I evolved from a passionate young man into a renunciate. I grew into celibacy. I chose this path because it leads to freedom. To discipline the body's appetites takes discipline and strength. I covet strength and power over mind more than indulgence in the pleasures of the flesh.
Before taking this path, I followed the 14th Mindfulness Training as advocated by the Zen monk Thich Nhat Hanh:
The Fourteenth Mindfulness Training: True Love
[For lay members]: Aware that sexual desire is not love and that sexual relations motivated by craving cannot dissipate the feeling of loneliness but will create more suffering, frustration, and isolation, we are determined not to engage in sexual relations without mutual understanding, love, and a deep long-term commitment made known to our family and friends. Seeing that body and mind are not separate from each other, we are committed to learning appropriate ways to take care of our sexual energy and to cultivating loving kindness, compassion, joy and inclusiveness for our own happiness and the happiness of others. We must be aware of future suffering that may be caused by sexual relations. We know that to preserve the happiness of ourselves and others, we must respect the rights and commitments of ourselves and others. We will do everything in our power to protect children from sexual abuse and to protect couples and families from being broken by sexual misconduct. We will treat our bodies with compassion and respect. We are determined to look deeply into the Four Nutriments and learn ways to preserve and channel our vital energies (sexual, breath, spirit) for the realization of our bodhisattva ideal. We will be fully aware of the responsibility of bringing new lives into the world, and will regularly meditate upon their future environment.
I observed this vow with many of the women I dated- at least superficially. But these superficial relationships invariably ended in suffering. So, I decided to try an experiment and take discipline to the next level.
The vow taken by monastics goes further:
Aware that the deep aspiration of a monk or a nun can only be realized when he or she wholly leaves behind the bonds of sensual love, we are committed to practicing chastity and to helping others protect themselves. We are aware that loneliness and suffering cannot be alleviated through a sexual relationship, but through practicing loving kindness, compassion, joy and inclusiveness. We know that a sexual relationship will destroy our monastic life, will prevent us from realizing our ideal of serving living beings, and will harm others. We will learn appropriate ways to take care of our sexual energy. We are determined not to suppress or mistreat our body, or look upon our body as only an instrument, but will learn to handle our body with compassion and respect. We will look deeply into the Four Nutriments in order to preserve and channel our vital energies (sexual, breath, spirit) for the realization of our bodhisattva ideal.
For me, desire was the most challenging habit to conquer. Tempered might be the better word, as I have not completely extinguished desire from my heart. Like a recovering alcoholic who recognizes he is just a drink away from relapse and addiction, I approach it with humility. The energy is strong, but, redirected, can be transformed into true power. History is replete with stories of outwardly powerful men who lost their positions because they lacked mastery over their passions. Many great spiritual masters, too, lacked mastery over their own lust and came undone. Some great yogis could slow their heartbeat or body temperature and fast for weeks, but they could not discipline their sexual appetites.
I judged them as hypocritical. Then I confronted my own hypocrisy and weakness which led to humility and compassion. This is a difficult path. Christ recognized this in a discourse to his disciples on celibacy:
"Not everyone can accept this teaching, but only to those to whom it has been given... Some are celibate because they have made themselves that way to obtain the kingdom of heaven. He who is able to accept it, let him accept it." (Matthew 19:12)
The benefits have been many. Testosterone is one of the hormones that regulates our sex drive. I used that energy to build a stronger body, to pursue my studies, to grow the mind, to train the spirit. Crushing it in business, conquering a mountain, or running an ultra marathon are impressive achievements. For me, self-mastery is like this. No, it is greater- both because motivation is internal and because the opponents (ego & desire) are powerful. That which is in me must be greater than the power which destroys men. I can't Instagram my success over my own undisciplined mind, so there is no social proof or encouragement, especially in today's culture. There are no trophies or accolades for conquering one's own weaknesses. Motivation is 100% internal.
My relationship with women changed. I could enjoy the company of women and develop loving friendships without compromising my vows. Sex distracts. I equated lust with love. It felt liberating to cast off this chain of delusion.
By taking this path, I purify the mind. Sex is not an impure act, but my thoughts around it were discordant. By abstaining, I use that powerful energy for the inner work that needs doing. It is an expression of love.