Premarital sex and the Third Precept


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In Thailand, the only significant control over lay sexuality as prescribed by Thai Buddhism lies in the Third Precept which advocates against sexual misconduct. It should be stated from the outset that this paper does not make a moral judgement on whether premarital sex is right or wrong. Instead the discussion is framed within the larger context of HIV/AIDS among teenagers, where consensual sex between peers is pushing up the rate of infection among adolescents.

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Premarital sex and the Third Precept

  1. 1. Premarital Sex and the Third PreceptContact xingledout<at>gmail.comIntroduction While the sexuality of ordained Buddhist monks is strictly controlled in ThaiBuddhism and celibacy is a requirement for ordination into the sangha, the onlysignificant control over lay sexuality as prescribed by the religion lies in the ThirdPrecept which advocates against sexual misconduct. In Thailand, this precept iscommonly understood as a prohibition against (heterosexual) adultery and isimplicitly silent on the issue of premarital sex. It should be stated from the outset thatthis paper does not make a moral judgement on whether premarital sex is right orwrong; the author believes in the individual’s freedom of choice. Instead thediscussion is framed within the larger context of HIV/AIDS among teenagers, whereconsensual sex between peers is pushing up the rate of infection among adolescents.In 2002, HIV/AIDS was the second leading cause of death among Thais aged 15 to 24and studies have shown that the infection rate among sexually active teens have risenby 17 per cent in the last five years (Bangkok Post, 1/12/04). Typical HIV-awareness campaigns targeted at youth take a three-prongedapproach – the practical, the educational and the moral. The practical componentencompasses distributing free condoms and placing condom-vending machines inschools and clubs while the educational part includes sex education and teachingyoungsters about the risk of unprotected sex. The moral element preaches thatabstinence before marriage is the best protection against HIV and religiouspractitioners tend to draw on sacred texts to support their stand. This paper aims to look at the Third Precept’s relevance (or irrelevance) to thismoral discourse since the Thai reading of the precept seems to remain silent onpremarital sex between unmarried singles. The differing interpretations of the preceptwill be explored, along with the attitudes of young people towards premarital sex.Since this paper is concerned with the relevance of the Third Precept in HIVprevention campaigns, the discussion will focus only on heterosexual relationshipsamong young people in the laity. 1
  2. 2. Third Precept It is incumbent upon the Buddhist laity to observe the Five Precepts: refrainingfrom taking life, from taking what is not given, from engaging in improper sexual acts,from telling lies, and from imbibing or ingesting substances that cause heedlessness.On Buddhist Sabbath – literally “precept day” – during Lent some Buddhists alsocommit themselves to taking the “eight precepts”, the five above and three additionalones which include refraining from eating after noon, sleeping on a high bed and fromattending entertainments and adorning the body. In addition, the precept regardingsexual relations is reconstrued to mean abstaining from any sexual relationswhatsoever during the Sabbath day (Keyes 1983:857). While some similarities have been drawn between the Five Precepts and theTen Commandments in the Christian Bible, one of the fundamental differences lies inthe consequences of breaking a precept or commandment. The commandments, ifbroken, entail punishment by God. On the other hand, the precepts are ethical andmoral principles which are governed by examining whether a certain action, whetherconnected to body or speech, is likely to be harmful to one’s self or to others andthereby avoiding any actions which are likely to be harmful. Hence, if one were tobreak a precept, one should be aware of the breach and how it should be avoided inthe future. The resultant of the action, or karma, depends on the intention more thanthe action itself thus it entails less feelings of guilt than its Judeo-Christiancounterpart (Dhammika 2005:17). The Third Precept of good conduct, kāmesu micchācārā veramani, istraditionally interpreted as though kāmesu were in the singular form and is thereforetaken to advise Buddhists to abstain merely from unlawful sexual intercourse(Saddhatissa 1970:102). By kāma is meant “lustful attachment to male or female”and by micchācārā “wrong conduct”. The immoral act of unchastity (kāma-micchācārā-akusala-kamma) is the volition or sense-desire of a male for a female or afemale for a male. The Buddha said: “A wise man should avoid unchastity as if itwere a pit of burning cinders. One who is not able to live in a state of celibacy should,at least, not break the purity of another man’s wife.” (ibid) In this statement, Buddhaseems to discourage only the act of adultery and not premarital sex between 2
