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Sex, Sin, and Zen + The Rutgers Tragedy and Reflection

The tragic death of a Rutgers student, a freshman who killed himself after his sexual activity was internet broadcast by his roommate and a friend, has been impossible for me to ignore. The story really upset me. Sex and death will do that.

Plus, I'm currently reading Sex, Sin, and Zen, by the oft-controversial Buddhist author Brad Warner, one of my favorite writers,

and I can't help but think about the suffering that sex and shame and denial can cause. Buddhist psychology and philosophy have helped me see and deal with this particular suffering,


but as Brad's book makes clear, Buddhists and Buddhist practice are by no means immune to these issues.

Sex, Sin, and Zen is a thoughtful, sometimes provoking, and thoroughly experiential look at how sex informs human life and how we need to deal with it. And how it's played out in Buddhist history and practice and is still doing so. It's a amazing and eye-opening book, and Brad will be leading a two-day weekend Soto Zen retreat at the IDP, Saturday and Sunday October 16-17, in NYC, with a book signing on Friday night: Click here for details.  

I wish I could review the whole book here now, but someone else at the IDP got that blog post!. Still, Brad's clear exploration, absolute honesty, and genuine curiosity about what really goes on when we deal with sex certainly helped me look at the Rutgers tragedy--in quite a different way than one might expect.

Part of what I came away with was how denial, demonization, repression, and idealization of sex and love all are fantasy, turning us away from the reality of our lives as physical sexual beings. That ignorance of reality, that fear of the reality of our emotions and urges, can drives societies and individuals to create enormous suffering in their social structures and their own lives.

Denial and repression and fantasy about any of our emotions are ignorance, the way of suffering. And when I looked at how my denial played out, I found it right in front of me. And it wasn't about sex.

But first, the sex and death.

Most people who read the news know the outline of the Rutgers story.

Freshman Dharun Ravi turned on the webcam in his room to spy on his roommate, a talented young violinist named Tyler Clementi. He saw Tyler kiss another man and immediately tweeted and broadcast the footage to fellow students on the Internet. Egged on by Molly Wei, a friend from his New Jersey high school clique, Ravi then told his Twitter followers that more broadcasts were on the way.

Tyler complained to his dorm advisor and said he wanted to move out of the room after being secretly taped and publicly ridiculed by Ravi. Then, unable to deal the shame of having fellow students see him having sex, Tyler jumped off the George Washington Bridge to his death.

What an awful, awful story. I got all self-righteous. That poor kid, and his poor family! What an incredible waste of life and love and potential.

And honestly, my first reaction was anger at the perps. What kind of goody-goody LOSERS were so freaked that their roommate had sex? Super loserville uptight repressed little freaks. What an insanely immature reaction: "I SAW HIM KISS A BOY!!! EWWWWW!!! But I better tape it and watch. And then watch some more!!!" Yeah, Ravi, do you like to watch that stuff? Hmmm? Do ya? My mind went right to the attack. Zeroed right in. Shred those losers.

I had some other thoughts, equally ungracious and mocking. And I sat with them and looked at them. Those thoughts. Those thoughts came from exactly the same kind of urge to mock and demean that Ravi and Wei probably had about Tyler.


No reason to be all superior here, folks. Raw aggression, mockery, ridicule. A mirror.

Human urges are human urges, whether to procreate or to mock. We are primates, and as a glasses-wearing, brace-face, flute-playing, radioactivly undatable math-and-debate team veteran of high school, I know just how the alpha monkeys will attack the loser monkeys and drive them from the tribe. It's a human urge. It causes suffering.

In the end, one of the most interesting things I came away from Brad's book with was the realization that as humans are what we are, biologically. Reality is that we are built in a certain way, and that's just how it is. We need to deal with that when we interact with others, when we build societies. Pretending we are not what we are IS the road to suffering.

So, yes, I am that way. Ravi and Wei mock, I mock, and we are driven by aggression. But we don't have to mock ourselves for it. There is a path, I've heard.

Time for some metta mediation for us all.



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