Sexuality and Spirituality
The increasing availability of obscene, even pornographic, material in the media, the abortive governmental attempts to legislate it and the criticism of this moral policing by some sections of the media – all these have brought to the forefront the vexed issue of what constitutes acceptable behavior in a rapidly changing world with mutable moral standards. Alarmed at the latest onslaught on traditional cultural values, the conservatives protest vehemently, “This is against our culture; things are going too far.” The radical modernists retort, “If that’s the way we find pleasure in life, what’s wrong? We are not harming anyone. Why should we deprive ourselves of enjoyment just for the sake of some outdated moral norms?” Most people watch on, bemused, undecided or indifferent.
From the Vedic perspective, the current mess is no surprise. After all we are living in Kali Yuga, an age of moral anarchy and spiritual insanity. A Vedic seer would tell us that the roots of the present moral imbroglio lie in spiritual ignorance. When people addicted to material enjoyment are left to decide for themselves the subjective goals of their respective lives, how can society have a standard set of moral principles to regulate enjoyment? Without an objective purpose for life, how can there be objective moral codes? Therefore spirituality is the foundation for the edifice of morality. Without being rooted in spiritual knowledge, moral standards will inevitably be shaken and shattered by the stormy winds of changing social trends.
The Vedic texts urge us that, before plunging into a frenzied fight for enjoyment, we take time out to inquire: Who is the ‘I’ whom we seek to offer enjoyment? When confronted with this fundamental question of identity, most modern people can only blink in bewilderment; even the best modern philosophers can only shrug in indifference. In marked contrast, the Vedic texts clearly and confidently assert that we are not products of matter; we are souls, spiritual beings encaged in material bodies. We belong to the spiritual realm, where we rejoice eternally in a personal loving relationship with the supreme spiritual being, best known by the name Krishna (meaning the All-Attractive). By causeless misuse of our free will, when we refuse to love and serve Krishna, we are placed in the world of matter. Here we are offered a material body, which brings about a spiritual amnesia so that we can pursue unbridled our quest for happiness.
A clear white beam of a bulb, when passed through a crimson covering glass, emerges as a glaring red light. Similarly the pure selfless longing of the soul for Krishna, when passed through the covering of the material body, emerges as the perverted selfish craving of the flesh for the opposite sex. In other words, under the spell of the illusion created due to bodily misidentification, love of God distorts into lust for matter. Lust causes within all living beings the overpowering drive for gross sexual enjoyment in specific, and all forms of material enjoyment in general.
However, all material enjoyment has three inescapable characteristics: it is temporary, illusory and miserable, stated as an acronym TIME(Temporary Illusory Miserable Enjoyment). Let see how:
Temporary: The very body that promises erotic pleasure chokes that pleasure inescapably by its limited capacity for indulgence. Like a water-filled sponge, which gives out lesser and lesser water with every successive squeeze, the capacity of the body to enjoy diminishes irreversibly with indulgence, disease and age.
Illusory: The soul being like the driver of the bodily car has needs which are completely different from those of the body. Therefore, just as fuelling the car can never nourish the driver, material gratification can never bring about spiritual fulfillment; material pleasure can offer nothing more than an illusory relief to the soul.
Miserable: Sex seals the soul’s misidentification with the body and consequently forces him to suffer bodily, social and environmental miseries (adhyatmika, adhibhautika and adhidaivika klesha). Further, the soul suffers due to the misidentification as nature batters the body on its distressful journey to disease, decrepitude and death. Not only that, every soul in the material world is haunted by feelings of innate dissatisfaction due to his lack of spiritual fulfillment. To mistake this innate dissatisfaction to be due to the lack of material gratification is the bane of the soul. This fundamental blunder in diagnosing the cause of his suffering propels the soul headlong into the arena of material misery, where he struggles futilely for happiness.
The Science of Sex
Through this philosophical window, let us now see how Vedic culture was systematically arranged to rescue the soul from his existential predicament of material entanglement. The Vedic social order was oriented to help every individual to progressively revert the misdirected longing of the soul back to its original pristine state. To this end, Vedic education, apart from teaching students commercial, technical and physical skills, focused on imparting them a deep philosophical understanding of their intrinsic spiritual identity so that they would not be victimized by the binding and blinding passions of sex. Sex is a basic bodily drive, which naturally results in procreation. Vedic science, being far more subtle and sophisticated than our modern matter-devoted version of science, recognized that the consciousness of the man and the woman at the time of union would determine the kind of soul that would enter the mother’s womb through the father’s semen. Equipped with this knowledge, a properly married couple would enter into sexual intercourse, not for bestial enjoyment, but as a sacred service to the family, society and God. The to-be parents knew that they had the grave responsibility of bringing into the world a pure soul, who would eventually grow up to be an exemplary, principled and selfless citizen and do immense good for the world. Such a sanctified union was a manifestation of the divine, as stated in the Bhagavad-gita (7.10), dharmaviruddho bhuteshu kamo ‘smi bharatarashabha “I am sex life that is not contrary to religious principles.” Thus, in Vedic times, sex was meant for procreation, not recreation.
