In a perfect world, the opening line of this introduction
would have read: "This issue of What Is Enlightenment?
be complete without the following interview with the Buddha." This is not
a perfect world, of course, but What Is Enlightenment?
for perfection, and we felt certain that, as one of history's most illustrious
celibates, the Buddha would have had more than a few enlightening things to
tell us about the relationship between sexuality and spirituality, and no shortage
of comments on the decline of celibacy and the increasing popularity of tantra
in the modern spiritual world. How, we wondered, would our issue ever be complete
we spoke with Bhante Henepola Gunaratana—or "Bhanteji," as he is affectionately
called by his students—he put our minds at ease. Ordained a celibate Buddhist
monk at the age of twelve in Sri Lanka, the country of his birth, Bhante Gunaratana
is today, at seventy, a renowned Buddhist scholar and author and the spiritual
leader of the Bhavana Society, a monastic retreat center in West Virginia's
Shenandoah Valley. According to the Bhante, our interview with the Buddha would
have yielded no real surprises because where spirituality and sex are concerned,
things haven't really changed that much since the Buddha's time. In our time
there are still, relatively speaking, just a few monks, still many householders,
and still—as the Bhante feels there always will be—more than a few adventurous
souls who are convinced that sex, not renunciation, is going to lead them to
the highest peaks of human consciousness. And the Buddha, in the course of his
life, gave teachings, precepts and admonitions to address the spiritual needs
of individuals in all three of these categories.
then, were the Buddha's views on spirituality and sex? Steeped in the dharma
since his youth, Bhante Gunaratana answered
all of our questions with a conviction that was utterly doubtless and a gentle
and infectious humor that made it an unqualified pleasure to speak with him.
And as the hour he had reserved for us drew to a close, he described his own
lifelong experience of celibacy—its challenges and rewards—with a sweetness
and enthusiasm born of the certainty that in a life of absolute renunciation
there is absolutely nothing missing.