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…]

How to Give Advice to a Bobble Head

BGKrishnaBobbleheadHere’s an idea: find an object that has some personal significance for you, something that represents you or some aspect of yourself; something you can use as a proxy for ‘you’. Personally, I find that Bobble Head dolls work best. Put the object ‘you’ on a table or desk and sit with it. Then think of the biggest challenge you currently face in your life or a challenge that you know you will have to face soon. Now, imagine that you are the Supreme Being and you are looking at the proxy ‘you’ in full knowledge of the challenge ‘you’ face and the difficulty associated with facing it.

What would you, in your role as the Supreme Being, do? [Read more…]

The Mind-Blowing Fantastic-ness of Being a Person

13_sept12_86-keith-haring_USE

art by Keith Haring

In my last post, I concluded with a couple of questions, the first of which was: “what does it mean to be a person?” It’s an often-overlooked question in spite of its obvious importance to… people. That’s one reason why, whenever the issue of person-ness arises in my yoga philosophy workshops, I make a point of asking participants to offer their thoughts on what it means to be a person. The Sanskrit word for ‘person’, purusa, figures prominently in yoga wisdom texts such as the Yoga Sutras of Patanjali so it should come as no surprise that the issue would come up in any meaningful discussion of yoga philosophy.

The response to my query usually includes ideas such as ‘to be conscious or self-aware’, ‘to keep learning and growing’, ‘to have the ability to communicate’, or ‘to have a soul’. Most of the replies I get suggest what I consider to be the essential element of person-ness but it’s rare that someone directly states my preferred answer: to be a person means to have senses. [Read more…]