Polyamory in the News!
. . . by Alan M.

August 7, 2006

"What's the Opposite of Jealousy?"


In the last generation, almost below the cultural radar, many Americans have taken up Buddhism. A top-quality read for anyone is Tricycle, "America's leading Buddhist magazine," which claims "an upscale audience of approximately 200,000 readers." Its Summer 2006 issue presents an essay by Jorge N. Ferrer (a professor at the California Institute of Integral Studies, San Francisco) challenging modern Buddhists' allegiance-by-default to monogamy.

Jealousy, it seems, likely emerged as an adaptive response in our hominid ancestory some 3.5 million years ago.... As evolutionary psychologist David Buss writes in his acclaimed book, The Evolution of Desire, most human mating mechanisms and responses are actually "living fossils" shaped by the genetic pressures of our evolutionary history. The problem, of course, is that is that patterns that were adaptive millions of years ago might be anything but that today.

What does this mean for us spiritually? ...While Buddhism has addressed in great detail the transformation of other deeply conditioned emotions — greed and hatred, for instance — it has, so far as I know, not much to say about jealousy, specifically about sexual jealousy. But it seems to me that Buddhist principles can be, and should be, extended to the realm of intimate relationships.

In the article, Ferrer dwells on what polyamorists call compersion (or frubble):

Buddhist tradition speaks of four "divine abodes," or qualities of an awakened mind to be cultivated and put into practice... — lovingkindness (maitri), compassion (karuna), sympathetic joy (mudita) and equanimity (upeksha).... Of these, mudita is for many Westerners the least familiar, at least as a term. It refers to the capacity to participate in the joy of others, to take happiness in the happiness of others.

And he urges today's Buddhist teachers to examine their mono assumptions:

Historically, Buddhism never strictly defined the rules of marriage for lay people and accepted the relationship styles customary in the countries through which it spread.... The culturally prevalent belief — supported by many Buddhist leaders — that the only spiritually correct sexual options are either celibacy or monogamy is a myth.... It may be perfectly plausible to hold simultaneously more than one loving or sexual bond in a context of mindfulness, ethical integrity, and spiritual growth. Indeed, while working toward the transformation of jealousy into sympathetic joy and the integration of sensuous and spiritual love, for some it might even be expeditious.

The full article is available only in the paper magazine or to Tricycle's electronic subscribers.

Update August 31, 2006: "I've heard from the author of the article (Prof. Jorge N. Ferrer) and one of the editors of Tricycle that they've received numerous letters critical of the article," writes Mori Morrigan. "Apparently my little missive to them was one of the few [positive] comments they've received. If you read the article and appreciated it, you might consider sending something along to the editors (e-mail editorial@tricycle.com ).

"The author of the letter that appeared in the most recent issue assumed polyamory was the same as promiscuity and compared the proper Buddhist attitude to that as the same as toward a 'brutal murderer.' (That you should 'dwell in lovingkindness toward him' but not accept the conduct.) She then quotes extensively from the Buddhist canon on desire and monogamy (none of it friendly toward poly, as you can imagine). There is also a very incisive reply by Prof. Ferrer."

A lesson here: When we speak or write about multiple partnering, people will think in their own paradigm and assume we are excusing cheating and sneaking — unless we explicitly state what polyamory is about, use the word, and define it as the radical concept of "responsible non-monogamy with the full knowledge and consent of all concerned" (or words to that effect). The Tricycle article didn't quite do this.

As an editor in my day job, I've stressed for years that if the reader misunderstands something, it's the writer's fault.

P. S.: Here is a 20-page booklet titled "The Great Activity: Love and Enlightenment — a zine on the intersection of Buddhism and Polyamory" (2006).

P. P. S.: Here's a thread on NewBuddhist.com titled "Polyamory, Buddhist-style."


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