Eroticism and celibacy in Hinduism
“There has always been tension in Hinduism between sexuality and celibacy,” said Sudhir Kakar, a noted Indian psychoanalyst who also has translated--with “On Faith” panelist Wendy Doniger--the Kamasutra.
“The idea in Hinduism is the transformation of sexuality into spirituality, that we can sublimate our sexual energy and use celibacy as a transformative power, into the creative fire. All yogis and gurus will say that. They are supposed to be celibate. It doesn’t happen often though. There are stories, dances and dramas of the greatest yogis being tempted by women.”
I spoke to Kakar by phone at his home in Goa while I was in New Delhi on a recent trip India. It was Valentine’s Day, a day in India that exemplified the very tension he was talking about. “Even in modern day India,” he said, “the tension still exists.”
Valentine’s Day is huge in India with hearts and flowers in shops, restaurants and hotels everywhere. The Hindustani Times was full of stories about Valentine’s Day, not only about the celebrations but the protests. It seems the big meeting places for lovers on Valentine’s Day are the parks. However, a group of protesters called Shiv Sainiks or the Saffron brigade, had to be kept out of the parks by the police and the Students Federation of India. “We have formed 27 teams to take round of the city to take the side of the lovers,” said the president of the student federation, according to the paper.
Another group , Hindu Mahasabha “burnt effigies symbolizing the western culture” celebrating Valentine’s Day. One group raided a park and forced the lovers out. The paper also printed columns from readers pro and con Valentine’s Day. All of this in a country which has, as one of its most cherished monuments a temple in Khajuraho filled with couples in explicit sexual positions.
“Sex in the Hindu tradition,” Kakar said, “is supposed to be a part of life. But it is only for the household stage….Students are supposed to be celibate. Celibacy is a big virtue in Hinduism.” Also, after couples have grandchildren, “you are supposed to stop sexual practice and start thinking of your salvation,” he said. It is a great embarrassment to a Hindu couple-- no matter how young they still are--if the wife becomes pregnant after they have grandchildren, Kakar added, because it indicates that they are still having intimate relations.
Contrary to what many Westerners think, the Kamasutra is not really a sex manual at all but rather is about “the art of living,” according to Kakar and Doniger.” (Book Two is the chapter that intrigues most Westerners.) From the 3rd century, when it was written, until the 12th century, “eroticism had its greatest influence in Hinduism,” Kakar related. It was during that period that the temples of Khajuraho were built.
Even then, however, there was still tension between sexuality and celibacy, Kakar said. “Should one be celibate or should one celebrate sexuality? Though sexuality was celebrated, it was believed that one part of life has to be subordinated to spiritual life,” he noted.
Kakar likened this tension to the “fashion in early Christianity, to the beliefs of St. Teresa and St. Augustine. “Saint Teresa said that without passion one cannot come near God,” he said. “She is not necessarily referring to sex but it is implied. St. Augustine struggled with passion. He gave into his lust but finally gave it up. Christianity was anti-body and anti-sex. In Hinduism, sex has always had a role, though not in the way of most modern societies in the U.S. and the West, with their explicit magazines.”
According to Kakar, it was in the 5th and 6th century that tantric sex started in Hinduism. “Vajrajana was the tantric school of Buddhism where sublimation of sexuality into spirituality took the role of sexual intercourse as part of the religious ritual. “The idea was not to enjoy sex, not to have desire, to sublimate passion, to withhold. That was always there in Hindus and Buddhists.” Kakar says that modern day tantric sex has become something of a fad. “Let’s have sex and call it spiritual.”
Today in India, he says, tantric sex is considered immoral although there are still groups that practice it. “Groups of worshipers will do it in private houses in secret, he says. “Even though it is part of their religion it is a punishable offense. You can be put in jail.”
The psychoanalyst said that Mahatma Gandhi was well-known for his views that sex was only for procreation. He had four children but was always troubled by his own sexuality. “He felt that his spiritual and political powers would only come through celibacy,” Kakar said. “When in his 70’s he tried to stop the Hindus and Muslims from fighting. He felt he was not successful because of his sexuality. At nights he would lie down with two women to see if he could he could do it without passion.”
