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Sitting some zazen and Sex, Sin, and Zen review

Few things attract me to a book more than opening it and realizing, "Hey, I was there!"

That's what happened when I sat down with Brad Warner's latest title, Sex, Sin, and Zen: A Buddhist Exploration of Sex from Celibacy to Polyamory and Everything in Between.


The book opens with a description of a Spring 2009 retreat at Southern Dharma Center, led by Brad. I was there, and the description rang true; from the delish food to the wild quiet beauty of that mountain place, to the boredom, to the gas, to the books, the mourning of dead dogs, to the dharma discussions, to the great assortment of folks, including women, some Christians, Shambhalians, rockers, and more. That was it. I was there.

And I'll be there again when Brad leads a two-day zazen retreat on Oct 16-17, this time closer to my home in NYC at the Interdependence Project. There's still space to sign up, if anyone wants to join me and a bunch of other folks who are going to sit, and sit, and sit, like Dogen did, like the heavy metal dudes of Lamb of God do, like zen practitioners the world over do. Not much happens. We do get to walk around in circles.

But really, you gotta be there. I can't promise you'll be in a book, but there will be Zen.

I can't promise any sex or sin, either. Why no sin? Read Brad's discussion of how the Asian cultures where Buddhism took root had very different ideas about sex and sin than our Western ones do. It's a fascinating look at what Buddhists said about sex then, but to me it's MORE fascinating what Buddhists say about sex now.

Sex, Sin, and Zen opens with that 2009 Southern Dharma Center retreat. Yes, I was there, but what I wasn't there for -- was completly unaware of -- was how the retreat leader was suffering, and suffering mightily, from a bruising breakup. Brad starts his whole discussion with what it feels like to live as a Buddhist as a sexual being in relationships in this 21st century. (I mean, it's not like we can practice anywhere else. There isn't anywhere else.)

He does a crystal-clear job pointing out how we cannot pretend to be what we are not; how we cannot pretend to transcend our culture's sexual attitudes, how we cannot pretend to transcend our basic biology, or the sociocultural setups that we humans have been forming, and which have been forming us humans, since Ug's wife Zug saw Ug screwing that cute Bug chick. We cannot ignore who we are. We start dealing with sex, right here, as it is, and not as we want it to be. The discussion of polyamory is especially insightful, I found, coming from that place of absolute honesty, just as the introduction does.

That introduction is grounded, all right, just as grounded as our asses are in zazen. The book goes on to explore some Buddhist history, Brad's experience with one of the funkier sexual meditation techniques in California, an interview with Nina Hartley (with whom I've been fascinated since a pal did it w/her), a chapter on Amma, and much more. I highly recommend the book to anyone who's a Buddhist and who doesn't live in a monastery. And even to those who do.

So come on and maybe hear more about Nina Hartley. Be bored. Do zazen. Hope to see you on the cushion, if not on the Robin Byrd Show.


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