  3. 3. unmarried singles. It is this perspective that shapes the common translation of theThird Precept as “to refrain from sexual misconduct” where “sexual misconduct”refers to adultery. The Sigālovāda Sutta, which prescribes the duties for the householderexplicitly along similar lines of the Five Precepts, records the Buddha’s teaching thatadultery is one of the four vices that has to be eradicated so that, assuming otherconditions were met, the layperson is born in a “happy heavenly realm” upon thedissolution of the body after death (Digha Nikaya, No. 31, cited in Sadhatissa1970:121). Interestingly, Tachibana (1926) seems to understand “sexual misconduct”as more than adultery and translates the Third Precept as “abstinence fromfornication”. Fornication is defined by The Concise Oxford Dictionary (1990) as“consensual sexual intercourse between two persons not married to each other”. Inthis case, the term “fornication” embraces a wider meaning than adultery to includepremarital sex. Other than the traditional understanding of the Third Precept, Saddhatissa(1970) also offers another interpretation of the precept by considering kāma in thelocative plural form, kāmesu. He argues that in the plural form, the precept signifies“abstinence from all indulgences in the five sensuous objects, namely visible object,sound or audible object, olfactory object, sap or gustative object, and body impressionor tactile object” (1970:106). Kāmesu micchācārā is therefore “wrong or evil conductwith regard to the five sensual organs”. In many places in Pali literature, the fifthfactor of kāma, that is, body impression, has been interpreted as “unlawful sexualintercourse” and seems the most blameworthy of the five kāmas. He contends that inrepresenting kāmesu micchācārā as relating only to sexual intercourse, thegrammatical form of kāma has been ignored, and that to achieve complete observanceof the precept, one must therefore desist from the five forms of self-indulgence, bothdirectly and indirectly (ibid).Consequences and definitions of sexual misconduct Although it has been mentioned earlier that failure to observe a precept doesnot bring down the wrath of God in the same way as breaking a commandment does,scholars have explored the various consequences of sexual misconduct. Quoting from 3
  4. 4. the Dhammasangani Atthakatha, Saddhatissa (1970) lists the evil consequencesresulting from unlawful sexual intercourse: “suffering in an unhappy state for a long period; when reborn as a man by virtue of merits acquired in a previous existence the birth would occur in a lower form of mankind. Such a person would have many enemies, would be disliked by the people, would be destitute, unable to procure comfortable lodgings, food and clothes, and would be full of anger and rage.” (1970:105) Bunmi (1986), in providing a detailed exposition on the kammic explanationof homosexuality, suggests that sexual misconduct in a past life can lead a person toengage in homosexual activity in his current life. The sexual misdeeds includecommitting adultery, being a prostitute, sexually interfering with ones children orbeing sexually irresponsible, such as a man not caring for a woman who becomespregnant by him (ibid:39-41). He also explains that sexual misconduct with amember of the opposite sex has kammic consequences since, “it is like stealing,because the person responsible for that person has not given their permission”1(ibid:308). So far, “sexual misconduct” has been defined by various scholars in clear-cutcategories such as adultery, fornication, rape, promiscuity and incest. Other ThaiBuddhist interpretations have taken a less black-and-white approach. HenceDhammika posits that “if we use trickery, emotional blackmail or force to compelsomeone to have sex with us, then that can be said to be sexual misconduct”(2005:20). He also suggests that sex before marriage is not a type of sexualmisconduct if there is love and mutual agreement between the two people concerned.His reason: Marriage is not a sacrament in Buddhism as it is in other religions, and itis governed by civil law. Generally, in countries where the law allows, Buddhistsaccept de-facto relationships. Promiscuity would be frowned upon as sexualmisconduct but an ongoing loving relationship between two people, either within oroutside of marriage, would be considered moral conduct. However he also adds acaveat:1 His use of a proprietary simile, comparing adultery or premarital sex without paternal consent to theft,appears to reflect a view of women as men’s property. 4
