Re-fried Tantra? Why not?

In the FB discussions that followed the posting of Sex and Bhakti Yoga, parts I and II, many objections were presented, some of which I responded to and have since cross-posted to this blog, often with corrections, elaborations, and embellishments.

This was partly possible due to my being in Rishikesh where I have been for the last two weeks having a good meditation refresher, sitting for three or four hours a day. I like the ashram lifestyle. This ashram is pretty loose in its discipline, but still I like the framework of a sattvika spiritual community. I have been giving one class a day on "Bhakti, rasa and psychology," trying to find ways of communicating my ideas to a group of yogis. Because my philosophy is a bit of a hybrid, as the title of the lectures itself indicates, what is accessible to one audience is outside the realm of comprehension for others.

Looking back on the two weeks I see that (as one of the students actually told me) I am usually trying to do too much. The fundamental problem here in this ashram is first of all that the devotional basics are not there, what to speak of something as esoteric as rāgānugā.

With devotees I find it necessary to speak about literalism and symbolic meaning, but with those who have no devotional samskara, such talk takes on a purely intellectual and objective aura, which is not very conducive to the development of bhakti, which requires going beyond the intellectual. We chant for a few minutes before each class, so I am hoping that the Holy Name will do its job... as it has for so many of us.

For the Indian students, of course, there is little entry into the realm of psychology, anyway. The ideas of both Freud and Jung have had a major impact on the way I have formulated my understanding of Radha and Krishna and the entire process of prema-sādhanā, helping me to come to a better understanding of the way it works and why.

Furthermore, nobody here really has any understanding or knowledge of rasa theory and that particular tradition. So, the audience must be initiated into several areas of understanding to get the correct idea. The best listener I had here is a Ph.D. student in yoga psychology who has some knowledge of most of these different areas.

In one of the threads linked to above, I wrote about similar problems in communicating to the devotee audience:

I am reading through posts I made at the very beginning of this blog itself, six years ago. I have to say that looking at them, I am seeing how radically different my thought is from the conventional "Hare Krishna" world. It will be hard for most devotees to follow my thinking for several reasons. Among them:
  • One is that I often resort to secular authorities and philosophers for whom they have little respect or affection.
  • Another reason is that my language is affected by philosophical categories, etc., with which they are not familiar.
  • Another is that my conclusions are so much at odds with their received wisdom that they can barely process the logical sequences that get there.
  • Another is that most devotees are only superficially conversant with their own tradition! Certainly where it concerns the psychology of rasa, the concepts of bhāva and prema themselves, these are so outside the realm of most people that the Sanskrit terminology and references do not register. They should, for a serious practitioner, become second nature and a part of customary vocabulary.
  • The IGM devotees have sadly been indoctrinated against the practices of rāgānugā bhakti, with the result that the process of archetypal reorientation, which is really a necessary prerequisite to further progress, is atrophied.
  • Moreover, because there is a good portion of yoga, meditation, and indeed tantric practice involved here, many devotees have been programmed to recoil, much to the detriment of their own spiritual advancement, simply because devotees are trained to be externally oriented in most of their actions and for the most part have not learned, even after long years of practice, the art of sitting properly, quietening the breath and mind, and actually mastering the art of samādhi.
It is incumbent on me, therefore, to simplify. After all, this sādhanā is NOT, as some have lamented, outside the scope of most devotees, given the correct association. I believe that all devotees who chant the Holy Name and have some access to Radha and Krishna's nāma, rūpa, guṇa, parikara and līlā through proper initiation are eligible for it.

Having said that, I really do suggest the early series I did related to the sadhika as guru tattva. There are five or six such articles, most interlinked in one way or another.

First you need to have a correct understanding of the sambandha as Radha and Krishna, the Divine Couple. You have to meditate on them. You have to reshape your consciousness until it is fully imbibed with Radha-Krishna, rādhā-kṛṣṇa-maya. The extent to which you do this preliminary work is the extent to which you can progress further. There is a direct relationship between your absorption and awareness of madhura-rasa and your capacity for further antaraṅga-sādhanā.