Kakar himself has been caught up in the tensions between religion and sexuality, authoring many books on the subject that have made him very controversial in India. Some people disapprove of what they believe is his introduction to India of Western ideas (He got his masters and doctorate degrees in Germany and has taught at Harvard). Others find his work emancipating.
Is he religious, I asked? “No I am an agnostic,” he replied. “But I have faith in these ideas. I would adhere to the notion that sexual fire is creative, not something to be easily trifled with. It shouldn’t be looked upon as other pleasures like having a drink…It is to be approached with seriousness and humility. This is the only transcendence that humans are capable of, that most of us will ever know, the only real transportive moment.”
Kakar said he believes that saints and mystics are capable of transcendence, the experience of being completely outside of yourself that most of us do not achieve.
And he said that most people can’t find transcendence all the time in sex. “All animals are sad after sex. It is because it has not happened, the surrender has not been possible. If you haven’t surrendered then it is not sex. Indiscriminate sex is not transcendent," he said. "It should be spiritual,” he added. “There should be laughter and enjoyment. To me that means not being confined or constrained. It should be an out-of-body, out-of-mind experience. It should be sacred.”
Posted by Sally Quinn on February 20, 2007 3:03 PM
I am happy to see the faith tradition of Hinduism being addressed in the On Faith blog. We need to hear about the diverse religious traditions more. I just wish that the commentator was more invested in the tradition than he appears to be. (Noting that he is agnostic.)
Addressing the topic: I noted elsewhere that in yogic practice that the sexual energy can be used through the practice of celibacy to develop a closer relationship with the Divine and ultimately union with the Divine. The practice should be combined with other yogic practices,such as meditation, hatha yoga bhacti yoga (devotion) and chanting.
Posted February 20, 2007 6:02 PM
Posted on February 20, 2007 18:02
---Should one be celibate or should one celebrate sexuality?----
Should I wear black socks or blue?
I guess, like the above statement, it's all up to me and has nothing to do with any fantasy land myths!
Posted February 20, 2007 8:07 PM
Posted on February 20, 2007 20:07
Absolutely, anonymous! Earlier I was thinking about keeping things that bother me in perspective. Religious folks can be pretty annoying with their constant bleating about sexual dos and don'ts, but at least I live in a place and time where mostly they just whine. Unfortunately, much of the world is yet under religious subjugation, and people are still being oppressed and murdered for failing to toe the sexual lines drawn with those fantasy-land myths.
Posted February 20, 2007 10:57 PM
Posted on February 20, 2007 22:57
actually this entire article was written already by the afore- and many mentioned kakar- what is the point of repeating what kakar said when he said it himself whith an almost identical title???
Posted February 21, 2007 4:09 AM
Posted on February 21, 2007 04:09
I looked for Sudhir Kakar everywhere among the panelists, both regular and guest and could not find him. I assume you saw his writing elsewhere. Could you provide the link? One of my points was that we could use more genuine voices from the Hindu tradition,(and other Eastern traditions as well.)
Posted February 21, 2007 9:48 AM
Posted on February 21, 2007 09:48
All religions seem to go nuts over sex. Their sexual edicts and prescriptions only increase the amount of suffering in the world.
Even the Dalai Lama (who should know better) has gone back and forth over the issue of homosexuality.
None of these religions' carrying on about sex is spiritual or contributes to a better universe.
Posted February 21, 2007 11:55 AM
Posted on February 21, 2007 11:55
Ms Quinn, you say:
1) Mahatma Gandhi held the view that sex was only for procreation and was troubled by his own sexuality.
2) Sudhir Kakar would adhere to the notion that sexual fire is creative, not something to be easily trifled with.
3) Kakar believes that saints and mystics are capable of transcendence, which most of us do not achieve.
Since I have shared the Gandhian view (1) for almost a quarter of a century, following persuasion by St Augustine that the way of celibacy was the path to psychic cleanliness (3), which made me give up my previous sexual activism (2) with a succession of beautiful mistresses, I feel called to respond to your text.
