Buddhism is a faith of lists. Whether this makes it less or more dogmatic than any other faith has yet to be seen - take that statement only at face value. Buddhists think in numerical order a lot. There should be a Book Of Lists for Buddhists - you know, like a Book of Lists for Teens, but for, um… you know… Buddhists.
One of those several-step systems is called the Ten Non-Virtues. The Dalai Lama says this of them:
Three concern the body: one must not kill, steal, or engage in sexual misconduct. Four others are verbal: do not lie, defame others, speak offensive words, or engage in frivolous conversation, which relates to everything that might be said under the influence of afflicting emotions. Finally, the last three virtuous acts are of a mental nature: do not develop covetousness or malice and, finally, do not hold false or perverted views, such as the extreme view, close to nihilism, which totally denies spiritual perfection.
Simple enough, I reckon. But not so much, I started thinking as I concentrated on them a little longer.
Here are some thoughts - first, what is ‘sexual misconduct’? People have answers to that which are very conservative and traditional. Most of the myriad conflicting ideas about what constitutes ‘sexual misconduct’ can easily land one in a debate over the last non-virtue, regarding perverted views - not in a healthy, dialogue-forming way, but in an ‘I don’t agree with you, so you must be wrong’ way. Which is never helpful.
So regardless of what one thinks of the Third Non-Virtue, my comment is on what non-virtues are committed by discussing it.
It’s perfectly fine to have a view on something. I’ve said this in my first relationship talk - if you like black tea, you should drink black tea. The problem is how we respond to those who consider relationships that differ from ours. That is, we consider them divisively.
The discourse over what does (and, complexly, what does not) constitute a relationship, in my opinion, is a type of conversation that always breaks three of the four Verbal Non-Virtues. It is a conversation that by its nature defames those who enter… ‘non-typical’ relationship structures by insisting that one is using the other or has no emotional investment; it is offensive speech toward people who are involved in such structures, often purposely and often with the intent of shaming those therein into thinking they’ve done something wrong, shaming those who wish to enter into such for their own reasons into thinking they’ve thought about doing something wrong, and coercing them to adopt structures they aren’t perfectly comfortable with simply because some people are; and those who do have these conversations, I’ve noticed, are perfectly comfortable with making what can only be considered mean-spirited jokes about it.
The truth is, The Ideal Relationship Structure, if it can even be said to be a thing that exists in our universe, is not the same thing for everyone. It’s kind of an arrogant thing to presume that what works for me and mine will, should, and must work for my neighbour and that he is obligated, especially morally, to adopt it.
Relationships are negotiated, person-to-person, case-by-case. I think part of the problem is that the way we have framed our discourse about relationships and their parts has totally stricken negotiation from the record - you shouldn’t have to negotiate anything. I like you, you like me back - boom, relationship status. Um, no. The mere fact that this ‘simple’ aspect of the business of relationships is still so complex should answer for what we know are more complex parts of it - what each partner considers caring, or erotic, or romantic, or even, yes, what they want out of this thing called ‘being in a relationship’ in the first place.
And if your black-tea relationship doesn’t have these problems, then more power to ya. But even black-tea relationships work out what’s too sweet and what’s too bitter, and if they haven’t, chances are someone is drinking something they do not enjoy - and is being guilted into thinking they’re a bad person for simply not enjoying black tea with half a kilogram of brown sugar inside.
The complexity behind relationships is that each person is different and has different wants and needs - and therefore the permutations of different flavours of relationships that can exist is far grander than the amount of relationships, or even the amount of human beings, on the planet.
How you may deal with one person is different than how you may deal with another, and there are those who you can’t deal with or can’t deal with you. But that’s not because every relationship is the same - if they were, you could just use the same code and be successful in every one. That’s doubly treacherous advice, not only because it can potentially kill a good relationship, but it totally denies the existence of relationship structures that don’t resemble the Silver-Screen-rom-com-boy-meets-girl formula (which is absolute folly in any case, FYI).
When we talk about relationships we have become afraid that if you don’t just say what everyone else is saying you’re a weirdo, a creep, a pervert, a playboy, because almost everyone else is having this very non-virtuous conversation about it. The truth is, if you’re talking about what you want and need out of a relationship, then you’re not a creep. You’re simply trying to understand and build a framework that suits you. Anyone telling you that you shouldn’t, or you should just do what they’re doing because it’s working for them, is not helping.