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A long time ago I had a romantic relationship with a married woman, and later I regretted. How is this seen in Buddhism?

11 Answers 11

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It is classified as sexual misconduct. According to the Cunda Kammaraputa Sutta:

And how is one made impure in three ways by bodily action? There is the case where a certain person takes life, is a hunter, bloody-handed, devoted to killing & slaying, showing no mercy to living beings. He takes what is not given. He takes, in the manner of a thief, things in a village or a wilderness that belong to others and have not been given by them. He engages in sensual misconduct. He gets sexually involved with those who are protected by their mothers, their fathers, their brothers, their sisters, their relatives, or their Dhamma; those with husbands, those who entail punishments, or even those crowned with flowers by another man. This is how one is made impure in three ways by bodily action.

http://www.accesstoinsight.org/tipitaka/an/an10/an10.176.than.html

However, that doesn't mean that you are "condemned." You did something that wasn't right, but if you recognize that you did something wrong and strive to do better in the future, that's all you should do. In the Samaññaphala Sutta King Ajatasattu confessed to the Buddha that he had murdered his own father, which in Buddhism is one of 5 Garu Kammas, the 5 most heinous acts a person could possibly commit:

"...King Ajatasattu said to the Blessed One: "Magnificent, lord! Magnificent! Just as if he were to place upright what was overturned, to reveal what was hidden, to show the way to one who was lost, or to carry a lamp into the dark so that those with eyes could see forms, in the same way has the Blessed One — through many lines of reasoning — made the Dhamma clear. I go to the Blessed One for refuge, to the Dhamma, and to the community of monks. May the Blessed One remember me as a lay follower who has gone to him for refuge, from this day forward, for life.

"A transgression has overcome me, lord, in that I was so foolish, so muddle-headed, and so unskilled as to kill my father — a righteous man, a righteous king — for the sake of sovereign rulership. May the Blessed One please accept this confession of my transgression as such, so that I may restrain myself in the future."

"Yes, great king, a transgression overcame you in that you were so foolish, so muddle-headed, and so unskilled as to kill your father — a righteous man, a righteous king — for the sake of sovereign rulership. But because you see your transgression as such and make amends in accordance with the Dhamma, we accept your confession. For it is a cause of growth in the Dhamma & Discipline of the noble ones when, seeing a transgression as such, one makes amends in accordance with the Dhamma and exercises restraint in the future." http://www.accesstoinsight.org/tipitaka/dn/dn.02.0.than.html

The Buddha did not condemn King Ajatasattu for his evil act, but encouraged him to have a change of heart and live an ammended life. He did the same for Angulimala the Serial Killer (Angulimala, his nickname, means garland of fingers because he kept his victim's fingers on a string as a garland) having him become a Monk and when Angulimala saw a woman in childbirth and wanted to help, the Buddha said this to ease Angulimala's feelings of guilt over killing so many people:

"In that case, Angulimala, go to that woman and on arrival say to her, 'Sister, since I was born I do not recall intentionally killing a living being. Through this truth may there be wellbeing for you, wellbeing for your fetus.'"

"But, lord, wouldn't that be a lie for me? For I have intentionally killed many living beings."

"Then in that case, Angulimala, go to that woman and on arrival say to her, 'Sister, since I was born in the noble birth, I do not recall intentionally killing a living being. Through this truth may there be wellbeing for you, wellbeing for your fetus.'"

http://www.accesstoinsight.org/tipitaka/mn/mn.086.than.html

The Buddha taught people guilty of the most heinous things to change their ways but to move on and not dwell on their previous errors. If the Buddha encouraged a man guilty of killing his father and a serial killer not to dwell on guilt, how much more would he encourage someone who committed adultery to simply have a change of heart and not dwell on guilt.

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    good balance of sources and reasoning. And this answer could be given for any act that a person cannot forgive themselves for. – Yoda Bytes Oct 4 '14 at 15:45
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"and later I regretted" -- remorse is a klesha, an obscuring emotion. Have you learned your lesson and decided what you will do differently now -- that's what matters for your growth, the constructive part, not the feeling of guilt which only weighs you down.

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Am I condemned for being romantically involved with another man's wife?

Condemned by...

  1. the community you live in? If this is unaccepted behavior, yes.

  2. by the law? If that was unlawful, yes.