  5. 5. “It should never be forgotten that the biological function of sex is reproduction and if an unmarried woman becomes pregnant it can cause a great deal of problems. Many mature and thoughtful people think that it is far better to leave sex until after marriage.” (Dhammika 2005:21)Reformists’ view of sexual behaviour Many contemporary Thai Buddhist writers describe sex as extremelydistasteful, even for the laity. Isaramuni equates sexuality with tanha (craving ordesire) and raga (sexual lust), which are the antithesis of the Buddhist ideal ofdispassionate equanimity (1989:4). And while the Vinaya in general details anexplicitly clerical code of conduct, similar anti-sex attitudes are now expressed inmany Thai Buddhist writers’ discussions of lay sexual ethics. In a discourse on married life, influential reformist thinker BuddhadasaBhikku calls reproduction “an activity that is distasteful, dirty and tiring”(Buddhadasa 1987:24) and says that sexual desire is a defilement (Pali: kilesa) thatarises from ignorance (Pali: avijja), which Buddhist doctrine generally describes asthe source of human suffering. He posits that in the past people were “employed” or“engaged” (Thai: jang) by nature in the “work” (Thai: ngan) of reproducing thespecies, but people now “cheat” nature by using contraception and having sex withoutbeing engaged in the work of reproduction. He maintains that this “cheating” i.e.engaging in sex for pleasure rather than reproduction, is “paid back” because it causesproblems such as nervous disorders, madness and physical deformities (ibid:25).Although he calls on laypeople to have sex only for reproduction, he asserts that thehighest ideal in marriage is to live together without sex, describing the solitary lifededicated to the achievement of nibbana as a higher ideal than married life (ibid:35).In fact, he states that marriage is a stage of life for those who have not yet realisedabsolute truth, saying that once the inherent transience and unsatisfactoriness of theworld is understood there will be no more desire for sex (ibid:36-37). The austere Santi Asoke advocates a similar stance, where members observethe eight precepts while married couples in the community sleep separately and are torefrain from sex. It also spells out its views on the Third Precept on its website: “Third Precept encourages us to be aware of the suffering caused by sexual misconduct, whether heterosexual, homosexual, or even 5
  6. 6. masturbatory. Determine not to have any sexual gratification outside of marriage to one person, and no sex without true love. People following eight precepts should abstain from all sexual gratification. Ideally, strive to eliminate all sexual feelings. Attachment to sexual stimulation is among the strongest of all cravings/attachments, and so is a major obstacle to enlightenment. The positive action is to generate feelings of friendship towards others, but without letting the feelings develop into infatuation or love.”It is unclear semantically, however, whether “determine not to have any sexualgratification outside of marriage to one person” refers only to adultery or includespremarital sex. If it excludes premarital sex, then a loving sexual relationship outsideof marriage is not wrong since Santi Asoke only mandates against having sex“without true love”, although the ideal is to eliminate all sexual feelings. Likewise, serious followers of Wat Dhammakaya exhibit parallel standards.Some of the youth who attend the temple believe that to be a “virtuous Buddhist”, oneshould observe the eight precepts as well as refrain from romantic and sexualactivities as “romantic love brings suffering” (Kritsadarat 1999:9). Significantly, contemporary Thai Buddhist views on laypersons sexualbehaviour are often more proscriptive and extreme than attitudes reflect in the Palicanon or in traditional or popular Thai accounts of Buddhist doctrine and ethics.Buddhadasa’s views on sexuality are at variance with Thai Buddhisms traditionaldistinction between lay and clerical ethical conduct. The ethical extremism of thecontemporary Buddhist reform movements in Thailand results from a clericalisingtrend whereby ethical demands traditionally made only of monks are nowincreasingly also being required of laypersons (Jackson 1998:61).Thai sexual culture Until the middle decades of the nineteenth century, highly stylised butnonetheless relatively explicit representations of eroticism were common in both Thaiartwork and literature. Murals painted on temple walls in Buddhist monasteries oftenincluded erotic scenes. Classical Thai literature also regularly included eroticinterludes, euphemistically called “miraculous scenes” (bot atsajan), that describedintimate acts of love making in flowery language (Harrison 2000:101). However with 6
