Sunday, September 14, 2014

Yoga and sexual conduct

In a recent conversation, the age-old topic of the need or desirability of sexual abstinence came up. The exchange made me contemplate this vexed question again: there is only so much you can think through in a lifetime, and perhaps my opinions had been made in haste and needed some correction. Without having really developed a definitive viewpoint, I have to reformulate my present thinking about it.

Celibacy, pro and con  

Out of politeness already, I wouldn’t want to condemn abstinence as superfluous or, as some consider it, harmful. I know too many people who have chosen celibacy as a lifestyle, either by oath or de facto, and seem to be quite satisfied with it, apparently never even giving it another thought. While stories of sex scandals (true or false) involving gurus make good newspaper headlines, I have known quite a few celibate monks who were great yogis and never seemed to have doubted their choice, e.g. the late Swami Hariharananda Giri, Swami Veda Bharati, Swami Dayananda Saraswati (of Coimbatore), or Swami Naradanada Tirth. If you have a sufficiently heady goal, most of all yoga, it can make you forget most worldly attachments, including the need of a mate. They also cite some important advantages, to be discussed below. Still, the objections to it are equally old, and were often expressed by people with long and voluntary (but as they later judged it, “misguided”) experience of it.

Vedic literature represents an old objection to celibacy and to any other form of deliberate childlessness, viz. that by virtue of being born from a billion-year-old lineage of parents and children, we show ingratitude by breaking that lineage. Instead we have a duty to procreate and continue this line. Indeed, the gift of life by our parents creates a debt in us which we can only discharge by a gift of life to children of our own. By that yardstick, celibacy or any other deliberate prevention of procreation is a form of parasitism, of willfully not discharging one’s duty. When the Buddhists in India institutionalized celibacy, or when they introduced it in China, Brahmins and Confucians objected that the Buddhist monks refused to play their part in the chain of life. While their economic parasitism could perhaps be tolerated as they had it in common with a part of the elite, their biological parasitism really stood out as contrary to nature.

And yet, celibacy has had success. The Jewish Essenes, the Christian monks (later also the Catholic priesthood), the Vedantic and Jain monks, the Daoist monks, they all took to celibacy. It would seem there is a link between the spiritual vocation and celibacy. In each of the affected religions, laymen and some religious personnel lived a normal married life, equally compatible with the spiritual life, but celibacy freed up the most motivated seekers for full-time spirituality. Out of enthusiasm for the higher life, numerous youngsters are willing to sacrifice the prospect of conjugal life. Even activists who set their standards lower than Liberation choose celibacy as the way to free them from family constraints so they can fully devote themselves to their work, e.g. the Opus Dei members or the Hindu-nationalist RSS whole-timers. Belief in the validity of the goal for which you sacrifice married life largely determines whether you will see the effort through.

On the other hand, the Protestant Reformation largely abolished religious celibacy, and one Japanese Buddhist monastic order opened itself up for “married monks”. Some religious leaders explicitly condemned celibacy, reviving the old Vedic objection to “parasitism”, notably the Sikh lineage. In my own youth, I witnessed the wave of Catholic priests leaving the priesthood because they preferred the love of a tangible woman to God’s love. It is not that they felt any less religious, just that they couldn’t tolerate the shackles of celibacy anymore. As one of my professors, who was a married ex-priest, said: “I still feel like I am a priest.” For the same reason, many clerics sworn to celibacy, in all the religions concerned, have strayed from their vows and enjoyed love on the side, all while remaining in their religious roles. The grass is always greener on the other side of the hill: among those who have experienced celibacy, second thought develop.

To prove that celibacy is not strictly necessary for the higher life, Hinduism knows of a category of married yogis, known as seers or rishi-s, who continue the tradition of the married men who became court poets and composed the Vedic hymns. The belief that Liberation can only be reached by celibate monks is in evidence in some texts, but is clearly wrong. My own principal yoga teachers have been married men.