  3. by Buddha? He is not here, so I highly doubt it.

How is this seen in Buddhism?

Short answer: it is seen as a "don't do it". If you did, it is seen as "well, don't do it again".

long answer: the Saleyaka Sutta (MN 41) reads:

[...] When [the brahman householders of Sala] were seated, they said to the Blessed One: "Master Gotama, what is the reason, what is the condition, why some beings here, on the dissolution of the body, after death, reappear in states of deprivation, in an unhappy destination, in perdition, even in hell; and what is the reason, what is the condition, why some beings here, on the dissolution of the body, after death, reappear in a happy destination, even in the heavenly world?"

"Householders, it is by reason of conduct not in accordance with the Dhamma, by reason of unrighteous conduct, that beings here on the dissolution of the body, after death, reappear in states of deprivation, in an unhappy destination, in perdition, even in hell. It is by reason of conduct in accordance with the Dhamma, by reason of righteous conduct, that some beings here on the dissolution of the body, after death, reappear in a happy destination, even in the heavenly world."

and then he says:

"And how are there three kinds of bodily conduct not in accordance with the Dhamma, unrighteous conduct? Here someone [...] is given over to misconduct in sexual desires: he has intercourse with such (women) as are protected by the mother, father, (mother and father), brother, sister, relatives, as have a husband, as entail a penalty, and also with those that are garlanded in token of betrothal. That is how there are three kinds of bodily conduct not in accordance with the Dhamma, unrighteous conduct.

The above, however, does not denote a condemnation as an external invisible force that will seek to punish you. But there are consequences to actions, according to the nature of the actions themselves. In this sense, one could consider these as the condemnation.

In the Maha Kammavibhanga Sutta, the Buddha (MN 136) says:

"Ananda, there are four kinds of persons existing in the world. What four?

(i) "Here some person kills living beings, takes what is not given, misconducts himself in sexual desires, speaks falsehood, speaks maliciously, speaks harshly, gossips, is covetous, is ill-willed, and has wrong view. On the dissolution of the body, after death, he reappears in the states of deprivation, in an unhappy destination, in perdition, in hell.

(ii) "But here some person kills living beings... and has wrong view. On the dissolution of the body, after death, he reappears in a happy destination, in the heavenly world.

(iii) "Here some person abstains from killing living beings, from taking what is not given, from misconduct in sexual desires, from false speech, from malicious speech, from harsh speech, from gossip, he is not covetous, is not ill-willed, and has right view. On the dissolution of the body, after death, he reappears in a happy destination, in the heavenly world.

(iv) "But here some person abstains from killing living beings... and has right view. On the dissolution of the body, after death, he reappears in the states of deprivation, in an unhappy destination, in perdition, in hell.

His explanation for a person who has performed misconducts to reappear in a good destination is given:

[...] "Now there is the person who has killed living beings here ... has had wrong view. And on the dissolution of the body, after death, he reappears in a happy destination, in the heavenly world. But (perhaps) the good kamma producing his happiness was done by him earlier, or the good kamma producing his happiness was done by him later, or right view was undertaken and completed by him at the time of his death. And that was why, on the dissolution of the body, after death, he reappeared in a happy destination, in the heavenly world. But since he has killed living beings here... has had wrong view, he will feel the result of that here and now, or in his next rebirth, or in some subsequent existence.

Beings are, as he says, heirs of their karma, and under certain conditions, karma manifests its effects, sooner or later. That is, until one strives for and finally reaches nirvana.

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I would like to touch an important point: It is not because there was no explicit harm (being caught or maybe a divorce) that no harm was made at all, this is not how karma works, at least in most traditions, for sure in Theravada and Tibetan Buddhism.

Of course you are not condemned in a sense that you will necessarily go to hell, however the bad karma was created with or without explicit harm or being caught, the seed is now there, you created the cause for future suffering, you broke the 4th precept (assuming you knew she was married).

Ok, what is done is done, what can you do know? The Buddha gave a great simile that can help us here, the simile of water and salt.

The Blessed one said: Imagine if you drop salt in a cup of water, how will the water taste? Very bad of course. Now imagine if you drop the same amount of salt in a river, how will the river water taste? Probably good! The salt represents bad karma and water the good karma, so try to make as much good karma as you can, take the precepts, live a moral life etc.

