Polyamory and Zen

Polyamory and Zen April 17, 2014

Several years ago my parents celebrated their 60th anniversary. Tetsugan asked them, “How did you stay together all these years? What’s your secret?”

Without batting an eye, my mom said, “We didn’t think we had a choice.”

That’s meaningful on many levels and striking to me that now we have so many choices.

One that has been emerging from the shadows lately – now that being gay and lesbian is trendy – is polyamory. It’s even the hot topic in some internet Zen circles I audit, following the posting on YouTube of a thoughtful, careful and dignified talk by San Francisco trained priest, Ingen Breen, on “Zen and Polyamory.”

(What is “polyamory?” Loving multiple people in an open manner. Click here for more.)

In his talk, Ingen puts the practice of multiple, open, honest relationships in the context of Buddhist practice. Ingen goes further and discloses his own polyamory and endorses polyamory. For him, polyamory is a sexual identity. Yes – like being straight, or gay, or lesbian. So not as a choice or an experiment or a symptom but the way a person is.

I repeat – polyamory is (sometimes at least) the way a person is.

If there are those among us – and those among us that are polyamorous report that there are – then it is the Zen way (or ought to be) to open our hearts and not lecture about the virtues of our way of loving or how in our young hippie days we tried it and found that it wasn’t for us.

After all, the former point is boring and the latter point simply indicates that it wasn’t for us – not that it isn’t for anyone. Like a guy who experiments with guys but finds that he’s really interested in women.

Thank God and the Buddhas for human diversity.

Now I’m not polyamorous … but I don’t think that hetro-mono-amorousness is the be-all-and-end-all of human sexuality. Some smart people even think that it’s part of the problem. Take, for example, the high divorce rates, the dissatisfaction that so many married people experience in their love lives (after the initial passion wears thin), and the huge porn industry.

And then there’s the possibility that for a long, long time our hunter-gatherer ancestors were polyamorous – like the bonobos, to whom we’re more closely related than wolves are to coyotes.

Click here for an excellent Ted Talk on the subject.  Or for a more thorough working, see Sex at Dawn: How We Mate, Why We Stray, and What It Means for Modern Relationships.

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