Eros in Progressive Bhakti

Rati & Kamadeva (Cupid) with his bow and the five arrows of flowers symbolizing the five senses. Parshvanath temple, Khajuraho.


About this Page

This page was created as a landing page where you can get further information and proceed to various related sources on this topic. It will be gradually evolving, so keep coming back. So far it has around 41’000 words, which will take over two hours to read on average. Feel free to jump to chapters of your interest, just keep in mind that the content is gradually building up in a strategic way, so if something is unclear it makes sense to return to earlier chapters.

Since I’ve been invited to speak on this topic on several occasions, I felt the need to create a page with more information, as this topic is highly complex and one cannot really do justice to it in a few talks. This page and the talks will also give me a chance to interact with more people and gain more experience in this topic before I will write an article or book about the same topic. If you have any input, feel free to contact me.

The most comprehensive video presentation I made so far was for a Tadatmya Live talk called “Spiritual Alignement of Human Eros – Embracing an Eros-friendly lifestyle as Vaishnavas:

You can also watch my talk “Family life and sexuality in the life of the Vaishnava” for the first Progressive Vaishnavism’s Conference:

Or my discussion “Integrative Sexuality beyond Guilt and Suppression” with Swami Padmanabha on the first episode of his Free Radical Podcast:

In case you are wondering, I usually prefer the term “eros” from the term “sexuality,” as it is less burdened with negative connotations and as it is more expansive, involving much more than just the physical and material aspects of sexuality. Thomas Moore writes in his book The Soul of Sex (p. 12):

“In classical literature it (eros) was a highly spiritual, cosmic, and lofty kind of love. In Greek literature eros is nothing less than the magnetism that holds the entire universe together, and human love in its many forms is similarly a participation in that greater eros.”

In the Symposium, where Socrates is taught the nature of love, Plato writes:

“Eros is a coming to life in beauty in relation to both body and soul.”

In his dream seminars, C. G. Jung once made the following comment (Alchemical Studies. Collected Works of C. G. Jung, vol 13, section 107):

“People think that eros is (merely) sex, but not at all – eros is relatedness.”

In the Hindu scriptures, eros encompasses everything from the prime mover of creation to the core human values to the ultimate aspiration. Kāma is declared to be the prime mover in Rig Veda 10.129.4: kāmas tad agre sam avartatādhi manaso retaḥ,

“In the beginning there was eros/desire, which was the first seed of the mind.”

In contrast to the Biblical “In the beginning there was the word” (John 1:1), here we have the word of God being preceded by God’s desire. This is, of course, a much more erotic world-view. Kāma is also one of the main four purusharthas or core human values. And the ultimate aspiration of the Krishna-bhaktas is to serve Radha-Krishna, who are also called vidagdha-mithuna – the clever erotic couple (Sri-Sri Radha-rasa-sudhanidhi 222).

We can also understand the fact that the word “eros” carries more sublime meanings like “love”, “romantic desire” and “deep connection” from the fact that many people like Eros Ramazzotti bear the name Eros, which ranks among the top 200 favorite baby names in Italy. In contrast, nobody would want to unartfully call their child “Sex.” Another reason why the word “eros” carries more meaning in our discussion here is that the terms “erotophilic” or “eros-friendly” and “erotophobic” or “eros-unfriendly” are more established and used in this field than terms like “sex-friendly,” which can more easily be misunderstood for an inclination to merely the physical and unrefined versions of sexuality. Talking about terminology – let’s shortly define what eros-friendliness means.

Meaning of Being Eros-friendly (Sex-friendly/Sex-positive):

  • You can talk openly about eros free from taboos and stigmas.
  • You believe that human eros is God-given, natural and healthy.
  • You advocate a non-apologetic spiritual alignment of eros and are averse to its demonization.
  • You’re open-minded and non-judgmental towards eros and people’s sexual preferences.
  • It doesn’t mean that you have no culture, no faith, no moral, no moderation and no boundaries. You may, for example, be a stout devotee of a certain religion, but take exception to its erotophobic teachings. Eros-friendliness also doesn’t mean that you support crimes like pedophilia or that you are in favor of hedonism.

Eros-friendliness is related to family-friendliness and body-friendliness, hence these topics will also be touched, albeit not deeply. If you are interested in topics around family and body, keep this relationship in mind as you read.

The methodology used in this presentation is mostly personal experience of eros-friendly devotees which is put into context of the history of the Bhakti tradition and its teachings. Srila Sanatana Goswami mentioned in his commentary to Brihad-Bhagavatamrita 2.1.110 that pratyakṣa  or direct experience is the best (śreṣṭha) of all pramanas or evidences. This may seem to be in contradiction to the usual Vaishnava approach to the topic of pramanas – however, what is meant is that the major pramanas of guru-sadhu-sastra need to be verified in our practical experience, as per Sri Krishna’s teaching of pratyakṣāvagamaṁ dharmyaṁ (Bhagavad-gītā 9.2), spiritual practice that is understood by pratyakṣa or direct experience.

For example, when Srila Vyasadeva was in his spiritual crisis, Narada Muni advised him to ponder why his direct experience of frustration didn’t correlate to the promised happiness that one is supposed to attain by following the spiritual practices that were propounded by him in his wiritings before he composed the Srimad-Bhagavatam. Vyasadeva thus realized the shortcomings of his earlier writings. He reformed his teachings and composed the Srimad-Bhagavatam, after which he finally got sublime happiness, and thus his direct experience and his religious blueprint finally matched. Similarly, if our direct experience doesn’t match the blueprints even after decades of sincere practice, we are obliged to refine and reform the blueprints until they match with our pratyakṣa or direct experience.


Why There is a Need to Reform our Relationship with Eros in Bhakti

There is not just a need to heal and reform our relationship with eros in Bhakti, but in all spheres of human life. The way most humans are relating to eros both within religious as well as secular settings are to a great extent toxic. If we look deeper into these dynamics, we can discover that humanity has literally been at war with eros, and that the war on eros is in fact bigger even than all the wars fought with rifles and bombs. I am planning to write on this topic separately, keep coming back here if you are interested. Before I will talk about the big picture related to this topic, let’s discuss the issues at hand within the Bhakti tradition.

We shall start with a disclaimer: I am not saying that the common erotophobic approach to eros in Bhakti is a complete hindrance to Bhakti. It is self-evident that in one sense, the common approach has “worked” for many generations of devotees in the sense that these generations have successfully brought forward pure devotees and many wonderful communities of devotees. Bhakti is so powerful that it does not depend on perfect material circumstances. For example, you could theoretically practice Bhakti successfully even among highly traumatic life conditions. However, in most cases, highly negative life conditions will lessen your chances for a successful spiritual life, as they are very distractive and destructive. Hence it makes sense to take care of good life conditions in all regards, including a healthy relationship with eros.

You may ask why I am ready to risk that certain people that I love and respect will be dissatisfied with me because of my eros-friendly stance. I could simply avoid such public discussions like most other devotees do. I personally believe that the healing of our relationship with eros is not just an irrelevant detail, but important to a sound spiritual life, for reasons that we shall discuss here. For such a discussion, I am willing to risk that I may disappoint some devotees and that I will probably have to “hear the music” from certain members of my community, although it was never my intention to disappoint anyone. My stance on eros is a question of being true to myself and to embody my truth as I have encountered it. Once the Divine arranged for you to hear the song of a certain precious truth, not singing that song to others seems like a betrayal of truth, especially if its singing would benefit countless hearts.

In my twenty years of Krishna-consciousness, I have seen in many ways how our choices of relating to eros mostly don’t work and how they have many toxic implications. The promised goal of sublimation of sexual desires is, honestly speaking, unattainable for most devotees, which is frustrating to say the least. It means that, although we are advised not to do so, we are left with artificial suppression, which has various toxic consequences like feelings of guilt and shame, frustration between couples, wider occurrences of suppression-related diseases, higher chances of divorce and higher chances of sexual abuse and traumas. I have observed this first hand from within, as I’ve served both in the brahmacari-ashrama (for 17 years) and the grihastha-ashrama (for 3 years) in various countries and communities. In the words of Swami Padmanabha (Radical Personalism, p. 113.),

“Nowadays Gaudiya Vaishnavism is possessed with a serious case of erotophobia. We need to make peace with this reality and stop fearing sexual expression, attacking it, and stigmatizing its practice and implications. We need to understand sexuality more organically, not only by establishing its purposes and boundaries, but especially by avoiding shallow denial and detrimental repression.”

Let us now have an overview of some of the main issues involved by looking at some reasons to embrace eros-friendliness as devotees.

Nine Reasons to embrace Eros-friendliness as Devotees

    1. Because according to personal experience of many eros-friendly people and according to science, eros-friendliness is natural and healthy. Going against nature with suppression and feelings of guilt and shame is unhealthy. A lot of fear of eros comes from religious dogmas and social taboos, but also from prejudices due to not knowing the science of a healthy eros and from having never experienced a healthy eros in one’s practical life.
    2. Because an eros-friendly update would be the most impactful improvement to preaching, as the #1 reason people refrain from embracing Krishna-consciousness is our fear of eros.
    3. Because eros-friendliness is not foreign to Vedic culture – rather it used to be a natural part of it. Hence we can simply revert to the earlier Vedic standard of eros-friendliness. Shramanism that spread erotophobia in India came from outside the Vedic tradition and is not essential to bhakti. We need not worry about losing anything because erotophobia is actually alien to bhakti.
    4. Because embracing eros-friendliness will bring an end to the hypocrisy in our societies of preaching abstinence while engaging sexually in secret and in the mind.
    5. Because it has proven to work in bhakti. Many devotees have already collected a lot of positive experience as eros-friendly devotees.
    6. Because it will lessen our high divorce rate and improve our quality of family life. Suppression of eros has shown to be one of the reasons relationships fail.
    7. Because it will decrease abuse like sexual abuse, which is high in our societies.
    8. Because it will contribute to healing our relationship with the Divine Feminine, which is crucial in the Big Picture (see next chapter).
    9. Because it will lessen our traumas. Sexual starvation creates trauma.