The story of Angulimala proves us that nothing is impossible to revert. Looks like coming here and making this question can be a promissing start!

  • By harm I meant that somebody experienced pain as a result of the action or could have -- the husband became angry or distraught and perhaps lashed out emotionally or physically; the wife suffered the loss of her husband's affection or perhaps violence; a child became confused or unhinged at what was happening to their family; etc. I believe that if we analyze the traditional sexual misconduct criteria, at root it is their capacity for such harm that motivates them. I am not speaking of homosexuality or other victimless "transgressions" -- these are culturally bound and the mores have changed. – David Lewis Oct 8 '14 at 5:28
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The key thing is that you've stopped and regretted the unwholesome action. Practice diligently, do lots of wholesome actions and move on. It's those who keep making the same mistake that will place themselves one step closer to the bad destination:

"Bhikkhus, the bhikkhuni, ... re ... the novice in training, ... re ... the novice for higher ordination, ... re ... the female novice for higher ordination, ... re ... the lay disciple male, ... re ... the lay disciple female endowed with five things, is in hell as though led and lain there. What five?

Destroying living things, taking the not given, misbehaving in sexual desires, telling lies and taking intoxicating and brewed drinks. Bhikkhus, the bhikkhu endowed with these five things, is in hell as though led and lain there." ~~ ( AN 5.291/292: http://www.metta.lk/tipitaka/2Sutta-Pitaka/4Anguttara-Nikaya/Anguttara3/5-pancakanipata/026-upasampadavaggo-e.html )

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The bottom line is whether anybody was harmed -- the husband, the wife, children, anyone else. (To depend solely on the literal sexual conduct code from ancient times is to risk mixing in cultural factors that have changed, often significantly; the harm criterion is universal.)

If there was harm, then the Mahayana doctrine of the Four Powers (often called the Four Opponent Powers) can be used to purify the negative karma. (I don't know the citations, but I'm quite sure this doctrine is derived from early sutras.) The Four Powers are:

  1. The power of regret for having done the negative action.

  2. The power of reliance: taking refuge, which restores our relationship with holy objects, and generating the altruistic intention, which restores our relationship with other sentient beings.

  3. The power of the remedial action, e.g. prostration, offering, reciting the names of the Buddha, reading or contemplating the Dharma, etc.

  4. The power of the promise not to repeat the action.

This is from http://archive.thubtenchodron.org/PrayersAndPractices/purification_practices.html, but there are many sites and references.

Most discussions of the Four Powers are in a Mahayana or even Vajrayana context, but I see no reason they cannot be used by Theravada, Zen or Pure Land practitioners. Refuge is common to all Buddhist traditions; metta meditation could be used in place of the Mahayana "altruistic intention"; and a wide variety of practices or actions can be used for remedial action if done in the context of the other powers.

With regard to #1, regret, note that this is not heavy guilt or a sense of permanent, unpurifiable "sin", but a simple recognition that the action was wrong and needs remediation. In fact, the very possibility of purification opposes a sense of heavy guilt. Regret, in this sense, is the first power because it is clearly a prerequisite to any meaningful purification.

It sounds like you already have healthy regret and are resolved not to repeat such actions, and so are already well started on the full purification practice!

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You have done something that that completely rails against the eightfold path, which was designed to end greed, ignorance, aversion, delusion. An affair waters all of these roots, however, you realized you have done something wrong.

Fix yourself, continue the path.

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Well, if you were a monk, you'd get kicked out of the sangha. As a layperson, it's one of the five precepts. For laity, imho, the five precepts come down to respecting the existing social order-- very socially conservative and not especially deeply connected with the philosophy of Buddhism (what's annata got to do with being an obedient citizen?). So was it against the rules, yup. Should we throw the rules out the window? Different topic, but many people in modern Buddhism would like to throw the rules out the window. But lets imagine we didn't.

Next step is to repent, which in Buddhist terms essentially means you plan to knock it off. Which probably isn't very helpful because this isn't the sort of thing one would do habitually.

Buddhism, as a by product of being a religion of celibate monastics, imho, is not an especially good source of relationship advice, at least nothing that is specific to relationships. In terms of how this relates to desires and the dysfunctional behaviors our desires lead us into, Buddhism has high level advice.

