As I have been trying to say, I am approaching the question of Krishna consciousness and sexuality from my own life experience. I should therefore confess that my sexual drive has been (I believe) comparatively low in comparison to the majority of the population, particularly in the West. I did not have an especially great struggle as a brahmachari and my motivations in becoming a householder in Iskcon may sound rather strange to most: I saw it as a psychologically purificatory experience. I slipped out of that experience rather easily in the late seventies and did not find it a great jump to taking sannyas in 1979. The straw that broke the camel’s back of my stay in Iskcon was, in fact, the experience of listening to a brahmachari masturbate in the toilet cubicle next to mine in the Hyderabad temple. It was my feeling then that the Iskcon environment was too sensual to assure self-control. The lifestyle of Bhavananda Maharaj seemed to caricature the true renunciate lifestyle, which is what I idealized.
I was a rigid, classical babaji for at least four or five years, and did not engage in any sexual activity, even masturbation, until the very end of my stay in India. What happened then was the combination of isolation and loneliness, curiosity about sahajiyaism and contact with sahajiyas.
All that was for me something of a cultural shock, and I did not find it easy to assimilate to the Sahajiya community, for reasons similar to those that Lalan Das himself described. Other disappointments led me to return to North America, but I was extremely unprepared for that. I probably had the practical sexual maturity of a 17 or 18 year old North American. After getting married also, after the initial period of enthusiasm, I followed the trajectory expected of an orthodox householder—progressive disinterest in sexual matters. I was never unfaithful throughout my marriage, except of course in the events that completely turned my life upside down and the repercussions of which have still not been played out.
My revived interest in the spiritualization of sexuality was the result, before anything else, of a continued intellectual engagement with the Gaudiya Vaishnava philosophy and symbolism, and then by the association of a devotee who shared my vision. You could say, and I suppose someone from the Gaudiya Math would say, that [premature] meditation on Radha and Krishna’s love affairs had the effect of producing sexual desire in me. Of course, I don’t see it quite that way: I see this as a necessary and desirable consequence of hearing and chanting about Radha and Krishna, a part of the teaching about how to make further spiritual advancement.
Now, when I read the things that Lalanji reveals about his life, and also of other friends who have had more intense struggles with sexuality, I have to take into account that my personal experience is sufficiently different from theirs to make misunderstandings not only possible, but probable. I also have to recognize that I likely have a deep-seated bias against promiscuity of all kinds (which made me feel very intensely the irony of being accused of “immorality” myself). I am also, like most intellectuals, biased against a facile vulgarisation of truths that have come to me over such a long period of time and with such agonizing inner conflict. I will not allow the entire edifice of Gaudiya Vaishnava siddhanta to be reduced to nothing more than a way of finding enhanced sexual experience—even though I myself can see that as a way of explaining it. I am enough of a Freudian to be able to see everything as sex!
So I have to recognize that my ability to advise someone coming from a totally different life trajectory, like Lalan Das, is limited. This does not bother me particularly, as I do not make any claims that my path is meant for all people in all places and times. If a person has a very powerful sex drive and has entered on a path of promiscuity in the name of Radha and Krishna, is that inevitably destructive? I am not entirely sure.
However, Lalan Dasji himself states that there are problems that come out of this kind of lifestyle, especially in the long run. We also saw hints of it in Pitambarji’s autobiography. On the one hand, in the beginning he gave a romantic vision of Radha and Krishna loves legitimizing his own dissolute lifestyle, and then later we see him heartlessly advising his ‘disciples’ to get abortions when they inconveniently conceived from his spilled seed. It was the promotion of Pitambara's interpretation of things that made me speak out in the first place. I could not allow this view of “sahajiyaism” (or whatever we call it) to go without intelligent opposition, and I felt it was time to show that there is a role for sexuality in Krishna consciousness that does not entail either total renunciation or a purely procreative role on the one hand, or a quasi bathhouse culture on the other.
I guess the question is one of adhikar. Once again, Lalan put the finger on the issue: if one has to overcome sexual desire to begin sexual practice, then what is the point? Is there a possibility that one could attain spiritual emancipation in the method taught by Pitambara Das—sex, drugs and Harinam? On the one hand, there is the last verse of the Rasa lila which indicates the possiblity that if one is sincerely engaged in hearing and chanting about Radha and Krishna, even if one engages in what can only be termed a life of uncontrolled passions, that one should come to a level of enlightenment: one encounters a partner with whom the relation of love most deeply reflects the love of Radha and Krishna and thus makes it possible to enter into a far more profound and spiritually meaningful relationship than the kind of shallow, purely one-dimensional sexual relationships that excessive horniness leads to. I don’t want to minimize these fleeting relationships entirely either—there are manifestations of the eternal Love even there (“The sisters of mercy have not departed or gone…”). However, this is called sadharani rati and is nowhere near the higher levels of love.
There has been a general consensus about what constitutes healthy sexuality and meaningful relationship, and it is preserved on fora like Dr. Phil and Oprah. However, our society is developing an ever growing promiscuous fringe that is slowly disintegrating this consensus. Those who object the most vociferously, those in conservative religious groups, are themselves excluded from the mainstream. The tendency to non-ingerence into what goes on in the bedroom has legitimized almost everything with just a few exceptions like pedophilia and rape. Whatever consenting adults want is permitted. And who is to object to this principle? It is the same principle that allows us to practice the religion we choose.
But I myself would rather not see Radha and Krishna associated with the promiscuous fringe, and so I will fight against it, even though I have to admit that in the current cultural environment there is a certain inevitablity about a Pitambar and those who have preceded and will follow him. Radha and Krishna are not about making promiscuity meaningful, but about making deep, loving relationships an ever clearer mirror of the eternal love of the Divine Couple.
A couple of summers ago, I serendipitously picked up a little book by a Wiccan priest that made interesting reading. The basic argument he made was that his movement had started with a strong ethos of sexual freedom. Orgies, etc., played a prominent part in their ritual. However, he argued, the time had come for Wiccans to grow up and recognize the necessity of promoting deep and lasting relationships and the promotion of stable family life. His arguments seemed applicable even to an Iskcon-type movement where another kind of radical attitude to sexuality (i.e. the opposite extreme) had also had a destabilizing effect on its social fabric.
So, in a sense, I am in favor of a rather conventional social doctrine and I see the worship of Krishna, despite all the rhetoric about renunciation, as being essentially favorable to conventional values. I have stated that Krishna and Radha’s love legitimizes all human love, just as Nanda and Yashoda’s parental love for Krishna legitimizes all parental love, etc. The point is finding the spiritual power that lies in these mundane relations by mastering the art of aropa. I know my baby is not Krishna, but I worship him as if he is Krishna. I channel Nanda Maharaj. I am not Nanda Maharaj, but his mere servant. And so on. Our fleeting material experiences of love are all converted into the eternal, ever existing and infinitely rich experience of love of God, which then informs all our relationships with every other being.
I think the ideal is universal, and therefore the path that I recommend points to this goal. That means a pravartaka stage where one cultivates sadhana bhakti. This does not have to last 40 years before one becomes qualified for sexual sadhana. It may even, as I have seen in certain individuals, be accompanied by promiscuous behavior. But all sadhana ultimately implies discipline of some sort—and something more than just the discipline of seminal retention. That discipline is an inner one and it follows the pattern set by the scriptures of the six Goswamis, beginning with sharanagati and progressing through all the stages to prema.