By Parveen Chopra April 2000 Long seen as the enemy of the spirit, sex is now being used as its ally A few years ago I attended a grueling 10-day vipassana camp. A few days into the course and I started having unusually erotic dreams at night. It was disconcerting, to say the least. What could be the provocation when I was sitting in meditation practically all day? On the tenth day of the course, when we broke the silence, I overheard a group of boys talking animatedly about erotic dreams. I sought out an explanation from the course supervisor. He said it was not unusual in vipassanacamps. Since deep and extensive cleansing takes place during the course some deep-rooted vasanas and sanskaras, long buried in the unconscious and subconscious, come to the surface and get released. Repressed sexual desires are naturally deeply embedded in the psyche and cleansing process triggered by intense meditation manifests as erotic dreams. This was a very intimate first-hand experience of the somewhat fuzzy relationship between sex and spirituality. We may be unclear about the exact nature of the relationship between the so-called most base and the highest drive in human beings. But there is no doubt about the link, going by the strident pronouncements of the two hostile camps down history. Tantrics and latter day libertarian seekers insist that without sexual yoga you cannot attain enlightenment. On the other hand, the sadhus and swamis and monks and priests have always argued that without celibacy you may as well forget about spiritual growth. Freud onwards, psychology has also conceded that the sexual drive or energy can be sublimated into higher avenues such as art and spirituality. ‘The elements of the sexual instinct are characterized by a capacity for sublimation, for changing their sexual aim into another of a different kind and socially more worthy. To the sum of energies thus gained for our psychological productions we probably owe the highest results of our culture,’ he wrote. Taking a different tack, psychologist Erich Fromm wrote in The Art of Loving that the basis for our need to love lies in the experience of separateness and the resulting need to overcome the anxiety of separateness by the experience of union. In its deepest meaning, then, love/sex becomes spiritual. The stories of legendary Indian lovers are a case in point. Majnu’s love and intensity of desire to be united with Laila is so exalted that it becomes spiritual. Laila substitutes for God as an object of worship. Now, one new factor in sex-spirituality equation is that the shame and guilt associated with sex is all but gone. There is more permissiveness. We are bombarded with sexual content from print and advertisement media, TV channels, the Net. All this makes people wonder that there must be more to it than we are getting. In the western world, this has sent many unfulfilled people on a wild goose chase for super sex. Still others are queuing up for workshops on Tantra for both sexual fulfillment and spiritual growth. In fact, Dorothy Scaly, an American now based in Delhi, reports that in the USA, the most sought after New Age workshops these days are on Tantra. Whether they are the genuine item or just provide titillation is another story. The common Indian, however, may still be suffering from the classic Portnoy’s Complaint: not getting enough sex—except in marriage. Most of us do grow out of guilt and shame associated with sex, but the question pops up again when we start treading the spiritual path. Is it okay? How much is okay? So, we come back to square one. But first let’s understand and accept that sex is a very powerful drive. Speaking from his 12 years of teaching, American guru Andrew Cohen states that for most spiritual seeker today, ‘sex is more important than God’. He might as well have included some well-known spiritual gurus: every year a new scandal breaks out in an ashram somewhere, where the supposedly celibate guru gets charged with sexual misconduct and sexual harassment of female disciples. Now married, to an Indian, Cohen talks candidly about the earlier period when he would get disturbed by the sexual urge: ‘I knew little in relationship to this at times overpowering force that could rise out of nowhere and completely capture my attention.’ He insists that it is always a mistake to underestimate the overwhelming power to create delusion that the sexual instinct possesses. As his spiritual yearning grew, Cohen began to find the romantic/sexual experience to be ‘an annoying distraction,’ and the less interested he became in ‘ bearing the emotional intensity and personal focus’ that the romantic/sexual drama almost always involves. From experience, he found that the enticing promise that the sexual/romantic impulse always offered was rarely fulfilled. And even when it was, even that proved to be a distraction from the longing for spiritual union. It is perhaps to conserve energy spent on the sexual/romantic drama that gurus such a Maharishi Mahesh Yogi recommend that their followers either get married or remain celibate. On the other hand, Aurobindoites say that the Mother discouraged marriage, not because she was anti-sex, but because she believed that a true marriage of the minds needs no social bond and in marriage the sacred bond is invariably violated. Let us now hear the arguments forwarded in support of celibacy. Swami Chidananda, 84, the revered president of the Divine Life Society, gives the traditional argument cogently. He says: ‘ Brahmacharya, or celibacy, is a rational process of preserving and conserving precious energy so that it can be utilized in other very essential and indispensable functions. And if it is preserved like this, it can be converted, just as tangible, gross water is converted into subtle steam. Then it can do wonders.’ But what is the origin, the source, of this energy? Swami Chidananda refers to the familiar findings of modern physicists that what exists in nature is not palpable or solid matter as such. It is energy. ‘Our ancients have said that it is this same cosmic energy that is present in living beings as the sex force. So Hindus regarded this energy as sacred, something that is worthy of being worshipped, not frittered away.’ Swami Chidananda is all for transmuting the sexual into the spiritual since the same vital energy, prana, is at work in both. ‘Any sense activity or sense experience consumes a lot of prana. The highest of all goals in human life, spiritual attainment, requires the maximum available pranic energy on all levels: mental, intellectual and emotional. Celibacy or brahmacharya ensures that an abundance of pranic energy is available to the seeker. Modern-day sexologists laugh at the traditional Indian idea of conserving bindu (semen, sexual energy), saying that it is an affluent that will find its way out. But just like modern medicine keeps revising its theories, this may not be the final word on the subject either. And even a dimwitted person will tell you that sex works on many planes. Incidentally, more than Hinduism, Buddha put much emphasis on celibacy for monks. Bhante Henepola Gunaratana, 70, a renowned Buddhist scholar based in the USA, explains the reason thus in Andrew Cohen’s What is Enlightenment?magazine: ‘Because those who want to attain liberation from dukka, suffering, have to observe certain principles. Because if they are engaged in all kinds of sexual activities, they will be engrossed in various types of problems related to sex. Also, those who are interested in the monastic life want to live a very simple life-because in the final analysis, it is only when we get rid of our greed, lust and craving that we can liberate ourselves from suffering. You see, if our intention is to get rid of suffering, then we have to get rid of cause of suffering, and lust is definitely the cause of suffering.’ Unlike Chidananda, Gunaratana’s argument is not that celibacy conserves energy. He happens to concur with Cohen: ‘Because as long as you are in sexual activity, your mind will be cluttered, clouded and confused and you will get involved in jealousy, fear, hatred, tension and so forth-all the worries that arise from lust.’ Yet, he says that the Buddha suggested that control and discipline of our senses should be done gradually, only through understanding, and not abruptly. One religion that has almost converted the entire world to its conservative approach towards sex is Christianity. It all began with the idea of ‘original sin’. Margot Anand, tantric author and teacher, traces its roots to St Augustine, who was a very devout man, and who at a very early age wanted to become a priest. But he was also a very sexual being who had a lot of sexual energy. Throughout his adult life, he struggled without success to control his libido. Finally, he concluded that there was an element in us that predates the control that we can have through our mental and spiritual powers, and he called this ‘original sin’. India wasn’t a sexually repressed society always. We became one under the influence of Buddhism and Jainism and later Islam and Christianity. Says Dr Shanshank Samak, an Indian sexologist: ‘Indians were the most sexually active people in the world. The Kamasutra was astonishingly liberal and men and women were equal participants in the sexual act. Sex was very creative, not only from the procreation point of view but recreation as well. It was not something to be done away with but an event to be celebrated, a road which led to ecstasy and finally nirvana for both the participants.’ Maithunam paramam tatvam, shrushti stithi anya karanam….( Coitus is the ultimate principle behind creation, preservation and destruction of
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