Sex, Death, and Yoga – Part 4

radha_krishna_in_the_garden_of_love_he01Throughout this series I’ve proposed that our natural impulse for sexual intimacy originates in transcendence. In this post I’ll describe how sexual intimacy finds its expression in transcendence and in my next post I’ll conclude the series by offering some thoughts on how our sexual impulses can be channeled in an authentically spiritual way.

An abstract conception of transcendental sex is found in Tantric Yoga, where the union of Shakti with Shiva resolves the differentiated world into a monistic unity. Tantra offers a path to undifferentiated transcendence with a sexual component that calls for the retention of secretions during sex and the movement of vital energy up through subtle channels of the physical body, but Tantra does not propose relationships between varieties of beings in transcendence. Other traditions propose similar techniques for approximating spiritual ecstasy without reference to a diversified spiritual world within which erotic activities take place.

In his Yoga Sutras, Patanjali denies the efficacy of sexual contact altogether, attributing all impulses, sexual and otherwise, to impressions on the mind made by external objects. The ultimate goal of yoga in Patanjali’s system, kaivalya, is a state in which consciousness is aware only of itself, to the complete exclusion of external objects including the mind. As such, controlling one’s sexual energy is strictly a matter of restraining a desire that poses an obstacle to yoga: there’s no scope for spiritual sexuality in the Yoga Sutras. [Read more…]

Sex, Death, and Yoga – Part 3

ram-sita-in-hanuman-heartIn the Ramayana, the epic story of Rama, the demonic king Ravana has made a fatal error: He’s kidnapped Sita, Rama’s wife. Despite his great wealth and power, Ravana’s appropriation of Sita, driven by his aspiration to possess and enjoy her for himself, has ensured his inevitable, destruction.

But Ravana has unknowingly kidnapped a counterfeit. Rama is an avatar of Vishnu, the source of creation, and Sita is Vishnu’s eternal consort, Laksmi Devi, the Goddess of Fortune. As such, they can never really be separated. But they can appear to be: at the moment of Ravana’s treachery, Sita manifests an illusory duplicate, allowing Ravana to abscond with a shadow version of her real self. Misled by his ego and bewildered by a facsimile, Ravana thinks he has captured the Goddess of Fortune, who will now surely succumb to his charms and fulfill his desires.

Meanwhile, the real Sita is hidden from him and, having turned away from Rama as he flees the scene of the crime, Ravana can only try in vain to enjoy a replica of Sita until Rama, time personified, catches up with him. [Read more…]

Sex, Death, and Yoga – Part 2

In my last post I left you with a curious proposition based on truthy math: death may be overcome by abstention from sex. Not surprisingly, some of you questioned my conclusion. And why not? I’m sure such drastic notions sound like the dogmatic declamations of an anachronistic yoga fundamentalist. Ain’t nobody got time for that!

Well, I don’t think of myself as a yoga fundamentalist, anachronistic or otherwise, and by the time I’m finished with this series I hope you won’t either. Be that as it may, traditional yoga texts are, in fact, where one will find support for my proposition. Patanjali’s yoga system is an unabashedly inward progression: a systematic retraction of the senses from the exterior world of sense objects into the interior realm of the self, wherein attachment to one’s body – to say nothing of other people’s bodies – is extinguished and the mind dissolves back into the primordial pradhāna from which it came.

Crossing over the ocean of repeated birth and death by means of detachment from material sense enjoyment is a recurring theme in the Bhagavad Gita as well. For example:

An intelligent person does not take part in the sources of misery, which are due to contact with the material senses. Such pleasures have a beginning and an end, so those who are wise do not delight in them.

However counter-intuitive this verse (BG 5.22) may sound, there’s a certain logic to the idea that pursuing material sense pleasure, the acme of which is sexual pleasure, consigns one to a destiny of material miseries, the acme of which is death: indulgence in the pleasures of the body reinforces our identification with the body. The stronger our attachment to our bodies and the bodies of others, the greater the suffering we experience when our eternal adversary, time, eventually, but inevitably, severs our attachment. [Read more…]

Sex, Death, and Yoga – Part 1

deathandthemaiden1518_USESubmitted for your consideration: the most deeply entrenched and ubiquitous of all human convictions is the belief that we can attain happiness through the enjoyment of our senses. And why not? If human beings are just fortuitous fusions of stardust whose inexplicable sentience is a fleeting epiphenomenon sandwiched between two infinitudes of non-existence then we might as well devote ourselves to the accrual of as much sensual enjoyment as possible.

Right?

Modernity has endowed this proposition with the status of an a priori assumption: our ‘To-do’ lists are testimony to our unexamined preoccupation with fulfilling it. But there are inconvenient facts hiding in plain sight that, once recognized and acknowledged, irrevocably undermine this assumption. [Read more…]

Veganism, Cows, and Dharma

ElizabethAndCow_350x250In yoga, veganism is not an end unto itself: it’s a means to an end, an incremental step towards re-establishing the natural relationship between human beings and all other living beings, especially the natural, symbiotic relationship between humans and cows.

The idea that humans and cows have a naturally symbiotic relationship may strike some readers as anything but obvious. That’s understandable given the frame of reference most people associate with farm animals. Yoga asks us to radically re-frame the relationship, to think of cows not as consumable objects of our experience but as sentient subjects of their own experience. Cows have lives of their own and, like all living entities, find the fulfillment of their own lives through relationships with others.

[Read more…]