Sex-addicted moderns may consider all this sentimental imagination or impractical idealism, but we would do well to remember that our so-called primitive ancestors were not brainwashed by the maddening media blitz saturated with covert and overt sexual overtones. Almost all species of life, including so-called uncivilized tribals, have procreation as a natural consequence of copulation. Except, of course, “advanced” modern humans, for whom procreation is often scientifically suppressed through contraception and abortion in the maniac pursuit of recreation. Even when it is not suppressed, the purpose of procreation hardly ever crosses their minds, filled as they are with endless plans for sexual enjoyment. No wonder John Lennon quipped, “Most people are born on Saturday night over a bottle of wine.”
Apart from sanctified procreation, the institution of marriage was meant for gratification of the bodily sexual drive in a regulated, religious way. This would gradually help both the spouses to realize the futility of all bodily enjoyment and help each other to advance together on the journey back to Krishna. Srila Prabhupada writes, “Marriage is meant to regulate the human mind so that it becomes peaceful for spiritual advancement.” Thus in Vedic culture, the goal of marriage was not bodily gratification, but spiritual purification. Therefore even with marriage sex was kept the minimum. Needless to say, adultery as well as other perverted forms of sex were ruled out. These regulations were not intended to deprive people of enjoyment and force them to live a torturous life of abnegation. Rather they were meant to create a stable springboard to help catapult the soul to the transcendental platform, where he could experience unlimited spiritual happiness, which is his constitutional right. The Vedic attitude was that material enjoyment rivets the consciousness of the soul to flesh and, while offering him only a drop of pleasure, cheats him of his rightful oceanic spiritual happiness. Thus it is absence of restriction, not restriction, that deprives the soul of happiness. Continence is a universal value enjoined not just in the Vedic scriptures, but also in the scriptures of all the great religions. It is a pre-requisite for protecting the soul from material entanglement and for creating the foundation for raising his consciousness to the spiritual platform.
The Historical Degradation
With the gradual decline of spirituality over the centuries, the goal of traditional culture – awakening our dormant love for Krishna and thus attaining eternal happiness – was obscured and forgotten. People followed the regulations for self-restraint out of deference for social and religious tradition for some time, but with the spread of Western science and its reductionistic, non-spiritual worldview, people started seeing these regulations as pointless and prohibitive.
Men, using their social and physical superiority, turned towards women to exploit them as sex machines. Outraged at the male chauvinism, women retaliated by using their feminine charms to seduce men and exploit them as ATM (anytime money) machines. Hence the well-known saying, “Don’t ask a woman her age and a man his salary”: because both women and men use their respective strengths to exploit the other sex and so don’t want the absence of that strength to be exposed. Divorces, pre-marital and extra-marital relationships became increasingly common – all in the name of enjoyment. Promiscuity – occasional forays into illicit sex – degenerated into hedonism – reckless playing with relationships for pleasure. All sorts of sexual perversions – homosexuality, bisexuality, sodomy, pedophilia – followed.
Below all this frenzy for enjoyment lies the soul longing for his original relationship with Krishna. From the spiritual viewpoint, sex is a delusion. The rubbing and squeezing of lifeless flesh and the ejection and reception of sticky, messy fluid in a rotting and dying body – whether male or female – can never satisfy the spiritual longing of the immortal soul. Sex, even within the framework of marriage, is unnatural because it takes the soul away from his natural loving relationship with Krishna and the unlimited happiness that comes naturally from serving Krishna. And the more unnatural the forms of sex that people take shelter of in their desperate search for happiness, the more they make that very happiness inaccessible to themselves. Because the spirit that can very easily offer them happiness gets shrouded by more and more layers forgetfulness.
But still there is hope. If the current attack on sexual morality can stir intelligent people to examine the spiritual foundation of their traditional moral principles, they can still discover the lost wealth of their heart, their forgotten Lord – Krishna. Krishna is forever waiting for us, playing on His flute, inviting us back to the sublime joys of an endless love, in His eternal abode, our original home, the spiritual world. In the current dark age of Kali, Krishna has made the channeling of our misdirected consciousness back to Him very easy by manifesting Himself as His Holy Names, especially the Hare Krishna maha mantra. When our heart is re-united with Krishna through the sublime medium of divine sound, all material enjoyment will become disdainful.
Thus Vedic insights can help us to make sense out of the current social degradation and can also equip us to confront and counter it. The onus is on each one of us to choose. Will we let ourselves be swept away by the current wave of degradation into the ocean of sin and suffering? Or will we join hands with a crew of intrepid spiritual sailors who are navigating the sturdy ship of genuine spirituality towards the safe shores of immortality and bliss? Our choice may well determine the destiny of the world.