Buddhism, especially Zen, and BDSM

topic posted Mon, July 21, 2008 - 11:34 AM by  Unsubscribed
I was wondering what connections folks are making between Buddhism, especially Zen Buddhism, and BDSM. And can anyone recommend any good sources (books, articles, essays) and/or websites on this subject? I've been looking around the web some, and I mostly see connections between paganism and BDSM, Christianity and BDSM, etc.
Thanks, Meryl
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  • Re: Buddhism, especially Zen, and BDSM

    Mon, July 21, 2008 - 11:16 PM
    Would tantra be close enough?
    • Unsu...

      Re: Buddhism, especially Zen, and BDSM

      Wed, July 23, 2008 - 9:46 AM
      Well, yes, you are right. Tantric Buddhism. I was thinking of tantra more in terms of Hinduism, but you are right. Have you read any good things making explicit connections between Tantra and BDSM? I actually heard a podcast interview with Dossie Easton on Dr. Six's Erotic Integrity podcast (ITunes) making explicit connections between it and BDSM, but I've not looked for things to read on it yet. Any recommendations? Thanks, Meryl
      • Re: Buddhism, especially Zen, and BDSM

        Thu, July 24, 2008 - 8:44 AM
        I honestly don't know how to "make connections" between tantra and bdsm. I came to bdsm looking for trancendence and spirituality and tantra has been pretty natural to me as well. And I do teach periodically, both bdsm, tantra, and crossovers.

        Could you teach me to "make separations" between tantra and bdsm? I don't mean to sound flip, but honestly, it's so interconnected for me that I can't imagine how someone might think about this stuff that wasn't interconnected.
        • Unsu...

          Re: Buddhism, especially Zen, and BDSM

          Thu, July 24, 2008 - 10:34 AM
          It does not surprise me that one might not easily separate BDSM and tantra; after all, Buddhism stresses not binarism (as does Christianity) but interconnection. However, strictly speaking, as you know, BDSM and tantra had distinct origins, and I would doubt that most practitioners of tantra worldwide would consider themselves BDSM players. Unless one came to BDSM and tantra simultaneously, I am guessing that consciously or unconsciously a person might see connections and differentiations between the two. I'm interested in that process and what connections and disjunctions were seen and/or made. I could imagine, for instance, that there are some people BDSM players who know about trantra but don't really conceive of their BDSM play as tantric. Does that help?
          Thanks, Meryl
          • Re: Buddhism, especially Zen, and BDSM

            Fri, July 25, 2008 - 10:23 AM
            It might.

            Historically, bdsm is weird. While there are practices that go back to prehistory, (ascetism, etc), the idea of lumping them together, specifically, lumping them together and declaring them to be related to sex, much less with the name "sm" or "bdsm" is extremely recently. (last 70 years or so). In that sense bdsm comes out of the idea of kinky sex, rather than the more tantric perspective of looking at all of life and simply noticing that sex is part of life.

            I did come to them more or less together. I was looking for something in the middle and more or less found it. I also found shamanism, magick, ritual tech, NLP, hypnosis, and a few other things around the same time which, as I see it, also fit well. Curiously, the tantra and shamanic communities in the west, (neo-tantric, neo-shamanism), have a high degree of overlap. One of the conventions is even a dual convention for the two.

            What these all share, (along with hypnosis, NLP, magick, ritual, etc), is that they tend to be primarily experiential, and highly subjective, in ways that modern science is hard pressed to encompass. They each suggest practices and methods which revolve around discovery, healing, belief construction, and/or goal attainment which are specifically set apart from scientific method, (and also from the xtian church). One practices by creating experiences. One learns by experience. It's possible to write down the things that any one person has learned. It's even possible to find learnings which have a high degree of overlap between people. But even that high degree of overlap isn't universal. Each of these things teach a different set of lessons to each student.

            From what I've seen, the people who specifically see bdsm as distinct from tantra or any other spiritual experience tend to put up walls of one sort or another. I've heard people who specifically and intently believe that bdsm is, and must be, about sex. One occasionally hears, "if it doesn't make your dick hard, then what's the point?" Seems to me that there are many forms of enjoyment and enlightenment and that not all of them necessarily make my dick hard. I don't see any reason to omit them simply because they may be more transcendental or cathartic than sexual.

            Another common wall I hear is that bdsm should be "play" and therefor, real emotions shouldn't be involved. Personally, I think that a lack of passion is part of the problem with our culture. People who are passionate are left with no appropriate expressions and therefor express in inappropriate manners. As a culture, we've inherited the English "stiff upper lip" which tries very hard to repress emotional expression. For myself, I'm looking to recover the ability to express emotion and to feel it - to understand my feelings more thoroughly and how to act on them more effectively. That's part of my life path and as such, I want to use my "play" to support those directions which, to me, give my life both more meaning and more enjoyment.

            I also periodically hear that bdsm "play" should not be used as therapy. I have trouble with this one because I can certainly see where someone who clearly needs professional help should not be playing with unaware and/or untrained partners. That can lead to all sorts of grief for everyone involved. This isn't really much different from agreeing to bottom to a single tail from a top who has no training or experience. Or trying to run a marathon with a broken leg. It's dangerous because the activities involved are inherently dangerous. Training and experience go a long way towards mitigating both the frequency and severity of those dangers.

