Sutras for Transcending Indulgence
Chapter 1: WHAT IS SEX?
Question: I know that sexual urge is inappropriate and I should not be having any sexual thoughts. But whenever lust arises, my mind gets split in two halves. One part of the mind says that whatever is happening is wrong. Then I try to deepen my breathing and by mindfulness of breath, the upsurge of lust gets controlled to some extent. I do have awareness of the body and mind at that time. But at other times, the attraction becomes irresistible and I get swept away in such lewd thoughts that it becomes impossible to control myself. I started my journey with the intention of wanting to be annihilated in the fire of divine love. But alas! Burning in the fire of lust I can only helplessly watch my goal fade away.
Gurumaa: By listening to words of wisdom, one’s vocabulary certainly gets improved! You get familiarised with beautiful words - ‘awareness of the body and mind, mindfulness of the breath’ - these are lofty words indeed.
In reality, if you had the capability to observe your mind, you wouldn’t have been getting swayed by your thoughts. But if you are getting swept away in the flow of your thoughts, then it means as yet you don’t know how to be a witness, and you cannot see yourself separate from your mind. First accept this truth.
It cannot happen that you see the ditch and yet fall into it. When you see a ditch, you avoid it and walk away from it. If one can see the ditch and despite that he or she falls into it, it means that either he is blind or else he is daydreaming!
You have mentioned that whenever sexual urge arises in your mind, you know that it is inappropriate and you shouldn’t be getting such sexual thoughts - in fact, you think that you shouldn’t ever have sexual thoughts or feelings.
Well, you need to have a clear understanding of this issue. Understand it this way - hunger and thirst are the basic instincts of the body. When you feel hungry or thirsty, you don’t condemn yourself for having the feeling of hunger or thirst. You eat when you are hungry and you quench your thirst by drinking water.
You are not guilty of feeling hungry or thirsty. You don’t condemn yourself on getting hunger pangs every day. You don’t beat yourself up on feeling hungry in the morning, afternoon and again in the night, do you?
Just as hunger and thirst are the basic needs of the body, sex too is a basic instinct of the body. Then why do you condemn yourself for getting sexual urge? Sexual instinct has also been given to you by nature, just like hunger and thirst. No one has created this instinct for himself, it is part of a natural system.
The bud blooms into a flower and the flower is the source of seeds that will eventually give rise to more buds and flowers - so what is wrong in that? Similarly, when a sexual urge arises in a man or woman’s body, the sexual gratification will lead to fertilisation of the woman’s ovum with the man’s sperm, creating a new offspring – this is the process of reproduction. So, what is wrong in this? You need to clarify your thinking.
Sexual copulation is required for reproduction. Whenever someone gets married, he or she is taking a step towards procreating. The couple will produce children and these children will grow up and beget future generations. This sequence carries on and on for posterity.
If you think about it, what is marriage anyway? The truth is that it is a license to have sex and to breed! The society permits a couple to stay together and doesn’t censure their sexual relationship. Even today in India, barring a few metropolitan cities, live-in relationships (without the sanction of marriage) are condemned by the society at large.
Society designed the custom of marriage wherein the couple gets blessed by the elders, takes good wishes for making a success of their relationship, and gets societal permission to live with each other, to support each other, to procreate and form their own families.
There is no such custom in the animal kingdom. There is no concept of marriage amongst animals, and copulation between a male and a female animal is not seen as an inappropriate act. There is just a sexual contact that happens between the animals, with no further dimension to their relationship. On the contrary, there is a huge concept of societal acceptance for any such relationship amongst humans.
How can you condemn anything that is nothing but a natural instinct, imparted by nature? However, it is important to understand the definition of right and wrong. It isn’t wrong to satiate one’s hunger by buying food from one’s earned money, but it is certainly wrong to snatch the food from someone else and satiate your hunger.
There is nothing inherently wrong in the desire for sex. So, it is incorrect to regard sex as something ‘bad’. And how can it be, for if it was, then your parents were sinful to have conceived you; your grandparents, your ancestors were sinful, and indeed then all of humanity will become sinful.
Indian saints and sages had an in-depth understanding of sexual desire and they accorded such respect, such purity to the act that the blessing of a sage at a marriage ceremony is still regarded as very auspicious.
So, first rectify your thinking and don’t regard sex as a sinful act. Moreover, you say that you are trying to ‘control’ your sexual urges – the more you try to control it, the more diseased you will become. This is just like trying to stop yourself from sneezing, how distorted your face will become! Likewise, those who forcefully repress their sexual urges, their faces too look crestfallen - they are either on the edge or actually depressed.