These points of course need more elaboration, which we shall provide below. Let us now look at what I call the “Big Picture”, and where our topic of healing our relationship with eros fits in that Big Picture.

The Big Picture: Healing our Relationship with the Divine Feminine

More and more people from all folds agree that the biggest story of humanity is healing our relationship with the Divine Feminine. With “Divine Feminine” I mean the archetype divine feminine nature beyond material conditioning of material time and space. For example, if I’m a person with a male body, relating to the Divine Feminine is not just restricted to my encounters with those people with a female body, but I am also invited to relate to the Divine Feminine in my own inner world and in the inner and external world of all beings, in all spheres of life, especially in all spiritual spheres.

We can understand the fact that the big picture is healing our relationship with the Divine Feminine from many dynamics in our present human life. The most defining and brutal dynamic of all these dynamics is our careless ecocide that has literally brought us to the brink of extinction. If we look at this with spiritual vision, we can see that we are abusing and exploiting our very own Mother Earth, who is one of the most vulnerable embodiments of the Divine Feminine. Abusing our own beloved mother is a crime caused by our toxic relationship with the Divine Feminine.

Another related dynamic that jumps into the eye of awakened people is the fact that most world religions worship a mostly masculine God. Where has the Goddess gone? Of course, in our Bhakti tradition you have various Goddesses, but in most other world religions the Goddess is mostly absent, and here we are now discussing the Big Picture from a global perspective. If our idea of the Absolute is imbalanced, we cannot expect a balanced vision of anything in life. This dynamic is yet another symptom of our toxic relationship with the Divine Feminine.

Another related dynamic is the fact that our culture is turning more and more into a narcissistic culture, which is directly related to toxic masculinity, and thus with our toxic relationship with the Divine Feminine.

Now you may wonder, how does eros relate to all of this? Most people will agree, that although the Divine Masculine is also highly erotic, the Divine Feminine is much more the archetypical embodiment of eros. We can understand this in many ways, for example, in the fact that women are accepted as the more beautiful and erotic gender, in the fact that women have a more suitable nature to express eros (think for example of belly dancing, which is naturally predominated by women), and in the fact that women have a greater capacity of experiencing eros in their body than men (in general, they are more sensitive to touch, have more erogenous zones, and can experience a greater variety and longer and more intense orgasms than men, provided one knows the art to attain them. As mentioned in Mahabharata 8.12.47, king Bhaṇgāśvana who had been turned into a woman by Indra refused to be transformed back into a man because she found that women experience greater sexual pleasure than men – strīyāḥ puruṣasaṁyoge prītir abhyadhikā sadā). In short – eros is archetypically the domain of the Divine Feminine. Hence our toxic relationship with eros particularly reflects our toxic relationship with the Divine Feminine, as do all the other above mentioned toxic dynamics.

To summarize:

Suppression of eros needs to be understood as suppression of the Divine Feminine in the context of the Big Picture, which is that the overall main task of humanity is to heal our relationship with the Divine Feminine.

Thomas Moore, a former Christian monk and professor of religion and psychology, writes in his book The Soul of Sex (p. 101): “The ultimate sexist attitude is not simply denigration of women, but an absolute neglect of all that is embraced by images of goddesses around the world [such as eros]. Sexism is the expression of a divided and constricted way of life and a deep rejection of the goddess in our lives.”

I am not saying the solution is feminism. Feminists have achieved many good things, but if feminism leads to misandry or contempt for males, or if it fails to identify and support the healthy version of the Divine Masculine, then it is yet unwholesome. As far as I can see, there is a need to envision the feminine in a healthy relationship with the masculine and vice versa, and that their relationship or sublime union should be emphasized so that both can be seen for what they are by nature – a beautiful part of a bigger, more beautiful whole (of course, the queer people have their unions too – I am not excluding them here – and usually one of them embodies the more feminine and the other the more masculine part).

The point is that healing our relationship with the Divine Feminine must also include healing our relationship with the Divine Masculine and especially with Their Sublime Union, which I also capitalize to emphasize its importance. The focus of most people in this healing is on empowering women, because as the more vulnerable gender, they have been mistreated more than the men, and as such this approach has its justification. However, as many people including some feminists have rightly pointed out, just as women have been victims of a toxic system, so have the men, and they too need healing to be able to step into their true healthy version that is in harmony with their feminine co-humans. Instead of focussing on just one gender, we could focus on both, and even better, focus on their Sublime Union or harmonious co-existence and relationship (in whichever variety they may choose; as partners, friends, brothers and sisters, etc.).

Just to be clear, I am not saying that this main task of healing our relationship with the Divine Feminine is more important than cultivating Bhakti. Cultivating Bhakti always remains the eternal dharma. That eternal dharma is nested in different environments and circumstances in different universes, and in our present universe it just so happens that the largest collective karma or main task is to heal our relationship with the Divine Feminine. In other universes there are other main tasks, and each time, Bhakti is experienced in relationship with these new circumstances, which adds unlimited variety to the Bhakti experience. This is to say that Bhakti is not supposed to be executed in complete isolation from its Earthly circumstances (which is anyway impossible), but in a conscious, deep and committed relationship with the main task and smaller tasks of its time. If we fail in doing so, we miss out on the particular unique flavor of bhakti-rasa Krishna intended to relish in our universe.

To give two positive examples; Jahnava Thakurani brought and installed Radharani Deities that she placed next to Gopinath and other Krishna Deities in Vrindavan. Before that, there was no Radharani Deity in Vrindavan! This was a revolutionary reform that was only possible with many debates. The second example is embodied by Sri Caitanya Mahaprabhu Himself, who is none other than the Supreme Masculine (Krishna) in full empathic absorption in the loving mood of devotion of the Supreme Feminine (Radharani). Of course, that is an eternal pastime, and yet it carries deep significance in relation to the present topic. Sri Caitanya is teaching us that the highest good for one and all lies in the empathic absorption in the moods and glories of the Divine Feminine.

 

But aren’t the Scriptures and Saints Infallible?

All this talk about reform to more eros-friendliness makes no sense if we hold on to the common view that the holy scriptures and the saints possess blanket infallibility, because many of them uphold the erotophobic views under discussion.

If we examine the scriptures and the statements of our Acharyas carefully, we can conclude that the belief in blanket infallibility is not supported by them. Srila BVS Prabhupada said (Lecture on Srimad Bhagavatam 1.10.3. June 18th, 1973):

“Only Kṛṣṇa is infallible – all others are fallible.”

Please take a few minutes and go through the webpage of the book Perfect Imperfection. You will be able to understand in many ways that the pure devotees and bhakti-sastras are pure in their devotion but do not possess blanket infallibility. To deepen this important topic, feel free to read the entire book – it’s not that big. Here’s an excerpt from the second chapter:

“Śrīla Bhaktivinoda Ṭhākura wrote in his original English work The Bhāgavata:

“Our śāstras, or in other words, books of thought, do not contain all that we could get from the infinite Father. No book is without its errors. … We have full liberty to reject the wrong idea, which is not sanctioned by the peace of conscience. Vyāsa was not satisfied with what he collected in the Vedas, arranged in the Purāṇas and composed in the Mahābhārata. The peace of his conscience did not sanction his labors. It told him from inside ‘No, Vyāsa! You can’t rest contented with the erroneous picture of truth which was necessarily presented to you by the sages of by-gone days! You must yourself knock at the door of the inexhaustible store of truth from which the former ages drew their wealth.’ … Vyāsa did it and obtained what he wanted.”

Here we find that Śrīla Bhaktivinoda Ṭhākura had no issue with calling parts of the Purāṇas and the Mahābhārata an “erroneous picture of truth.” Vyāsadeva erred, and his self-correction and reformation took the shape of the Śrīmad-Bhāgavatam, which is a critique of his own previous works. From its very onset, the Śrīmad-Bhāgavatam proclaims that pure devotees can err and that it’s no big deal to discuss their mistakes and correct them.”

Now, you may agree that it is possible that one Acharya can err in one particular viewpoint, but you may find it quite impossible that an entire tradition is wrong about something. Do we have other examples of entire pure traditions erring? Yes, we do have such examples. The followers of Madhvacarya of the Brahma-Madhva-sampradaya, for example, reject the Brahma-vimohana-lila from the Srimad-Bhagavatam as untrue (they say it was interpolated into the text) as they cannot accommodate the fact that their Acharya Lord Brahma was bewildered.

One example of our entire Gauḍīya lineage erring is that, until recently, most devotees believed that the appearance day of Rādhākuṇḍa was on Bahulāṣṭamī, which falls on the eighth day of the waning moon in the month of Kārtika. This is now changing, as recent research has shown that there is no evidence for this belief and that we do not even know how it was established.[1] To the contrary, it was discovered that Śrīla Jīva Gosvāmī specified that Ariṣṭāsura was killed on the full-moon night of the month of Caitra (March-April) and that Rādhākuṇḍa manifested on the same spring night. This means that for many generations, countless Gauḍīya-Vaiṣṇavas, including many pure devotees, have mistakenly celebrated and propagated through various media the divine appearance day of Rādhākuṇḍa on Bahulāṣṭamī and not on the actual day in the month of Caitra.