A realistic system intermediate between lifelong marriage and lifelong celibacy was the Vedic system of the three life ages: as student, as householder, and as “forest-dweller”. (A fourth stage, of renunciate, has later been added to it, but Hindus are mistaken to understand this as a fourth stage; it is an alternative to the second and third stage in civilians’ life, viz. celibate monkhood.) The forest-dweller stage starts when a householder has married off his daughters and seen his first grandson: he withdraws from his worldly duties. Often, he also withdrew from married life. I say “often”, as distinct from “always” and “never”, because real life is more varied than the uniformity of the law books. The best-known forest-dweller was the sage Yaj├▒avalkya, whose epoch-making explanation of the Self, the absolute cornerstone of all Indian thought, was in fact a farewell address to his co-wife Maitreyi. When the musician Ravi Shankar lost his wife and remarried in old age, some Hindus were up in arms because the married state (and in his case, producing more offspring) was not proper for his station in life.

The genesis of religiously motivated celibacy 

The origin of celibate monkhood probably lies in the bands of young warriors living on the outskirts of society and spending their days putting each other to tests of courage and fortitude. Normally, for every young man this phase of life ends when he gets married. At stag parties, it is part of the ritual that the friends try to dissuade the groom from leaving their jolly good company and choosing the constraints of marriage and the householder’s life. Now, imagine that this mock dissuasion succeeds. Some young men do not want to leave this tough but free life; they want it to be their lifelong vocation, till death. Celibate monks are older men who continue the bachelor lifestyle of young men. Their asceticism is a peaceful but equally demanding form of the tests which young warriors impose on one another.

Among the first known practitioners of asceticism (the “sky-clad” Munis described in the Rg-Veda, forerunners of the Naga Sadhus, who indeed still have a martial role and train in wrestling-halls; and the proto-Jain ascetics), it seems that celibacy did not so much mean sexual abstinence. It didn’t matter if they did it with prostitutes or other willing women, what counted was that they remained free from the bonds of marriage and the endless social codes that accompany the householder’s state. This then is the first reason for celibacy, one equally known to the non-religious “confirmed bachelors” in Western society: to remain free. To be sure, “freedom” can mean a number of different things, but in every case it is deemed to be mutually exclusive with the constraints of marriage. Being free from social codes is the defining trait of the renunciates’ life, which is why they shed their civil name with its connotations of region, caste and family.

That sexual abstinence was not required from sages who stuck to an unmarried wandering lifestyle, is proven by their employment as sperm-donors. If a married man was infertile and wanted to have offspring, he used the services of a man who lived outside society. As a renunciate, he was also deemed to have the necessary disinterest and self-control not to embarrass the social father. Thus, when regent Bhishma needed a stand-in to produce offspring on the widows of the deceased king Vichitravirya, he brought in the sage Vyasa. (When the royal wives received this forest-wanderer, they were struck by his ugliness. Ambika closed her eyes, so the son born from this union was blind; Ambalika turned pale, so her son was pale and weak; but when the first queen’s maid was led to him, she had no such hang-ups and enjoyed their union, so her son became a royal counsel renowned for his wisdom.)   

A wholly different reason for celibacy, very prominent in India but also known elsewhere, is the belief in the supreme energy content of sperm. It is a fact of life that ejaculating causes tiredness, proving that energy has been lost. After sex, men tend to fall asleep rather than playing along with their energized wives, or so the wives complain. Conversely, saving your sperm gives you spiritual power. A variation on this idea is the Freudian notion of “sublimation”: either you spend your sperm in normal sexual activity or you sublimate it into a passion for higher pursuits. Since you cannot use your natural quotum of sexual energy twice, directing this energy into spiritual matters requires saving it from its more worldly use. When Indian freedom fighter Subhas Chandra Bose died at the end of WW2, it transpired that he had an Austrian wife and daughter, but millions of his followers refused to believe this because such a charismatic leader could not possibly have wasted his sperm. Also, Adolf Hitler was so popular (among Muslims because of his anti-Semitism and militarism, but also) among Hindus because of the swastika, his vegetarianism and his propagated (though untrue) reputation for celibacy.

So, both men and women could invoke, as a justification for a life without sex, the waste of time that living with a partner and possibly with children would entail for an individual devoted to higher pursuits. But only men could also invoke the waste of sexual energy: women were supposed to be more determined by nature, unable to make a serious difference by their doings or non-doings. At any rate, the choice of spurning sex life and practicing celibacy became the hallmark of the spiritual life, esp. after Shankara (8th century CE) established a monastic order at the centre of Hindu society.

