Someone wrote in the previous comments section that "normal sexual relations" were permitted for devotee householders. Some of the other posters there also expressed similar ideas.
I just want to say that I am not in favor of "normal" sexual relations. The general attitude in Vaishnava circles is to quote the Bhagavatam, in which it is made very clear that for men (and the instructions are given for men), association with women is the door to hell (5.5.2).
tamo-dvāraṁ yoṣitāṁ saṅgi-saṅgam
All bad qualities come out of association with women (3.31.33).
śamo damo bhagaś ceti yat-saṅgād yāti saṁkṣayam
Women are temptresses. Chota Haridas was expelled and, more or less, obliged to commit suicide because of a rather doubtful case of association with women, just so that he could be an example to all of us.
So can anything good be said for women or association with women? Though there are some saintly women (like Kunti, Devahuti, Devaki, etc.) in the Bhagavatam, including the gopis, whenever women as a class are discussed, it is generally as a danger to spiritual life. The only place that householder life is given much merit is that it is better than being a tyagi suffering the attacks of sexual desire.
There is fear, even in the forest for the foolish, for the six enemies will accompany him there. On the other hand, what danger is there for an awakened and self-controlled person who takes pleasure in the Self to remain in the home? One who wishes to conquer the six enemies should enter the married state, which is like a fortress from which he can defend himself against these powerful enemies. When they have become weak, then by all means he should take sannyasa. (5.1.17-18)
To quote St. Paul, "It is better to marry than to burn." As soon as one makes this kind of statement, it reduces woman to a second-class human being, and marriage to nothing more than a somewhat more complex form of masturbation, fraught with all kinds of entanglements and dangers.
I don't think I need to say that we have had a sustained and steady critique of these ideas from the feminists and also from enlightened psychologists in Western society that show such a position to be untenable. I don't think that I can, at this particular moment, attempt an exhaustive classification of male and female psychological types. The assessments of male and female character in the scriptures are not altogether wrong. Nevertheless, we need to reassess these scriptural statements in view of others that identify bhakti as an essentially feminine approach to spirituality, and the the idealization of the feminine in Radha and in sakhi/manjari bhava.
The negative statements about woman do not give sufficient scope to the possibility that a woman can be a devotee, even a Mahat. So this is the first essential point to retain here. Sexual relations are not normal where the power relations are distorted.
What can be normal about sexual relations if the man and woman are conditioned to think that they are engaged in something sinful, harmful or damaging for their spiritual life? If "normal" sexual relations is nothing more than a kind of scratch-your-itch so you can get on to more important things, it is self-defeating.
Ultimately, it will come back to bite you, because the desire for sex is not really a desire for sex as much as it is one for intimacy, companionship and love. For a devotee, that can only come in the association of another devotee. And when that particular condition is met, then it is possible to engage in sexual relations as a sacramental act.
Making sexual union a sacramental act is not "normal" sexual relations. What are people thinking is normal anyway--sattva, rajas, tamas? In the sense that devotees want everything to have a relationship to Krishna, it is only sexual relations that are saturated with Radha-Krishna smaranam that are normal, and nothing else.
(2) Enough theory, what's the practise?
I have given a great deal of thought about whether I should go into these matters further here. I certainly don't want to enter into the realm of titillation. If that is what people are looking for, there is plenty of it available on the internet. No point in me adding more dung to the heap.
But if you understand the theory, the practise is not that hard to follow. The practice begins in the head and the heart, so take care of those first. Just like in bhakti in general--theory is important, the practice follows on fairly naturally. Nevertheless, I would like to make the following points:
(a) Mental and spiritual preparation.
You need to be fixed up in Krishna consciousness in the traditional, customary sense. This is the question of adhikara. If sex is more important for you than Krishna consciousness, then you have missed the point. That is why you should understand the pravartaka-sadhaka distinction.
(b) The Partner.
You need a partner who is not selected on the basis of rational criteria alone. If you have followed (a), then it will be impossible for you to fall in love with a non-devotee. But if you select a devotee partner on such a basis, the relationship will have svakiya elements that might ultimately prove unstable. So there is a combination of rational and irrational elements involved in the selection of a partner, so clearly this is something that cannot be explained like an instruction manual. It is like selecting a guru: You can say that a guru's qualities are such and such, but there is an element in the guru-disciple relationship that we can call epiphany or charisma, which are outside the realm of reason. See The Sadhika as Guru Tattva.