Any evolutionary biologist would readily agree that sex was only "for" procreation in a quite evident sense. The more or less permanent state of sexual appetite that we seem doomed to experience is a side-effect that is certainly troubling if one's goal is to rise above it, and is enjoyable only in the sense that one can artfully enjoy the slaking of any appetite. Transcendent joy through sex is a rare and splendid state, unreachable in my humble opinion via sexual athletics, indeed as unbiddable as the mystic transport of any exalted state of mind.
Gandhi also believed that a person who could contain his (speaking for males here) sexual appetite was as rare and as valuable as a diamond in a mass of rock. He thought we should all aspire to diamondhood in order to enjoy its sublimity and potential for mystic bliss, knowing full well that only a tiny minority would achieve that state. Given the clouding of inner vision that can accompany addiction to "recreational" sex, I find his view convincing.
In short, I think the Hindus are onto something here. Their nuanced views can help the weaker among us grow out of psychosexual depravity in an age of instant porn far more smoothly and certainly than if we put our trust in the often harsh repression of traditional Christian or Islamic moral codes.
Thank you for reminding us of this rich Hindu tradition.
Posted February 21, 2007 3:35 PM
Posted on February 21, 2007 15:35
I don't know how else to get hold of you except through this forum, and this post is not about eroticism etc. But I wanted to suggest that you invite Ayaan Hirsi Ali to write a piece for the On Faith series. You have had all sorts of Muslim apologists write their pieces. Lets hear from the other side.
Posted February 21, 2007 5:20 PM
Posted on February 21, 2007 17:20
" Their nuanced views can help the weaker among us grow out of psychosexual depravity in an age of instant porn far more smoothly and certainly than if we put our trust in the often harsh repression of traditional Christian or Islamic moral codes.
Thank you for reminding us of this rich Hindu tradition. "
Well, I am Indian and I feel called to respond to what seems to me utter bilge by Mr Kakar and am surprised that you have taken the time to scramble your brains over this.
Now, by your leave, I shall do so too...
There is nothing nuanced about the pornography thats spread out over the "sites of heritage". And the Kamasutra, for all its claims of refinement, is still an ancient porn mag, written possibly by, Hugh Hefner in a previous incarnation - if you believe that.
The biggest comic-tragedy is when I see Westerners look at the most atrocious art in India and speak admiringly of it and - here's the rub - actually purchase it. Countless tourists provide adequate - if unwilling - testimony.
If I now take pictures of penthouse and stick them all over my beautifully built house and have plasma flat screens screening XXX porn, fixed to the front of my house, will your descendants, say - in a thousand years - that I have the rich tradition that will help them "grow out of their psycho-sexual depravity".
As for what you say about "Repressed Christianity" and Islam or whatever, have you never read the Song of Solomon?
Son 4:11 Your lips drip nectar, my bride; honey and milk are under your tongue; the fragrance of your garments is like the fragrance of Lebanon.
Son 7:7 Your stature is like a palm tree, and your breasts are like its clusters.
Son 7:8 I say I will climb the palm tree and lay hold of its fruit. Oh may your breasts be like clusters of the vine, and the scent of your breath like apples,
Son 7:9 and your mouth like the best wine. It goes down smoothly for my beloved, gliding over lips and teeth.
Son 7:10 I am my beloved's, and his desire is for me.
Son 7:11 Come, my beloved, let us go out into the fields and lodge in the villages;
Son 7:12 let us go out early to the vineyards and see whether the vines have budded, whether the grape blossoms have opened and the pomegranates are in bloom. There I will give you my love.
Son 7:13 The mandrakes give forth fragrance, and beside our doors are all choice fruits, new as well as old, which I have laid up for you, O my beloved.
I think when I get married in a few months time, THIS will help me graduate from my "psycho-sexual depravity" more than all the clay figures of Khajuraho.
Sex is such a God given gift. Its neither sacred that I should worship it nor evil that I must abhor it. I can enjoy it and give thanks to Christ who bled on the cross so I could enjoy it as innocent as a child. I can enjoy this fruit without needing to "transcend" and drink deeply of sexual love, without being repressed.