  7. 7. the arrival of “civilization” from the West and its attendant prudish Victorian attitudestowards sex, the Siamese elite soon became aware that Western visitors found theexplicitness of erotic representations in the high culture of the royal court and the statereligion to be acutely embarrassing. Royal edicts together with an unofficial policy ofbowdlerising Thailands literary classics succeeded in almost completely expungingrepresentations of eroticism from elite culture (Mattani 1988:71-2). Nevertheless, there remains a surprisingly pragmatic attitude to sexual activityamong Thai laypeople. There is no self-disciplinary or self-denying attitude to sexamong men in Thailand. The commercialisation of sex is also more prominent andmore accepted, implicitly if not explicitly, in Thailand than in the West (Jackson1995:149). Allyn observes that while sex is not directly discussed among the Thais,sexual matters are alluded to in a positive light and it is common to tease newlywedswith questions like “Did you have fun last night?” or “How many times?”. What issignificant is that such bawdy banter is often done in front of children (1991:150). Attitudes to sex in Thailand vary between classes, and opportunities for sexualexperiences also differ markedly for Thai men and women. The upper class, sectionsof the Western-educated middle class, and Thais from a Chinese cultural backgroundoften express prudish attitudes towards sex. In part this prudishness appears to havebeen influenced by nineteenth and early twentieth century Western attitudes to sex, inthe case of the Thai upper classes, and by Chinese culture’s more conservativeattitudes towards sex, in the case of the Sino-Thais. Rural and urban working-classThais, who make up the overwhelming majority of the population, generally havemuch more liberal attitudes towards sex, explicitly valuing the pleasure of sexualactivity. Among most ethnic Thais sexual desire is commonly regarded as a “mood”(arom) in need of release (rabai), and when a Thai man has a sexual mood, it isexpected that he will act upon it to obtain sexual release. The idea of suppressingsexual desires, except for Buddhist monks who have renounced all worldlyinvolvement, is not a part of traditional male sexual culture (Jackson 1995:150).Double standards Sexual double standards consist of two different standards – inter- and intra-gender standards, which operate in a mutually supportive way. Under the inter- 7
  8. 8. gender sexual double standard, men are expected to actively pursue sex, whereaswomen are expected to be sexually conservative. Sexual norms encourage men tohave multiple sex partners and experience in any relational context is positive for men,as sex is believed to strengthen masculinity (Warunee 1995, Knodel et al. 1996,Lyttleton 2000). Until quite recently, patronage of commercial sex among Thai menseems to have been generally tolerated, if grudgingly, by Thai women. For unmarriedmen, it has been viewed as an unremarkable and natural activity in a mans maturationprocess. Occasional commercial sex patronage among married men, while moreproblematic, has been generally tolerated by many married Thai women as well(Macqueen et al. 1996, VanLandingham and Grandjean 1997, VanLandingham et al.1998). This tolerance is rooted in a cultural system that is quite sympathetic towardmale sexual desire. While sexual preoccupation and unrestrained sexual behavior areflawed from a Buddhist perspective, it is understood from a Thai Buddhist point ofview that sexual desire is a singularly difficult obstacle for men to overcome (Keyes1986:25). Even if male philandering has, at least in a philosophical sense, beenviewed as a sin and as contrary to Buddhist principles, women generally haveunderstood, accepted and tolerated it as an inherent and fundamental male weakness.On the other hand, sexuality for women in Thailand is socially constrained withinmarital relationships, and virginity at marriage is to a large extent still sociallyexpected (Warunee 1995, Brown et al. 1996, Cook and Jackson 1999, Knodel et al.1999). Under the intra-gender sexual double standard, Thai women are categorised