(c) Physical preparation.
One needs to follow a certain physical culture of yoga. Since one is engaging the physical body and part of the practice includes restraint of the tendency to orgasm, one must be familiar with asana, pranayama, mudras and bandhas. This does not mean, as some may think, that one becomes a yogi; we are simply adding the yoga part to bhakti. Yoga means discipline, and part of that discipline involves the proper maintenance of physical health. Proper sexual control is part of that discipline. The goal is not, however, to raise the kundalini; one makes no primary conscious effort in that regard; that is a secondary result or side effect. Without steps (a) and (b), and if one's fundamental motivation is to indulge in sexual pleasures in a hedonistic way, then you may as well take Viagra and indulge. Such things have nothing to do with the spiritual practice I am talking about.
It should be said that both partners must cooperate. If one is overly attached to orgasm, that becomes the goal of the act. That is not the goal: the goal is to enter a realm of samadhi awareness of Radha and Krishna in their Divine Union, strengthened by the power of intimacy, love, and united consciousness.
(d) The performance of ritual.
This is perhaps the most important part of the process. And when you talk about the how, this is perhaps what you mean. This ritual is something that you will get from your guru. I will not publish it here.
The purpose of the ritual is to focus your mind on the sacredness of the sexual act. It is not, as I have just said, normal. Though first sexual relationships with a love partner may not necessarily follow the ideal model, and not even all such relationships need to follow a full ritual, the couple must occasionally or regularly follow all the elements of ritual, beginning with ritual purification through bathing, nyasa and bhuta-shuddhi, and other elements usually associated with puja.
Tantric practices have been applied to all kinds of religious systems and theologies. Therefore, one should understand that the prayers and mantras chanted in this ritual should be related to Radha-Krishna and manjari bhava. Manjari bhava is the key to the proper understanding of the practice.
Though this might have been included in (d) above, there are three mantras that play an important role in the act of sacramental love. These are the 18-syllable mantra, the Kama-gayatri, and the Hamsa mantra. Each of these plays a role and both partners should preferably have done a purascharan in one or the other of these mantras before going further with the practice.
(3) Parakiya Rasa
Several people seem to think that I am advocating pārakīya-rasa, or that what I am advocating will lead to some kind of sexual anarchy, the opening of Krishna conscious swingers clubs, the return of droit de seigneur programs where gurus make their disciples' wives prasadi, and all kinds of other practices of the sort.
I realize I am opening a Pandorra's Box by advocating this kind of sādhana, at the risk of bringing a great deal of opprobrium on my head. But let us deal with the problem of parakiya rasa.
Some of these things I have said before (See also Sexuality and spirituality: Dangers), but repetition is not necessarily a bad thing. As I have taken pains to state above, there is a great deal of importance placed on the choice of partner for this kind of practice. I am not sure that advertising in the marital columns of an Indian newspaper or on the internet is the most fruitful method to follow, though ultimately all means are good. The channels whereby love comes are outside our direct control, and as the Upanishads say, eko bahunam yo vidadhati kaman: Man proposes and God disposes. Knock and it shall be answered.
Nevertheless, there may well be challenges and obstacles in this matter. In fact, the obstacles make one aware of the power of desire, which is very enlightening. The discussion that was begun about desire and its integral nature to the soul was interesting for this reason: Both kama and prema do, in their purest form, act as powerful and uncontrollable forces, seemingly external to the self. The stronger the forces of attachment to dharma create a resistance to desire, the greater the conflict and inner pressure. There are many instructions that tell us not to resist the urge for bhakti if it conflicts with ordinary dharmic injunctions. What is surprisingly difficult is for a religious man or a woman to break with their dharmic marriage commitments. To give spiritual value to potential disruptive parakiya relationship seems socially dangerous, but this is as true of sannyasa as it is of parakiya rasa. And the defense of the two is the same: If a higher purpose is served, then rejection of dharmas can be pardonable.