Ofcourse, with one woman, one in seven billion. And why? Because it honors God, and also because she (my would-be wife) is worth it. She's worth my abstinence before marriage and my fidelity after it.
Its great when people point out the inconsistencies of Christianity, but the fact remains there isn't a freer religion than it. Its us Christians who do not perfectly follow the Gospel and end up looking like a repressed lot. Well am free! and am certainly not repressed.
As for the kamasutra? Piffle. The author had a fantasy world just like all men who masturbate and day dream about a world when men and women freely copulated on the sidewalks and on the road in in the verandas of their bungalows. And such a pervert, wrote it down. Today, when they do it, its "instant porn".
Our PSD (pycho-sexual...yadda) started back then. Nothing new under the sun eh?
I fear our nuanced view of things might just encourage the very PSD, people hope to grow out of.
Posted February 22, 2007 2:11 AM
Posted on February 22, 2007 02:11
ALM- go to main page in the upper left hand corner and click and its on that page called erotichindu spiritualism-
also on the question of treatment of women in religion there is a lovely post by a hindu lady-
MORA- I would say that there are no panelists or guest voices who have made a career of hating and spreading prejudice and to invite Ayaan Hirsi Ali on these boards would be like asking David Duke -
SALLY- please examine te works of this person before you make such a determination-
id say we have secualr apologists and atheist apologists and christian apologists and muslim apologists and hindu apologists and jewish apologists on these boards but ive never heard anyone suggest that someone who is anti- something should be considered a valid panelists-
such a writer as Ali would only be a magnet for islamophobes and haters to vent and would be a most negative and counter-productive to the purposes of this forum which is to foster understanding and establish bridges of communication- not propogate paranoia-
its like asking them to have a neo-nazi so that all opinions can be represented-
Ali doesnt represent a faith or philosophy- just an overt hatred of one-
Posted February 22, 2007 2:37 AM
Posted on February 22, 2007 02:37
I would say that Richard Dawkins hates religion,and
so does Sam Harris both of whom are panelists.
We need their voices to counter the notion that religion is actually a wonderful thing that we should all believe in and persuade others to do likewise.
The Hindu religion condemns the lower cast person
and his offspring to a life of grudgery with little or no chance of ever changing this state of affairs.
Their best bet is to change their religion to Buddhism or Islam. I dont know whether they would be allowed to become atheists or agnostic.
Posted February 22, 2007 12:51 PM
Posted on February 22, 2007 12:51
You say there is nothing nuanced about the pornography thats spread out over the "sites of heritage", the Kamasutra is an ancient porn mag, and that our "PSD" started back then.
Actually, it started way before then with stone age carvings of "fertility goddesses" (the ancestors of Britney Spears). I agree with you that the Indian carvings are essentially porn. But I think they are nice porn, like Playboy and other mags that depict happy, healthy, beautiful women, who may indeed one day be shown in respectable galleries as instances of 20/21st century art. For me, PSD is the sort of thing that grows up when such popular art is held in contempt, and depicts much uglier subjects.
OK, my beautiful may be your ugly and so on, but I contend that in principle there are more or less universal (Platonic) standards of truth, goodness and beauty.
I wish you a long and happy marriage.
Posted February 22, 2007 3:01 PM
Posted on February 22, 2007 15:01
Soja John Thaikattil:
Dear Ms Quinn
Many thanks for posting the recent thoughts Dr Kakar shared with you during your recent telephone interview with him on the topic, “Eroticism and Celibacy in Hinduism.” My two responses to his comment on 16 February 2007: “Erotic Hindu Spirituality” was based on his post alone, so the additional information you have provided here gives me a little more material to reflect on.
