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.

In his quest to find his beloved consort and punish the covetous interloper, Rama is aided by an unlikely alliance of forest creatures that band together to rescue Sita and reunite her with Rama. Foremost among Rama’s makeshift militia is Hanuman, leader of the monkey army.

Hanuman is often pictured with Sita and Rama together in his heart. As a pure devotee of Rama, Hanuman’s happiness is found exclusively in Rama’s happiness. Since Rama desires to be with Sita, Hanuman’s only business is to arrange for their reunion and he dedicates himself wholly and completely to this purpose. Hence Hanuman, in his love for Rama, is the opposite of Ravana who, motivated by envy and lust, tries to usurp Rama’s position.

Unfortunately for me, I’m a lot more like Ravana than Hanuman: my desire to enjoy the pleasures of the sensual world far outweigh any desires I have to offer the pleasures of the world back to their source. I want to be the enjoyer rather than the enjoyed, to be the consumer of pleasure rather than the facilitator of pleasure, and, as such, I remain bewildered by the facsimile. Embracing the shadow of happiness, true happiness eludes me, and I am doomed.

At least I’m not alone: the world is full of Ravanas, all thinking they can control and enjoy Sita while Rama is out of sight. We believe that to gratify our senses is the prime necessity of life and we participate in a society organized around this belief. But since time renders any success in such pursuits a Pyrrhic victory, our anxiety is immeasurable: is it any wonder that, when asked, students in my classes answer that the number one cause of death is stress?

So, how does sustainable happiness win out over perpetual stress? By following in Hanuman’s footsteps and being a catalyst for Rama’s enjoyment, by bringing Sita and Rama together rather than trying to enjoy her for ourselves.

Tomorrow is Dushera, the celebration of Rama’s victory over Ravana and his reunion with Sita, achieved with the help of Rama’s devotee, Hanuman. It’s a great opportunity to reflect on how we, too, can participate in the transcendental tryst and, in the process, become a source of pleasure for the source of everything, including pleasure itself!

This, of course, still leaves us with the conundrum of what to do about our own impulse to experience pleasure: must we resign ourselves to a false renunciation of our own pleasure-seeking propensity in favor of facilitating someone else’s happiness? However altruistic and abstemious one may be, is this not a formula for frustration and resentment?

The implications of the story of Rama set the stage for my next and final installment in this series, in which I’ll delve more directly into transcendental sexuality and how to channel our own erotic impulses in an authentically spiritual way.

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...]

Psychedelic Yoga, Part 2

In one small portion of this infinite spiritual environment is a region where an expansion of the original form transforms spiritual energy into matter and time which stirs the qualities of matter into motion, resulting in the creation of innumerable universes within which reside innumerable, eternal spiritual beings who, bewildered by that material energy by virtue of mistaken identity, misidentify themselves with the temporary material forms they inhabit in this realm rather than with their eternal spiritual selves. In this world of matter and time they experience the illusion of separation from their source. [Read more...]