Many see sexual pleasure to be the limit of the human experience, even the purpose of human life, and I can assure you that this is not true. But regardless of the fundamental role of sexual pleasure in human existence, we need a way to address it as part of regular life.
In long-term relationships, spouses must share all goals and be entirely open to one another; by this logic, a spousal relationship can develop between any two people regardless of their sexuality. I used to think that sexual pleasure, like the pleasures of taste and touch, was merely physical. However, insight from my parents has opened me to understand that sex does indeed have an intense emotional aspect that is conducive to mutual trust and love in a relationship. Although my parents could be biased in this opinion by Indian culture, according to them, sex is not a part of marriage that we can overlook.
To some religions like Christianity, sexual restraint is a central part of being a clean person and earning heaven–but a glance at Christian society shows that this rule hasn’t worked out too well. Plus, modern studies are finding that regular sex can boost immune health, lower blood pressure, lower heart attack risk, alleviate pain, and improve sleep, among other health benefits. The point is, our ideology should accept something that is an ineluctable feature of the human body.
Hinduism is seen by most Western scholars as compatible with sexual pleasure–actually, some Western scholars have taken this too far. For example, bhakti, which has a strong base in saguna (manifest) forms, the rupas, of God, despite being selfless and irrelevant to bodily desires, has been falsely interpreted by some Western historians to have an element of eroticism. In any case, Hinduism is in no way a faith characterized by sexual ritual, but it does accept sexual pleasure as compatible with spirituality. Libido is mentioned twice in the Bhagavad Gita (Chapter 7, Sloka 11; Chapter 10, Sloka 28), and neither time is it forbidden.
By instinct, many Hindus believe that sex should only be performed for the purpose of procreation. There are many problems with this ideology: for one, we cannot deny that God also created homosexual attraction, which does not compel humans to procreate. Furthermore, as far as I can see, nothing warrants heterosexual scorn for homosexual practices, because it is clear that any sex done for pleasure alone is effectively nothing more than mutual masturbation, whether or not it is between man and woman.
We can confirm that celibacy is not a requisite for spirituality, but what about general sexual restraint? This question is one of the most important questions in yoga (union with God–moksha, nirvana–and the path to that goal), and it is best answered through realizations rather than theoretical knowledge. The following is a series of individual journal entries with relevant ideas that have come to me over time.
What is love? I believe in love in regards to familial, especially motherly, love, because I myself have experienced it; even the Hindu religion recognizes that the love of mother is one of the most powerful forces in the universe. What’s there not to believe? Even God loves us, although that is love (although truly incomparable) more like that of a parent towards his children, not the infatuation Westerners often call love. The Western mode of thought considers physical attraction or even sexual infatuation to be love, partially contributed to by the fact that Western religions consider the body to be the self, and partially because of the push towards more open and shameless sex as a regular part of life encouraged by Hollywood and media.
Sexual infatuation–as with Romeo and Juliet–aside, what about the actual love between two unrelated people? Westerners base this on appearance, but can it not be unrelated to appearance? I believe people can have personalities that we enjoy, to the point of willingness to commit to those people, but can there be something beyond that? There was without doubt unimaginably potent love between Sita and Ram, and that must be the same love that exists between God and all of his devotees. But a tiny portion of me is a tiny bit curious, does unconditional love unrelated to appearance or bhakti, an ineluctable tie between two mortally bound souls, exist?
later in December 2014
Onion and garlic are tamasic, categorized with meat, because: Sri Krshna didn’t eat them (confirms), they are disagreeable for digestion in Ayurveda, they provoke wicked thoughts, and they are indulgent, dirty foods that a would make a good person feel like he/she is crossing some sort of barrier, as with meat and alcohol and sex.
Since I believe the purpose of life is not sexual gratification, I don’t see an enormous problem with gay men marrying women, so that both parents can have a genetic relationship with their kids, and so that gay men wouldn’t be deprived of the sensible, balanced, and peaceful nature of many women. With what I know about marriage, it is almost entirely emotional, not sexual. However, Dad said that many marriages, some he can name, have broken because of gay men were just trying to cover up their biological inclination by marrying women. The question occurred to me, is that fair to a woman to put her through a relationship with a gay man? Is that somehow cheating her, depriving her, tainting her righteous opportunity to enjoy? I understand that unless you’re bisexual, it is not within your biological realm of possibility to fathom sexual inclination to or gratification by the other sex than the one of your attraction. Yet, it’s still amazing how Hindus can put aside their belief in reincarnation, more lives and opportunities, and take sexuality so seriously as if this life were their only one, that one’s conjugal relationship is the final verdict and that one must must must be true to one’s sexuality in an overt way. My outlook on marriage agreeing with the purpose of life–why has what seemed to me to have been the original truth of all humanity, a simple application of righteous principles, become what is now just a ‘Vivek-thing’?