aseither good or bad (Harrison 1999:168). Thai cultural norms expect women to beinexperienced and naive about sexual matters (Warunee 2000:307). In contrast,women who have premarital sex, have more than one sexual partner or insist on usinga condom are often stigmatized as impure, promiscuous, and sexually skilled.Alternatively, they are viewed as prostitutes. These very different behaviouralexpectations lead Thai men and women to consider their sexualities as fundamentallydistinct and cause them to have a double standard towards sexual activity (Knodel etal. 1996). Moreover, males and females have different rationales for starting sexualrelationships. In a survey of adolescents, it was found that girls got involved in a 8
  9. 9. sexual relationship when they loved and trusted their boyfriends. Thus, in exchangefor expressing their love, girls give up their virginity. Conversely, most boys viewedsexual relationships as based on desire and need (Chulanee 2004:194).Changing attitudes towards premarital sex among young people Survey data indicate that among youth, behaviour and general attitudes aboutpremarital sexual relations are becoming more liberal; favourable attitudes towardsfree sex appear to be increasing and young people nowadays engage in sexual activitybefore marriage earlier than in their parent’s generation (Pimonpan 2000, Michinobu2001, Chulanee 2004). Scholars have identified various factors for this shift, such asthe increasing rate of migration of young people to Bangkok and other cities hasresulted in greater opportunities for them to pursue sexual relationships as opposed tothe close supervision afforded by a village setting (Ford and Sirinan 1993, Suchada2000, Michinobu 2001). Another reason that is often mooted is the currentgeneration’s greater exposure to and imitation of Western influence and media whichpropagate ideas of sexual liberalism and romantic love (Giddens 1991, Michinobu2001). However, I would be hesitant to put all the blame on the West since Thailiterature and art has long been fraught with frequent references to sexual liaisons(both commercial and non-commercial) outside of marriage. In addition Thai cartoonbooks have a tradition of depicting the sex act in drawings. There has also been a secular change in attitudes toward premarital sex andloss of virginity before marriage, particularly among young women of this generation.Both rural and urban women feel that women who had premarital sex do notnecessarily deserve to be stigmatized as the bad woman or labelled as promiscuous(Pimonpan and Cornwell 1995:9). In fact, they have developed their own constructswhere a girl or a woman who has engaged in premarital sex can still be consideredgood, as long as she displays certain characteristics. For example, as long as a girl isfaithful to her lover and loves him, and has no more than two of such sexualrelationships, she can still be considered a “good” girl (Chulanee 2004:196).Premarital sex is also deemed within bounds when it is practised between a couplewho are going to marry or when parental approval has been granted (Michinobu2001:268). 9
  10. 10. Behavioural and epidemiological research suggests a parallel change in men’ssexual behaviour where more young men are opting out of premarital commercial sexand seeking out non-commercial sexual partners such as serious girlfriends instead(Werasit 1992, Taweesak et al. 1993, Varachai and Guest 1995). This change isoccurring in the context where more women are becoming willing to engage inpremarital sexual relations which means there may be increasing opportunities formen to have non-commercial premarital sex. At the same time, with the massivepublic education campaign about the dangers of unprotected sex with commercial sexworkers, young men increasingly look to their girlfriends as “safer” options(VanLandingham and Trujillo 2002:8).Premarital sex: Is the Third Precept relevant? The practice of using religion to help fight HIV/Aids is not new. Historicallyboth Christianity and Buddhism tried to scare people with hell if they are “not good”(Borthwick 1999: 212). The engagement of religion in the prevention of the diseasewas again emphasised in an international AIDS conference in July 2004 where thethen Thai Minister of Public Health, Sudarat Kaeyuraphan, stated that in combatingAids: “Religion is comparable to the spiritual and mental pillar of humankind as reflected in our culture and way of lives, largely at the community level. With its significant role, the religious institution has a great opportunity to invest in human life by allocating its resources early enough to conduct effective large- scale strategic intervention” (Inter-Faith Networking on AIDS 2004: 2). The intervention mounted by many Buddhist monks in the HIV/AIDS crisis sofar involves preaching to the laity about the importance of adhering to the FivePrecepts. However it is evident that the Third Precept is hardly practised in realityamong the youth (Patchanee 2005:5). In a research where young men were askedwhy they have reduced their participation in commercial sex, the reasons given weremostly practical such as fear of getting HIV (VanLandingham and Trujillo 2002:9).Moreover, the factors that have been identified as shaping young people’s sexualattitudes are: family, peer pressure and the mass media (Chulanee 2004:199). It is 10