            However, in our culture, the sex-for-money line is so strong that people who use touch as a part of their healing modalities are all viewed with suspicion. Doing so operates in some pretty vulnerable gray areas of law in most western countries. This makes it difficult for a "therapist" with proper professional credentials to "work" in this realm. And it doesn't really leave room for lay folks, non-professionals by choice, who may, in fact, be suitably trained for this sort of work. Personally, I'm not an MFCC (a licensed therapist) and will probably never be for a number of reasons. However, I'm an ordained minister, a trained sex educator, a certified hypnotherapist, a certified practitioner, master, and health practitioner of NLP, (soon to be a certified tantra instructor), and I consider myself to be a form of spiritual leader, a shaman of sorts, (although neither indigenous nor trained by indigenous people). I am clearly capable of leading people through life altering experiences through play and that is my primary interest for play - personal growth and personal development. I believe that sex can be a fabulous ally in that experience and that development experiences can bestow sexual skills, knowledge, and development as well. Things learned in one area of life can often be applied to one's sexual life and vice verse.

            Anyway, these are some of the common ways that I see the divisions being expressed and my usual reactions to them. Thank you for the frame. That did make it possible for me to write on it.
      • Re: Buddhism, especially Zen, and BDSM

        Sat, February 14, 2009 - 11:57 AM
        Hi Meryl --

        Sorry for the very belated response; I just noticed this thread.

        The interview you heard with Dossie was related to the book she and I did on the topic, "Radical Ecstasy: S/M Journeys to Transcendence." (It may be reissued under a new title soon.) Check the Greenery Press website at for more info.
  • Re: Buddhism, especially Zen, and BDSM

    Sun, July 27, 2008 - 12:50 AM
    Good thread, thank you for starting it.

    I haven't read much per se on Zen and BDSM.

    However, one of the strong influences on my BDSM practice is Taoism. Which influenced Buddhism as it came into China to become "Chen" or "Zen" Buddhism.

    While some may argue the other virtues of Stephen Mitchell's translation of the Tao Te Ching I rather like it. It's readable, and from a BDSM perspective it can be a very interesting read. First because he will use "he" or "she" with Master depending on what he felt the spirit of the particular passage demanded.

    I find Tao pairs well with Tantra, and the Taoist writings seem to go straight to some of the core things for me in BDSM. Especially in the interconnectedness, and that strange and wonderful realization about "who 'serves' who anyway?"

    Just my 2 cents.

  • Re: Buddhism, especially Zen, and BDSM

    Wed, July 30, 2008 - 3:00 AM
    Some contemporary texts on the subject:

    * Needham, Joseph. Science and Civilization in China, 5:2. Cambridge: Cambridge University, 1983.

    * Chang, Jolan. The Tao of Love and Sex. Plume, 1977.

    * Van Gulik, Robert. The Sexual Life of Ancient China: A Preliminary Survey of Chinese Sex and Society from ca. 1500 B.C. till 1644 A.D. Leiden: Brill, 1961.

    * Wile, Douglas. The Art of the Bedchamber: The Chinese Sexual Yoga Classics including Women's Solo Meditation Texts. Albany: State University of New York, 1992.

    * Zettnersan, Chian. Taoist Bedroom Secrets, Twin Lakes, WI: Lotus Press, 2002.

    * Hsi Lai. The Sexual Teachings of the White Tigress: Secrets of the Female Taoist Masters. Destiny Books, 2001.
    • Unsu...

      Re: Buddhism, especially Zen, and BDSM

      Sun, August 31, 2008 - 12:37 AM
      great sources.....
      and the truth is that many of the principles of inner cultivation and discipline in internal energy cultivation..are perfect for BDSM...
      if you have any questions feel free to ask me . i am a disciple and a teacher of Buddhist and Taoist disciplines, and apply many mind over matter techniques to bdsm
  • Re: Buddhism, especially Zen, and BDSM

    Fri, January 23, 2009 - 6:57 PM
    I think that as far as Buddhism, especially Zen, and BDSM are concerned, BDSM can serve as a tool, or spiritual practice for coming into the realm of pure experience, where thoughts vanish. For example, if we can soften around the pain of a whip, perhaps accept it, and through breathing, get through it so that we eventually stop thinking, analyzing, and anticipating, but instead just melt into the experience...well I think that is as healthy as meditation:)
  • Sue
    offline 8

    Re: Buddhism, especially Zen, and BDSM

    Sat, January 24, 2009 - 12:53 PM
    I think there is a very close connection between Tantra and BDSM in that practitioners of both (ideally) practice conscious energy work - intention setting, moving energy through the body. I was fortunate to enjoy a sexual practice for almost a year with a scholar/expert in Tantra and Kundilini yoga, very powerful in moving energy. In that Tantric-Kundilini yoga combination of sexual practices though, energy moves in order - a specified order - through the shakras and in BDSM from what I've recently experienced and heard doms/sadists say and like to do (and subs/masochists enjoy) is to "play the body like an instrument." Concentrating on the power of moving energy and of course the power of *disrupting* energy through the body's system or shakras. The best BDSM in my limited experience has employed that same body, mind, spirit triad, with the warming up to the energy movement to the disruption and the reassurances to realign the energy in an orderly manner with the intention of further confusion/disruption, rinse and repeat until both parties are journeying through an unbelievable psychological, physical, and spiritual path that creates that incredible high. So in Tantra the emphasis is on flow and gentleness and bringing sexual energy through in a powerful way though in "order" of the flow of the breath to take one through the shakras. But in BDSM that flow is interrupted by sadistic jumping around, confusing the energy to disorient in order to cause the pain-pleasure edge. In Tantra the partners do 50/50 sharing of energy movement with the intention of an orderly flow, but in BDSM the D/S's are the energy "movers" and the s/m's are the energy "receivers" but of course they also play off each other in a 50/50 give and take. Complicated, and am interested in studying more on this.
  • Unsu...

    Re: Buddhism, especially Zen, and BDSM

    Mon, March 16, 2009 - 10:12 PM
    i am totally connected to the core principles of release...ascension and discipline. all aspects of Zen and other Taoist practices , as well..check my blog. i just wrote a piece on Yang energy. and decisive, non attachment......
    Discipline, Devotion......Divinity....

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