As an Indian woman who was born and raised there, the insight of the Indian psyche by a Western trained Indian psychoanalyst is valuable. Dom Bede Griffiths, from the perspective of an Englishman, wrote that Indians live from the unconscious whereas in the West, the rational mind is in control. Since Freudian psychoanalysis deals primarily with the content of the unconscious, the particulars that Dr Kakar has unearthed about the Indian psyche are significant. I do think there is a need for Indians to learn to bring the contents of their unconscious mind to the conscious level, so that they are not merely driven and ruled by unconscious forces and habits they are not consciously aware of. Freudian psychoanalysis being ideally suited to uncover the sexually repressed parts of the unconscious should liberate those Indians who need to be more aware of the ways in which sexuality can disguise itself and express itself in unhealthy ways. I welcome a shift in consciousness which brings more romance to Indian marriages. Most of all I long for the day when there will be no double moral standards which favour men and put women at a disadvantage.
Emancipation or no emancipation, no matter what form emancipation may take, I personally believe that the best advice regarding love based relationships was given through an Indian poster displayed at the International AIDS Conference in Berlin 1993, titled: “Many positions with one is better than one position with many.” Referring to the author of Kamasutra, Dr Kakar wrote, “On four occasions in the text he insists that the main purpose of the Kamasutra is not the promotion of passion. On the contrary, a person who truly understands the book knows how to control his senses. The Kamasutra thus begins with the sutra, "He who wishes to preserve virtue, wealth and love in this world and the next must have a thorough knowledge of this treatise and, at the same time, master his senses" and ends with the admonition, "A wise man, proficient in all things, considering both his ethics and material interest, must not be a sensualist, thirsty for sex but must establish a stable marriage. The disjunction between virtue and sexuality is most clearly seen with regard to adultery which is unequivocally condemned as a great sin in the dharma texts.”
In my opinion, Dr Kakar’s interpretation of spirituality has some limitation. I wish to make the following observations:
1. Dr Kakar’s views on ‘Eroticism and Celibacy in Hinduism’ are the perspective of an agnostic Indian, NOT a Hindu Indian. His training in the Western school of Freudian psychoanalysis seems to be reflected in the sceptical tone discernible in his interpretation of eroticism and celibacy in Hinduism. Freudian psychoanalysis after all isn’t very open to religious concepts and has a unique interpretation of the role of sex in the human psyche.
2. When Dr Kakar sceptically states that gurus and yogis are supposed to be celibate but it doesn’t always happen, that St Theresa of Avila implied eroticism when she referred to the passion of the soul for God, and that St Augustine gave in to his lust but finally gave it up, what does he really mean? It is quite clear that St Theresa of Avila did not mean eroticism in the way Dr Kakar implies. In fact she even forbade nuns from praying for missionary priests if they noticed that the praying for a male priest became a pretext to indulge in disguised erotic thoughts about him. St Augustine supposedly fathered a child outside marriage, BEFORE he was converted, but after his conversion to Christianity, he remained celibate for the rest of his life.
3. It remains a fact that many yogis and gurus DID remain faithful to their vow of celibacy and went on to be great teachers. The number of yogis or anyone else who failed to live up to expectations does not negate the goal of celibacy in the spiritual traditions of not only Hinduism, but also Buddhism and Christianity.
4. Mahatma Gandhi chose Brahmacharya or celibacy because of his conviction that it was a powerful means to realise God. Gandhi was a passionate married man who tried to live like a sannyasi in the world, abandoning his wife only sexually but had her around him. Since he did not live like a recluse in the forest safely out of reach of worldly temptation, it is to be expected that he must have struggled with remaining celibate. But one must view his sense of deep guilt about sexuality from an incident in his life which has little to do with his religious belief. The deeply traumatising incident happened on the night his father died. It turned out that his father passed away in the night while he was making love to his wife. He had been keeping vigil with his father that night, and retired to his room shortly before his father passed away. Gandhi felt it was his lust that had prevented him from being with his father when he breathed his last. That is most likely the source of his irrational guilt regarding sexuality which has nothing to do with his views on celibacy in Hinduism. Could Gandhi have been an equally effective politician if he had not chosen Brahmacharya? We don’t know. Maybe yes. But the point is that he was acting in accordance with his convictions. Was Gandhi an infallible man? No. He achieved so much because he did everything with great passion, and his religious practice to attain God-realisation was definitely the most important part of his life, and he considered his politics only a fruit of his religion. It turned out that in the process Gandhi didn’t get it right always. For instance he carried his diet fad to a ridiculous extreme. Although he mentions in his autobiography that his carnal desires for his wife disappeared sometime after he took his vow of Brahmacharya, as per the incident related in your post, if it is true, then it seems he did have his quirk with his vow of Brahmacharya late in life, and driven by the deep seated guilt mentioned earlier, probably made an irrational associations. But the fact remains that Gandhi he was a psychologically healthy man who was willing to sacrifice anything (including his life as he claimed) to achieve his goal of God-realisation and achieved much more in his life than most ordinary mortals do. He is the man about whom Einstein said that in generations to come the world would scarce believe that such a man walked the face of this earth.
