Ven. Ya-un: the proper attitude towards wealth and sexual desire

Here Ya-un is writing about the two things that have the most power to lead astray those on the monastic path: money and sexual relationships.  

Actually, he used the word “women” instead of “sexual relationships,” but he was writing for an audience of male monastics. He must have known that nuns would also read or hear this, but perhaps he assumed that in 13th century China, nuns would be less likely to get themselves into trouble over issues of sexual desire. Or perhaps stating the issue outright was seen as vulgar. 

Although Ya-un was writing for monastics, I think this has to be read as a caution about unhindered desire, and in that sense, it applies to everyone.  
 
There is nothing more disruptive to the body than sexual behavior (again, it was “women” here), and nothing more detrimental to spiritual practice than wealth. Thus the Buddha set forth the precepts, and admonished practitioners to avoid wealth and sexual behavior, saying, “If you see beautiful women, treat them as you would poisonous snakes or tigers. If you come near gold or jade, look upon it as you would a rock or piece of wood.” Even if you are completely alone in a dark room, behave as if you were in front of an important guest.

Behave the same whether you are seen or not, and let your speech and thought be in accord. If your mind is pure, all good spirits will protect you. However, if you yearn for women, Heaven [i] will not tolerate you. If good spirits protect you, then you will not experience any difficulties, no matter how harsh the environment. If Heaven does not tolerate you, then you will not be at ease even in an outwardly peaceful place.

                           Greed and lust are the gates of Yama’s hell,
                           purity of mind and action lead to
                           the paradise of Amitabha Buddha
                           Enter hell and you’ll experience a
                           thousand kinds of suffering.
                           Enter liberation
                           and you’ll experience a
                           thousand kinds of happiness.


[i] In traditional Chinese literature “Heaven” roughly means the workings of nature or the universe. So to go against Heaven is to be in opposition to everything that nourishes and guides the universe.
 
 
 
 
 
Photos: These are images from the area around the Seokgor-am grotto near Gyeongju (Kyongju)

5 thoughts on “Ven. Ya-un: the proper attitude towards wealth and sexual desire”

  1. This is superb! Thank you Sunim! I don’t know which is my favourite bit, it’s all so good! As you know, my aspiration is to live as an upright stone in this world – solid, reliable, trustworthy – and Ven. Ya-un is so good at giving inspiration and pointers to support my vow.

    Even if you are completely alone in a dark room, behave as if you were in front of an important guest.” – That is great advice! You know, it strikes me that all the teachings often boil down, I think, to simply doing the right thing – and doing it from the very core of your being.

    Purity of mind and action lead to the paradise of Amitabha Buddha.” Wonderful. Now, there’s a great motto to live by. Thank you Ven. Ya-un (when was he writing again?) and thank you Ven. Chong Go!

    May we all experience a thousand kinds of happiness!

    Seok Jeong _/\_

  2. “Even if you are completely alone in a dark room, behave as if you were in front of an important guest.”

    Hi Marcus,
    That’s also one of my favorite parts here. This is an amazing piece, in that if one were to do a commentary on it, the implications of each sentence or two could be expanded upon for pages and pages.

  3. Nearly every Hollywood film centers around either money or sex, or both. That tells us something, I think, about the yearning we bring to these two aspects of human life.

    And “yearning” (what a fine word – thank you, Ya-un) is really the issue, here (at least, for lay practitioners).

    Sex is just sex. Money is just money. Neither of these things create problems, in themselves. But when we yearn for them, then a problem can appear. This yearning is something we add to money and/or sex that somehow corrodes our experience of them.

    Hard to imagine sex without yearning, but that’s the work at hand.

  4. “Even if you are completely alone in a dark room, behave as if you were in front of an important guest.”

    That one really popped out for me too… Actually, I think I’m better behaved when I’m alone. No one to argue with or annoy! *^_^*

    A few years ago, I saw a show on Discovery about a man who designed fridges that cool using sound. He seemed very pleased with himself for doing his part to help save the world. However, he was asking something like $150, 000 a unit and I couldn’t help wonder how that was going to help save the world!

  5. “Hard to imagine sex without yearning, but that’s the work at hand.”

    I remember in one of your Ox Herding posts asking how a Bodhisattva would make love. A wonderful question that has stayed with me. Thank you Barry.

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