Now you may say, fine, even that I can accept, but the infallible Sri Caitanya Mahaprabhu performed His Earthly pastimes 500 years ago and didn’t object to the erotophobic views in our tradition. If He really was the omniscient Lord we believe Him to be, then He should have corrected this error if it really was one. In other words, He didn’t object to erotophobia and conducted His life in accordance with it and hence it is justified and not wrong.

To harmonize this seemingly contradictory dynamic, we need to consider that Mahaprabhu came to give Krsna-prema and to relish Vraja-bhakti Himself, not to correct everything that was wrong in His time. He played along the lines of the conditions of His time, for example when He took sannyas in order to make it easier for the general people to develop faith in his teachings. Yes, He could have possibly started a massive reform from erotophobia to eros-friendliness, but just imagine the sheer amount of energy such an attempt would have cost and the huge objection in society He would have faced. Such massive objection would have been opposed to His attempt to make it easier for the general populace to have faith in His teachings, and thus this was no option for Him.

We can also understand that He was not much occupied in trying to correct external wrongs from the fact that He didn’t stop the Hinducide or brutal killings of Hindus and the slaughtering of cows and other animals by the Muslims, which was a daily occurrance in His time (some devotees do actually have doubts how such circumstances could have been there in an Avatara’s presence, but again, we have to remember what this Avatara/Avatari came to give us). He even told Rupa and Sanatana Goswami to collaborate with the Muslims, at least for some time, and didn’t intervene when Sanatana Goswami got imprisoned. Being the omnipotent Lord, He could have easily stopped all Muslim violence, but He didn’t. If I use the logic of the above counter-argument, then I could conclude that since Mahaprabhu didn’t stop Muslim violence, it is legitimate. This makes it clear that such logic is flawed. In other words, the fact that Mahaprabhu didn’t change the erotophobic value systems doesn’t mean that they are approved by Him. Another reason why He didn’t convert all Muslims and make a reform towards eros-friendliness is that such superhuman feats would have disturbed His relish of being a devotee.

In today’s circumstances, however, it is much easier to make a reform towards eros-friendliness, as most people around the world are already eros-friendly or on the way to becoming eros-friendly. In contrast to Mahaprabhu’s times, if we would spearhead such a reform as a large religious tradition in today’s world, we would gain the faith and support of millions, if not billions of people around the world, and such a revolution would likely be one of the most efficient preaching strategies in today’s world. In fact, today it is much easier to transition to eros-friendliness than to try to convince common people to renounce their eros-friendliness and take to outdated erotophobic values.

Let’s now return to the topic of fallibility. In conclusion – since the saints and scriptures are infallible in Bhakti but potentially fallible in other ways, reform becomes a necessity at times, and since there is room for reform, talking about it does make sense.

But Didn’t Krishna Object Eros-friendliness?

Let us look at some verses that are usually quoted to claim that Krishna objected eros-friendliness.

śrī-bhagavān uvāca

kāma eṣa krodha eṣa
rajo-guṇa-samudbhavaḥ
mahāśano mahā-pāpmā
viddhy enam iha vairiṇam

“The Supreme Personality of Godhead said: It is kāma or lust only, Arjuna, which is born of contact with the material mode of passion and later transformed into wrath, and which is the all-devouring sinful enemy of this world.” – Bhagavad-gītā 3.37

indriyāṇi mano buddhir
asyādhiṣṭhānam ucyate
etair vimohayaty eṣa
jñānam āvṛtya dehinam

“The senses, the mind and the intelligence are the sitting places of this lust. Through them lust covers the real knowledge of the living entity and bewilders him.” – Bhagavad-gītā 3.40.

It is important to understand what the word kāma means.

Kāma essentially doesn’t mean desire for sexual activity, but desire for self-centered activities in general, for example eating prasadam with a self-centered spirit. Hence, wherever kāma is merely translated as “lust,” we need to recall its full translation, which is “desire for spiritually disaligned activities.”

Some commentators have explained kāma in this universal sense in this verse. Another thing we should consider is, that if Krishna would object to sexual activity in general, He would not say that He is sex life in accordance with religious principles.

balaṁ balavatāṁ cāhaṁ
kāma-rāga-vivarjitam
dharmāviruddho bhūteṣu
kāmo ’smi bharatarṣabha

“I am the strength of the strong, devoid of passion and desire. I am sex life which is not contrary to religious principles, O best of the Bhāratas [Arjuna].” – Bhagavad-gītā 7.11.

The usual way devotees explain this is by saying that this means sex in order to create Krishna-conscious children. However, there are many other ways of aligning sexuality with dharma or religious principles. The overall thumb-rule is that it should be devoid of kāma or self-centered spirit of enjoyment by being in a spirit of devotion. This will be discussed in the chapter “How to Spiritually Align Eros.”

It is noteworthy that Krishna addresses Arjuna here as bharatarṣabha or the best (literally “bull”) among the Bhāratas. The Bhāratas hailed from the famous king Bharata, after whom the entire Bhārata or India was named. King Bhārata was conceived in Shakuntala’s Gandharva marriage with Dushyanta. In other words, their marriage was a spontaneous love marriage that was done out of spontaneous erotic attraction without consent of their parents, with no varnashrama considerations and no marriage rituals (the sexual union itself is considered the marriage ritual in the Gandharva marriage – even the exchange of garlands is optional in it). Shakuntala herself was created during the love marriage of Vishvamitra Muni with the Apsara Menaka. Even the great Acarya Vyasadeva, the illustrious author of the Srimad-Bhagavatam and Mahabharata, which encapsulates the story of Bharata, was conceived during the spontaneous love marriage of Parashara Rishi and the pure-hearted fisher woman Satyavati on an island in the Yamuna. Satyavati later married king Shantanu. There was no hiding of Vyasadeva’s unconventional conception, as his birth name was Krishna Dvaipayana, or “the dark-skinned who was conceived on an island (dvipa).”

King Shantanu being attracted by Satyavati. Painted by Ravi Sharma. Note the body-friendly clothing style of Satyavati.

Obviously, there was a time when people were not so much hung up about eros in India like today. Otherwise, no child would have been given a name that reminds people of his totally out-of-the-box conception. In other words, his conception was not out-of-the-box in those days! And when Krishna addresses Arjuna as “best of the Bhāratas” in this pivotal verse about eros, He reminds him of the eros-friendly setting of the early Bhārata, thus indicating that aligning eros with dharma is not about mere procreation or the exclusion of the passionate aspects of human eros but about its inclusion, even if it goes against the status-quo of certain erotophobic blueprints of social behaviour.

Where Does Fear of Eros in the Bhakti Tradition Originate?

If fear of eros or erotophobia is unnatural and comes with so many negative consequences, we have to ask ourselves: how in the world did it enter the Bhakti tradition?

If we allow ourselves to look at the history of Indian erotophobia, we will be able to understand this topic, and it can be an eye-opening experience. However, for that to happen, we have to take into consideration the perspective of history, which tells its own story. This story may not always coincide with the traditional narratives of the past, but it makes sense in its own way and is able to go to the root of the issue and open up doors for healing.

The usual explanation of how Indian erotophobia developed is that it was indoctrinated by the invading Muslims and the Victorians during British rule. However, if we deeply study Indian history, it becomes clear that the Indian fear of eros is largely a home-grown weed. In this regard, the paper “From Kama to Karma: The Resurgence of Puritanism in Contemporary India” is of interest, in which Wendy Doniger writes: “Blaming the Muslim and the British ignores the history of native anti-eroticism. For, as we have seen, India had its own homegrown traditions of prudery in opposition to its own sensuality” (p. 71). As we shall see in later quoted sources, Indian erotophobia started long before 700 AD, and hence long before Muslim and British conquest.

Although the Muslims brought the purdah or veil duty for women to India (and this was incorporated into Hindu culture) and have destroyed many temples, they were in a sense quite eros-friendly. We can understand this for example from their endeavors to translate the Kama-sutra into Persian to make it better available to the Muslim community, also by illustrating it with Persian drawing techniques, and to commission new eros-friendly works, such as the Ananga Ranga, which draws on the Kama-sutra, was commissioned by the Muslim Lodi dynasty in the sixteenth century and is one of the last great works of Sanskrit eroticism. One of the most beautiful and well-preserved illustrated Persian Kama-sutra books can be seen in this video. Also noteworthy is the Arabic sex manual The Perfumed Garden of Sensual Delight, whose Muslim author praises God for having given us the pleasures of love-making and instructs that the man of quality is skilled to make his female partner climax before he does (which is also taught in the Kama-sutra). However, as explained in the later chapter “Manipulation through unfulfilled Eros,” all religions including Islam have knowingly or unkwowingly misused the suppression of eros for subduing the masses.

Examples of Islamic eros-friendliness: 1. Illustration in Lazzat Un Niza (Delights of Woman) erotic story from the Persian Qutb Shahi dynasty. Miniature from a manuscript, India, ca 1780. PC: Bridgeman Images. 2. Persian Kama-sutra manuscript. Around 1700. 3. The Jamal twins, famous Egyptian belly dancers. Cairo.

In comparison to the Muslims, The Victorians probably did more damage to Indian eros-friendliness as they systematically ridiculed and shamed it. However, although Victorians are infamous for their super-prudishness, the Indian Shramanas put even them to shame with their extreme erotophobia, and these native Shramanas had a much greater influence on Indian culture than the foreign Victorians, and that too for two millenia more.

