Found in Sanga, Sanga 2002.

Q. It appears that in ancient India people had healthy sexuality, but now Indians seem to be sexually conservative and practices from the Kama-sutra are not followed anymore. Why is that?

A. It is difficult to say with any certainty exactly what the sexual attitude of ancient India was. It does, however, seem certain that family values were high and marriage was a sacred institution that well-adjusted men and women were expected to embrace as the appropriate setting for sexual indulgence.

There is still much reason to believe that sex without commitment, and more without regard for spiritual considerations, is less than ideal. The Kama-sutra no doubt explores sexual pleasure in some depth, but the mere presence of this sutra in ancient Indian society does not mean that the society itself was sexually promiscuous, neither does it mean that everyone followed the practices outlined in it. Royalty more likely followed Kama-sutra practices than ordinary people.

I do not mean to say that you have implied that a sexually promiscuous society is one that has a healthy attitude about sex. And in some respects I do feel that Indian society today could have a healthier attitude towards sex, and that its thinking about sex has been influenced by Victorian and Muslim standards in some respects more than by its own ancient spiritual culture. For example, Sridhara Maharaja taught us that Hindu women covering their heads with their saris is due to Muslim influence.

A reader of “Ask the Swami” on Beliefnet.com sent this question to Swami Tripurari. View the latest edition of “Ask The Swami” entitled “Matters of Life and Death” here.

Q. Why can’t we remember our previous lives?

A. Some people can remember incidences from their past lives but for the most part the ignorance of material identification causes forgetfulness after the trauma of birth. Remembering one’s past life implies knowledge, while material identification is the root of ignorance. Give up ignorance and you will get knowledge of past, present, and future. Furthermore, living in the present in honest spiritual pursuit is the key to unlocking the past and future, for both of these are represented in the present in terms of karmic reactions and free will respectively.

Q. When one has strong sexual desire and acts on the presence of such karma, does this act erase one’s previously earned pious/religious credits? The analogy of the fan illustrates that when we become devotees we unplug the fan of karma and gradually our karma winds down enabling us to eventually become liberated. Therefore is acting on sexual desire like plugging the fan back in thus forcing us to begin accumulating pious credits all over again?

A. Strong sexual desire should be dealt with through the medium of marriage and commitment, not only to one another as partners, but more so to a life of progressive spiritual culture. When we harness our parabdha (manifest) karma in this way, living under spiritual guidance, sexual desire will eventually be retired. This will come about either in this life or we will be born in the next life without sexual desire. If we are unsuccessful in harnessing this desire, it will remain with us into our next life. The analogy of the fan is appropriate. Unplugged to the karmic realm means being plugged in to the life of a sadhaka (spiritual practitioner).

Q. For one who has a problem controlling his/her sensuality, what does he have to look forward to, i.e. how can he make progress?

A. Anyone can progress from whatever position he finds himself in. Each person should endeavor to meet a standard of restraint that is realistic for him while engaging in spiritual practice, especially chanting Krishna nama. If one comes to realize over time that one’s realistic standard runs contrary to one’s guru’s guidelines, one should approach the guru and speak sincerely and openly with him. A proper guru filled with compassion and love for his disciple will make suitable adjustments, always encouraging above all the chanting of Krishna nama. The chanting creates a bright future for us, whereas restraint is both a by-product of the chanting and further supports the chanting. Never give up the chanting of the holy name under any circumstances, even if it may seem hypocritical at times given the strength of your material desires.

Q. If one is able to repress or not act on sexual desire for say a year or so, but one’s internal desire is the same as it always has been, is that progress?

A. Not much. It is best to be realistic about one’s desires, although progress resulting from healthy restraint will not necessarily show up in its entirety in this life.

Q. If one is able to defeat one’s mind a few times when sex desire comes, are these battles strengthening or is sex desire like a punching doll that just comes back up no matter what?

A. One should not cave in to desire, nor should one artificially repress. Everyone must find the appropriate balance from which to cultivate a spiritual identity. This is what is meant by sattva.

Q. When Krishna says, “What will repression accomplish?” what does he mean in this context?

A. In my edition of the Gita I have explained that while repression in and of itself is not fruitful, appropriate restraint/repression derived from spiritual guidance is what Krishna is calling for. The answer to your question arising from Bg 3.33 is found in the verse that follows it:

“Attachment and aversion in relation to sense objects are deeply rooted in the senses. One should not come under the control of these two, for they are one’s enemies.” (Bg 3.34)

Overall we should know that progressive spiritual culture does not involve black and white determinations with regard to our karmic nature. If the pure white of spiritual reality is our ideal, over time this pure ideal will pull us from the black abyss of our lower nature, albeit passing through many shades of gray along the way.

Q. If one is unable to control one’s mind and one engages in illicit sex or spends time in playing video games for hours, how are the two acts different in their degradation, or are they?

A. Emphasis on overcoming sexual attraction is found throughout the scripture because this attraction is the basis of material life. Video games are a particular expression of this base desire that is rooted in the urge to control.

Q. In your commentary to verse 2.11 of Bhagavad-gita you wrote, “When we witness the passing of our good and bad karma without reacting to it, we progress in spiritual life.”

How should I practically view the passing of my karma? When something good or bad happens, I always think I have bad karma or the opposite. Is thinking in that way, as well as understanding theoretically that I am spirit and not matter, what you mean by witnessing my karma? And will making an effort towards witnessing my karma make chanting more attractive with fewer offenses.

A. You should make an effort to be equipoised. Try to view both the happiness and distress of your life philosophically, knowing them to be different than they appear. Try to understand these experiences in light of the teachings of Bhagavad-gita. In this way you will gradually change your angle of vision. This is the gateway to realizing the truth of our karmic experience.

Witnessing the passing of our karma means to view the world from one step removed. This is the life of a sadhaka (spiritual practitioner). He or she is not a mukta (liberated soul) nor a baddha jiva (soul bound by karma), but rather a sadhaka, one step removed from the world, one step short of liberation, and one and a half steps short of prema (love of God). Live in the consciousness of a sadhaka and know that your only real gain is spiritual advancement born of sadhu sanga, and your only real loss is not having the association of advanced devotees.

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