5. Dr Kakar asks, “Should one be celibate or should one celebrate sexuality?” It should be noted that celibacy was not forced on anyone in Hinduism. So why is there a need for an either/or question? In fact many great Yogis and teachers in answering the call of God ran away from their homes against the wishes of their families who wanted them to get married. (Males have the responsibility to take care of parents.) But does that mean that every person who left home in search of God was going to be infallible and destined for greatness? Does that make the genuine calling of celibacy questionable as a valid path to realise God? What exactly does Dr Kakar mean by celebrating sexuality in a spiritual way? Does any Hindu text prohibit celebration of sex by married partners?
6. I agree with Dr Kakar that a sexual union based on love maybe the only form of transcendence that most human beings may ever know. But I’m of the opinion that such a relationship should form part of a love relationship, not merely a commitment to have a sexual relationship, no matter how spiritual, free and without constraints it may be. I’m not sure however what Dr Kakar means by confined or constrained. Does it refer to the technicalities of the sexual relationship or with regard to commitment? Since some Indians consider his books controversial because it introduces the Western idea, it must refer to the nature of the relationship rather than technicalities of sex. Many will recall the Indian Guru from Poona, Rajneesh (later known as Osho) and his sexually liberating spirituality. He offered a modified form of Tantric Hinduism to his followers. The only Indians who considered him a spiritual guru were sexually emancipated film stars. The ordinary Indian referred to him as “ sex-guru” and was of the opinion that Rajneesh was popular only among those who wanted uninhibited sex with no commitment for he offered them a way deal with their sense of guilt and shame (most of them from the West being conditioned by their Christian culture) by calling such sexuality spiritual.
7. Despite arranged marriages conducted when one is quite young, which adequately meets one's sexual needs in a safe manner, it is understandable that some Indians welcome the sexual emancipation recommended through Dr Kakar’s books, after all not every Indian is happy to follow the strict moral code enforced by the society. At least in some cases it can be said that virtue is merely lack of opportunity or fear of society. The sexual emancipation will herald a new era in India, where there will be less sexual hypocrisy and any effort on Dr Kakar’s part to reduce hypocrisy must be applauded.
8. It is however simplistic to assume that all sexual problems would disappear with the advent of sexual freedom in India. The West has had to cope with unwanted teenage pregnancies and India when it goes down the path of unlimited sexual freedom, must brace itself for abortions in the millions. High divorce rates and single parent families also come with the freedom. Statistics in the West shows that sexual crimes such as incest and paedophilia have nothing to do with lack of sexual freedom. Many sexual tourists in Eastern countries are from the emancipated West. Sexual addictions in all its different variations haven’t automatically disappeared.
9. Uninhibited sexual freedom is a double edged sword and young Indians must be given very good sex education in schools which cover all aspects of sexuality in order that they may use their new found freedom with wisdom, learning from the mistakes of the West while accepting what is good.
