Methuna is the terminology for sexual intercourse. While for a householder sexual relation with one dedicated partner is legitimate, for someone who has left the householders life and has decided to lead the life of a brahmacariya any sexual involvement, not only in deed or words, but also in thought, is taboo. At one occasion the Brāhmin Jāṇussoṇi approached the Buddha and asked him whether the Buddha could claim about himself leading the holy life - paripuṇṇaṃ parisuddhaṃ brahmacariyaṃ - completely and utterly pure. After reassurance the Brāhmin Jāṇussoṇi curiously enquired what would lead to the corruption of such a pure and perfect life of a brahmacariya. The Buddha’s reply is presented in this Methunasutta. It reveals that even if someone claims to live the religious life of a brahmacariya and observes the vows of chastity it will be utterly pure only, if the mendicant remains aloof to all the delicate and subtle mental involvements of passion.
The Buddha has prescribed varying wording for the third precept for householders: For an ariya sāvaka, a noble disciple the term is: kāmesumicchācārā veramaṇī. But those, who have left the householders life, the Bhikkhus, the members of the Saṇgha, are expected to follow what is expresses as: abrahmacariyā veramaṇī.
Whenever a householder undergoes training he is requested to follow the five precepts as the necessary and appropriate base of maintaining a healthy livelihood1. Here the third precept: ‘refraining from misconduct in sensual pleasures’ – ‘kāmesumicchācārā veramaṇī-sikkhāpadaṃ samādiyāmi’ – plays a fundamental role for healthy equilibrium of mental calm. Maintaining this precept reassures confidence, trust and faithfulness towards the chosen partner and also supports contentedness within this relationship. A meditator participating in a regular meditation course is therefore challenged to follow this directive strictly not only during the course, but ideally as an exemplary ariya sāvaka during his day to day life as well.
The commentary highlights the meaning: Kāmesumicchācāroti ettha pana kāmesūti methunasamācāresu2. Micchācāroti ekantanindito lāmakācāro3. Lakkhaṇato pana asaddhammādhippāyena4 kāyadvārappavattā agamanīyaṭṭhānavītikkamacetanā5 kāmesumicchācāro. – ‘Misconduct in sensual pleasures’ here means: ‘in sensual pleasures’6 in regard to indulging in sexual intercourse. ‘Misconduct’ is entirely blameworthy vile conduct. It’s characteristic: sexual misconduct is the volition to transgress restriction manifesting itself through the body door by way of unrighteous desire.
The explanation of the meaning of - agamanīyaṭṭhānaṃ nāma – ‘going beyond the limits’ or ‘transgressing restraints’ related to men refers to married or engaged women7 and the commentary points to two groups of women, those under protection and those bought with money, divided into ten each: Tattha agamanīyaṭṭhānaṃ nāma purisānaṃ tāva māturakkhitā, piturakkhitā, mātāpiturakkhitā, bhāturakkhitā, bhaginirakkhitā, ñātirakkhitā, gottarakkhitā, dhammarakkhitā, sārakkhā, saparidaṇḍāti8 māturakkhitādayo dasa;…… – Herein ‘transgressing restraints’ for men relates to: the set of ten starting with ‘women being protected by mother’ etc., namely: ‘protected by mother; protected by father; protected by mother and father, protected by the brother, protected by the sister, protected by relatives, protected by the clan, protected by the law, under protection, liable to penalty’ - …… dhanakkītā9, chandavāsinī, bhogavāsinī, paṭavāsinī, odapattakinī10, obhaṭacumbaṭā11, dāsī ca bhariyā ca, kammakārī ca bhariyā ca, dhajāhatā12, muhuttikāti13 etā ca dhanakkītādayo dasāti vīsati itthiyo. - and the set of ten starting with those ‘bought for money’ etc., namely: ‘bought for money, one who stays (with a man) by her own desire, one who stays (with a man) on account of wealth, one who stays (with a man) on account of clothing, one who has the quality providing the house with water, one who has been taken off her habit of carrying water vessels on her head, one who is a slave and a wife, one who is a servant and a wife, one who is taken by violence, one who is used as temporary woman’ – these are the twenty kinds of women.
The explanation of ‘going beyond the limits’ for women - agamanīyaṭṭhānaṃ nāma – or ‘transgressing restraints’ first refers to those women that are under protection or liable to penalty. Secondly it refers to the last set of ten quoted above – bought for money etc. - Itthīsu pana dvinnaṃ sārakkhāsaparidaṇḍānaṃ, dasannañca dhanakkītādīnanti dvādasannaṃ itthīnaṃ aññe purisā, idaṃ agamanīyaṭṭhānaṃ nāma. Likewise married and engaged men are out of bonds for all women.
Engaging in sexual misconduct is more blamable depending on the higher the ethical standards of the respective other person is and vice versa: So panesa micchācāro sīlādiguṇarahite14 agamanīyaṭṭhāne appasāvajjo, sīlādiguṇasampanne15 mahāsāvajjo. - This sexual misconduct is less blamable if the person off limits lacks moral qualities of sīla and more blamable if the person is endowed with moral qualities of sīla.
For sexual misconduct to be accomplished the following four constituents have to be fulfilled: - Tassa cattāro sambhārā agamanīyavatthu, tasmiṃ sevanacittaṃ, sevanapayogo, maggenamaggappaṭipattiadhivāsananti16. - A person (object) off limits, the mind to engage and the effort to engage, and consent to the actual union of sexual organs.
Bhikkhus and meditators undergoing a more serious meditation course of 20, 30 or more days are expected to take upon themselves the serious vow of ‘abrahmacariyā veramaṇī-sikkhāpadaṃ samādiyāmi’!
The difference is explained: Abrahmacariyanti aseṭṭhacariyaṃ, dvayaṃdvayasamāpattimethunappaṭisevanā kāyadvārappavattā17 asaddhammappaṭisevanaṭṭhānavītikkamacetanā18 abrahmacariyaṃ19. – ‘Leading not the holy life’ – abrahmacariyaṃ- means to maintain not the highest conduct. ‘Leading not the holy life’ means intention to transgress into unrighteous practice not in accordance which occurs through the body door by engaging in actual copulation.20