(Note: I have obviously learned since this journal entry. For one, all of the emotional requirements of marriage can be met between any two people regardless of gender. Even when my opinions have changed, I will include such journal entries because dialectic may help readers to absorb more.)
Sexual pleasure is a pain, the ultimate dirty and tamasic indulgence hurting so good, which makes it difficult to initially engage in. Once initiated, it is addicting, something to which you feel compelled more and more easily to return. Right after and throughout the day, life is disintegrated; when you can’t feasibly do it (you can’t have sex all day), you feel a compulsion to return to it, and your life culminates to the moment where it can happen again. Past health risks, you feel helpless when it’s not occurring and less satisfied when it occurs. It’s not a supreme moment that exemplifies the nature of human existence, but rather a delusive disintegrator.
(I am now more forgiving to sexual activity as a pursuit of pleasure. We cannot deny the natural human inclination toward it. That said, although a person who engages in regular sexual activity is not by default a bad person, the most disciplined of yogis consistently seem to practice sexual restraint.)
Although sexual compulsion and inclination is delusive and painful, it is a natural part of human embodiment that we would not be better off without; this reflects one of the ideas of our Upanishads class today, that the goal is not merely to escape, but rather to rise above and conquer.
Hunger, thirst, sensual pleasure, lust–bodily desires and experiences can be very deluding. However, you can’t just leave it all and go be a yogi in the forest, or a Buddhist monk or whatever name and face people put on renunciation. I’m not being an iconoclast; what I’m writing here is very real, and isn’t religion really about finding the truth? At least naturally, you can’t eat a meal and decide whether or not you taste it, then decide whether or not you get full; similarly, you can’t spontaneously change your biology to annul your sexuality to avoid the addictions and clouding reasoning associated with sex; you can’t choose whether or not music induces an endocrine or cerebral response, or choose if it gives you chills–it’s just not your choice. You cannot escape material sensations–but that’s not the end of the story. You can escape the attachments and delusions associated with them (kama or desire, lobha or greed on its feeding, kroda or anger on its obstruction, etc.). We can’t renounce the expectations of the sensual and material results of actions, which will come regardless of our whims and speculations–but we can renounce our dependence on those fruits. We are totally pure, but by our association with the body, which reeks of inexorable material impurities, the impurities of the body become ours (Bhagavad Gita Chapter 18, Sloka 48: “Do not abandon your innate duties, Arjuna, even if they are tainted with blemish, because just as all fire is enveloped insmoke, all undertakings are clouded with demerit.”). The actions must be performed, and the experiences will come, but as soon as we separate ourselves from the attachments to the body and its karmas, realizing those actions and experiences to be discrete from the true self, then nothing can bind one to the body any longer. Free from the bonds that hold one in the wheel of samsara, one can be pure, and with purity, one is eligible to reunite with God (in a state known as liberation, moksha, divine heaven, nirvana, etc.). That statement of truth cannot even be understood with a mindset that does not recognize the atman, the actual subtle life (which is not based in the body).
It’s difficult to find balance in life: within food, between food and other things, reality and entertainment and speculation, exercise. Then there are more outside forces, like music and sex–and no matter how you seek to quantify the confusion, it is only God Who can understand it. Getting a sense of that, how can you comfortably continue life? How can you work and forget this background force, how can you study or eat a meal? By devotion: only with love can you always be surrendered, and live in the context of that state no matter what happens in the foreground.
There is one important thing to understand regarding why Hindu texts don’t discuss issues such as homosexuality or abortion: Under Hinduism, the purpose of life is not sexual relationships. Acquiring the pleasure of cleanliness, purity, and devotion (which leads one to enjoy the supreme pleasure of the divine bliss of God) may seem to require a path that renounces a lot of what people now think are some of the only sources of happiness–namely money, intoxication, and sex alongside other physical indulgences. In other words, people have to renounce what they think are sources of happiness in order to attain real happiness. People may regard that statement with skepticism, but the reality is that if anything (assuming one doesn’t acquire instant-happiness-entailing devotion to God), the short-term displeasure of those renunciations is the only way to lead to the long-term infinite bliss of God, whereas those material items that provide immediate pleasure only lead to long-term pain and dissatisfaction. As for the pleasure derived from sex, although we cannot deny that it exists, we must know it to not be our own pleasure, because we are not these physical bodies (but rather the atman life-sources within). Yes, this argument to avoid indulgent sex is completely hopeless and short-sighted in this modern era (which Hindus know to be Kali Yuga), but the mindset that justifies free enjoyment of sex, when boiled down, is truly a manifestation of the current corruption and lack of spiritual progress of mankind. And accompanying this corruption, as we have grown further and further from God over thousands of years, we have developed and fallen prey to gender inequality, Hindu caste, monetary greed, and many other vices of man.