The correct interpretation of Vedic texts is tricky, but usually Hindus take the story of the couple Agastya and Lopamudra as referring to this sexual abstinence for spiritual reasons. In the end, she managed to seduce him into doing his conjugal duty. This would be mankind’s oldest testimony of the belief in the spiritual value of abstinence, though the Vedic poet failed to commend it (just as the one Vedic testimony of sati, i.e. a widow’s following her husband into death, is at once a rejection of this practice). This belief is given as the prime reason for the celibacy of the monkey-god Hanuman, the secret of his immense strength; and of the historical strategist Chanakya, who transmuted his sexual energy into political and military shrewdness. It is given as the reason for the celibacy of monks, but also forms the basis of the phenomenon of married men deciding to live with their wives as “brother and sister”.

Abstinence within marriage

Famously, Mahatma Gandhi told his wife Kasturba that henceforth, after four children were born to them, their marriage would be free of sex. Some people consider this saintly, I am not so sure about that. After his wife’s death, he, already in his seventies, found it necessary to “test” his chastity by sleeping with naked young girls. Again, some consider it saintly, I think it was positively sick. So many millions of men have practiced chastity, either by lifelong celibacy or by remaining faithful in marriage, and never made a song about it. They just did it whereas this saint had to make so much drama about it.  

In his Autobiography of a Yogi, Swami Yogananda testifies how his mother confided to him that she and her husband had had sex only once a year, just enough for procreation. In Hare Krishna communities, married couples are required to have just enough sex for procreation, and otherwise to abstain from it. In my observation, this results in cold marriages and a high divorce rate. I have also had several friends impose this abstinence on their wives or girlfriends, and invariably saw this end in separation. It seems the intimacy of sexual relations is good for the bonding between spouses. I doubt that people who practise this abstinence are thereby so much more spiritual than others, eventhough this sacrifice of pleasure and togetherness proves their initial spiritual commitment. In this case, I tend to forgive Saint Paul for his wrong views on matters like the illusory Resurrection, and recommend his advice that husband and wife should not refuse each other their bodies.

An alternative, now popularized in New Age circles through workshops called “Tantric” or pertaining to the “Dao of Love”, is that sperm should indeed be saved, but not at the cost of sex. This goes back to an ancient practice in Chinese elite circles of having sex without “spilling” any sperm. The man can save and maximize his life force by dipping his “stalk” into the female juices but refraining from ejaculation. The woman has no such option, but nonetheless greatly benefits: it is because of her sexual excitement that the juices flow. Feminists might object that the woman only serves as an instrument for the man’s practice, but at least her satisfaction is highly valued, which is rather preferable to, say, female genital mutilation. Of course, modern science is skeptical of the magical properties ascribed to sexual juices, but at least the practice of having sex without ejaculating is reported by many men as both feasible and beneficial. The initial hurdles to be overcome are a sense of incomplete satisfaction afterwards, which is overcome with some practice; and the female partner’s feeling of being rejected, of the man withholding himself from her. It is up to him to prove to her that this was a mistaken impression, and that in fact she stands to gain from his self-control. In this case, the spiritual benefits ascribed to this limited form of sexual abstinence are not moralistic and anti-sexual, but pertain to the tangible gain in energy. The sexual excitement and “friction” generate energy, and this energy is then channeled upwards. The self-control contributes to a yogic attitude, though yoga itself is still something else.

This glorification of sexual abstinence has a basis in reality, but is much exaggerated. Modern medicine holds that at least some sexual discharge is healthier than constant self-denial. The choice between celibacy and marriage involves far more than just the sexual aspect, but here the evidence is even stronger. It has been shown that Protestant vicars, who are married, enjoy a longer and healthier old age than Catholic priests, who are celibate. Hindus will also object that Christian abstinence differs from Hindu abstinence in that Christians effectively save up their sexual energy but don’t use it, whereas in yoga it is transmuted into spiritual power. Being familiar with both religions, I hesitate to speak out, if only because many venerated Hindu sages aren’t really yogis.


Conversely, the “Tantric” glorification of sex is equally exaggerated, or is just plain wrong. As a lady commenting on the sex scandal involving US president Bill Clinton said, pooh-poohing all the commotion: “It’s only sex.”