Departing from Buddhism, my favorite relationship doctor is Dr. Gottman, and the way he describes it, a lot of infidelity cases are relationships that have fallen apart/are at the end stages and infidelity is one of the symptoms of this (as opposed to being a cause of a failed relationship). Dr Gottman by no means is condoning infidelity or making excuses for it-- his goal is to help people mend their relationships despite infidelity.

So a modern relationship counselor would say, a rule that says "don't do adultery" is missing the point. Adultery can only be prevented by investing the time and effort in to creating a healthy relationship. Once people are miserable, they will begin to do all sorts of things, like drinking, adultery, lying about it. (Probably not necessarily robbing and killing, that is an entirely different sort of bad behavior) So following the precepts is matter of creating a life where the precepts can be followed. And when you find yourself in a situation where you can't follow precepts, see if it is something that gets in the way of practicing Buddhism.

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Sadhu! Sergio.

If having done something not right it gives, if possible to make, release when confessing direct to the "victim".

Even it is hard and will have possible consequences it would be the best to walk on. Making mistakes is "human".

General good advices are found in the talk to Buddhas Son.

Moral shame, before, at or after a deed is a very skillful act, so thats why wise whould always say: Sadhu! If one confesses a wrong deed.

For more general in this matter see also: Reconciliation, Right & Wrong

"These two are fools. Which two? The one who doesn't see his/her transgression as a transgression, and the one who doesn't rightfully pardon another who has confessed his/her transgression. These two are fools.

"These two are wise. Which two? The one who sees his/her transgression as a transgression, and the one who rightfully pardons another who has confessed his/her transgression. These two are wise."

— AN 2.21

"It's a cause of growth in the Dhamma and Vinaya of the noble ones when, seeing a transgression as such, one makes amends in accordance with the Dhamma and exercises restraint in the future."

— DN 2

Once confession is made proper, one walk on clean and without need of remorse, sure kamma will have it's fruits anyway but no new is maintained on this matter.

[Note: This is a gift of Dhamma, not meant for commercial purpose or other low wordily gain by means of trade and exchange]

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The problem right now is not what happened ,the problem right now is that there is suffering,the suffering comes in darkness in darkness resides the ego and sense of condemnation and regret upon itself.

So just shine the light .. unto what happened. Simply there was unawareness while dealing with that woman ,maybe she was too attractive ,maybe the mind had an attitude towards outside of marriage relationship as a sin and by repression it became even more desirable thus craving rose then indulgence then the suffering. thats all what happened.

Now in knowing what happened you can work on raising the awareness next time ,to shine the light.,,Please don't look at it as sin just see it for what it is everything has its causes ,it happened due to certain parameters there is no you to condemn ,There was just a set of parameters that lead to what happened.Any attitude towards what happened will lead to more suffering and darkness.

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First, if you want to live according to the five precepts which are :

  1. I undertake the training rule to abstain from killing.
  2. I undertake the training rule to abstain from taking what is not given.
  3. I undertake the training rule to avoid sexual misconduct.
  4. I undertake the training rule to abstain from false speech.
  5. I undertake the training rule to abstain from fermented drink that causes heedlessness.

In my understanding sexual misconduct would be to abuse or molest someone, going against his or her will, putting you body in danger etc...

I don't think you broke any of those. Now I think personally that if nobody was hurted there is no reason for you to feel remorse.

There is no "moral" properly speaking in Buddhism, so there is no "guilt", it is more about whether you want to follow a practice leading toward liberation of suffering and if you want so, Buddhism ask you to follow a set of comportemental rules that are necessary to walk this path.

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    I'm pretty sure this constitutes sexual misconduct according to Buddhism... Theravada Buddhism anyway. See here buddhism.stackexchange.com/a/1371/18 – yuttadhammo Oct 3 '14 at 2:18
  • Indeed yuttadhammo. As I said it is only my own understanding. I'm not sure regarding the zen tradition in which some monks doesn't refrain from sexual relationship with prostitute etc (the monk Ikkyū Sōjun is one famous example). But it is quite possible that it is only a japanese specificity that has to do with the quite liberal view concerning sex in this country. I think that, at least for the layman, those rules should be understood within a social and cultural context as well. – BlackSwing Oct 3 '14 at 2:32

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