Ascetic with crippled hands due to holding them up for many years.

Ascetic performing austerities in a thorn bush.

To summarize: Before 2700 years ago, the Vedic or Brahmanical culture in India was family-centric and thus eros-friendly (one reason being the central belief that one needs a son to perform one’s shraddha ceremony that grants heaven). The reason why you find many erotic scriptures like the Kama-sutras and many erotic sculptures like those in the temples of Khajuraho and Konark in India is that they are witnesses of the earlier eros-friendly culture that have survived the later shift to erotophobia. After the year 700 BC, the renunciate Shramanas greatly grew and spread and this led to a massive shift towards erotophobia across India. The synthesis of the Brahmanical and Shramanical values, which is still going on to date, is called the “Hindu Synthesis.” In this synthesis, among positive values like ahimsa and dissolving of the hereditary caste system, the extremely body-negative values of the Shramanas were incorporated into the ethos of the Brahmanas and their scriptures. I am just summarizing here, feel free to read more about this important topic in my article the Hindu Synthesis and our Freedom to Reform.

Sculpture of Buddha, who was nothing but skin and bone during his fast when he was still a Shramana (“Samana” in the Pali language).

The body-negativity of the Shramanas thus spread throughout India and within the passing of over 2000 years it has been deeply ingrained into the DNA of Indian thinking and most of Indian spiritual traditions including the Bhakti traditions and their scriptures. In fact, the Bhakti traditions have incorporated so much of the renunciation-centric and erotophobic Shramana values, that some Indologists classify the Bhakti traditions as Shramanic and not as Brahmanic/Vedic. Many devotees are not aware that, although we like to call ourselves a “Vedic” tradition, our overall renunciation-centric, embodiment-negative and eros-unfriendly outlook is actually Shramanic and stands in stark contrast to the ancient family-centric, embodiment-positive and eros-friendly Vedic outlook. To make a long story short:

The fear of eros of today’s Indian traditions is mostly Shramana baggage that Indians started to carry around 2700 years ago. It is not Vedic in the ancient sense of “Vedic.” The reason why today’s Indians are apologetic or even in denial about their ancient native eros-friendly default setting is mainly their aquired erotophobic Shramana baggage, and only to a minor extent indoctrination of Muslims and Britishers.

This is important in many ways. One thing that I would like to highlight here is that if we claim that the fear of eros came to India mainly via the Muslim and British invaders, then we run into problems when we realize that there has already been a vast amount of erotophobic teachings in the Hindu scriptures long time before the Muslims and English have invaded India. If we believe these teachings to be part of the main corpus of revealed scripture, then it becomes very difficult to reform them, as many will see that as deviant. However, if we are aware that these renunciation-centric, family-negative and eros-unfriendly Shramanic teachings have mostly been incorporated into the Hindu corpus of scripture after 700 BC in a compromise effort to make sure that the followers of Vedic dharma don’t mass-convert to Shramanism (which often denounces the Vedas and theism), then it becomes much easier to make a reform back to the original family-centric and eros-friendly Vedic teachings. This is especially so because the threat of mass-conversion to Shramanism is long off the table – in fact, nowadays, most spiritual seekers are looking for a family-centric, body-positive and eros-friendly approach to spirituality and would be very much attracted to the corresponding original Vedic outlook as it is in alignment with such an approach.

In respect of completement and nuance, it must be mentioned, that my presentation of the Shramanas in contrast with the Brahmanas is intentionally one of stark contrast and polarization. This simply serves the function of proper identification of certain crucial mental affinities in contrast to other inclinations, so that we can make better sense of our seemingly contradictory history of the Bhakti tradition in regards to erotophobia or fear of eros. It should be understood that, if we add more nuance, we will naturally find certain minor varieties of Shramanas that were more eros-friendly and family-centric.

Also, some theories hold that the development towards eros-unfriendliness was a natural development within the Brahmanic societies and need not have been much influenced by the Shramanas. Even if those theories were true, the most important point of my presentation still holds true, namely that the Brahmanical or Vedic culture started off as a family-centric and eros-friendly culture, and then gradually eroded into an erotophobic one. I have also pointed out the positive values we have inherited from the Shramanas and it is not at all my intention to portray the Shramanas in a negative light in order to find a scapegoat for the problem of Indian erotophobia. At the end of the day, we are all involved in this development as a global human collective who obviously has aquired a certain collective karma (karma-phala) of a quest of shadow work in overcoming our fear of eros.

Since many people are not aware how much polarization there really was between the Brahmanas and Shramanas in the early days, this would deserve further unpacking, but I am keeping it short here in order not to make this presentation too lengthy. I shall leave you with one reference from my above quoted article:

“The famous Sanskrit grammarian Patañjali, (…) compared the tensions between the Shramanas and Brahmanas to those between the snake and the mongoose, who are arch-enemies. He used the compound śramaṇa-brāhmaṇam (Vyakarana-Mahabhasya. See also Sramana vis-a-viz Brahmana in Early History by S. D. Laddu on jstor.org) to express perpetual enmity, pretty much as nowadays in English people say “cats and dogs” to express the same.

The aversion of the brahmanical (theistic) Vaishnavas to śramaḥ or the mortifying exertion of the mostly impersonalistic Shramanas is also hinted at in verse 1.2.8 of the Śrīmad-Bhāgavatam:

धर्म: स्वनुष्ठित: पुंसां विष्वक्सेनकथासु य: ।
नोत्पादयेद्यदि रतिं श्रम एव हि केवलम् ॥ ८ ॥
dharmaḥ svanuṣṭhitaḥ puṁsāṁ
viṣvaksena-kathāsu yaḥ
notpādayed yadi ratiṁ
śrama eva hi kevalam

“The occupational activities a man performs according to his own position are only so much useless labor (śramaḥ) if they do not provoke attraction for the message of the Personality of Godhead.”

As you would expect from any synthesis, in the course of the Hindu synthesis, this strong polarization evolved into more friendly co-existence and further cultural cross-pollination between the Brahmanas and Shramanas.

However, to make sense of this very helpful historic information, we need to take into consideration the academic approach to dating scripture, in which for example the Bhagavad-gita was compiled ca. 200 CE and the Shrimad-Bhagavatam was composed around 900 CE. This is important as this places these scriptures after the beginning of the Shramana surge that started the Hindu Synthesis around 700 BC, which explains why these scriptures already contain Shramana ethos like advocation of renunciation, seeing the Earthly realm as “samsara”, and holding the best ashrama to be the Sannyasa-ashrama (Shramana terms like “samsara” and “sannyasa” and advocation of renunciation were absent in the early Vedas). Here is a table I put together that shows where which scripture is placed in relation to the start of the Hindu Synthesis (the given datings of scriptures are based on the most common scholarly opinions, which often include an uncertainty period of maximum a few hundred years):

It’s important to note that such datings don’t hurt the integrity of the teachings within those scriptures. For example, although the composition of the Mahabharata comes in around 200 CE, the Mahabharata war itself is dated around 3120 BC, which is in alignment with the traditional views. In other words, a later placement of the Bhagavad-gita does not mean we are saying that Krishna didn’t live 3120 BC, only that this scripture was composed around 200 CE.

Not only does an agreement with academic dating add to our benefit in terms of researching family-friendliness, on a scientific basis it would also be an impossible feat to largely change these datings, as they are based on evidence from linguistics, history, archeology and philosophy. For example, the Sanskrit language has undergone significant transformation over time. The pre-classical Vedic Sanskrit from around 1500 BC (found in the Rig-Veda) is substantially different from the Classical Sanskrit (found in the Upanishadas) that peaked around 500 BC and from the Epic Sanskrit from 400 BC to 300 CE we find in scriptures like the Mahabharata. It would be an academically difficult or impossible feat to try to ascribe texts composed in younger Sanskrit to periods of older Sanskrit. Also, from the content of the Bhagavad-Gita, which includes for example the mentioning of various fully developed Yoga systems, it is evident that this scripture cannot be placed in an earlier pre-classical Vedic period, in which such diverse and fully developed Yoga systems were absent and only present in seed form (study the Vedas from that period as reference).

Not many devotees may be aware, but Srila Bhaktivinoda Thakura actually lined out the Puranic history in accordance with the datings of science of his time in the preface of his Krishna Samhita, in which he for example agrees with the acedemic dating of the Srimad-Bhagavatam to the ninth century. After some lines of apology to “old-fashioned readers,” (later in the text, he surprisingly repeats apologetic statements that assure that he considers the datings given in scripture as correct) which could easily be interpreted as him saying that his agreement with the scientific datings are merely to cater to the less faithful, he goes on to write:

“If one considers history and time according to reason and argument, there will be great benefit for India.”

I cannot agree more, especially in the presently discussed topic of the Indian fear of human eros, but also in regards to other related topics like renunciation-centrism and neglect of the feminine and family life. He goes on to say,

“Those who have not yet succeeded in connecting faith with argument are second grade, or madhyama-adhikārī. And those who are expert in connecting these two are perfect in all respects. They are able to attain perfection by utilising material resources in their independent endeavours. They are called topmost, or uttama-adhikārī.”

This is, of course, a revolutionary statement. If a common devotee were to say the same today, many devotees would probably call him or her a deviant (in fact, as a social experiment, I once posted this statement on social media without mentioning that it’s not from me and immediately got critical backlash). It’s important to note that there is absolutely no requirement for Bhaktivinoda Thakura to declare that the people who connect faith with material resources are topmost devotees in order to gain the confidence of the materially inclined people. The fact that he still declares it makes it quite clear that he probably does so to make an important statement that he himself has embodied and realized. Another reason why it is clear that he didn’t just make these statements in agreeance with the scientific datings to win the favor of those with weak faith or kanistha-adhikaris is that he himself says a few lines later, “therefore, it is the madhyama-adhikārīs who are the proper candidates for studying this book.”

