"Sex and Spirituality" (article by Amal Kiran)

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Sex and Spirituality

by Author::Amal Kiran
published in The Sun and the Rainbow

This is the article which has aroused a lot of curiosity ever since the publication of “Champaklal Speaks” [in 1975]. In that book there is on page 58 the entry dated 5-11-1944: “While going back from Sri Aurobindo's room Mother said: ‘Amal's article on sex is good, but it cannot be published in the Advent.’” The note which came to the author in Bombay from Sri Aurobindo through Nirodbaran was to the same effect: “Sri Aurobindo sends congratulations but finds the article unsuitable for the Advent.”
         ...In the original draft the article had a few jocular expressions of somewhat ‘naughty’ high spirits. Both Sri Aurobindo and the Mother could enjoy them but not allow them in a periodical of the Ashram, especially one like the
Advent which had a sustained serious tone. Even elsewhere in India the article needed a little editing. With those expressions partly smoothed down, it appeared in the Bombay Weekly, The Social Welfare, October 4, Year::1946. It is now reproduced with some further touches here and there.

Nobody in India can permanently find room for sex in spiritual life without violating his own deepest conviction. Not that all have refrained from mixing sex with the spiritual life – there are various cults in which erotic indulgence of the body is practised with a pseudo-mystical ecstasy accompanying its excitement and its orgasm. Yet one may be sure that even the most misguided adherents of these cults go against themselves; for, though sex has a place in the religious symbolism of India, it is never understood as being there to make the mystical path sexual. In the first place, the aim is to throw upon ordinary acts a glow of religious idealism by associating them with super-human personalities. Thus there are injunctions in the Shastras never to perform coitus without a prayer to the divine Creator and Creatrix. A seed of mysticism is cast by such a means into the soil of the common consciousness and helps holy thoughts to sprout more and more. In the second place, the aim is to quicken the hidden soul in us by kindling the poetic imagination and using emblems of concrete love-union and creativity to counter the vacuous abstractness which the common man feels in the spiritual. Those emblems undermine his penchant to identify the mystical with the misty and prepare him to quest for God as the most positive, gripping and substantial of realities. The passionate force of our nature leaping towards an object of attraction is thus aided to divert itself from customary to higher values, from being blind heat to first a searching luminousness and then revelatory light, from retas to ojas and lastly tejas. All this is ingrained in the Indian mind and the pseudo-mystical cults leave always an uneasiness no Indian can wholly escape.

An instinct of purity reigns also in the Roman Catholic world, though there a moral and ascetic revulsion sits in the place of the Indian's sober sense of the sexual storm's incompatibility with the mystical “flame burning straight upward in a calm and windless region”, as we may put it paraphrasing a text in the Gita. It is among the Protestants that the spiritual instinct is well-nigh lost and attempts are made to render sex a legitimate part of the holy life, at least a harmless thing which scarcely hinders the soul's growth towards God. Originally these attempts were a reaction to the hypocrisy of the medieval monks. Seeing how contorted became human nature under a celibate regime, the Protestants deemed sex uncontrollable except by the few gifted geniuses of chastity. They made their peace with it and openly established marriage for the clergy. An honest procedure – but it erred in believing that one could truly and wholly be God's minister in the day while still being an engine of concupiscence at night. Under the Protestant influence, even those Europeans who have absorbed the atmosphere of Indian mysticism by direct contact with it seem often not quite to understand why sex is renounced by all the Yogis. One of the keenest of them whom I know leads himself a brahmachari life: his books, however, express the notion that the nuptial bed, moderately enjoyed, has nothing essentially antagonistic to the bliss of Brahman. What is perhaps responsible for his view is his eagerness to popularise spirituality, to make it accessible and acceptable to the intellectuals of Europe who cannot in a mass give up sex. He is not altogether wrong in thinking that mystical development is possible with sex going on; but this development is only on the plane of the mind and the inner consciousness and that too to a certain extent: the emotional part, the sense-self, the outer consciousness remain gross and the full freedom of the mental and the inner is also never attained or, if attained, is not kept up but always interrupted by the desire-driven, ego-slaking, turbid and narrow frenzy of the genitals.