Shastras warn against disruptive sexual relationships just as they warn against premature sannyasa. The only safeguard we have is our own sincerity. However, I should make it clear that the base position is svakiya-rasa, not parakiya.
I have been trying to communicate a dual understanding of Radha-Krishna lila: (1) as metaphor for jiva-Ishwara and (2) as archetype of human love relationships. In the former, the gopis' and Krishna's parakiya relationship is false. What this means is that our dharmas in this world are related to the bodily concept and are therefore superseded by the true dharma of the soul, love for Krishna. The jiva's real home is in her relation with God.
strīṇāṁ sva-dharma iti dharma-vidā tvayoktam
astv evam etad upadeśa-pade tvayīśe
preṣṭho bhavāṁs tanu-bhṛtāṁ kila bandhur ātmā
Oh Krishna! You are the knower of religion, and so when you instruct us in the duties of a woman to follow and serve husband, children and relatives, then that must be right. But we see that all these instructions culminate in you and are applicable to you, for you are the true beloved of all living beings. You are their friend and you are their very soul. (10.29.32)In the latter understanding, there is a romantic conception that one is destined to have a spiritual companion sent by God. In India, parents try to ascertain this companion through a complex set of procedures, which are often corrupted by mundane motives. But such a rational approach, however sincere, may result in one's falling into a type of external svakiya relationship that for whatever reason is inimical to one's heartfelt spiritual purpose and destiny. Then, in accordance with the principal of śaraṇāgati (accepting what is anukūla, rejecting what is pratikūla), one may go against conventional social and religious expectations. Svakiya really means what is true to oneself.
I say this with a great deal of care and trepidation. I am not in favor of the kind of social disruption that comes from interfering with the family unit. Taking care of children is a responsibility that should not be entered into lightly. Divorce has a decidedly negative influence on children, and certainly part of that responsibility is to raise children according to principles of religion. Children who are wanted, who are raised in an atmosphere of love and religious practice, will be forever favorable to the culture of spiritual life. Though there are no guarantees anywhere, it is certain that if any of these elements are missing, a child is more likely to experience spiritual problems later on in life.
It should therefore be understood that pārakīyā-rasa (which I should call true svakiya) means a certain concept of love and marriage (gāndharva) that is truer to Western tradition rather than the Eastern (prājāpatya). The best solution is thus for such a "true svakīyā" relationship to be established before events bring the destined partners into other entangling relationships.
At the same time, the kind of sexual practices we are talking about have a birth-control method built into them, making wanted children the norm.
This is all pretty pie-in-the-sky scenario, as wherever something can go wrong, it surely will. And that is nowhere more true than in the untidy world of love and sexual relationships. But as I was trying to say in the "We need a new sexual revolution" post, things are pretty bad as it is. I was just listening to a university colloquium on hypersexualization in today's society and, believe me, teenagers are under a great deal of unpleasant pressure due to the contemporary hypersexualization of media and mores. When I say that we need a new sexual revolution I mean that we need to revive the natural intuitive awareness of the sacred nature of human love and sexuality. This includes the option of abstention.
(4) A last word: Sex is NOT everything
It is important to state that sex is not everything, even though it may sometimes appear that way on this blog. There is something fundamentally questionable to the ordinary Westerner about the idea of a celibate male spending his time meditating on the sexual pastimes of an imagined Deity. Seen from a purely psychological point of view, it seems fairly clear that people who do so may well have a problem with what is, after all, a normal human activity.
There seems to be a healthy approach to sexuality that places it appropriately in the context of life as a whole, with all that implies. Those of us who are conscious of the problems in the third world, for instance (India itself is a good example), where ecological, economical, educational, and health problems are all-pervading, will recognize that no human being can remain indifferent or inactive.
Love of God, and love of a devotee, love of the community of devotees, and finally love for the wider human community: This is the expansion of the loving propensity. The loving propensity requires action, in accordance with our personal adhikāra. Love of God and love of a devotee, or even love of the community of devotees, can become excessively exclusionary; after strengthening to center of love, one has to expand further and further outward.
So when I say prema prayojana, I am not saying, "Sex is the goal of life."