Sex is only of limited importance in yogic matters. The New Age slogan “f…ing towards Enlightenment” (to borrow from a cover-story in the leading Dutch New Age paper Onkruid) is obviously ridiculous: sex turns attention outwards, whereas yoga turns it inwards. More seriously, it can be observed that the attitude regarding celibacy and chastity differ between different traditions promising a path to Liberation. In some traditions they will teach you that abstinence is indispensible, whereas in others the same spiritual path is practiced and taught by married men.  The main difference here is not between Western and Eastern, as both cultural spheres have known both celibacy and skepticism thereof. Some think abstinence is a precondition for serious yoga, others hardly even talk about the subject.

Now that the word Tantra has acquired such a titillating aura in the West, it deserves mention that this is all a big misunderstanding. To be sure, Tantra is a major tradition and contains a lot more than this “left-hand path” of sexual indulgence. Leaving those 99% aside, we had better realize that the explicitly sexual part (the “transgressive sacrality”, i.e. doing for religious purposes what is otherwise forbidden) is less than appealing. As a well-known researcher says: the Tantra of New Age workshops is mainly concerned with giving women better orgasms and men more staying power, but these were not at all the focus of Indian Tantra practitioners. What was more in evidence was a sacrificial ritual in which sexual fluids were offered to the gods. Not really appetizing, and nothing that a modern Westerner would deem capable of triggering anything worthwhile.

Sexual symbolism is in evidence, as in the copulating gods of Tibetan Buddhism, or in the Shiva-Shakti imagery, but its meaning is multidimensional and should not be reduced to the sexual level. Thus, the mantra “Aum mani padme hum” can be translated as “Hail the jewel in the lotus”, which Freudians (including a vocal school of American Indologists) eagerly interpret as “the penis in the vagina”. In fact, the sex organs are only the most explicit incarnation of the male and female principles which are operative at every level, like the Chinese yin/yang principles. It is heaven/earth, consciousness/nature, bright/shady, hard/soft, fire/water etc., and yes, also male/female. The reductionist interpretation as “nothing but” sexual symbolism is simply wrong and shows the limited framework of psycho-analysis. The smaller cannot contain the greater, and psycho-analytical models cannot grasp the vastness and complexity of Hindu cosmology.


Marriage may not be for everyone, but for many it is the best setting for living their lives, even for practising yoga. What should it look like?

As a principle, walking the spiritual path entails limiting your worldly needs. Buying all kinds of objects, travelling etc., it should all be kept to a minimum and subordinated to the ultimate goal. Pursuing sex for its own sake may yield colourful and interesting life-stories, but it is not yoga. Abstinence within marriage may not be as colourful, but it need not be yogic either; it is only recommended if both partners really agree to do it. However, if you get restless by sexual abstinence, or if it entails going against social norms (such as the requirement to “pay off your debts to your ancestors”), or if you simply like living with your own family, a normal sex life paradoxically frees you up more for spiritual life. In that case, as my yoga teachers taught me, it is best to create a sociologically safe situation within which togetherness can flourish. In today’s Western society this may not strictly require marriage anymore, but a stable and enduring “relationship” is at any rate most conducive to a yogic state of mind and a successful yoga practice. Love triangles, cheating and all those other little pleasures only create unrest and distract from what is really important.

Divorce may sometimes be the best solution, and it is a good thing that this is now accepted; but it should be the exception, not the rule. Indeed, many people get divorced very mindlessly (often after getting married on a whim, too), in passing also breaking up common projects and of course the protective common home of the children. Most divorces that I have witnessed, including my own, left in their wake a whole trail of material and emotional damage. All this turmoil should be minimized if at all you want to focus on getting somewhere in yoga. The yogi does not care to condemn the free sexuality of today’s society, but it is hardly a yogic lifestyle.

While I reject the Gandhian notion that husband and wife should live together as brother and sister, for all men and women not united in a marriage bond, it is the perfect model to follow. Hindus have a festival called Raksha Bandhan, the “bond of protection”, in which women tie men a thread around the right wrist. This signifies that they are united as brother and sister, that he will protect her and she will give him good advice. (After all, women are wiser than men.) Its general meaning is that men and women have a meaningful relation but without the sexual dimension. Well, I can’t guarantee that Raksha Bandhan makes a real difference in society, but at least the ideal is established.

In marriage, by contrast, the partners should be united by “love and admiration”, as one of my first yoga teachers (I remember being proud to be given his luggage to carry), Ekiralla Krishnamacharya, said. This is all the more remarkable as most marriages in India are arranged. You are expected to muster love, no less, for a partner picked by your parents. Rather than an initial lightning of “love”, meaning attraction, gradually subsiding, as in movies and in the West, your love is expected to grow gradually, as you get more common experiences. That often doesn’t work, anymore than love marriage always works. But on the whole it gives fewer failed marriages, and as yet fewer divorces, than the Western system.

