Hinduism - Sex and Gurus
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The purpose of this discussion is not to support the alleged sexual activities of any spiritual master, but to examine the sexual mores that are applicable to those who practice Hinduism and those who follow an ascetic path. It is important to remember that there is a big difference between Hinduism and Christianity as far as sex is concerned.
Both religions emphasize the importance of self-control and celibacy in religious practice. However, Hinduism does not condemn sexual acts as sinful except those that are deemed deviant or socially unacceptable such as incest, rape, adultery, and unnatural sex. In Hinduism, sex is divine. It is an obligatory duty because it is responsible for procreation and the orderly progression of creation. Without sex, there is no possibility of rebirth or liberation or continuation of God's eternal duties.
As with other things in creation, sex is also of three types, sattvic, rajasic and tamasic. Of these sattvic sex is the best because it leads to pleasure and happiness and orderliness of society, without causing pain and suffering or breaching the social and religious norms. Sattvic sex is dutiful and moral and within the bounds of religious norms and obligatory duties; rajasic sex is selfish and lustful and motivated by egoistic considerations; and tamasic sex is coercive, lustful and painful, and against social norms.
Sex and householders
Hence, Hinduism rightly recognizes sexual pleasure (kama) as one of the chief aims of human life. However, as with other things, sex must fit into the overall scheme of an orderly and disciplined life that leads to liberation and upholding of dharma. In other words, one must indulge in sex in the larger interests of life and existence, as a part of one's duty and obligation to God and his aims, not otherwise. While students are expected to practice celibacy until they are married, householders are allowed to indulge in sex both within marriage, and in some instances outside marriage also.
In Hinduism, polygamy was an accepted practice until modern times. Until the Hindu Marriage Act was passed, there was no law that prohibited Hindu men from doing so. Men were allowed to marry multiple women. They also enjoyed the freedom to indulge in sex with willing women outside their marriage such as the maids who worked in their households or those who provided sexual pleasures for money, power, love, protection, or some other reason.
However, sex with women who were under the protection of their fathers or other male members of their families was strictly prohibited. Women were sold and bought in some parts of ancient India. Most of the restrictions with regard to sexual norms as stipulated in the law books applied to women of higher castes. In case of others, local customs and practices and community norms determined their sexual freedom and moral or social obligation.
Prostitution was prevalent in ancient India, and pleasing desirable men through enticing acts was considered an art. Women of pleasure often enjoyed royal patronage. Some of them were employed for entertainment, pleasure or spying. Unmarried women who chose to live freely had the privilege to sleep with the men of their choice. The story of Jabala, the mother of Satyakama, is an example in this regard.
If a widow had no children, she had the permission from the law books to choose a brother or cousin of her deceased husband for procreation. If a couple had no children for long, law books gave permission to the couples to choose a suitable person to impregnate the wife. Hindu scriptures draw a clear distinction between sex and lust. While sex is divine, lust is one of the five chief evils (pancha mahapatakas), and those who succumb to it fall down to the lowest worlds.
Sex and Hindu gods
The gods of Hinduism are pleasure loving, while the goddesses are mostly chaste and pure. The Puranas depict most of the Hindu gods as libidinous and not immune to the charms of the opposite sex. They enjoy having sex with heavenly maidens and beautiful earthly women. According to the Vedas, the Puranas, and the Upanishads when a person departs from here to the immortal world, on his way thousands of maidens come forward with perfumes and garlands to greet him and entertain him. It is one of the passing pleasures of a pure soul that has attained liberation and ready to be anointed by the Lord Himself in the highest world.
Indra is as fickle as the human mind and susceptible to sexual desire. He is particularly jealous of anyone trying to practice celibacy or asceticism. If they progress far on the path, he would dispatch beautiful nymphs from heaven to entice them and disturb their austerities. Vedic gods such as Indra and Agni were often captivated by the beauty of earthly women, and even the wives of rishis. Indra ruined the reputation of many chaste women, such as Ahalya, by tempting them with his guiles and indulging in sexual conjugation with them. Among other gods, notable was Lord Krishna who had numerous wives and consorts. Even Shiva, an epitome of self-control and asceticism, fell for the beauty of Mohini, a manifestation of Lord Vishnu and legend has it that they had a child out of that engagement. Brahma, the creator god, was captivated by the beauty of Saraswathi, his own creation, and made her his consort.
Sex and Hindu ascetics
Celibacy is a central part of Hindu asceticism. Hindu ascetics are expected to shun sexual intercourse by all means as a part of their spiritual transformation. Brahmacharya is one of the chief restraints. However, it is not a universal norm, because sexual intercourse is permitted in certain Hindu traditions, such as Tantra, as a part of one's spiritual practice to achieve liberation.
Most of our ancient seers, including the seven seers, were married. They had one or more wives and had children through them. They also often enjoyed sex with other women and celestial nymphs. The progenitor of Indian people, Bharata, was born from a relationship between sage Viswamitra and the heavenly beauty Menaka, who was sent by Indra to entice him and disturb his austerity.