We should also consider that the beginning of the Hindu Synthesis marks a gradual transition and not a sudden break with the ancient Vedic tradition. Hence we find many eros-friendly scriptures like the Kama-sutras and temples like the Khajuraho temples that came after the beginning of the Hindu Synthesis but still embody the older family-friendly Vedic ethos.

If we compare the Indian spiritual ethos with for example the Christian spiritual ethos, one thing clearly strikes the eye: The Christian spiritual narratives almost completely lack the erotic dimension, while in the ancient Indian spiritual narratives, eros is often celebrated without a tinge of shame, what to speak of stigma. Think of the vivid descriptions of the erotic pastimes of Krishna or Shiva. Krishna is literally worshipped as the original Kamadeva or God of eros. It makes very little sense to claim that the Vedic culture was eros-unfriendly from beginning but still somehow favored the creation of art and literature that contain highly erotic depictions and descriptions. It makes much more sense that the Vedic culture was eros-friendly before, and that this spirit has survived in many ways. To come back to our comparison with the Christian ethos – the Christians overall lacked a clear sense of Divine Eros, and they thus also didn’t develop that much further. Or could you imagine someone commissioning erotic sculptures for the Vatican?

To be fair, the following passage from the Bible’s Song of Solomon 1:2 is often quoted in relationship with eros: “Let him kiss me with the kisses of his mouth! For your love is more delightful than wine. The fragrance of your perfume is pleasing; your name is like perfume poured out. No wonder the maidens adore you.” However, most commentators say that this passage merely uses eros as a metaphor for the love between the devotee and Christ. In contrast to this, in the Indian approach to eros, human eros – if sublimely engaged in – is embraced as spiritual in itself, and as reflecting Divine eros.

Erotic sculptures in the Lakshmana temple in Khajuraho, a UNESCO world heritage site.

Dr. P. Pratap Kumar wrote (in his article “Eroticism in Hindu Texts and Modern Hindus” in “On Meaning and Mantras,” p. 344):

“Think of the artists who sculpted the beautiful images on the pillars of the Khajurāho temples. These skilled artists went to great lengths to carve the images of the many nude figures of men and women with great attention to detail. Surely if they were embarrassed by or ashamed of such subject matter, they could not have produced such excellent, expressive work. Embarrassment or a feeling of shame is only in our viewing of it today. It is unnecessary to postulate moral implications when there might be none.”

This explanation is in contrast to the common apologetic theories about the function of the erotic temple sculptures in India. Some say that they have the function of attracting the lightning and preventing it from striking the Deity’s shrine because Indra is fond of eros, and thus his lightning is either diverted to the erotic sculptures or he spares the temple altogether, being pleased by the erotic art. However, as pointed out by Sadashiv A. Dange in his article “Sex in stone and the Vedic Mithuna,” this theory cannot account for the mithunas (amorous couples) in well-protected caves. Max-Pol Fouchet, in his The Erotic Sculptures of India, on p. 32., agrees with the above quoted Kumar, when he says: “They (mithunas) are said to protect the building from storms and scare lightning away. A very simple and pious explanation! But it certainly ignores the look of contentment on the faces of the ‘sinners’. We must face the fact that the attitude of the artist in these representations of eternal bliss is indulgent.”

Some theorise  that the mithunas came into the Vedic culture through Tantrism/Shaktism (which is termed heterodox by many Hindus and hence mainstream Hinduism could somehow be excused of such “obscenity” in this explanation), but as pointed out by Dange, this is doubtful because the left-handed Tantric sexual practices were not depicted in public as they were secret practices (the more common right-handed Tantra does not allow sexual rituals). And if they were really publicly displayed, then we should also find depictions of the other four of the five ma-karas. Ma-karas are left-handed Tantra’s anti-structural, taboo-breaking practices of engaging in the five “Ms” of madya or wine, mamsa or meat, matsya or fish, mudra or parched grain and maithuna or sexual union. However, we don’t find such depiction along with the depictions of maithuna, which is another indication that such depictions are not essentially Tantrika.

Another point to be noted is, that the Tantrika maithuna, in stark contrast to the clearly indulging and humanly passionate Vedic maithuna, is one of intended dispassion even admist of sexual union. It is exactly for this reason that the Tantrika maithuna is ideally practiced on the ashes of a cremation ground with a random partner other than one’s beloved spouse, which not only breaks with mundane morale structures but also aids in creating internal dispassion. “Here (in the traditional Tantrika depiction of Shakti towering above the reclinging Shiva), Shiva is depicted with a massive erection, yet with a body besmeared from toe to crown with ashes, clearly suggesting that he is indifferent to his sexual arousal and the world at large… The Tantric male practitioner emulates Shiva, who is dead to all passion and pure Consciousness. Even his blood is turned to ashes – a symbol of utter dispassion” (Georg Feuerstein, Tantra, the Path of Ecstacy, p. 80). What is mostly not taught in Tantra seminars, is that Tantra allows for stilling human passion only on the neophyte stage with the clear goal to overcome such passion, as it is clearly said that nisanga eva mokshah syadoshah sarve ca sangajah, tasmat sanga parityajya tattvanishtah sukhi bhavet, “Non-attachment alone is the means of liberation. All defects are born from attachment (sanga can also mean sexual union). Therefore one becomes happy by abandoning attachment and becoming firmly realized in realizing tattva, ontological truth of reality.” (Kularnava Tantra 1.55).

Also, as mentioned by Y. Krishan in his article (here), we typically don’t find mithunas in Tantric temples, but in Vedic ones. Further, most mithunas are not maithunas (erotic couples engaged in intercourse), but mithunas in other romantic poses, which are not depictions of the Tantric maithuna.

And finally, the mithunas can be seen as part of a gradual development of erotic imagery that already started long before 600 CE, when the first Tantras appeared. Devangana Desai wrote in her very comprehensive PhD dissertation and book Erotic Sculpture of India (free download here), “The earliest depiction of the sexual act among the objects excavated so far in India is found on a pot of the Chalcolithic period [2500-700 BC], phase III, at Daimabad in Ahmednagar district of Maharashtra” (p. 10). On page 14, Desai discusses one of the earliest appearance of mithunas on a terracotta plaque from Awra in Mandasaur district of Madhya Pradesh that belongs to the period from 100 BC to 300 AC. “It depicts a female deity, identified as Śrī, who touches her right earring and stands on a lotus. (…) Two mithunas, engaged in what appears to be sexual union, are shown on eitherside of the Goddess.” “The earliest depiction of mithunas in stone art is seen on the 2nd century BC monuments of Sanchi (Stupa II) and Bharhut in Central India” (p. 18). Although it is possible that certain minor amount of depictions of eros have been influenced by Tantra, it is wrong to assume that a major part of Indian erotic art was inspired by Tantra, as it was clearly much more aligned with the early Vedic spirit of free embodiment of kama in line with Vedic scriptures like the Kama-sutras.

Some other apologetic theories involve the assumption that the erotic images in the Hindu temples are rare anomalies. However, as Thomas Donaldson writes (on p. 76 of his article “Propitious-Apotropaic Eroticism in the Art of Orissa“), “It is now evident, however, that far from being an anomaly, erotic images are the rule in medieval Hindu temples and are not restricted to a few isolated sites. The phenomenon is widespread, covering most of northern India as well as Andhra Pradesh and Mysore in the South, and is not confined to a limited period, but covers almost the entire period of temple construction from the Gupta period to modern times.”

Another theory says that the mithunas signal to the visitors to leave all their “dirty” erotic thoughts outside the temple as they are (usually) only displayed on the outer temple walls. However, this theory seems invalidated by temples like the ones in Khajuraho, in which you can find mithunas on the inner temple walls facing the garbha-griha or sanctum sanctorum. Furthermore, in reply to this theory, Y. Krishan states in the above linked article that, frankly, these mithunas would act in the exact opposite way, namely to attract those interested in eros to flock to these temples. He goes on to say,

“Such public exhibition of voluptuous couples in sacred places could only help to invest them with dignity and to sanctify them and free them from the social stigma they otherwise suffered. In short, this was an open invitation to sexual license.”

Another argument against the apologetic interpretations is that, if these mithunas were really displayed in a negative or mundane way in the temples, we should also find them in profane settings like on the walls of houses, but the mithunas are almost exclusively displayed in temples and not anywhere else. This indicates that they were not only considered auspicious but furthermore spiritual. This is also evident from the fact that mithunas are sometimes carved standing on a padma-pīṭha or lotus pedestal, which is reserved for spiritual imagery like Deities or saints, but definitely not for anything profane, as the lotus symbolizes spiritual purity.

Mithunas standing on a padma-pīṭha or lotus pedestal, which, among other things, symbolizes the lotus-heart or a pure heart or pure consciousness. The first mithuna is unidentified and the second one is entitled “Loving Couple (Mithuna).” It is from Orissa from the 13th century and displayed in the Metropolitan Museum of Art.

A mithuna on a lotus-pedestal in the jagamohana of the Lingaraj temple in Bhubaneswar, where Sri Caitanya Mahaprabhu used to dance ecstatically.

