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Thursday, August 30, 2012

What is more difficult (for Jains and Buddhists): renunciation of sexual intercourse or of offspring?

What is the real renunciation at stake when Jaina and Buddhist ascetic movements propose celibacy as an alternative to the Vedic (and later smārta) approach to the stages of life? Is it more difficult to renounce sexual intercourses or one's role as a father (women are in a subordinate position and their case is studied along the lines of the men's one, as far as I understand)?

Renouncing sexual intercourses means renouncing to one of the main sources of pleasure and epic and narrative texts are full of instances of ascetics who loose everything (including their life in the case of Pāṇḍu) only because the temptation of sexual pleasure cannot be resisted. In the case of the king Pāṇḍu, which has been cursed to die as soon as he will have a sexual intercourse, the Mahābhārata narrative depicts him being fully aware of what is at stake, and nonetheless preferring this single instance of pleasure to a life devoid of it.

Nonetheless, the renounciation of offspring seems to me an even more fundamental threaten to the Vedic or smārta view of life. Jainas are, in other words, more provocative when they explain that the whole saṃsāra has no value and, hence, perpetrating it in one's children seems wishing them bad.

A hint at the idea that the two issues can be separated can be found in the Jaina tradition:

Jain tradition contrasts theascetic regime prescribed by Mahāvīra, which included celibacy as one of thefive Great Vows, with that of the earlier teacher Pārśva who, supposedly livingin somewhat less corrupt times than his successor, had subsumed this requirement within abandonment of possessions on the grounds that his followers had not required sexual inactivity to be singled out specifically (Paul Dundas, Sthūlabhadra's Lodgings, in Celibacy and Religious Tradition, p.185).


Irrespective of its historical accuracy, this depiction seems to mean that the issue of not-having-offspring is connected with that of renouncing one's worldly status (in which sense children and wives are among one's possessions), whereas the renunciation of sexual pleasure might be a different issue.
Do you know of any other overt distinction of the two issues within the context of a condemnation of both in Jainism or in any other Indian milieu?

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