Sexuality Discussed by the Jātaka Storyteller
Posted on March 26th, 2017

Dr Ruwan M Jayatunge

The first evidence of attitudes towards sex comes from the ancient texts of Hinduism, Buddhism and Jainism (Chakraborty & Thakurata, 2013). Many centuries before Sigmund Freud, Richard Freiherr von Krafft-Ebing, Albert Moll or D.H. Laurence the Tantric Buddhist monks discussed the wider aspects of human sexuality.

Tantric is often viewed as the third major school of Buddhism, Tantric philosophy has a complex, and multifaceted system of Buddhist thought and practice which evolved over several centuries and encompasses much inconsistency and a variety of opinions (Macmillan Encyclopedia of Buddhism, 2004).

Based on the general definition human sexuality is how people experience the erotic and express themselves as sexual beings; the awareness of themselves as males or females; the capacity they have for erotic experiences and responses. Sexuality varies greatly by culture, region, and historical period, but in most societies and individuals has a large influence on human behavior.

Human sexuality has been described as the capacity to have erotic experiences and responses. Human sexual behavior is different from the sexual behavior of other animals, in that, it seems to be governed by a variety and interplay of different factors (Molina, 1990). A person’s sexual orientation may influence their sexual interest and attraction for another person (APA). Sexuality may be experienced and expressed in a variety of ways, including through thoughts, fantasies, desires, beliefs, attitudes, values, behaviors, practices, roles and relationships (WHO).

According to Adler (2011) doctors and sexologists increasingly medicalized and pathologized sexual and gender deviance. Foucault’s History of Sexuality is based on his view that the discursive practices in the medical community created deviant identities, and produced and regulated sex practices starting in the late nineteenth century (Adler, 2011).

The Jātaka stories view sexuality as an essential component in the human existence. It accepts sexuality as a normal human condition. But the Jātaka stories highlight impermanence, suffering and non-self. In addition some of the stories (eg; Uddaya Bhadda Jātakaya) converse about the true nature of the human body which is impermanent and subject to change in the process of aging and in sickness. Adding up the story of Sirima narrates the impermanence of human body.

Sirima was a Nagara Shobini (sex worker) who lived in the town of Rajagaha. She was beautiful and seductive. Once a monk saw Sirima and immediately felt a strong desire for her. The monk could not concentrate on meditation and his mind was wondering about Sirima and her beauty. Within a few days Sirima died of a sudden illness. Her body was taken to the cemetery. When the dead body started putrefying the Buddha went to the cemetery with the said monk and other devotees. Sirima’s body was bloated and filled with maggots. It was a revolting scene. The Buddha used this moment to emphasize that the physical body is subject to decay and deterioration. The monk who had a lust for Sirima’s body had a great insight about impermanence.

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