Yugala-Murti. Radha-Krishna Deity. Famous “one-yet-two” loving couple.  Ancient wax method of South-Indian panchaloha bronze cast in Tamil Nadu. This Deity is shown here for reference of the Divine depicted on a lotus pedestal. By the way, the Yugala-murti composition was Srila BVS Prabhupada’s favorite depiction of Radha-Krishna.

Even if all the apologetic theories were right about the said practical functions of protection etc. by the mithunas, then we still have to ask ourselves a crucial question: why are they completely missing from all temples built in the modern times? And why have the ancient eros-friendly and body-revealing depictions of the various Hindu Deities been so much sanitized that it is nowadays even a rare occasion of a few times a year when you can have darshan of certain Goddesses’ lotus-feet?

The answer is clearly that the prudish mindset of the modern devotees cannot anymore allow the creation of such erotic art in a temple compound, because they have lost the vision of its sublimity and can only see it as obscene. And again, applying the same simple logic, the mindset of the Indians during the creation of India’s erotic spiritual art could not have been eros-unfriendly, but must have been eros-friendly. Other arguments that support this explanation are the facts that such mithunas were considered to directly bring good fortune and protection (which wouldn’t have been possible if they would have been seen as obscene) and that the month of the zodiacal sign of Gemini is called “Mithuna” and is symbolized by a mithuna or amorous couple (technically speaking, “mithuna” means “amorous couple”, whereas “maithuna” means “amorous couple engaging in sexual union.” According to this website,

“An architectural manual written in about AD 900 includes the following instruction: ‘kāma is the root of the universe … erotic sculpture panels should be mounted [in temples] in order to delight the general public.'”

Brihat-Samhita LVI 15 mentions that the door frames of temples should be ornamented with carvings of auspicious (mangala) birds, trees, pitchers, amorous couples (mithunas), etc. The Agni-Purana CIV 29-30 and the Saurakanda of the Hayashirshapancaratna mention mithunas in the same context. The Shilpa-Prakasha (an early text on Odishan temple architecture from ca. 1000 CE) II 500-502 states:

“Without kāma-kriyā or the action of kāma, there would be no birth or death. Shiva is manifested as Mahalinga and Shakti in the form of the Bhaga (womb). By Their union, the whole universe comes into being. A place without love-imagery or love-art (kāma-kalā) is known as a place to be shunned (…) It resembles a dark abyss (…).”

An over life-size sculpture of a mithuna, erotic couple, in the Konark Sun temple near Puri, where Mahaprabhu used to visit for darshana. The lower part of the photo depicting the intimate act of intercourse is cropped off in respect to those readers who prefer not to see such depiction.

In the above photograph, we can see a mithuna, erotic couple, that was sculpted into the structure of the Surya temple in Konark near Puri. We can find erotic sculptures in several other temples in Odissa like in the Jagannath temple or in the Lingaraj temple, but in the Konark Sun temple they are more prominent. Dr. Fakir Mohan Das, the most accomplished scholar of Gaudiya Vaishnavism in Odisha of his time, said that Srila Bhaktisiddhanta Sarasvati Prabhupada wrote in his commentary of the Caitanya-caritamrita that during His stay in Puri, Mahaprabhu used to sometimes visit the Konark temple at midday (I don’t have access to that commentary to source the quote). This is not very surprising, as in the most esoteric midday-pastimes, before they go to Radhakunda, Radha and Krishna secretly meet in Surya-kunda, and the Surya temple in Konark is the equivalent of Surya-kunda. It is described in Vishvanath Cakravarthi Thakura’s Krishna-bhavanamrita how there are also mithunas or sculptures of erotic couples in the kunjas surrounding Radhakunda to inspire the Divine Couple in the art of love. This goes to say that such erotic art originates in the spiritual world and is not at all just mundane. The quality and sublimity of one’s vision of such art depends on the consciousness of the viewer.

Hence the quest is not to teach disgust, guilt, shame, fear and apology about eros, but to teach the art of spiritually aligning eros so that it can shine in its own sublime light. To train our vision for such alignment, in the early days of India, nudity was not just depicted in decorative mithunas, but also in Deity couples such as Shiva-Parvati and Radha-Krishna. In fact, these Divine Couples are the original mithunas, and They deserve to be honored as such, and we, as Their servants, deserve to be trained in the art of honoring Them as the original Erotic Couples. In his Sri-Sri Radha-rasa-sudhanidhi, verse 222, Srila Prabhodananda Sarasvati calls Radha-Krishna vidagdha-mithuna – the clever erotic couple.

It is indeed a reason to mourn that we have lost the early eros-friendly Vedic culture that was teaching this art to one and all. Due to the Shramanic influence, the Vedic culture turned eros-unfriendly and developed a massive dichotomy between the Divine Eros, which is now mostly taboo and imperceptible for humans, and the human eros, which is now considered dirty and despicable. Hence, we are mourning the tragic loss of the sublime vision of eros in both realms – human and divine. However, as this Earthly history is but a reflection of the transcendental passing of time in which separation is always succeeded by union, we can surely expect to be reunited with the original eros-friendly Vedic culture. It’s just a question of time, and also of us actively participating in such a reform, which can be seen as a service of reuniting people with the Divine Eros.

Below we can see eros-friendly depictions of Shiva-Parvati, Lakshmi-Narayana, Lakshmi-Narasimha, Sita-Rama, Rukmini-Krishna, Sarasvati-Brahma, Bhumi-Varaha, Ganga & Yamuna, Bhu-Shri-Vishnu and Gopinath.

Shiva and Parvati. British Museum, London. From Odisha.

A similarly embracing Uma-Mahesvara. Source unknown.

Lakshmi-Narayana sculpture at the Parshvanath temple in Khajuraho.

Lakshmi seated on Garuda in Lalitasana. By Kshitindranath Majumdar. Bengal school of art. Around 1950.

Lakshmi-Narasimha Deity in Bronze. Ca. 15th century. Art Institue Chicago.

Sita-Rama at the Parshvanatha temple in Khajuraho

Rukmini-Krishna. Painted after their Deities at the Chidambaram temple.

Sarasvati-Brahma at the Hoyasaleshwara Temple, Halebidu. 12th century.

Varahadev lifting His consort Bhumi flanked by nude sculptures at the Rani Ki Vav stepwell, A UNESCO world heritage site in Gujarat.

Bhu-Varaha by Drdha Vrata Gorrick, who studied classical Divya-kala or divine arts in South India.

Ganga & Yamuna. 9th Century. Odisha State Museum. Fotos by Radhamadhav Das.

Lord Vishnu flanked by Shri and Bhu. Bronze.

Narayana Deity from Bengal (today’s Bangladesh). Ca. 1000 CE.

In the above first photo we see Lord Vishnu flanked by Shri Devi (Lakshmi) on His right side and Bhu Devi (Bhumi, Mother Earth) on His left side, both smaller in size. Historically speaking, this combination of Deities appeared first, and then the Gopinath Deity (as depicted below) appeared (in academic language, Gopinath is a later development from the earlier Bhu-Shri-Vishnu Deity; in devotional language, all these Deities are eternal and just appear at a certain time). Note how the gopis are also smaller than Gopinath.

Gopinath with Gopis, Odisha State Museum, Bhubaneswar. Foto by Radhamadhav Das.

Gopis of the above depicted Gopinath. Notice the one on the top holding a flute.

Gadadhara Prabhu’s Gopinath Deity called “Meyo Krishna.”

Above we see Sri Gadadhar Pandit’s Gopinath Deity that he used to carry around his neck as a young boy. He is currently worshipped in Bharatpur, West Bengal. Gopinath is flanked by Lalita and Vishakha, both significantly smaller in size, as in the earlier depicted Bhu-Shri-Vishnu Deity and Narayana Deity. Historically speaking, this Gopinath Deity is similarly related to the Bhu-Shri-Vishnu Deities. We can see how similar the overall composition is, and how Lalita and Vishakha are also bare-breasted like the earlier depicted gopis of Gopinath or like Bhu of the earlier depicted Vishnu and Narayana Deities.

This historic delineation serves to understand that there was a smooth transition from the early eros-friendly/body-friendly culture to even the time of Mahaprabhu, at least to some extent. Although it was still acceptable during Mahaprabhu’s time, it is hard to imagine Radha-Krishna Deities with partial nudity in new temples of today’s times. The earlier days of India produced highly erotic paintings depicting Radha-Krishna’s love-play, such as some of the miniature paintings that illustrate the famous Gita-Govinda. Hence, during those days, it was not only acceptable to depict Radha-Krishna naked, but even how They are making love, and such paintings were shared and sold in public. This is totally unimaginable in today’s erotophobic times, and I won’t even think of posting such art fully here, as to not upset certain people. In today’s India, such art is officially banned – a fact that speaks for itself.

Radha and Krishna in a Bower. Illustration from the Gita Govinda. Sothebys Auction #205.

Radha & Krishna making love on a leaf bed in the bower. Scene from the Gita-Govinda.

Radha-Krishna. Gita-Govinda series painted by Manaku. Basholi style. Government Museum & Art Gallery Chandigarh. From Wikimedia.

Original Odiya palm leaf manuscript of the Gita Govinda with illustrations of Radha-Krishna’s Shringara-rasa, erotic rasa. (1) Radharani rehydrates by drinking from a bottle during prolongued love-play. (2) Radha-Krishna making love. (3) Krishna decorating Radharani. (4) Krishna painting Radharani’s breasts. Ca. 1600. 5×18 cm each. Ajit Mookerjee collection.