  11. 11. interesting in both cases that religious themes are notably absent although the majorityof Thais claim to be Buddhist. The following explores why Buddhism, in particular the Third Precept, doesnot seem to have been an effective tool in HIV/AIDS prevention campaigns.Concept of sin Doctrinal Buddhism, being atheistic in nature, leaves no room for the conceptof “sin” in the sense of an act of defiance against the authority of a personal God butBuddhists speak of “sin” or bap when referring to transgressions against the universalmoral code. Although there is usually concurrence between Buddhism and othermonothesitic religions on the sinfulness of certain actions, there is, at times,significant disagreement on the grading of sins. In a comparative study of religiousbehaviour among Buddhists and Muslims in Southern Thailand, Burr (1974) finds thatMuslims are almost unanimous in regarding adultery, the omission of regular prayers,ingratitude and disrespect to parents, and murder as the most serious sins. With theexception of the insistence on prayers the Buddhists too include these actions in theirevaluation of sinful conduct, but they add to the list of sins the drinking of alcoholicbeverages, swindling, cheating, stealing, oppressing the weak, and killing animals. Ofall the Muslims questioned, the majority ranked adultery as the most important sin,and placed the omission of prayers second in the rank order of offences. Buddhists,on the other hand, put comparatively little emphasis on the seriousness of adultery andput murder first in the rank order of sins (Burr 1974:37). Both Islam and Christianity have very strict rules with regards to premaritalsex. The Qur’an orders Muslims to restrain their sex impulse except with theirspouses (23:5-6, 24:30-33) while the Bible says God will judge all those who areunchaste and adulterous (Heb 13:4). Breaking of this commandment earnspunishment from God/Allah; this is in contrast with the failure to observe the ThirdPrecept, which generates kammic consequences and delays attainment of nibbana.This is also compounded by the belief in Islam and Christianity where the adherenthas only one life to live, after which he faces eternal heaven or hell, as opposed to theBuddhist who has many lifetimes to work out nibbana. 11
  12. 12. However, the concept of immediate punishment in relation to premarital sexcan be found in folk Buddhism. In northern Thailand, scholars have suggested thatthe ancestral spirit cults of “phi puu nyaa” served as instruments for controlling thesexual behaviour of single men and women (Turton 1984, Cohen and Gehan 1984).In this view, any sexual conduct by a non-kin male, from touching any part of amaiden woman to sitting on the same mat, was regarded as a serious offence to thespirits and subject to punishment (Cohen and Wijeyewardene 1984:258). If anunmarried man and woman were found to have had sexual intercourse, the man had totake the responsibility by marrying the woman and paying a fine or making asacrificial offering to the spirits. If the man refused to marry, he had to pay doublethe amount required for marriage. Otherwise the family members of the woman weresaid to fall ill (Turton 1984:279).Shortcomings of the Third Precept in HIV/AIDS prevention campaigns Although Saddhatissa (1970) has proposed an alternative understanding of theThird Precept as “to refrain from wrong or evil conduct with regard to the five sensualorgans”, most Thais still hold on to the traditional interpretation of it as “to refrainfrom sexual misconduct”. It should also be noted here that despite efforts byreformist movements to introduce a stricter reading of the precept, and despite thetens of thousands of followers of Wat Dhammakaya, the influence of their teachingshas not gone beyond the minority. The quandary lies in the definition of “sexual misconduct”, which has beentaken largely to cover adultery, rape, promiscuity and incest. I posit that thesignificant omission of premarital sex from the popular perception of “sexualmisconduct” implies that the Third Precept is unable to provide a strong moralstatement against premarital sex in HIV prevention campaigns among youth2.Moreover, some Buddhist monks like Dhammika have indicated that sex beforemarriage is not a type of sexual misconduct if there is love and mutual agreementbetween the two people concerned. Even Santi Asoke touches on the theme of lovewhen it says on its website, “no sex without true love”. With the youth influenced by2 It is interesting to note that the Liberal Christian interpretation of “sexual immorality” excludespremarital sex. 12
