A Thematic Compilation by Avi Sion

22. Chapter Twenty-Two


1.   Forget Your Face


We live in an age of utter narcissism. Many multi-billion dollar enterprises, such as the clothing and cosmetic industries[1], depend on making egotists out of us and keeping us that way. Of course, one should look decent and smell nice; but there are reasonable limits to such external concerns. At some point, they cease to be expressions of hygiene, and self-respect and respect for others, and become ego obsessions and compulsions.

The confusion of self with one’s face and body leads more and more men and women today to pass a lot of their time in front of a mirror. This culture of the body is materialism, in its most radical sense. It indicates a failure of spirituality.

Some people “speak to themselves” in the mirror. In my view, a person who does so suffers from a severe alienation from self. Looking into the reflection of one’s eyes and speaking to one’s image, as if it is another person, is indicative of confusion between self and factors of the ego. Why address oneself so indirectly, when one can do so directly within the mind (or out loud, but without a mirror)?

Many people gaze at their reflection for extended periods, fretting and worrying about the shape and size of each feature of their body, and in particular their face. They use artificial means to conceal uglier aspects and emphasize more beautiful aspects. Some spend hours in “fitness centers” to improve their physical shape (not meaning their health, but their contours). Some go so far as to resort to plastic surgery (of their face, their bosoms or their sex organ)[2].

Such behavior patterns are contrary to meditative pursuits. When meditating, we strive not to identify with face or body. At first, they seem very present – because we look upon the world through our face and some parts of our body are visible to us, and because of the weight of the touch sensations within the body and in the surfaces of contact between the body and its physical surrounds. But we strive to eventually become effectively ‘transparent’ to these and all other phenomenal impressions.

Such transparency is facilitated to the extent that one forgets one face and bodily form. Literally, forget! Beware of even accidental confrontations with a mirror. One may occasionally look into a mirror, e.g. to comb one’s hair or to shave – but in such case one should not look at one’s whole face, and especially not into one’s eyes. Big mirrors are best avoided – prefer smaller ones, or stick to the edges of larger mirrors[3].

It sounds silly at first, but the vain attraction to one’s reflection in mirrors has to be resisted, if one wants to eventually free oneself from one’s ego. Once one forgets exactly what one looks like (which can be done, as memories also fade), one can no longer bring up images of “oneself” during meditation, and the burden of ego is reduced. And incidentally, beauty (true beauty) naturally ensues from a healthy and spiritual lifestyle.


2.         Give Up Sensuality


A certain level of spiritual realization is required to overcome another weakness common in this day and age – sensuality, by which we shall here mean the yearning for and pursuit of sexual sensations. Sensuality includes sexual fantasies, reminiscences and anticipations, since all such mental rehearsing of sex causes sexual sensations, almost as effectively as actual sexual acts do (and indeed, some people’s sex lives are entirely imaginary).

Sexual activity is of course normal and necessary from a biological point of view[4], as is food. The problem with it is that it is a very strong force in our body and mind, capable of driving us on a mad search for gratification at any cost. This is especially true when we are young, and our reproductive instincts and powers are at their peak. But it can also be true during late middle age and early old age, when many people cling to their waning sexual abilities (to seduce and perform).

From the meditative point of view, one problem with sex is the energy it dilapidates, which would be better used for spiritual advancement. Without sufficient energy, one cannot meditate long or deeply. Loss of sperm for men (and I assume there is some equivalent incident for women), even if involuntary, is a spiritual retardant; all the more so, if voluntarily caused.

More broadly, sensuality diverts one’s attention from the things in life that really matter, the deeper issues. It reinforces confusion of self with ego[5]. It narrows people’s concerns to futilities, making them shallow. Their thoughts become frivolous and prurient, their language full of “dirty words”. They cannot concentrate or think straight.

Once enslaved to sensuality, one becomes dependent on the receptiveness and complicity of others. When partners are available, all seems well for a while. But when relationships become more tenuous or complicated, or they cease to be, much emotional and social difficulty ensues. Sometimes, sufficient anger is aroused to generate physical violence. Much time is wasted trying to “fix things” in the couple; and very often things get even more problematic. One’s life becomes woefully entangled – for what has ultimately very little value: some mere sensations!