There is no point, really, in talking about sex and bhakti-yoga to those who are still on the external levels of vaidhī and even rāgānugā. My personal idea has always been to get to the bottom of things. The words anvaya-vyatireka appear both in BhP 1.1.1 and in the catuḥślokī 2.9.34. This means understanding through direct experience (anvaya, svarūpa, antaraṅga) as well as through external processes like intellectual effort (vyatireka, taṭastha, bahiraṅga). I made the decision long ago to plunge the depths of the inner practices rather than the external, and although many rewards are there for those who teach the beginners, we have decided to give the results of our efforts, undiluted, and let the pieces fall where they may.

Whatever our level of spiritual practice or study, we are constantly trying to integrate experience and understanding. An unbalanced approach may sometimes lead us to to impose received wisdom on our own experience, even when there are contradictions. This cannot work forever, because sooner or later, inevitably, we fall into states of cognitive dissonance. Such moments in life are deeply significant, because they are determinant of our further progress. In a movement like Krishna consciousness and most religions, the way of dealing with cognitive dissonance is to give primacy to received wisdom rather than focusing on reinterpreting that wisdom in the light of experience. This leads to denial and Shadow formation.

In further discussion on that thread, I had the following exchange with Her Grace Urmila Devi Dasi, a prominent woman leader in ISKCON. That anyone in a leadership position in ISKCON would deign to interact with me publicly is in itself an unusual event. Her own attempts to address the question of sexuality come in the context of Prabhupada's teachings, and she clearly believes that she has made some progress in understanding the issue and resolving the problem. Here are some of our exchanges:

Urmila Devi: I gave a class on Madhya 8.138 about sex desire. My conclusion is based on: "Rāvaṇa’s policy is 'Take away Sītā from the clutches of Rāma and enjoy it.' This is Rāvaṇa policy. And the Hanumān policy is: 'Take out Sītā from the hands of Rāvaṇa and get her seated by the side of Rāma.' The same Sītā." (lecture Bhagavad-gītā 2.6 -- London, August 6, 1973)

Material sexual desire, i.e. lust, is the epitome of our desire to enjoy separately from Krishna. I do also discuss two ways to use this material desire in devotional service while one is in the process of coming back to enjoying the real thing...

My own understanding of sex as sacrifice to Radha and Krishna, as part of sādhanā, as an offering of all to the Lord, is quite different from what you are explaining. My understanding and experience are that when a married couple use sex joyfully and lovingly to facilitate the entrance of a soul into a body in order to engage that soul in bhakti, then such sex is joyful both materially and spiritually and is part of yoga. Renunciates use sexual energy in sacrifice when they raise the reproductive fluid to the brain, and use that energy in study.

In contrast, in Gita chapter 17, Prabhupada describes "sexual service" as being in the mode of ignorance. The sexual sādhanā described in this latest blog sounds like the practice of the Tantrics. No doubt it is described in some parts of the Vedas, but to say it is part of bhakti-yoga for attaining the service of Radha Krishna seems more than far-fetched. Indeed, our acharyas took great pains to stop such ideas. I think I have nothing further to comment on the matter, except that it is interesting to see that such ideas continue to be disseminated, even in the West.

Jagat: I wasn't expecting to convince you, Urmila Devi! My feeling is that reproduction is only a byproduct of the sexual function, which in its highest manifestation is amatory. That is why it is glorified in Radha and Krishna. Their kāma is prema. When reproduction is the result of voluntary impregnation from the position of prema, that is indeed the highest state where reproduction is concerned. So this is when yogis reproduce. But why should this be the only occasion that this powerful force of sexual attraction is used in a devotional way? Krishna, the navīna-madana is the attractive force; saying he is the navīna-madana ("new Cupid"), worshiped by kāma-bīja and kāma-gāyatrī means that he has given the process for adapting the force of attraction in this world to convert it not only into love between a man and a woman, but to make it a sādhanā for prema.

And why should sannyasis be the only ones to raise the seminal fluid? As a matter of fact, the sannyasi has more trouble, because he does not engage the sexual function as it was meant to be engaged. And so he is like a person who is trying to turn on a light without only a trickle of electric power going through.