Satyavati, wife of Santanu, had a son named Krsna Dvaipayana, also known as Vyasa, before her marriage. She bore him through sage Parasara, who saw her alone one day, when she was ferrying passengers across a river. She had a bad body odor. Sage Parasara promised to remove her bad odor, if only she would consent to sleep with him. Afraid that he would curse her if she refused, she agreed to satisfy his lust. As promised, Parasara removed her bad body odor. A son was also born to her from that union. When Vicitravirya, her second son through her husband, Santanu, died without children, sage Vyasa helped both the widows, to conceive sons and continue the Bharata race. He also slept with one of the servant girls sent by Satyavati, to whom Vidura was born. Even the Pandavas and Kauravas were born under strange circumstances outside marriage. In the Ramayana, we have the story of Bali forcibly taking away Tara, the wife of his brother Sugriva and keeping her in his palace. When Bali was killed by Lord Rama, she returned to her husband. In the same epic, we see Rama subjecting his wife who was in captivity until then to a fire test before accepting her chastity and purity. Later in the story, when a commoner doubted her chastity, he banished her to forests.
Sex in the Upanishads
There are few verses in the Chandogya and Brihadaranyaka Upanishads which are explicitly sexual in nature. They suggest how a man can make a woman agreeable for sexual intercourse for procreation, by performing certain rituals, and how force can be used if necessary to make the woman agree for the intercourse. They also suggest how a husband can harm the secret lover of his wife with the help of sacrificial rituals, invoking destructive powers. These Upanishads compare sexual intercourse to a sacrifice and the various organs used in the intercourse to the tools and materials used in the sacrifice.
From the above, it is clear that in Hinduism sex is not a taboo, while lust is. We may also draw the following conclusions.
1. In Hinduism sex is not considered sinful but divine and an essential part of creation and procreation. It facilitates continuity, preservation of family lineage, social order, rebirth and opportunity for the souls to work for their salvation.
2. Both men and women have the permission to indulge in sexual acts as a part of their obligatory duties, subject to the norms prescribed for them.
3. As a rule, students are not allowed to indulge in sexual intercourse or even the thought of it before the completion of their education.
4. Householders have the freedom to engage in sex within as well outside their marriage, as a part of their obligatory duties to maintain the order and regularity of the world.
5. As a rule ascetic people are not allowed to engage in sexual intercourse, except in tantric traditions. However, in some traditions, ascetic people and spiritual masters are allowed to marry and lead their lives as householders, without ignoring their spiritual duties. In exceptional circumstances they are also allowed to perform special services to help childless women procreate.
5. Hindu tradition acknowledges the vulnerability of the human mind to sexual passion. Ascetic people are human too. If ascetic people indulge in sexual acts out of lust, it dissipates their spiritual energy (ojas) and leads to their spiritual downfall. However, through austerities and spiritual practices, they can regain their lost power and spiritual purity.
It is important to remember in this discussion that Hinduism is a fluid religion. It is neither rigid nor dogmatic nor judgmental. The freedom that we enjoy in Hinduism is meant not to disregard the prevailing norms of society, but to cultivate tolerance and remain indifferent to the practices with which we may not agree. A spiritual guru may engage in sex or may not. Whether he is right or wrong depends upon what he preaches and practices. If he preaches celibacy but indulges in sexual acts clandestinely, you can consider him deceptive and avoid him. If he preaches tantra and advocates the use of sexual energy in self-transformation, he is well within his right to practice his tradition.
If you have fallen prey to a deceptive guru, please do not lose heart. You may consider it a part of your past karma, without losing faith in your spiritual aims. You are not responsible for your guru's karma, unless you have aided and abetted or unless you go on blindly supporting him or her in the face of mounting evidence. If your own resolve and faith are strong and if you practice your spiritual goals sincerely, you do not have to worry much about the moral conduct of your spiritual guru or mentor. In spiritual life, it is not your guru's knowledge and chastity, but your faith and resolve which matter most. Your guru can be a living person, a dead person or an image you hold in your mind as God. The image which you build in your mind of a guru and the thoughts you entertain about him create your reality, rather than the reality of the guru himself. Therefore, what is more important is how bring out your own inner Guru and Guide through your faith, in whatever image you may choose, and follow that ideal to reach your goal.
Suggestions for Further Reading
- The Meaning and Significance of Guru in Hinduism
- The Tradition Of Gurus and Gurukulas in Hinduism
- The Basis of Morality in Hinduism
- Sex and Spirituality In the Upanishads
- Spiritual Masters, Gurus, Babas, and Saints of Hinduism
- Sexual Morality in the Upanishads
- Brahmacharya or Celibacy in Hinduism
- Follow Angirasa as Your Guru as Krishna Did
- What is Brahmacarya in Hinduism?
- Spiritual Gurus and Saints of Hinduism, India and the World
- Hinduism and Celibacy or Brahmacarya
- How To Choose Your Spiritual Guru?
- Why do people go to Gurus?
- My Meeting With Ramana Maharshi
- Hinduism and Homosexuality
- Essays On Dharma
- Esoteric Mystic Hinduism
- Introduction to Hinduism
- Hindu Way of Life
- Essays On Karma
- Hindu Rites and Rituals
- The Origin of The Sanskrit Language
- Symbolism in Hinduism
- Essays on The Upanishads
- Concepts of Hinduism
- Essays on Atman
- Hindu Festivals
- Spiritual Practice
- Right Living
- Yoga of Sorrow
- Mental Health
- Concepts of Buddhism
- General Essays
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