacy'.

If a Theravadin monk refused to accept this and kept affirming that '8FNP is a path of sexuality' or that 'Sexuality is not an obstacle to the development or attainment of the 8FNP' in a categorical sense, then imho, such Bhikkhu would likely be placed outside of community.


I might say "yes but no" -- or, "yes but I wouldn't teach it that way".

Not that I try to teach the N8P at all, but for the sake of answering...

It seems to me that there's potentially some problem of conceit.

Given this topic -- How are 'conceit' and 'identity-view' not the same? -- I summarise conceit as a comparison e.g. "I am better than you".

If or when it exists it seems to me that conceit is an important problem -- harmful to self and/or to others.

A statement like, "I retain my semen therefore I am celibate therefore etc." sounds kind of self-important to me -- not exactly how I'd want to teach doctrine.

To me the word "celibate" implies a comparison -- with "non-celibate" -- and potentially further ideas like "my being celibate is superior" and "you're being non-celibate is despicable" which I think is really kind of wrong.

I don't mean "wrong" as in "untrue" I mean "wrong" as in "unskilful" and potentially "immoral" ... like in the definition of "right speech" it isn't enough that speech be true -- it also needs to be kind, beneficial, said at the proper time, etc.

A lot of the Pali words I like are phrased as a negative -- for example averena for non-hatred or kind.

I wonder if a negative English word would be better than "celibate". The third precepts are phrased as a negative, i.e. "refraining" (refraining from sexual misconduct and/or refraining from sexual activity).

One more thing, I note the Pali word being used -- brahmacariya. I might wish that word were better explained, I think that the "brahmaviharas" are quite well-explained as a positive role model -- things you should do, attitudes you should have -- not only negative.

But anyway...

There's a Tissametteyya Sutta (Snp 4.7) which I'd like to recommend. When I read it (just reading the English, I'm not checking the translation), I read it as starting with a description of celibacy -- for example having "renown and fame" which is diminished by indulgence in sex. There's also reproaching others, words of reprimand, and so on.

It ends like this:

So train yourself in solitude,
for that’s the life of Noble Ones,
but not conceive oneself as “best”—
them near indeed to Nirvāṇa.

The sage who’s rid of sense-desires,
who to them’s indifferent,
who’s crossed the flood, is envied then,
by those enmeshed with pleasures of sense.

Note, "not conceive oneself as best".

Also note, it isn't a state of existence ("I am celibate") -- instead I read it as a state of non-existence of hindrance ("rid of sense-desires").

The very next sutta, Snp 4.8, is about the disadvantages of debate -- loving praise, getting angry, elated, depressed, etc. So a statement like "the N8P is a path of celibacy not of non-celibacy, it's the path for me and not a path for you" seems to me a situation described by Snp 4.8.

One more story, from different tradition.

Muddy Road

Tanzan and Ekido were once traveling together down a muddy road. A heavy rain was still falling.

Coming around a bend, they met a lovely girl in a silk kimono and sash, unable to cross the intersection.

"Come on, girl" said Tanzan at once. Lifting her in his arms, he carried her over the mud.

Ekido did not speak again until that night when they reached a lodging temple. Then he no longer could restrain himself. "We monks don't go near females," he told Tanzan, "especially not young and lovely ones. It is dangerous. Why did you do that?"

"I left the girl there," said Tanzan. "Are you still carrying her?"

I realise that the story might sounds scandalous to a monk, against vinaya and improper for one who wears the robes you wear -- there's something about the story that I like though.

I was reading today that inhibitions too are a manifestation of ego. That a person who learns to meditate may have less ego therefore fewer inhibitions. Having fewer inhibitions their behaviour (or speech) may become more immoral -- unless they do something about that. One of the things a person might do, I guess, is accept the Vinaya -- which would preclude the kind of behaviour described in the story "Muddy Road".

And yet I'm not inclined to criticise the people in the story.

Why is that?
Because I have compassion for the boy, sir.

(MN 58)

brahmacariyam is used in the Dhammapada, verses 155 and 156 -- it's translated as "the holy life" here and "life of Purity" here.

I presume it means specifically chastity when it's used in the context of the 3rd precept (of the "8 precepts").

I think it means something more than that though -- in the context of SN 45.8 perhaps it's "remaining a monk" and in association with the Sangha instead of becoming defeated.

The famous SN 45.2 is an explanation of brahmacariya:

Not so, Ānanda! Not so, Ānanda!
“Mā hevaṃ, ānanda, mā hevaṃ, ānanda.

Good friends, companions, and associates are the whole of the spiritual life.
Sakalamevidaṃ, ānanda, brahmacariyaṃ, yadidaṃ—kalyāṇamittatā kalyāṇasahāyatā kalyāṇasampavaṅkatā.

It's also a word which exists outside the specifically-Buddhist tradition.


This question presupposes that it isnt. And this is only true in one of the two truths. Meaning this is not true for all (at any single given moment in time). Self-cherishers would say celibacy not required for one to enter stream. Once stream winner is a different question.

  • 1
    The own opinion is the most lowest secure, the Sublime Buddha told. And is again a chicken and egg issue, since it is normal that truth isn't seen before really seen for one self. So it's quite normal to be in all the kinds of relation-desire involved till reaching independence. On the seven levels of sex: Methuna Sutta.
    – user11235
    Commented Feb 17, 2020 at 6:41
  • Thank you for sharing ur time with us Ven Monk Johann i thank u seven times
    – 4N4G4M1N
    Commented Feb 17, 2020 at 6:55
  • Shouldn't we investigate both and come to a ‘middle conclusion’ ?
    – 4N4G4M1N
    Commented Feb 17, 2020 at 6:57
  • 1
    The Sublime Buddha didn't invited anybody to find out the middle path by himself, but to trust his declaration of it, Nyom: Again The Middles of the Middle Way and on Uposatha: Ill-gotten if just sometimes
    – user11235
    Commented Feb 17, 2020 at 9:27
  • Thank you most highly venerable monastic may your happiness and good fortune only increase!
    – 4N4G4M1N
    Commented Feb 17, 2020 at 9:33

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