Back to Hindu Spirituality:
Dom Bede Griffiths in the introduction to his book “River of Compassion” wrote, “In the Upanishads the understanding always was that in order to reach supreme knowledge or wisdom, jnana, it was necessary to retire to the forest and to meditate. Only the sannyasi, the monk, could attain moksha, liberation. Thus the Upanishads could only be a religion of a few. What changed everything was the doctrine of the Gita (mine - composed between 500 – 50 BC), that the householder, living an ordinary life but having bhakti, devotion to God, could reach this state of supreme union, not only as well as, but even more easily than the sannyasi. For the Bhagavad Gita, sannyasa is a difficult path for the few; bakthi is the normal path for the many. That is why the Gita has become a handbook for the Hindu, a kind of New Testament, because it is a teaching for the householder, the man living his ordinary life in the world, married and with children. By his devotion to Krishna, the personal God, he is able to reach moksha, to attain final liberation… It should be remembered that originally in the Vedas (mine – oldest surviving Scripture of the world whose oral composition was complete around 1500 BC after being composed for hundreds of years), karma means ritual work. There is a section of the Vedas concerned with ritual, but it was always considered inferior. When Adi Shankara (mine – originally a Nambudiri Brahmin from Kerala, who is credited with winning back most of the Indian Buddhists to Hinduism), the great doctor of Vedanta of the eighth century, said that nobody could reach moksha, liberation, through karma, he was simply saying that ritual will not suffice. After the Vedic period, the idea of karma was extended to include moral action in general and then social action.”
Sri Ramakrishna Paramahamsa (1836-1886) wrote: “God realisation is possible for all. The householders need not renounce the world; but they should pray sincerely, practice discrimination between the Eternal and the temporal and remain unattached. God listens to sincere prayer. Intense longing is the secret of success in spiritual life… Lust and greed are the two main obstacles to God realisation.”
Soja John Thaikattil
Posted February 23, 2007 2:31 AM
Posted on February 23, 2007 02:31
Soja John Thaikattil:
For some reason, the thought of St Theresa of Avila continued after I wrote my comments earlier. Her idea of genuine spiritual friendships with members of the opposite sex comes to mind, so I wish to share the thoughts that arise in that connection. St Theresa had a few consciously cultivated spiritual friends of the opposite sex. Transforming the erotic attraction (if it is present) to a genuinely deep spiritual caring and platonic friendship is not easy, but it is an ideal worth striving for, and St Theresa of Avila makes a good guide. Some may find the work involved more challenging than others. It is understandable why cultures had such strict rules about separation of the sexes and rigid codes of behaviour. The downside to the rigid system has been hypocrisy and the tendency to view the opposite sex as a sex object even more. But we live in a global culture today where the structures of separation of the sexes don’t exist for the most part and each of us has to take complete responsibility for our own moral code. Friendship with the opposite sex is a part of life, so it is well worth learning the rules for it from experts like St Theresa of Avila.
Since Dr Kakar primarily writes about the Indian psyche for the Indian population, I wish to share my personal experience as an Indian woman between East and West. While growing up in India, I was lucky to have the kind of freedom that very few in the middle class enjoyed at the time. Having always attended co-education schools (the two years of primary schooling in a convent school included boys in class) and a professional college where it was normal to be with males, it was natural for me to relate to the opposite sex platonically. However since my paternal grandmother and father belonged to the old school, I have had first hand experience of the rigidity and the paranoia that sometimes accompanies the Indian system. While my mother trusted me, and I bored her with every single detail of my life, I had to fight with my father for my right to cultivate friendships with members of the opposite I studied with. I wanted to live a life in which I was free to make my choices, with nothing to hide from my family or society. Although I had plenty of opportunity for sex before marriage and my sex instinct was/is no different from anyone else, what did serve as a beacon was my Christian conviction that Jesus wanted the best for me when He disapproved of sex outside marriage. Fear of parents or society could not have stopped me from having as much sexual experience as possible, if that was what I really wanted. Without God’s grace I might never have remained a virgin as I wanted to. My soul longed for the West for reasons I could not understand. The Sannyasin and the incurable romantic in me had been in a state of permanent battle. Finally God spoke through the circumstances of my life. I was a twenty seven year old virgin, when I met the man who said the words: “I thought I came to India to meditate but I realise I came to India to find you. Fr Bede told me that you wanted to marry and he had assured you that God would bring you the right man. Well, I’m that man.” We both committed our relationship to God within three weeks of the first meeting – first in a religious ceremony conducted by Dom Bede Griffiths, and a second time in a ceremony conducted specially for my family (who objected to the match because he was German) by the Jesuit priest who had introduced us at his meditation centre. (The formal marriage had been put off because there was not enough time to arrange it, and also because he wanted his Jesuit Zen master to conduct it in the presence of his family and friends.) The relationship was meant to last a lifetime. The twists and turns my life took after that relationship came to an ugly end, has made me who I am today. The marriage of East and West had disastrous and life changing consequences for me. Yet I can see that the relationship had its purpose and I do not regret it. As far as my family was concerned I had become a Sannyasi. So both wishes were granted to me, however imperfectly!