One of my yoga teachers in Belgium had a kind of arranged marriage. Since he spoke about it in public, I guess it is okay to repeat the story here. When he was translating for a lady who was taking a lesson from their joint Guru, the latter surprised him with the question: “Do you like X?” And her: “Do you like Y?” Without much further ado, they started preparing their wedding. Some 35 years later, they are still together; she now has cancer and he is lovingly taking care of her. Beautiful.

Being very much a Westerner myself, I am rather attached to the joyful experience of falling in love. Sentimental! I remember, long ago, talking to ordinary Hindus in Varanasi who had to laugh at the lyrics of sentimental love-songs, saying that you can’t build a lasting marriage on something as fleeting as emotions, even an emotion melodramatically presented as “love”. But then again, I understand that the surprise of meeting the partner selected for you, and gradually discovering all her charms (as well as the rest), has a lot going for it as well. While I realize the possible drawbacks, I happen to have met many couples for whom an arranged marriage was or is successful. Loving the spouse selected for you is an extension of the love for those who did the selecting, viz. your parents. It doesn’t deprive you of the right to choose, because some decades down the line, you will choose the spouses of your children.

As for “admiration”, it means that, while there may be a downside to your spouse’s personality, you always have to focus on her good aspects. Of course we have to see the positive side in everyone and everything, and we often fail; but this is not just anyone, this is your spouse. It is really imperative that you always remain conscious of the best in her. To turn one of the most profound lines of Hindu philosophy into a piece of marriage advice: “Not because of the wife is the wife being loved, but because of the Self.” This implies an act of will. If you only go, reactively, by your emotions triggered by your partner’s behaviour, you may find fault in her. But here, you remain conscious of your own attitudes and stay on the positive side. Happy outcome guaranteed. It is like Pata├▒jali’s enumeration of the benefits of his life-rules: the imperative of “contentment”, forcing yourself to be cheerful no matter what, yields the benefit of “always being happy”.        

In divorce stories, one recurring complaint is the frequent outbursts of anger, ultimately making life together unbearable. A yogi has control over his moods. Except for saints, some anger may be inevitable, but at least you can develop the habit of treating anger as wrong, to apologize for it as soon as it dies down, to make up for it, and to stop thinking that you had a right to be angry. Modern therapists are wont to say that it is good to vent your anger, that you shouldn’t repress your emotions. Indeed, you shouldn’t repress them, you should make them die down by remaining aware. Admiration for your spouse means that you remain aware of her dignity, so that you think twice before venting your emotions on her. This is a thoughtful and respectful attitude, yogic par excellence.      


Yoga is the self-realization of consciousness, which is the same in men and women. Therefore, the modalities of sex (or no sex) only pertain to the practical setting, not to yoga itself. Any guidelines are partly determined by culture, and are at any rate relative. They should not be taken too literally.

These too are only some fleeting thoughts of mine and undoubtedly fail to do full justice to the importance of the topic. But the topic must at least be recognized as important,for I have seen too many people wrestling with it or getting fixated on some related belief or other. We should be realistic in these matters, all while keeping our eyes on the ultimate goal.


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Shravan Tanjore said...

Vichitravirya did not approach Vyasa, it was Bhishma. Also Vyasa was married and had a son I think, Shukacharya his name.

It is correct that Sanyaaas Ashram is Optional.

Turbolag Panja said...