(Note: Again, since writing this, I have developed a far more tolerant attitude toward sexual endeavors. Now, I believe that you don’t have to renounce the short-term to attain the long-term happiness, because the two are irrelevant to each other and can coexist. You can enjoy the bliss of God without renouncing sexual or epicurean pleasures. I will generally avoid writing about “religious experiences” in this blog because of the nonsense that this cover can justify, but in this case I can assure you from my own experience that the pleasure of God satisfies all desires and all sense of incompleteness, thereby obviating cravings for external enjoyments. If true, this directly negates Maslow’s hierarchy of needs, in which there is no chance of attaining subtler goals unless physical ones have already been met–but then again, so does the existence of happy poor people. As for the relationship between mental and external enjoyments, see the final entry in this post.)
I would say the only righteous sexual desire is that for the purpose of procreation, but that would invalidate the righteousness of the inevitable sexual urges of homosexuals. As I read the Gita searching particularly for whether sexual pleasure complies with spiritual dharma, I don’t see it called off anywhere. If anything, it is rajas because of the association with body pleasure; living solely for it could be justified as tamas, however, but that doesn’t mean it is in all cases.
Sometimes there is no regret on pursuing sexual pleasure because there probably aren’t immediate drawbacks. Sexual desire is unique in that although it can return in a matter of a few hours, when it is fed, it is fed completely and entirely. Perhaps this is associated with how it is based only on the material body, because even after the moment of gratification, although the subtle mind by its connection with the body can still understand the pleasure, the desire for it and ability to be stimulated is dissipated in the body right after gratification.
Actually, there is guilt associated with it, but just if one has been previously exposed to the higher pleasure of involvement in a larger purpose (mentioned in A Path Appears, detailed in the Gita). Things would be different if such pleasure had no spiritual repercussions. But it can’t be such, because one can’t attain the Supreme without freedom from the material. The superior satisfaction of control over the cravings can only be understood once that path has already been taken. If anything, sexual pleasure can serve as a reminder of and encouragement to attain the real goal, because greater gratification in the moment is hard to imagine, let alone the infinite pleasure of God; the conception that pleasure can be greater than that experience can encourage bhakti. However, while a larger cause requires full dedication, entailing escape and forgetting mundane, material life, sex firms your attachment to and mental association with the body, because it directly involves consciously deriving pleasure from it.
Sex leads to instability and anger, which clouds knowledge (Chapter 2). Common perception doesn’t matter; it’s Kali Yuga, and everyone else’s bondage doesn’t justify pursuing activities that will lead to our own. After all, God says He is the sexual desire leading to procreation, not to pleasure.
In certain ways, it must be nice for a male homosexual to live in our society, because gay men aren’t corrupted by the unfortunately common use of women as sex symbols.
It is possible that God diminishes sexual drive to allow us to avoid distractions during the day?
Chapter 18: a jnanayogi must renounce lust, but on the other hand, a karmayogi attains God even while performing action. Presumably, this means while a jnanayogi must deny sexual urges, a karmayogi can at least accept them as a natural occurrence (actually energized by God, Chapter 7) and even follow them for procreation. However, this should never be motivation to pursue karmayoga, because under that mindset sex is pursued for pleasure, whereas it should only be undertaken for procreation. Any yogi knows or eventually realizes that sexual pleasure is not a lasting pleasure, rather a transient and sleazy pleasure (sometimes of an addict), a chemical release in the brain like those associated with drug use, that clouds the buddhi, obfuscating the dharmic from the adharmic, and makes one cling to material nature (rajasic dhriti). And after all, Sri Krshna says not pursuing this body-centric (therefore rajasic or even tamasic if destructive) pleasure may begin as poison, but end up as nectar with the pleasure of self-control.
Delicate idea: perhaps homosexuality is a blessing from God, because for homosexuals, dharmic procreation is not entangled with physiological desire. This would make MSM or other forms of homosexual courting or intercourse adharmic.