And yet we must admit there is something in sex that has a basis of incontrovertible necessity in Nature. Earth-life is haunted and obsessed by the fact of the individual's limitation and death. Sex is an effort by the elemental energy in us to abolish them, an effort that has no direct success, since what it achieves are fits of feverish blinding pleasure interspersed with much heartburn, disharmony and disappointment, while the perpetuity it compasses is not of our own selves but of imitations and projections of them in our children. Yes, the success is not direct at all; but the mystical paths, the Yogas, have not the power to lift the total make-up of man out of the world of limitation and death which brings the sex-function into play as a delightful balsam for one's fragmentary finitude and a magic rite by which one who is himself doomed to perish wins a vicarious irnmortality. No doubt, by mysticism the individual becomes aware of his eternal spirit and escapes inwardly the death-obsession no less than the load of limit. Liberated into the immortal bliss of Brahman he exceeds the urge to procreate and to perpetuate himself in his offspring. Nor has he the stinging sense of being just a fragment, a part aching for a complementary physical mate in order to end its pain of incompleteness. The knower of Brahman realises an infinitude of self, an illimitable inner state that has no walls to beat unhappily against, no jagged edges clamouring to fit into a pattern of finite body-satisfaction. But not all mystics can remain in the bliss of Brahman for good. Many have ups and downs to the close of their lives. A small number manage to preserve a general air of Ananda. Even they do not cease to be aware of sexuality in themselves. Sometimes it is a wave trying to drown them but they keep above its dark swirl. At other times it is a trouble in their dreams wherein they yield to its temptation but they do not let such involuntary yieldings have any grip on their wakeful moments. More rarely still, it is a devitalised demon lying quiescent, a presence felt as a mere passive weight in their earth-being. No more than a sprinkling have cast it out of themselves altogether. Yet even the great Yogis and Saints who have banished lustful desire have felt in the midst of their entire psychological release the limitations of their physical existence, a bounded sense of outer being and the transitoriness of the body. The deep-seated striving of Nature to get over these defects created that leap in us towards the sex-embrace and the generative act. Sex is the stretching of the hands for a fullness of the embodied finite being in matter and for an endless future on earth. Have the Yogas, the mystical ways, led the stretched hands to their goal? If they have not, the banishing of lustful desire is insufficient. Nature's need for sex is left and with it an irresolvable problem, a lasting ground for some sort of give-and-take between sex and spirituality.

So far in the world's history the rationale of sex has stayed unchallenged. Indirect though the success achieved by sex is, it cannot be discarded by the race until a finer substitute is found. Because no finer substitute has been struck upon, the force of passion frequently fails to be uplifted, slips again and again from the Godward-turning tapasya of the mystic. And even when it has been set free from its habitual mould and wholly re-orientated, it has not been put to any service of physical nature which might help out the secret behind sex. In consequence, the body has come to be regarded as baulked forever of a divine destiny. This implies that God cannot dwell in man from top to toe and that man must leave a part of himself as incapable of a supreme fulfilment. Pricked by a constant awareness of external imperfection, the mystic strains to a supra-terrestrial fulfilment, his attitude remains otherworldly, taking his embodied life on earth to be a temporary phase which consists of a divine side and an undivine if not actually a devilish side, the two ultimately irreconcilable.

The question arises: Is it wisdom to make a trenchant division in Nature? Surely it is not undivine, much less·devilish, of Nature to cry for the finite individual's bodily self-completion and his conquest of death. The cry is at bottom a hunger for materialisation of the plenitude and immortality of the Spirit. It is a cry that cannot be facilely set aside. Out of primeval depths it seems to emerge with a tremendous strength; it is an essential and elemental part of earth-existence and no Yoga or mystical way can permanently ignore its presence or satisfy by an other-worldly nisus the innate sense we have that what quivers out through sex is a precious secret whose loss would impoverish our general life here. We may admire the great Yogis and Saints, we may recognise and feel their splendid holiness, their vast beatitude, their superhuman virtue. Yet we cannot help also feeling and recognising that they have missed something necessary and fundamental, lacked in their realisations what earth cannot do without except by letting penury fall upon it amidst all mystical riches. A compromise appears to be called for. But oh how watery gets the inner life, the spiritual aspiration, the mystical state, if a compromise is accepted! Can we ever have a lascivious Christ or a lustful Buddha? Can Mirabai sleep with mortals or any earthly kiss echo on the lips of Teresa the name of the Lord? One cannot have the Spirit's height side by side with a mounting fever of the libido. One cannot have the God-intoxicated profundities of the soul together with a frenzied absorption in carnal appetite. The stuff, the vibration and the psychological plane of the sex-thrill are quite different from those of the mystical rapture. They are in comparison so crude and gross and cramping. Still, Eros shouts like a godhead and if his voice is ignored he turns devil, making sudden assaults on the ordinary spiritual aspirant, vaguely burdening the extraordinary one and leaving even in the most exceptional who has positively ejected him a certain barrenness of the body, until an anti-life otherworldly outlook is engendered, an outlook which puts a big gap in man's heart and frightens away the mind of the race from walking in the footsteps of the God-seeker.