It is noteworthy that the Gita-Govinda of Jayadeva Goswami is not just some minor Sanskrit poem that can easily be brushed aside. If there is a single poem that can claim to be the most famous Sanskrit poem, it is the Gita-Govinda. It has spread to every corner of India and the world in no time and acclaimed vast influence on culture and spirituality. It is daily sung to Lord Jagannatha and the most engaged poem in classical Odissi dance. And all this aquisition of fame by this poem was possible despite of it being one of the most erotic treatises of India that describes the erotic dalliances of Krishna with his Gopis. The spread of such fame of a highly erotic poem would have been impossible if the India of the 12th century would have been as erotophobic as it is today and it is a clear evidence of the fact that the originally eros-friendly Vedic culture of India has survived well until a few hundred years ago. What would happen if Jayadeva Goswami would have composed the Gita-Govinda today? He would surely have been cencored and stigmatized with accusations of obscenity and blasphemy. Such a realization can be eye-opening.

Jayadeva Goswami with his saintly wife Padmavati. Painted by S. Rajan. Note the body-friendly dressing style of Padmavati.

Radha-Krishna at the Somapura Mahavihara temple in Bangladesh.

Traditional Odissan Pattachitra painting of Radha-Krishna by the National award-winning artist Bijay Parida.

Radha-Krishna with Gopis. Traditional Kerala Mural.

Radha-Krishna. Kerala Mural.

Above we see traditional Pattachitra and Kerala Mural artworks of Radha-Krishna. These art forms are classical Indian art forms that look back on many hundreds of years of tradition. Their imagery is founded in ancient literature like the Chitrasutra section of the 1500 years old Vishnudharmottara Purana and not merely the outcome of the speculation of upstarts. Nevertheless, many apologetic Hindus have themselves “sanitized” their own traditions from the “dirt” of eros to such an extent that it has become difficult to find authentic art and literature continuing the early traditions while refusing to surrender to the onslaught of erotophobic sanitizers. Specific eduction is needed to make people realize that, ironically, the sanitization is the actual pandemic.

With the erosion of erotic devotional art and literature, people very quickly lose sight of the reality of Radha-Krishna’s love-play. For example, a friend of mine, a very nice disciple of Srila BVS Prabhupada, once told me in a private discussion that Radha and Krishna don’t even kiss, what to speak of making love. I had to read from esoteric Goswami literature to him and show him old paintings of Radha and Krishna making love to convince him that Their love is not just platonic, but highly erotic.

The Shiva Lingam – the union of the horizontal Yoni and the vertical Lingam that embodies the union of Parvati & Shiva, creation & creator, body and consciousness, immanence and transcendence.

Above depicted is a Shiva Lingam as we see it most commonly today. The Shiva Lingam embodies the union of the horizontal Yoni (literally “womb, vagina”) and the vertical Lingam (literally “phallus, symbol”). Worship of the Lingam without the Yoni is considered inauspicious, as Lord Shiva has said in the Shiva Purana (Kothi Rudra Samhita 4.12.17-46):

“The world shall only attain peace when my Lingam is conjoined with the Yoni, and none else but my consort Parvati can seize hold of my Lingam.”

Therefore, I shall henceforth speak of the “Yoni-Lingam”, as this better invokes what the worship of the Lingam is all about, namely the worship of the auspicious Sublime Union of the Yoni and the Lingam. Because, in this sub-section, we discuss the Yoni-Lingam, we are looking into references from Shaivite literature. These hold Lord Shiva as the Supreme Lord, while for the Vaishnavas, Lord Vishnu is supreme. The symbolism of the Yoni-Lingam encompasses the union of the Divine Couple. For the Gaudiyas, the Divine Couple is Radha-Krishna. But it would in some sense be ackward to attribute Radha-Krishna to the Yoni-Lingam, and hence I am sticking to the Shaivite version of the Divine Couple, which is of course Parvati-Shiva. I am mentioning this here to avoid confusion, as many Vaishnava devotees are unaware that Shaivite literature like the Shiva Purana explain in many verses how Lord Shiva is the Supreme Lord. This is mostly so because the Vaishnava Acharyas have avoided these verses, as to not confuse people and invoke endless debates.

Since most Hindus have turned erotophobic, many Hindus have vehemently denied any connection of the Yoni-Lingam with the union of the vagina and the penis, which they themselves have come to view as obscene. They prefer the nirguna explanation (free from Earthly attributes like form and gender) from the saguna explanation (with Earthly attributes) of the Yoni-Lingam. The nirguna explanation sees the Yoni as a mere symbol of the Goddess Parvati, who embodies Prakriti or creation, and the Lingam as a mere symbol of Lord Shiva, who embodies Purusha or the Supreme Consciousness. Their union is claimed to be non-sexual. Some go as far as denying the Yoni its ontological character and say it is merely a construction to hold the Lingam and to lead away the liquid offerings. However, as for example Georg Feuerstein, one of the most accomplished scholars of Yoga, clearly says in his defining caption of an illustration of a Yoni-Lingam (Tantra, the Path of Ecstacy, p. 81);

“The Yoni-Linga, symbolizing the divine intercourse between Shiva and Shakti (Parvati).”

In rejecting the saguna explanations, the apologetic people have to ignore many scriptural references as the one from the Kothi Rudra Samhita quoted above that clearly state that the Yoni-Lingam embodies the union of the sexual organs of Goddess Parvati and Lord Shiva. Here are similar verses:

भगेन सहितं लिंगं भगंलिंगेन संयुतम् ।
इहामुत्र च भोगार्थं नित्यभोगार्थमेव च ॥ १०४ ॥

भगवंतं महादेवं शिवलिंगं प्रपूजयेत् ।
लोकप्रसविता सूर्यस्तच्चिह्नं प्रसवाद्भवेत् ॥ १०५ ॥

लिंगेप्रसूतिकर्तारं लिंगिनं पुरुषो यजेत् ।
लिंगार्थगमकं चिह्नं लिंगमित्यभिधीयते ॥ १०६ ॥

लिंगमर्थं हि पुरुषं शिवं गमयतीत्यदः ।
शिवशक्त्योश्च चिह्नस्य मेलनं लिंगमुच्यते ॥ १०७ ॥

bhagena sahitaṃ liṃgaṃ bhagaṃliṃgena saṃyutam |

ihāmutra ca bhogārthaṃ nityabhogārthameva ca || 104 ||

bhagavaṃtaṃ mahādevaṃ śivaliṃgaṃ prapūjayet |
lokaprasavitā sūryastaccihnaṃ prasavādbhavet || 105 ||

liṃgeprasūtikartāraṃ liṃginaṃ puruṣo yajet |
liṃgārthagamakaṃ cihnaṃ liṃgamityabhidhīyate || 106 ||

liṃgamarthaṃ hi puruṣaṃ śivaṃ gamayatītyadaḥ |
śivaśaktyośca cihnasya melanaṃ liṃgamucyate || 107 ||

”The penis is united with the vagina and the vagina is united with the penis. For the sake of perpetual enjoyment here and hereafter the devotee shall worship the phallic emblem which is Lord Śiva Himself. He is the sun giving birth and sustenance to the worlds. His symbol is justified in the coming into existence of things. Persons should worship Śiva, the cause of birth, in his phallic form. That which makes the Puruṣa known, is called Liṅga, the symbol.

The unification and fusion of the symbols of Śiva and Śakti is thus called Liṅga.” – Shiva Purana 1.16.104-107.

Lord Shiva instructs his worshippers:

“I am not distinct from the Lingam. The Lingam is identical with me. It draws my faithful devotees to me, and therefore must be worshipped. My well-beloved! Wherever there is an upright phallus, I myself am present, even if there is no other representation of me.”- Shiva Purana, Vidyeshwara Samhita 1, 9.43-44.

It is important to note that the Lingam is not only referred to as Shiva’s penis, but furthermore sometimes described with very clear erotic affinity, such as in Skanda Purana 1.3a.4.30-33:

“After saying thus, Ambikā (a motherly form of Parvati) closely embraced the Liṅga. (…) The nipples of her breasts pressed so hard against the Liṅga that an impression was left appearing like a scar on it. Then the Goddess respectfully bowed down to the Liṅga, clinging to it. Remembering Sadāśiva, she experienced a thrill all over her body making her hair stand on end. She remained with her eyes closed and her heart engrossed solely in meditation. She was motionless and did not want to be separated even for a moment from that Liṅga which caused tremor, perspiration, protection, bashfulness and love-sport in her.”

There are various stories that all state that the Shiva-Lingam is Lord Shiva’s penis that for various reasons got disconnected. One verse (Mahabharata 10.17.17-26) says that he separated it out of his own will, while others say that he got cursed to lose his Lingam for appearing naked and with erect Lingam and especially for having made the wifes of the hermits of the Daru forest run after him. Hence, Shiva’s Lingam fell to the ground (devasya liṅgam pṛthvīṁ vidārayat, Vāmana Purāṇa 6.66). Some verses that share this narrative are as follows:

Shiva Purana 4.12.8-51, Kurma Purana 2.38.52-54/2.39.1-3, Brahmanda Purana 2.27.45, Skanda Purana 1.1.6.2-34/1.1.34.116-131/6.258.1-20, Vamana Purana 6.57-67, Linga Purana 1.29.5-42, Devi Bhagavatam Purana 4.20.36-37.

Although there is practically no scriptural scope for doing so, many people still insist that the Shiva Lingam has nothing to do with sexual organs. This goes to show how desperate some people have become in their fear of eros and efforts of sanitization.