Even so, the main element in this discussion should not be sex, but love. When women and men do not make the sacrifice of love by using their sexuality in sacred amatory sharing for the sake of entering into Radha and Krishna's pastimes, it falls short. And society suffers as a result -- and so we see a lot of dried up faces and shadow boxing.

Urmila: Frankly, I was disappointed. I'm working on my seminar on this topic, and I was hoping for fresh, true and relevatory insight. Instead just re-fried tantra. I agree that dealing with sexual energy in bhakti proves very difficult for most--either they become its slave or they become hard-hearted/angry. But that is no excuse for going to tantric stuff in the name of bhakti.

Jagat Well, you know what we used to say, the proof of the pudding is in the eating. For you it is not appealing, what can I say? I know you are a teacher and I have heard you are a very good one. I was also an ISKCON teacher once, one of the first as a matter of fact. My feeling is that for the most part, ISKCON has done a lamentable job taking its children to a higher love. We have failed in the love department, Urmila.

I am sorry to say it, but the yearning for love will trump duty ever time. So we have to find an honest way of engaging the sexual energy. You can't do that because you are committed to a philosophy of denial. Even when you point to Prabhupada's "sex is real in the spiritual world" comments, your understanding of its implications falls short.

You may scoff that this is just rehashed tantra. But you are the one who is rehashing a failed doctrine of renunciation and the "growing-out-of-material-sex-desire" philosophy. The onus of proof is on you. You have failed to keep the best of your devotees in ISKCON, and you have failed your next generation. And this is one of the reasons why.

And while I am here, my dear sister Urmila Devi, in my rehashing of Tantra, did you notice the part where I said that the sādhikā should be guru to the sādhaka? I heard that you were in line to become an ISKCON guru -- maybe you already give initation, I don't know, but I will bet it is or has been a struggle. I know that an ambitious woman like yourself and some of the others like Malati Devi are hoping that women will be "permitted" to take a place in the higher echelons of the ISKCON bureaucracy, but the bureaucratic means to guruship is so awkward. It requires, to some extent at least, for want of a better word, "balls." I am sorry to use the word, but it does convey a great deal, you must admit.

Do you not see that the entire masculine-oriented vīra-rasa, macho sannyāsī culture is not only a failure in its primary purpose of attaining prema, but an iron chain around women? How can a Western woman like yourself, from a highly privileged background, ever permit this to be the future of ISKCON? And how can you change it until you point to Radha and Krishna and say, "They are BOTH on the altar here!"

Urmila: Yes, I noticed that part. I read it very carefully.

Anyway, we know what Prabhupada's desire is. He told us many times. "I want that all my spiritual sons and daughters will inherit this title of Bhaktivedanta, so that the family transcendental diploma will continue through the generations. Those possessing the title of Bhaktivedanta will be allowed to initiate disciples. Maybe by 1975, all of my disciples will be allowed to initiate and increase the numbers of generations."

Let us see how Mahaprabhu's and Srila Prabhupada's ambitions are fulfilled. Let our personal ambitions be to fulfill the ambitions of our leaders, part of which is to present the goal and the process without adulteration.

By the way, I'm sure that the vast majority of members of ISKCON, what to speak of leaders, have already noticed that both Radha and Krishna are on the altar.

Jagat: What I meant by that is that a symbol is always more powerful than the explanations given of that symbol. What is Krishna and what is Radha? In the simplest form it is a man and a woman. But if you know something about Indian culture, you know that this representation is radically different from Shiva-Shakti, Lakshmi-Narayana, or Rama-Sita.

Radha and Krishna are the image of romantic love, which is only truly possible between equals. And yet everyone puts up a stop sign and says, "There will be no such love here." Until this is remedied, there will always be a love deficit.

Love only comes from love. Therefore there is only one love. The love of Radha for Krishna is that one love. It is all-pervading, but mostly covered. Our job is to follow the love to Radha. We will not find śṛṅgāra-rasa in śānta, dāsya, sakhya or even vātsalya. But we will find all the other loves in śṛṅgāra. Connect this life with that one. You will not find love THERE if you cannot find it HERE. This is the one and only point. This is what Radha and Krishna are for! It is what they mean.