Try to understand what sex is. It is a system designed by nature. By the age of 12-14 years, the body starts producing certain hormones. It is these hormones that result in the rising of sexual urges in the body and mind. That is why young children don’t have any inkling of what sexual urge is.
Although having said that, these days due to television and internet, children do know about sex at an earlier age. And nowadays one factor that is contributing to the lowering of the pubertal age is the effect of the readily available information on sex over the young minds. In earlier times, a girl would start menstruating at the age of 13 to 15 but these days the age has lowered to 10 and even 8 years.
There are several factors involved in lowering of the pubertal age, including earlier maturation of the brain. In these modern times, children mature very quickly and even a young child thinks about becoming famous, a star, a singer, etc! The child who should have been playing with marbles and flying kites is precociously transforming into a youth, under the influence of the prevalent in-your-face media. And as the brain is maturing earlier, the body too is transforming at a younger age.
Reverting back to the issue of sex, there is nothing wrong if someone regards sex as a source of pleasure and a medium for procreation. But what people don’t realise is that the pleasure obtained during sex is inevitably momentary, fleeting. And after a few moments only, one is back to feeling as one did prior to indulging in the sexual act. Then what does one achieve, get from this other than a momentary release?
The most precious thing in our body is not blood or bones, neither the heart and nor the brain – the most valuable thing in our body is energy. Every time a man or woman has sexual intercourse, at the moment of climax it is not only the semen that is lost, but more importantly one also loses part of one’s energy i.e. the reservoir of energy too gets depleted.
The reduction in the level of energy has its effect on your body, including your heart and brain. Moreover, the biggest effect is seen in those who are attempting to tread the path of spirituality – they find themselves physically drained, lacking in energy. This is because the sexual act is an act of excitement and what is excitement?
There are chemicals called endorphins that get released in the body and this leads to a sense of happiness and wellbeing. Now if you learn how to release endorphins of your own accord, then you can get the enjoyment that you felt in the act of sex without actually indulging in it. The question arises, how can one get the body to produce these endorphins? Well, there are several ways – dancing, singing, pranayama to name a few.
That is why it is seen that people engrossed in creative arts - be it painting, dancing, singing, music etc – they derive such joy from their creativity that the need for sexual gratification, in order to obtain any physical or mental satisfaction, is not at all felt. But this requires an honest commitment and genuine interest in the art form.
There is nothing wrong in being physically attracted to someone. You shouldn’t condemn this. If you regard something as sinful, shameful then you will try to suppress those feelings and this will lead you into greater trouble. You cannot treat a blister by hiding it under a cloth; the wound will fester and worsen. Instead, one needs to keep it open to air and apply the appropriate medicine, only then will it heal.
So, don’t regard sex as an unwanted blister that needs to be hidden. It is a natural instinct and hence don’t try to fight with it. Secondly, you are an adult so it is but natural that the hormones in your body will lead to rising of sexual urges. Thirdly, if you think that by suppressing these urges, they will go away – well, they won’t. By fighting with these urges, you are in effect fighting with nature, and remember that in this fight the ever-powerful nature will always be the winner.
What is sex, what does one derive and what one cannot obtain from a sexual act - try to understand this thoroughly. By trying to make sense of this, having an in-depth understanding of this, and simultaneously if you get interested in any creative art, then there is a possibility that you will transcend the need for sex.
There is nothing wrong in the rising of a sexual urge, but you need to assess what you will obtain in satisfying that urge. If you ask any married couple to narrate their experience, the typical response will be that they entered married life with great gusto and enjoyed the first 10 to 15 years of their union but now they don’t derive any pleasure. You must try to understand what they are saying.
They aren’t talking about food, clothes, or their house; in fact they are alluding to their sex life. Initially they derived pleasure from sex, but once the children came in the picture, then with the increasing responsibilities things didn’t remain the same. All the charm of being married slowly fades away, then they just become passive participants in fulfilling their partner’s needs. So, initially sex is exciting and eventually it becomes a routine, and often it becomes a point of conflict between the husband and wife.
Sexual energy is after all a type of energy and you can either make use of it or abuse it. Quite a few of the people who say that they are not interested in marriage or sex because they want to pursue a spiritual path and they like staying in ashrams – more often than not, this is just an intellectual talk. And bodily needs don’t understand intellectual reasoning.
Someone may keep thinking that he or she wants to pursue a spiritual life, but the body desires fulfilment of its basic needs. Such people suppress their urges and then end up as highly frustrated beings.
The one who has understood the basis of sexual urge and knows what he will and what he won’t obtain from sexual act, such an individual will never be frustrated irrespective of whether he chooses to refrain from sex or enters the sexual act with full awareness - there will always be joy and mirth in his life.
