A friend recently asked me, “You are single and dating, in a modern way, and also a serious Buddhist. Do you try to live by Buddhist principles in your dating and sex life?”
I wrote her back and said:
Yeah, I do try to live by Buddhist teachings with regards to my dating, as best I am able.
The thing of it is, I do not know of any traditional teachings about how to casually date in simultaneously a modern and Buddhist manner. Many traditional Buddhist teachers, just like traditional Western monotheistic theologians, seem to have simply taught, “No sex outside of procreation”. I have heard that even the current Dalai Lama has expressed the opinion that homosexuality, as an example of sex purely for pleasure and not for procreation, is “a defilement”. Also, most senior and accomplished Buddhist teachers that I know and respect are either monastic and celibate, or else got monogamously married while young, and seem to have no experience with dating.
Perhaps some day I will feel like no sex outside of procreation is appropriate for me, or even monastic celibacy. I do not feel that way right now.
I have seen that there is a book called, “If the Buddha Dated: A Handbook for Finding Love on a Spiritual Path“, by someone named Charlotte Kasl. I’ve never read it, and it looks to my eyes like personal-growth fluff. I did read the book “Lust For Enlightenment: Buddhism And Sex” by John Stevens many years ago, and it explored the issue of sexuality from the perspective of what seemed like actual real Buddhist scholarship and teaching. My impression after finishing it was that the “right sexuality” element of “right action” (which is part of the eightfold path) has actually been defined and considered in widely divergent ways over the years between the different Buddhist traditions.
One basic Buddhist paradigm for “right action” is, “don’t do harm”. And I suppose that doing no harm, in its most basic sense, could mean “don’t do actions that would leave any other person ever feeling upset, jealous, or hurt”. And certainly avoiding hurt feelings, anger, and upset is always a positive general goal in life. But, in my perception, no matter what a hip modern person does sexually, even within the context of a monogamous relationship, probably there is at least one person who knows one or both partners and who will feel jealous, judgmental, or otherwise not happy about it. So, perhaps this is maybe not the best guide for “not doing harm”.
It may be that there are no authoritative Buddhist teachings specifically on how to best date casually, any more than there are any authoritative Buddhist teachings on how to manage accounts receivable for a business, how to unblock a stopped up sink, or how to reverse cholesterol buildup. So, I’m left with the feeling that, if we wanna be our most Dharmic and at our best in any of those fields, going partially or wholly with Western experts and resources may be the way to go. And the Western experts and resources on dating, well, as you probably know, some of them seem to be trustworthy/spiritual/honest, and some don’t.
I once read a book on sex (“The New Male Sexuality“, by Bernie Zilbergeld) that suggested that healthy sex has at least three aspects: respect (only engage sexually with people who you respect), honesty (be truthful about other partners, true intentions, STDs, and all else), and consent (consciously and freely given). Within that framework, the book suggested, do whatever your dirty li’l minds come up with. That definition made a positive impression on me. And now, years later, having developed in my Buddhist practice, I like those three as good guidelines for a basic foundation of “right sexuality” that fits with the modern world that I live in.
I also think that other basic Buddhist teachings – for example, being conscious and aware, being present, striving to have our actions be undriven spacious and non-compulsive (“free from attachments”), and compassion and open-heartedness – are of course also relevant to being healthy around dating, sex, and communication. I have found that meditating knee-to-knee with women I am dating as part of our dates is an especially helpful way to cultivate some of those positive attributes.
[Edit – I’ve been skimming through “Sex, Love, and Dharma” by Arthur Jeon, and it strikes me as a genuinely “spiritual” take on modern casual dating]