Dear Dr. Koenraad Elst,
Thank you for posting this...I am a normal lifelong celibate 29 yr old Hindu who practises yoga keeping the Yoga Sutra as the sole Guideline (I do have to refer to Samkhya Karia from time to time to get a better understanding of the philosphical base upon which Yoga operates....IMO B.Gita is a poor book in espousing Yoga since it classifies anything and everything under Yoga though there are a few gems about posture, the out-breath and the third eye as mentioned in the comment section of the first article of your yoga series)....Will you be so kind as to be open to response to the comment section of this article for the next week or so? I can gurantee this article will engender a huge amount of conversation...since I undertook my vow of lifelong celibacy around 2.5 years back, I have contacted accomplished monks and yogis around the world and placed private questions to them regarding sexual continence...Surprisingly many of them have been forthcoming with answers even though it encroaches on their privacy...There is a white American monk who has been living in the forests of Burma or the last 20+ years (yes even bathing and going to bathroom in the open in forest), who in my estimation is the best celibate I have ever encountered....He told me that he managed to go 4 years without any masturbation whatsoever when he first ordained as the zealot in him carried him through...but later his fortitude weakened...he is past 50 now..He says even now fantasies of women are very strong in him and when he once went to US he even had a brief fling with an American woman supporter of him (not full intercourse which would entail defeat/parajika in Thervada Buddhism)...My Guru (who always advised me to only follow Yoga Sutra though he himself strays to Upanishads a lot) who is around 57, has managed only now to have a streak of around 7 months eventhough he has been trying from around 25 years...He even started living out of a van in US, (he is also white American), just to improve his celibacy streaks.........then I read the interview of a supremely disciplined 94 year old Thai monk (at budhist geeks dot com) who said that his mind gets rarely distracted but if it ever does get distracted, it invariably wanders off to thoughts regarding women! I. personally through my meditation, have come to realize that sexual desire is the most primal desire in a human being (yes more primal than hunger) after the desire to exist/self-preservation...there are times I have had bouts of uncontrollable sexual desire even at the end of 5 day fasts (complete fasts with only water)..Seeing that this is an almost insurmountable challenge (destruction of sexual desire and not just improving celibacy streaks/increasing the duration of sexual continence) , I devised my own style of meditation called Tantric Vipassana drawing upon my not-so-meagre experience in meditation. What I do is keep the object of desire in front of me and keep increasing the intensity of attraction, but I donot increase the my response towards it but remain mindful of every facet of my mind as it modifies itself under this external influence......

Turbolag Panja said...

I guess Gandhi was onto something with his experiments (like he would ask the girls to rub him as they lie all naked but he in turn would have self control not to rub them)...but he should not have chosen such young girls of good workers would have been fine....I do this pornographic imagery...anyways tantric Vipassana is mentally very taxing but very session of tantric vipassana for three hours and I can be continent/celibate (no masturbation,sex,edging,rubbing) for the next two weeks..if I can increase my practice I think I can be the celibate I want to be (a duration of between 2-3 months between slips or if I set a really lofty goal then around 8 months) desire works in males like almost a circadian rhythm..soemtimes it hits every 12 hours..sometimes every 2-3 days or sometimes once every week...if a man is not completely asexual, I think he would have a bout of sex desire at least once a week regardless of many say if you want to completely dissolve sex desire then why not go for castration? to that I answer....remember the time when you were between 0-12 or 13?

Turbolag Panja said...

You were biologically asexual and you didnot have to strive to be celibate or free from sexual thoughts...castration would bring the same challenge would remain regarding the achievement of celibacy..but castration may also derange a person's mind ala Malik Kafur and Mohammad Qajar

even the topmost pontiff of the Lingayats,Veerabhadra Chennamalla Swami, said celibacy is supreme challenge and most monks fail so he wants to remove the clause of celibacy from his order....

Please read in outlookindia dot com the article "Confessions of a Saffron Robe"...............As for me if I really exercise will power I can last 20-30 days and my record is 67 days when I just started out...but lately I am seeing always exercising willpower and suppressing the desire to masturbate is not a skillful method and thats why I was forced to invent Tantric Vipassana...but the loss of mental energy while doing this meditation is significant..

Sorry if my thoughts are a bit haphazard, as a novice celibate Yogi who still pursues career, this article of yours is heaven sent for me...If you feel this comment is too graphic or improper then please feel free to delete it, else I would love to have a response from you Sir

other than that I also encourage other normal non- renunciant people who are celibate to participate in the conversation..

and Dr. Elst since you have started this yoga series..can you please do an article on "obects of meditation" in Yoga Sutras...I was reading the Bhasya (Ganganath Jha) and there even attainment of heaven, dis-embodiment and dissolution in Nature have been regarded as Meditation objects) .....i wonder how they can be meditation objects (compared to say breath) given that centering on them/conceptualizing them (dharana) and then repeatedly sending out your attention stream/conciousness stream to them (dhyana) might be a bit cumbersome compared to just following the breath...........I am interested in Samprajanata/Savikalpa Samadhi and would like to know your view, whether running the solution of a mathematical problem constantly in one's head or a computer code in dharana,dhyana style would constitute proper meditation object or not.............................

once again thanks for this article and would love a response from you

Koenraad Elst said...