But let me tell you that around 98% of people have the need for sexual gratification. They should fulfil their sexual urges, and then maybe in due course of time they may realise the futility of sex, that one doesn’t obtain anything lasting from the act.
Having said that, let me reiterate that sex is not bad - cow dung isn’t bad as it can be transformed into a fertiliser to grow flowers and fruits. Likewise, sexual drive is energy and one should learn how to use it, how to transform it. If sexual energy flows downwards it results in sexual release, but if you transform this sexual energy with the tool of meditation then it will deepen your meditation. It is entirely up to you how you want to utilise this energy.
Those who don’t know how to beneficially harness this energy, they end up being markedly frustrated and depressed by fighting with it. Learn to transform this energy, don’t suppress it, rather try to understand it. It is this very energy that leads to the birth of a child - is that a small achievement?
So, if you think you want to transcend sex, then you should experience it, and the way to do this is by getting the license called marriage. But then it is also true that if you enter marriage only with the intention of experiencing sex, then be aware that along with that experience you will also get the gift of children and then you will get so stuck in carrying out your responsibilities that you will be caught up in it for your entire life!
Look at it scientifically - if the desire for sex arises at the age of 14 due to release of certain hormones, then by the age of 45 this release gets markedly reduced, which means that by 45 one’s sexual drive should become non-existent, but does it? It doesn’t. So this means that there is something wrong with your bodily system or rather with your brain, which still cannot see the difference between fleeting, momentary pleasures and everlasting joy.
That is why prostitution is said to be the oldest profession in this world. And it is the most successful profession, as man cannot give up his sexual need, cannot suppress it and hence fulfils it by hook or crook. In this respect, there is no difference between a man and an animal.
But the one who understands sexual energy and learns how to transform it, then there is no better way of transforming his life. You should know what your current level of being is - is it at the level of the body? If your intellect hasn’t matured, and you haven’t fully understood, then don’t try to control or suppress your sexual urges. Instead, get married and live a marital life, and in due course of time you may realise that there is nothing to gain from sex. You will not understand this by merely hearing my words, you need to experience it for yourself. Don’t suppress, don’t fight with it. You need discriminative wisdom.
Those who do yogasanas and pranayama, it is easier for them to transform sexual energy. You need to understand and balance your bodily systems and the functioning of your brain. If you are not doing this with sincerity then all that will happen is that your sexual urges will strengthen and you will fight a futile battle in trying to suppress them.
People waste so much energy in either trying to fight with their sexual urges or seeking constant sexual gratification and yet they don’t understand! Understanding its essence will lead to a certain beauty and a feeling of lightness in your mind. Those married couples who are mentally satisfied, their love rises above the need for physical union and ascends to the mental plane, and then they don’t perceive a need for physical consummation despite living together.
Gandhiji addressed his wife Kasturba as ‘ba’ which is a Gujarati word for mother. Her name was Kastur and Gandhiji added the suffix ‘ba’ to it. This is because until some point in time, Gandhiji is said to have had an intense sex drive. The night his father was breathing his last, Gandhiji was with his wife in their bedroom and his father died at that very time (as given in his autobiography).
This incident shook Gandhiji and he was overcome by intense remorse that despite knowing that his father is gravely ill, he couldn’t control his carnal desire. From that moment he started to work on his sexual energy. And eventually the day came when he started addressing his wife as a mother figure and called her Kasturba.
The first time he called her Kasturba, she was taken aback; after all she was his wife and not his mother. But Gandhiji replied that all he could see in her was a mother figure and they would no longer live as man and wife, for he had risen above the need for having sex.
Gandhiji would keep on challenging himself with all kinds of temptations to test his resolve. However, he wasn’t a sage, as he regarded sex as a sin which one has to eradicate. On the contrary, sages have never regarded sex as being sinful or as something wrong. Instead, they regarded sex as a stepping stone to reach God. As long as you don’t rise above it, how can you connect to God? Don’t harbour any delusion that just by listening to words of wisdom your life will change.
The wise one - the one who has evolved discriminative wisdom - such a person doesn’t need to be experiencing sex to know how to rise above it. If one has a refined intellect and has an in-depth knowledge, then he will understand this straightaway. But it is rare to find such individuals. That is why sages like Guru Nanak Dev, Yagyavalka said that one should experience married life, otherwise one will not understand.
Prior to becoming a sanyasi (recluse) Buddha too had lead a householder’s life, he didn’t denounce it. However, he used his married life as a ladder for his spiritual evolution.
Hence, you too should utilise sex as a ladder for your spiritual growth. Don’t regard sexual energy as an obstacle or as your enemy. Don’t fight with it. If you liken sex to cow dung then by using your discriminative wisdom and understanding, learn to transform it into a fertiliser in which the spiritual flower of your life will blossom.