  13. 13. the ideals of romantic love as propagated by Western media, such teachings put paidto whatever little moral ammunition the Third Precept has to advocate abstinence as ameans of avoiding HIV/AIDS. It has been mentioned that religious tropes are notably missing from thefactors that affect how Thai young people view sexuality. It can be presumed thatmost of these adolescents, being Buddhists, know what the Five Precepts entail andwhose perception of right and wrong would have been shaped along these guidingprinciples. Yet their failure to mention religion in the discussion of sexuality impliesthat they do not see the relevance of the precepts to this area of their lives. Thediscussion on Thai sexual culture seems to indicate that Buddhist ideals can and doco-exist with the openness towards sexuality as evinced in Thai literature and art.Hence it can be extrapolated that Buddhists perhaps take a more relaxed view tosexual issues, compared to, say the Muslims, correlating Burr’s findings that Muslimscondemn adultery more than Buddhists. Young people, in leaving religion out of the discourse, create their own moralmeanings of premarital sex. Young women, in particular, have developed socialconstructs whereby they can engage in sex outside of marriage and still considerthemselves as “good” girls. It is my speculation that the absence in Buddhism ofcertain concepts found in monotheistic religions – for example, the wrath of arighteous God or a Judgement Day where everyone is called to account for his or herdeeds – puts less pressure on Thai Buddhists to avoid doing the “wrong” thing, asopposed to the burden on Muslims and Christians to “not sin”. Since salvation can beworked out over many lives and the consequences of “not doing the right thing” donot loom like a Damocles’ sword, it renders the Third Precept toothless in controllingthe sexual behaviour of young people.Conclusion It was stated in the beginning that the only significant control that Buddhismprescribes over lay sexuality lies in the Third Precept. Yet it has been shown that thepopular understanding of this precept has remained largely silent on the issue ofpremarital sex and is hence ineffective as a tool to push for abstinence in HIVprevention messages. In fact, some members of the sangha have cast their doubt over 13
  14. 14. the relevance of the Third Precept for such a purpose. During the 15th InternationalAIDS Conference, about 50 Buddhist monks working on HIV/AIDS released astatement which raised the question whether monks should emphasise only the FivePrecepts. They proposed a new concept, beyond the preaching of the precepts, forboosting morality, such as helping the youth to understand that they have to repaytheir mothers by avoiding drugs or other high-risk behaviours like premarital sex(Patchanee 2005:10). Other monks have also looked beyond the Third Precept in discussing sex andHIV/AIDS. Thattajiwo, Wat Dhammakaya’s assistant abbot, calls AIDS “theexecutioner of people mad about sex” (1987:Preface). He suggests that the moral“vaccine” against AIDS is ultimately sexual abstinence, achieved by Buddhistpractices which focus on realising the ugliness of the body and the distastefulness ofsex. He advocates the practice of kayagatasati, which involves seeing the body asmerely a compound of thirty two different components such as hair, nails, teeth, skin,sinews, internal organs, blood, sweat, fat, spit and other fluids. The goal of thispractice is to aid the ending of attachment to the body and assist in the extinguishingof carnal desire. In conclusion, although Thai Buddhism has set down principles to governsexuality among the laity – the Third Precept – it has been neither relevant noreffective in HIV prevention campaigns among young people because of its perceivedsilence on the issue of premarital sex. As a result, religious practitioners have to turnto other Buddhist teachings or practices in order to advocate against sex outside ofmarriage. 14
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