@Shravan: if the sperm donor was not Vyasa but Bhishma, then that proves my point, for Bhishma was a confirmed celibate. His father had promised his second wife that he son would succeed him, not the first wife's son, Bhishma. As she feared that Bhishma's son in his turn would think differently and challenge her own son, Bhishma promised never to marry or have children. Thank you for mentioning Bhishma, for he illustrates another relevant point about celibacy. As I learned it, "bhishma" means "terrible", fully "Bhishma of the terrible oath", viz. the oath of celibacy. Later in Hindu society, celibacy became a routine affair, but in the old days, it was very realistically deemed terrible.

ramesh said...

@Shravan / Dr. Elst:
thats completely wrong. Bhishma (one of the terrible oath) -- his pre-oath name was Devavrata -- did not father any children.
It was Vyasa who fathered the children of Vichitravirya's two wives (& the maid). This practice was called "niyoga"
And yes Vyasa was married and his son was the famous renunciate/celibate Rishi Suka.

Koenraad Elst said...

@Ramesh: Please read correctly: I never said Bhishma had children, on the contrary; nor did I treat questions like his real name, which was not the subject. But on second thought, his name (or nickname) tells a whole story, viz. how celibacy in ancient India was still deemed terrible, a stark contrast with later Hinduism, which glorified and deproblematized celibacy.

ramesh said...

Dr. Elst: I had this in mind "if the sperm donor was not Vyasa but Bhishma ..."

Koenraad Elst said...

As for Vyasa, the fact that he is credited with a son of his own provides another example of the Vedic tolerance of a more fluid definition of celibacy vs. the married state. Men could have a family in one stage of life (grhasthasrama) and become wandering ascetics (parivrajaka) in the next stage (vanaprastha). It was not the box-type division of later Hindu society with a class of renunciates (sannyasin) who do nothing else in life, often already from childhood (bal-brahmacarya).

Koenraad Elst said...

@Turbolag: Thanks for your testimony.

Gururaj B N said...

There seems to be some proximate relationship between sexual urge and spiritual practice. In Taittiriya Upanishad, Bhriguvalli, one comes across the phrase "prajatiramrtamananda ityupasthe". Roughly translated, it means "the ananda of procreation in penis (upastha)". Brihadaranyaka Upanishad, in its last sections elaborately discusses and explains how sex should be performed for obtaining desired progeny. These are but random examples of reference to sex in a spiritual text. In kundalini yoga also,it is said that the sexual prowess of the practitioner is turned upwards to flow from Muladhara to Sahasrara, whence, the yogi attains liberation from the cycle of birth and death. Sri Ramakrishna also repeatedly states that deep spiritual truths cannot be understood without celibacy. One wonders whether spirituality and sex are two faces of the same coin. The relationship between the two has not been understood clearly, at least by lay persons, though spiritual practitioners might have understood.

Bhuvan said...

Lot of wisdom in this article. My own experience indicates that celibacy is especially difficult to sustain when one is young and virile. Over time, when the novelty of the experiences is gone, one realizes that sexual acts are driven by response to urges and our past samskaras. The middle path is the best for the majority, but for serious spiritual seekers, at some stage they do need to renounce and sublimate sex.

Golden Reed said...

The Vedic rishis did not have a prejudice against sexual activity as an obstruction to spiritual knowledge. This is evidenced by the frequent metaphor "like a well-dressed wife reveals herself to her husband". In fact in the jnana sukta (RV 10.71) divine wisdom is supposed to reveal herself to her chosen one in like manner.

Incidentally, your remark on sexual symbolism and the pairs like fire and water, etc, brought to mind the intricate Vedic symbolism of Agni. At the same time, Agni is a reconciliation of the pairs (he is called the bull and the cow) as well as a "male" attracting all the females (e.g. RV 4.58.8). He is also the fire within water (apam napat, son of waters) just as purusha has entered prakriti.

Overall, great article with many well-represented viewpoints and some deep "life-lesson" thoughts.

Thugnacious said...

Celibacy is stupid, especially the Catholic Church forced Priest celibacy.

There is no Celibacy in judaism and Islam, some researchers think that the Essenes never existed.

Adele said...
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