Sunday, December 30, 2007

A History of Celibacy (II)

All in all, on reading this book I expected to come to some more earth-shattering conclusions about celibacy or discover some new facts that might make me adjust my opinions. Rather to my surprise, after reading through more than 400 pages of historical information, I felt rather less enlightened than more. Nevertheless, Abbott's summary of modern developments, celibate movements in the current situation, did resonate with me.

She describes, as I occasionally have also on these pages, the malaise in today's society that has grown out of the commodification of sexuality and its use as a tool for commercialization. (Indeed, the growth of sexual liberty seems to be an integral part of the consumer culture.) I also described in an earlier post my horror at the kind of sexual escalation that has developed in youth culture, to a great extent the result of easy accessibility of pornography.

Obsessions with the body, bodily appearance, the idealization of sexuality itself rather than love or human relations, all are results of the sexual revolution gone wrong. Little wonder that there are some clearthinking individuals out there who are looking for some kind of alternative. Many of them look to short or long term celibacy.

One such group is a Christian movement called True Love Waits. Abbott calls them "romantic" in the sense that they believe that each person has a life partner destined for them and that they should "save" themselves for that person. Though I have heard that statistically these young people do not fare all that much better than other, less religious teens when it comes to pregnancy and so on (though I may be wrong), it does seem like a move in the right direction. In the conference on the hypersexualization of teens I saw in Montreal before leaving, one speaker quoted a French philosopher, whose name I cannot remember, who said way back in the 1970's that it was time for the pendulum to swing back to a new romanticism. She commented, sardonically, that we are still waiting.

Another inspirational example coming from the "new celibacy" was in the resurgence of platonic or asexual love between people who inspire and support one another selflessly. Indeed, the examples Abbott gives are of people who are fully conscious that sexualizing a relationship may disrupt the most cherished aspect of love. But it is really the diseased sexual mentality, whether in celibacy or in sexuality, that is the enemy.

Celibacy can be in the three modes just as easily as sexuality can. A celibate whose renunciation is dependent on or indistinguishable from fear and hatred of women is in the mode of ignorance and is only a partial beneficiary of his renunciation, as the Gita says in the 17th chapter.

I have come to the conclusion that what I am really presenting as an idea is not different from celibacy. The romantic concept of love is based on principles that are related to chastity. The concept of not spilling semen is thus integral to the entire process. But I want it to be clear that this is not just about sex, with or without semen spilling, which is what people seem to think. Rather, it is about optimizing committed male-female relations so that they can become fulfilled in all aspects of their lives.

Obviously this takes certain kinds of maturity, and we have to be aware of the advantages that celibacy (in the sense of single life) confers and makes it an attractive option for many people. Like one nun said, (quoted in Abbott's book) "Celibacy is about the freedom to love many people without being unfaithful to any of them." It gives "an undivided heart." Swami Veda's statement about chastity in The Philosophy of Hatha Yoga seems to support this idea:

There are people who claim to be followers of kundalini yoga and say "Love everyone" and "Have sex with everybody." The two statements are contradictory. To love everyone means opening of the heart center--an upward inward flow. Having sex with everybody is blocking the lower center, the sexual center of consciousness, so that the kundalini energy flows downward and outward and is dissipated. When it flows inward and upward, the heart center receives that energy and opens up its love to everyone. (page 81)

I am in favor of devotional sexual relations within the context of a committed loving relationship between two devotees and sadhakas. This is about bhava-sadhana, the cultivation of loving feeling, which can be enhanced through physical intimacy. This loving feeling is recognized as coming from the Divine Couple and is then channeled back toward the Divine Couple. This practice requires a certain physical culture (deha-sadhana). Yogic practice is ultimately meant to enhance mental concentration on the ishta-devata and to purify the body to make it a suitable temple for the Lord's service. Misunderstood, it can lead to abuses or to useless distractions. Properly used, it can enhance all aspects of devotional life, including the application that I am suggesting.

I see the purely yogic practice as being enhanced by loving partners, who share both the yogic discipline and the symbolic devotional universe of the Nitya Vihara and Radha-Krishna's primal and universal love. Bhava and prema are the essence of Radha and Krishna's world. We actually enter that world through bhava and prema, not through vidhi. Most people cultivate vidhi bhakti, even when they think themselves to be raganuga bhaktas.

The forced adoption of a nitya-siddha identity is not, on its own, a sign of raganuga bhakti. In fact, since it is so often an artificial imposition on the consciousness, it is usually a struggle and turns into a kind of vidhi practice. What I am talking about is approaching raganuga sadhana through the bhava, i.e., through identifying the infinitesimal bhava with the transcendental bhava (not the infinitesimal jiva with the transcendental Divine Couple or one or the other part of that Couple) and basking in that bhava in the way that the sakhis and manjaris bask in the reflection of Radha and Krishna's love while serving it, is the essence of the natural (sahaja) raganuga sadhana.

This is what I mean when I talk about this practice as being, along with sankirtan, a generator of love.

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