People regard “romantic love” as the ultimate justification of sex (apart from bonding and reproduction)[6]. But, honestly, most sexual relationships are not based on love, but on lust[7] mixed with possessiveness and dependence. The word love is brought up as sugar coating, as a seductive lie; the liar even lies to himself or herself, too, so as to make the lie more credible to the partner. The true love people may sincerely feel for each other has nothing to do with sex: it is a matter of mutual respect, trust and support.

Of course, sexual attraction for members of the opposite sex is normal and natural. When a man sees a pretty, well-shaped, fresh girl or young woman, he cannot but feel attraction; and similarly, a woman is attracted by a man. These are biological instincts, inscribed in our genes, for the perpetuation of our species. But for this, we would not be here. One has to accept the fact and take it into consideration as a factor, when trying to increase one’s chastity. One does well to remember that “grace is delusive and beauty is passing”[8].

Look upon your sexual impulses and desires as mere visitors in your house – as temporary events that can never rule you, if you do not allow them to. Strength of character is possible, even easy, and very rewarding. Do not draw pleasure even from passing sensations, not even in your dreams. Keep your mind and hands clean. Purity of thoughts, words and deeds is essential to spiritual success. And it makes one happy, too.


3.         On “Sexual Liberation”


Contrary to what popular psychology teaches, so-called sexual liberation is in fact enslavement to passions. Sexual indulgences of various sorts may give one a momentary feeling of relief from the pressure of sexual urges, but their longer term spiritual (and indeed physical and psychological) effects are mostly devastating.

Masturbation is not a solution to sexual urges, but a further problem. Masturbation diminishes sexual potency, and general energy and health levels; it reduces self-respect and self-confidence, and lowers attractiveness to the opposite sex; it produces inner conflicts, and makes one melancholic[9]. However strong one’s urges, they can be overcome. Never indulge in masturbation at all: it is not worth the trouble!

Nowadays, posing as “sexologists”, psychologists, journalists and other opinion-makers, shamelessly tell youth that masturbation is harmless and even good for them. But in truth, such teachings and encouragements are spiritually destructive; their purposes are, in the last analysis, commercial and political. They serve only to enslave people to their baser impulses, and thus to weaken them physically, psychologically and socially.

The same popular opinion makers and “sexual liberators” have given modern society widespread pornography and homosexuality. Sexual activities, which less than a generation ago were commonly regarded as among the most ugly and depraved, have apparently become fashionable and are defended with “righteous” indignation[10].

The destructive effects of such ignoble behavior, on individuals and on the fabric of society, are willfully ignored. Do not be a “fashion victim”; do not believe in these media figures, those who pretend to liberate (from moral restrictions and rules) when they in fact enslave (to sensations). They are just seeking to justify their coarseness and perversity of spirit, by sullying everyone else.[11]

Next in line are pedophilia and bestiality, no doubt. Today these are frowned upon and illegal, but who knows for how long more? I just read on the Internet that efforts are being made to change that already[12]. From the spiritual point of view, this is just a logical development: once the floodgates of sensuality are sufficiently loosened within them, people lose all sanity and become slaves to increasingly weird passions. The abnormal then seems normal.

It is good and wise to have certain inhibitions. Anyone intent on spiritual progress has to learn to master their sexual impulses and behavior. This refers to all sensuality, whatever form it takes, from the normal to the deviant. Control your thoughts and words, as well as deeds; remember: first come tempting thoughts, then come encouraging words, and finally the deeds are done.

In this matter as in all others, the psychological sequence of events is as follows[13]: first, we perceive something (or someone, e.g. a beautiful girl); then we evaluate it, finding it likeable (or disliking it); then we desire to have greater or more permanent contact with it (or to avoid it); then comes imaginations (building up the desire by projecting its satisfaction) and rationalizations (so as to fit, however artificially, the idea of such action in one’s belief system); finally, we take action (and eventually have to face the consequences).

To say we have free will is to admit that we can at any stage in this sequence of events intervene in our inner or outer behavior, and to stop or reverse things – although this is not meant to deny that such good will may get more difficult as things proceed. To realize this freedom of will, one has to understand that the perceptions, affections, appetites, imaginings and self-justifications that precede volitional action are just only influences (of varying intensity) on such actions, they can never determine it.