Sex itself can be performed under any of the three gunas, but the pleasure itself, derived from the body, cannot be sattvic. Renunciation is not only of physical sex, but also of thoughts of it and indulgent observance of attractive people.
Perhaps they want to be true to themselves, but homosexuals should not marry just with the prospects of sexual pleasure. As for “love,” as in emotional commitment and not physical attraction like between Romeo and Juliet, I believe it can be towards anyone, of any gender or physiology.
Why must one avoid sex? Isn’t it just like having a really good meal? Perhaps one of the differences, among the many major ones, is that sex for pleasure removes the possibility of divinity from interaction with other people.
Why do women seem to demonstrate no sexual drive? Are they have more self-control than men, or do they secrete fewer or less strong hormones (warranting the new women’s libido pill)?
Recalling that a sensual pleasure is supported by an infinitesimal portion of God’s infinite yogic power (Bhagavad Gita 10.42) eventually serves as an excuse for pursuing sexual pleasure. There doesn’t seem to be any proper way to pursue the pleasure–although the activity itself can be righteous, if done solely for appropriate procreation. We must first renounce sexual activity, then restrain lust. Perhaps the mindset that God sustains the pleasure by a tiny portion of His glory only works when the pleasure escalates, because just as pain is difficult to imagine when we’re not in it, sexual pleasure is difficult to refer to as an experience.
(Note: now I see that people don’t have sex to be righteous, so this has little importance. Not all activities are directly productive.)
I feel like many great Hindus personally scorn homosexuals as sleazy, and I don’t really see why. Perhaps, not coincidentally, those Hindus are under the strong influence of Indian culture. Sure, maybe homosexual practices and indulgence are bad, but not any worse than heterosexual indulgence.
Just as masturbation ruins a person’s sanctified relationship with life, indulgent sexual relations with others must ruin pure relationships with others.
(My current view is that while masturbation does seem like a sleazy practice on first sight, in small doses it can relieve stress without descending into a habit of dependence, i.e. addiction.)
I always struggled to see the difference between masturbation and sex for pleasure; to me, the only difference is in the number of people involved. But today, Mom offered me some insight into the Indian view of this issue of the compatibility of sexual pleasure with spirituality. She said that people just don’t live alone–even Sri Krshna and Sri Rama got married–and part of a matrimonial relationship is sex, respecting and fulfilling the desires of the spouse. But what if the spouse doesn’t want sex and you do? Is the solution masturbation, to appease the body’s unwanted urges without involving another person? If not masturbation (which is apparently so impure iOS will never autocorrect to it), is the solution to this unilateral desire restraint of those sexual urges? But doesn’t that defeat one of the purposes of marriage? My mom really didn’t show any approval of masturbation, which she said causes impurities in the mind that prevent effect execution of duties with its distractions–and I can see some truth in that. That means that she thinks that sex in moderation within a married couple, in the proper way, even if it isn’t solely for procreation, is compatible with moving towards God, and therefore has the potential to not obstruct spiritual sensibility. Then how does homosexuality, where there exists no attraction to the opposite sex, fit into this model? Obviously, no procreation arises from MSM (or its female counterpart), so it serves no purpose whatsoever except gratification. But if righteous heterosexual marriages can involve sex only for pleasure, can’t the same righteous union happen between homosexuals in a same-sex marriage? It seems in the past, Hindus have drawn the line there at where is it acceptable to derive sexual pleasure, but if they stigmatize homosexuals and same-sex marriage for that reason, then that by default upsets the basis of justifying pleasure in heterosexual marriage.
I appreciate the great art and realistic depictions Hollywood and Bollywood have brought us–The Help, Twelve Years a Slave, Three Idiots, Barfi!–and I appreciate good comedy. However, now I can see the force Hollywood has been in glamorizing sex, alcohol, and violence. The way Bollywood has degraded women as sex tools as main characters and in item songs is becoming quite evident, but Hollywood has its ails, too, which India probably took too far in trying to emulate Hollywood in favor of these detrimental aspects of our era.
After much thought about it, I think I may have discovered the acceptable way to pursue sexual pleasure: out of compulsion by the body, whose hormones we don’t control, but not out of compulsion by the mind, the site of addiction. Even if this doesn’t quite fit the integrating model of yoga, represented by a chariot, that begins with conquering of the senses with the mind, then the mind, by the intellect, at the same time, conquering the mind has far more spiritual relevance than conquering the senses, even if the order in which either is done is unconventional.