Today, I am far from having that proverbial beautiful broken glass window made out of my life. One part of the broken glass window could be said to be complete when the man who came to India to find me was called to meet his Creator at a young age, while he was the legal partner of another woman. I was thus freed of the Christian lifelong commitment we had both made before God. I have had to learn what Fr Bede tried to teach me – human love is finite and fallible, and it is foolish to expect a human being to take God’s place, despite the fact that a lifelong love relationship is the closest we get to experiencing God’s unconditional love. My training in celibacy, with a clear spiritual and rational basis, practised since I was young, stands me in good stead now as I, celibate for ten years, seek the guidance of the Holy Spirit about my future regarding work and love.
Did I need Dr Kakar’s message of emancipation when I was growing up in India? NO. The Bible as a clear moral guide was all I needed. Did anyone else I knew at the time need it? No. There was not a single person I knew who seemed to need to be given permission to give free reign to their sexuality. Everyone’s struggle seemed to be to keep sexuality reigned in until they married at a young age, most succeeded, some didn't. Spiritual instructions I read were about taming the sex instinct and about the basis for the moral code in Christianity. So what do I think India needs from the perspective of Dr Kakar? Considering the freedom I enjoyed in relating to the opposite sex is now becoming the norm in Indian society, every Indian man and woman needs to become conscious of their sexuality in order to tame it and express it appropriately – with discrimination and in the context of true love – without basing their morals on culture and tradition alone. The average Indian lives by the moral code set out by the society, because in Hinduism there is no centralised structure to religion like the Abrahamic faiths. I believe Dr Kakar’s insight that sexual energy should not be trifled with, and to add a spiritual dimension to sexual expression needs to become ingrained at a conscious level. It would do everyone good to be consciously aware of the many disguises sexuality can take which Dr Kakar as a Freudian psychoanalyst would be in a good position to explain. It is also essential to appreciate the limit of Freudian psychoanalysis, the value of sexual morals developed in religions, and the spiritual power of real celibacy, even if it is aspired by only a few and achieved by even fewer aspirants. The moral code of no religion or the particular religion an Indian chooses to practice must be consciously accepted and written consciously in one’s heart. Since there is so much taboo about discussing sex, nobody receives any real sex education.
Not just in Hinduism, but for anyone at all, life should be about celebrating sexuality within marriage for all who are married, or in a genuinely loving monogamous relationship for those who are not, and making a simultaneous vow of celibacy outside that relationship. The rare monk, nun, sannyasi or yogis called to a life of celibacy are not bound by the rules of society because they don’t belong to it. If they choose to take the vow of celibacy and make a mockery of that vow, it is really a matter for them to sort out with their God and not with the society of which they are no longer a part. If a spiritual seeker chooses to be instructed by a Guru who makes a mockery of his vow of celibacy, then the seeker has merely found what he has unconsciously searched for in the depths of his heart - after all a seeker has the freedom to move on at any time to a genuine guru of his choice.
As claimed by Scripture and confirmed by holy men and women, the transcendence of God realisation is possible without going into the forest or taking a vow of complete celibacy.
Soja John Thaikattil
Posted by: JMarra | May 6, 2007 1:59 PM
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Posted by: Geoffrey A. Wheeler | March 1, 2007 11:03 AM
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