As Paurnamasi says,

harir eṣa na ced avātariṣyat
mathurāyāṁ madirākṣī rādhikā ca
abhaviṣyad iyaṁ vṛthā visṛṣṭir
makarankasya viśeṣatas tad atra
If Krishna had not appeared in Mathura
along with Radha of intoxicated eyes,
then this whole creation, and especially that of Cupid,
would have been an exercise in futility.
What people don't seem to understand is that making love is the highest sevā. We are here to "make love." That is what prema is. Sevā without prema is empty. Prema without sevā is impossible. First love. Then do as you will.
Clearly I was a little testy about the "refried Tantra" comment, which I found glib, reductionist and superficial. I have tried at the top of this post to delineate some of the bridges that need to be crossed for a typical neophyte reader of A.C. Bhaktivedanta's books to get to be able to understand how I approach the practice of the prema-dharma. For someone to call what I am teaching "refried Tantra" shows neither a clear understanding of what I am saying, nor the limitations of Tantra itself.

No doubt, there is some common element. As with many of the Indian spiritual or mystical practices, there is a great deal of crossover and borrowing. For instance, the arcanā of one deity is indistinguishable in form from that of another. The mantras, prayers, etc., are changed but the external forms remain pretty much the same. Does this make Pancharatra "refried Tantra"?

Rupa Goswami rewrote the rasa-śāstra, adapting it to the path of rāgānugā bhakti. Does that make the Bhakti-rasāmṛta-sindhu, "refried" Bharata Muni or Singa Bhupal?

Many other such examples can be given, but this is an important point. If a practice is effective it can be adapted to a new purpose. Nothing is new under the sun; everyone is building on what went before, adopting the useful and effective and discarding the superfluous and ineffective. When talking about progressive thought, we mean in effect that "refrying" is a good thing. It is building on old ideas. As Prabhupada used to say, "Utility is the principle."

If you understand the goal properly -- as it was reformulated by Chaitanya Mahaprabhu, "prema is the fifth goal of life" -- then you can adapt the means for getting there. I do not believe for one moment that I have taken my eye off the ball, despite the inability of others to see it.

Whatever the case, this is not the left-hand Tantra found in some Shakta texts, which approves of a kind of hedonism in the name of spirituality. As I intimated in my earlier article from today, "Please, not Satanism!", this is wholly and purely about prema.


Jagadananda Das said…
I got a short personal note from someone who has been appreciative of my articles in the past, "Many of your writings of late seem strange to me. There's so much sex. I am sorry. I cannot follow this."

Well, it is an important subject, and I am sorry if it displeases you. You know that is what Radha and Krishna are doing all the time, though, don't you? It seems relevant to me.

Jai Sri Radhe.
pareshadasa said…
I appreciate your articles and the late writings seems to me windows to an inner self understanding. Thanks for sharing! Radhe Shyam!
Anonymous said…
Thank you Jagat..Your words speak truer to the reason for all existence than anyones I've ever read. If one is honest with themselves, and looks deeply into their's hard to deny. One can plainly see that this whole world and the spiritual world are run on the same principle...all coming from the original prototype...the Love of Radha and Krsna. You are very brave to stay true to this realization in the face of so much opposition. Stay strong dear Jagat, may blessings be yours and and thank you again.
Anonymous said…
Krishna is said to have been 10 years and 3 months when he left Braj for Mathura..

How are we expected to believe he had all these sex pastimes in braj when he and the gopis were mere babes?

You dont think there has been any interpolation going on in this regard? Please explain.

thank you,

Anonymous said…
would love to hear your response to this Jagat:
Anonymous said…
Thought you may enjoy reading this;

Quest for Spiritual Orgasm

Anonymous said…
Recommending semen retention for all males across the board is repressive and not really what Tantra is about !

Here's a fun link;

Anonymous said…
more fun:

"Osho Zarathustra the Laughing Prophet - Of Scholars"


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