The simplest intervention is to avoid the initial perception, i.e. to deliberately steer clear of potential temptations or turn one’s eyes away from them when they accidentally occur. Next, we can challenge the evaluation, and suggest that the object is not as likeable as it may seem. Or again, we can admit the object likeable in itself, but still avoid desire by pointing out its incidental disadvantages. If desire persists, we can still control ourselves by not indulging in imaginations or rationalizations that reinforce it and make it more likely.

Finally, however weak we have been till now, we can still at the last moment opt out of the misdeed concerned; or having already put it in motion, we can still change course. It may be increasingly hard to do, but it is still in our power. This is why we are held morally (and legally) responsible for our actions – and this power of choice is also our great dignity as human beings. So never say “I can’t stop myself” – you would only be lying so as to excuse yourself!


Drawn from Meditations (2006), Chapters 20-22.



[1]           I should also mention the photographic and home movie industry, which thrives on people’s desire to linger on their own physical appearance.

[2]           Sometimes, at the supermarket, I notice women who have had their face turned into something monstrous by plastic surgery. Can these women truly imagine they have been beautified, I wonder? I feel so sorry for them.

[3]           I call hotel suites with a wall-to-wall mirror in the bathroom, which are common these days, “wanker’s paradises”.

[4]           Human beings would not exist as such without reproduction. Moreover, sexual relations not specifically aimed at or resulting in reproduction are biologically justified, since they serve to maintain a family bond, which is useful to survival of the couple and their children. This biological perspective is also, by the way, the Jewish “middle way” regarding sex – a more moderate doctrine than that found in other religions, one based on the general idea that life on earth (if properly lived) is a good thing, intended by the Creator.

[5]           Notice, as an indicator, the chutzpa that is eventually written on the face of people who engage in unnatural sex acts, for example. Such people confuse their brazenness, impudence and insolence with self-assurance. They boast of “gay pride”, only to mask their profound sorrow and shame. But even straight sex (even based on “love”) takes its toll, increasing narcissism and selfishness.

[6]           This is, historians tell us, a relatively recent argumentum.

[7]           Lust may either be selfish (in which case one pursues self-gratification, without concern for the partner’s pleasure or even pain), or it may be cooperative (in which case, the sex acts involved are most accurately described as mutual masturbation). Cooperative lust is sometimes confused with love, note. As for sex with prostitutes (some of which, by the way are unwilling partners – effectively slaves), it is frankly based on lust – but its inherent cynical truthfulness does not justify it.

[8]           Proverbs 31.

[9]           Moreover, I suggest, it draws many to homosexuality, or at least increases their tolerance towards it – for two reasons: firstly, masturbation is an intrinsically sexually ambiguous act, since the man or woman engaged in it is effectively playing both sex roles, the active and the receptive; secondly, the pornographic stimulants in use often involve images of people of one’s own sex (in couples or groups), or worse still people of the same sex (one’s own or the opposite sex) in homosexual situations. Such licentious behavior is antithetical to spiritual progress.

[10]          This reversal of moral roles has to be noticed and understood, especially by inexperienced youths.

[11]          Don’t let them tell you “it is okay, it is natural” (as they keep hammering, ad nauseum) – it certainly is neither okay nor natural. It all depends where an opinion is coming from. If a person is spiritually base, his or her opinions are accordingly muddy. Inversely, if a person is spiritually high, his or her thinking is accordingly clear. You do not have to first believe in any tradition to despise homosexuality – just live a pure life and you will be able to see for yourself the spiritual corruption it causes in the people concerned. Opposing it is not “just a religious prejudice”, as its proponents contend, but a clear insight from spiritual purity.

[12]          “Pedophiles in the Netherlands are registering a political party to press for lowering the legal age of sexual relations from 16 to 12 and to allow child porn and bestiality. The [party], which plans to register tomorrow, says it eventually wants to get rid of the age limit on sexual relations” ( news alert, 30.5.2006).

[13]          Based largely on descriptions in Buddhist psychology.

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