Sunday, February 15, 2015

Not Zen 149: Lusts

"I could keep on dancing all night."  Prema threw out her arms.  Her husband intertwined his fingers with hers, left hand to right.

"We nearly have," he reminded her as she spun. She twisted into his embrace and then unwound herself back out for another step in the dance.

"More," she whispered with a smile.  She whipped her right leg behind her left and turned.  The band on stage swung from the end of one tune to the beginning of the next.  She kept dancing and kept pulling her husband along with her.

For three years in a row, their temple had held a charity dance.  Prema had thought it sounded boring so she'd ignored it until this year.  Another couple had asked them to come along.  Many other friends had attended, too, all dressed in their finest.  She had expected a sedate affair and, in a sense, it was, all in formal clothes and populated with middle aged couples.  She found herself pleasantly surprised by the music, the lighting, the conversation, and the company.

Late into the evening, she laughed and she danced.

Finally, the hosts cleared the floor to introduce the final speaker of the evening.  Prema recognized this one.  She was an ordained woman from the temple, Vidula.  Prema and Vidula had been raised together in the temple school.  Prema had left for marriage.  Vidula had stayed and, apparently, had progressed in her career.

"As you know," the speaker said, "these charity events allow the temple to sustain a monastery, a nunnery, a traditional school, and a music school.  The clergy partially support themselves but, of course, the children do not."

She spoke for a few minutes on the need for charity and also the opportunity of it.  She listed a few of the top donors.  Those included the names of Prema and her husband.  The speech made Prema wonder what her life would have been like if she'd stayed on for ordination as her friend had done.

After the speech, Vidula stepped down from the stage.  She strode to the head table and conferred with the elderly guests.  Then she turned from those wealthy couples and came to Prema.  At first, Prema rose and gave her old friend a wide smile.  But Vidula did not return the warmth.  Prema and her husband had risen together.  They were holding hands.

The expression of disdain on Vidula's face could not be mistaken.

"You should be refraining from lust, my dear," she said.

"I believe that I do."  Prema resumed her seat.  So did her husband, who let go of his grip.  Prema found his hand again and placed it in hers.  "Nevertheless, I do not shy away from enjoyments of the body."

"That is saying the same thing."  Vidula crossed her arms over her robe.

"It's not," insisted Prema.  "What is the difference between lust for one pleasure of the body and lust for a different pleasure?  I know that you regard pleasure as a snare but if so, it's one that we must all learn to handle daily."

"No, I see no need."

"Perhaps you don't.  But other nuns have gotten caught up in the pleasures of the flesh, such as food, and those pleasures have the disadvantage of not being the associated with love."

"Those others had different experiences that shaped them.  Their weaknesses do not excuse yours.  You're fooling yourself if you think you're not caught up by pleasure."

"I may sometimes allow myself to be caught up by sexual desires and yearnings for the love or affection of my husband."  She squeezed his hand.

"You see, it is a snare for you."

"It's a disservice to speak of it that way."  She let go of her husband in order to speak with her whole body.  "Sex is a pleasure essential to us.  Without love and sex, there would be no life.  There would be no children, no religious thought, and no understanding.  It's a necessary thing, like breath.  And there's no more or less wisdom found in sex than there is in breathing.  Breath is a subject that some people think is a fit subject for meditation."

"There's no talking with you about this."  Vidula's eyes widened for a moment, then closed in thought.  She practiced such a meditation.  "I apologize for bringing it up."

"No, you don't."  Despite their different circumstances and views, she found that she still liked her old friend.  "It's a good subject.  It's one that I've thought about a lot.  But why is sex singled out from other lusts?  It's petty of the clergy to do so.  After all, I take great joy in dancing.  I hold an attachment to the delight it gives.  But you did not reproach me about that.  In this temple, dancing does not receive the same disdain as sex."

"I do not really approve of dancing.  But the reason it doesn't receive the same attention as sex is  because it doesn't entrap as many people."

"There's no great snare in sex except in the love it engenders.  The pleasure we derive from each other encourages us to form attachments."

"You see?  And we are supposed to be detached."

"That is all the more reason to love and to learn.  We must hold lightly to our pleasures so that we let go when appropriate.  Getting wrapped up in the denial of pleasure is as tight and binding an attachment as any lust.  It is an inappropriate religious focus."

She took her husband's hand again.

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