Where then lies the solution of the dilemma? No number of Christs, Buddhas, Mirabais and Teresas will establish the kingdom of the Spirit on earth and drive from a world of limitation and death the mighty bewitchment of sex unless they realise that the search of sex, no matter how blind, is along a track of truth, and that this truth can be attained just as little by an inner divinity and immortality of spiritual consciousness concentrating on a Beyond as by self-enlargement through the sex-embrace and self-prolongation into the future through the offspring of the sex-act. What is needed is not the mere suppression or quiescence or else ejection of sexuality. The need is also for a radical change in the ideal of spirituality. If the individual is to get out of the sex-clutch laid by the death-haunted consciousness of man as he is and escape the body's barrennes caused by replacing that clutch with no other physical process, not only the inner being but the outer as well must be able to partake of the Divine's nature: then alone the rush for sexual self-completion and for vicarious immortality through one's children will be checked – then alone the poverty which seems to spread over bodily existence will be avoided. The body must find the Divine's immortal bliss filling the very cells and transforming their substance, freeing them from pain and disease and decay, evolving them to manifest perfectly the Spirit's perfection. As long as the body is not to be divinised and as a result immortalised, sex cannot be made quite superfluous and powerless. No Yoga of the past has envisaged the possibility of a physical God-experience. The finitude and transitoriness that are in our external Nature, the shut-up and small sense there of the individual unit, the incapacity of it to go on forever have been accepted as inevitable and irremediable. Spirituality puts its heart in some heaven or Nirvana beyond. Like sex, it offers but an indirect success to the earth-creature. Both fail, though in different modes, and tear life into extremes or else unite to form various kinds of unsatisfactory compromises.

Only the Yoga of Sri Aurobindo affirms that, if matter has derived from the Spirit, there must be in the Spirit an ideal truth of matter supporting the evolving phenomenon here and pressing for entire manifestation. The Spirit's substance, according to Sri Aurobindo, must possess a divine materiality as the archetype of our body, and our body must have been evolved in order ultimately to express that materiality. At present it is a pallid image of the archetype, the supporting truth. Our Yoga must be such as would enable the archetype to shine out and transform the flawed image. Intuiting the real aim of terrestrial evolution, Sri Aurobindo has sought for a power of consciousness which would hold the master-key to all problems. In what he calls the Supermind he has discovered a dynamism for crowning completely the evolutionary labour. The seers of the Upanishads spoke of a spiritual or causal body – karana sharīra – governing our gross and subtle sheaths from its occult station above in the Spirit's ether. But no total descent, emergence or organisation of it in both the gross and the subtle was taught or methodised. Evidently the Supermind's full evolutionary implications were never fathomed. Sri Aurobindo is the first to proclaim that matter can be divinised, he is the first to practise the superb artistry of the divinising Yoga. None but he can illumine and consummate that which is grouping and stumbling through sex for a physical self-fulfilment. None else can meet the crucial question so often asked of those who hold Yoga to be the ideal of life: “If everybody did Yoga and stayed celibate, would not the world come to an end?” If everybody did Sri Aurobindo's Integral Yoga to the very end, everybody would become physically transformed and capable of perpetuity because of the descent of the Divine and His undying Spirit into the atoms of the body: so the need to perpetuate the race by having children will be no more, even as the need sex tries to answer for a physical sense of union in which the ego-fragment seeks completeness will disappear because of a divine body-experience that is not shut off from the Beatific and the Perfect.

See also