Nobody who has understood the Yoni-Lingam will deny its symbolic potency in that it symbolizes the union of the Supreme Feminine, Goddess Parvati, with the Supreme Masculine, Lord Shiva, and as such the union of all complementing polarities such as creation & creator, body & consciousness and immanence & transcendence.

However, if we deny the Yoni-Lingam its immanent, fleshy and erotic aspects, this ironically equates to disconnecting the Yoni from the Lingam, as the Yoni embodies the immanent aspects of the Absolute. The Absolute encompasses all aspects of creation. The instruction of Lord Shiva to always worship his Lingam in union with Goddess Parvati’s Yoni is also a way of cautioning us not to try to castrate the Absolute by trying to cut off its immanent dimensions. In other words, the reunion of the Yoni with the Lingam also embodies our internal reconnection with the body-positive and eros-friendly aspects of the Absolute.

A very telling story in this regard is that of the Rishi Bhṛṅgī mentioned in the Shiva Purana and the Tamil Sthala Puranas. Bhṛṅgī was a devotee of Lord Shiva whose devotion was so extremely exclusive that he wasn’t able to realize that Parvati Devi was the other half of Lord Shiva and non-different from him. When he once visited mount Kailash, he circumambulated only Lord Shiva, leaving out Mother Parvati. Even when Parvati requested him to also include her in his circumambulation, explaining to him how she and Shiva were two halves of the same being, he refused. Hence, Parvati sat on Shiva’s lap so that she would be included in his parikrama. Undeterred, Bhṛṅgī assumed the form of a female beetle (bhṛṅgī) and flew between the two. Parvati pledged to Shiva to change the heart of Bhṛṅgī and grant her equal treatment. On his proposal the two then gave darshan to Bhṛṅgī in the form of the Deity of Ardhanārīśvara, in which both combine into one form (Radha and Krishna also took on a similar form once, as mentioned in the Govindalilamrita, 4th yama, 10th chapter, commentary).

Ardhanārīśvara sculpture at the Gangaikonda Cholapuram temple. 11th century.

However, Bhṛṅgī was so adamant that he tried to bore a hole into this beautiful Deity so that he could only circumambulate its masculine parts. Infuriated, mother Parvati cursed the sage to lose everything that he had gotten from his mother (and thus ultimately from the Supreme Mother). Bhṛṅgī thus lost all the parts of his body that are considered feminine, especially the flesh and blood. He was left with his bones only and collapsed on the spot. He was only able to stand with the help of a stick, which, with the blessings of Lord Shiva, turned into a third leg. Finally, in that pathetic state, Bhṛṅgī realised his folly and bowed down to both Shiva and Parvati, realizing that they both were indeed two halves of the same undivided ultimate Being.

Sculpture of Bhṛṅgī with a third leg reduced to a skeleton at the Rameshvaram temple.

From this story of Bhṛṅgī we can learn several great lessons:

  • The Divine Couple wants that Their devotee realizes how They are both male and female, and how nobody can live without the female parts of creation, which include the flesh (and eros). This is in line with the above mentioned teaching that the Lingam should never be worshiped disconnected from the Yoni.
  • Parvati has a desire to be treated with equal devotion by the devotees, and Lord Shiva fulfills that desire.
  • The notion of aspiring only for the masculine aspects of reality – which today is often referred to as toxic masculinity – is materially and spiritually destructive.
  • Just like the attitude of Bhṛṅgī, the notion of toxic masculinity, which includes erotophobia, is deeply ingrained into the human psyche and requires deep healing with powerful help from the Divine.

Let us now return to the iconography of the Yoni-Lingam. If we travel back in time, upstream the river of history, coming closer to the source of origin, we clearly find that the early Shiva Lingams resemble much more a phallus than their later versions. If the apologetic people were right, then the earlier versions should be more abstract, and the later versions should be more concrete, embodying the act of people attributing fleshy character to it. However, the unfoldment of history clearly shows exactly the opposite, namely that the earlier versions are more concrete, “fleshy”, body-positive and eros-friendly. They often have clearly distinct shaft, corona and glans. See for yourself.

Gudimallam Lingam in the Parasurameshwara Temple, one of the oldest Shiva-Lingams we know of today.

Above we see the Gudimallam Lingam in the Parasurameshwara Temple near Tirupati, Andhra Pradesh. This is said to be one of the oldest Shiva-Lingams. It has been dated to as early as 300 BC and is still being worshipped (see video here).

Large Shiva-lingam with a flower garland encircling its glans found in Maholi, Mathura. Kushana Period (100-300 AD). Government Museum Mathura. Photo by Radhamadhav Das. Similar lingams were found in Mathura that were dated to 100 BCE.

Worship of the Linga. Early Kusana perriod, 1st-2nd CE, Mathura Government Museum.

Shiva-Lingam with Shiva’s face. Jammu & Kashmir, 600–700 AD. Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York.

Other ancient Yoni-Lingams from the Ardhanarishwar temple in Dakshina Kannada district (from 200 BC) and Devi Puram temple, both in Andhra Pradesh.

Shiva lingam in the ancient Ekteshwara (from “Ekapadesvara”) temple in Bankura, West-Bengal. It consists of a natural horizontal protrusion on bed rock. This lingam is said to be the oldest lingam of Bengal, estimated to be over a thousand years old.

Yoni-Lingam at the 15th century Candi Sukuh Hindu temple in Java.

Lingam at the 15th Century Candi Ceto Hindu temple in East-Java.

3.3 m high Shri Sachcha Akhileshwar Mahadev Yoni-Lingam in Rishikesh.

There are also verses in the scriptures that clearly describe Lord Shiva as the one who sports an erect penis. For example in the Maha-Narayana Upanishad, prayer 271-316, Lord Shiva is praised with the words ūrdhva-liṅgaya namaḥ, “I offer my obeisances to he who has an erect lingam (ūrdhva-liṅga).” Unknown to many people, we can also find ithyphallic (with erect penis) sculptures of Lord Shiva.

Ūrdhva-liṅga Shiva. 300 CE. Mathura. Los Angeles County
Museum of Art.

Shiva as the Lord of Dance. From Madhya Pradesh. Ca. 800 CE. Red sandstone. Los Angeles County Museum of Art.

Uma-Nataraja, Orissa State Museum, Bhubaneswar. 12-13th Century.

Chaitya-design showing ithyphallic Nataraja Maheshvara above Suryadeva who is flanked by two mithunas (see left and right bottom corners) in the shikhara of the Vaital temple in Bhubaneswar. Photo from “Erotic Sculpture of India” by Devangana Desai.

Ithyphallic Shiva. Government Museum Mathura. I did not find this Shiva when I visited there this October (2023), but he is depicted and described as ūrdhva-liṅga and as embracing Parvati and having Nandi on the back of the sculpture on page 27 in the book “Catalogue of Shaiva Sculptures in the Government Museum Mathura.”

From the above depicted and many similar ūrdhva-liṅga Shivas across India and Nepal, it becomes all the more clear that, asides from its symbolic meanings, the Shiva-Lingam does in fact relate to Shiva’s erect penis. Some hold that the famous Pashupati seal, which many consider the oldest depiction of Lord Shiva (dated to be older than 5000 years), is also ithyphallic.

It must be noted that, sadly, many ancient Yoni-Lingams and ūrdhva-liṅga Shiva Deities were destroyed by invading Muslim iconoclausts, and that’s why we don’t find many of them anymore. We are fortunate that some have survived the wide-spread iconoclausm. As mentioned before, the Muslims were actually quite eros-friendly (they objected what they saw as idolatry, hence the iconoclausm). But just imagine how utterly shocked the prudish Victorian Britishers must have been when they came across such Yoni-Lingams! Their colonial and missionary literature described the Yoni-Lingam and its related theology as obscene, licentious, hyper-sexualized, demonic and without any spiritual meaning. These vulgar interpretations led to many Hindus taking a defensive position and becoming apologetic about the natural sexual implications of the Yoni-Lingam.

If we look at these ancient Yoni-Lingams and compare them with more recent ones, we can see that the more recent Lingams have become more abstract and are less resembling a phallus. This historical delineation, in tandem with the delineations of Indian sculptures and dressing style (coming up below), reflects the transition to a more apologetic and eros-unfriendly culture. And, more importantly, it shows that the earlier Indian culture was much more body-positive and eros-friendly. This gives us further encouragement to be non-apologetic about our friendly relationship with eros.

In ancient times, partial nudity was not just acceptable for the Divine, but for many people as well, and we still see surviving traces of that early culture. In today’s India, we still see how public nudity is very common and hardly objected. When people relieve themselves at the side of the road, they are not as keen as people in the West to hide their private parts. When ladies take bath in public, they often do so bare-breasted. Let’s picture the surroundings of the most sacred Radhakund for a moment. Sublime devotees of all kinds of traditions are praying and meditating on her banks – families, Babajis, Sannyasis, all sitting next to each other and taking their bath together. No partitions for men and women. No changing cabins. And in the midst of all these sublime devotees, you see large local families with women of all ages peacefully taking their bath – completely bare-breasted! Neither are these girls, mothers and grandmothers disturbed by others seeing them naked, nor is there any objection by anyone, including the renounced devotees. Not even an eye-brow is raised. Of course, in respect of privacy, I didn’t take any pictures, but everyone is free to witness such scenes for themselves. In the below traditional painting we see how the gopis are taking their bath in the Yamuna without any clothes on as Krishna and other gopas peacefully look on and engage in play, which makes it clear that such a scene of public nudity was very common and neither forbidden nor abnormal.

Traditional Rajput painting of gopis taking their bath in the Yamuna as Krishna and other gopas look on. Source unknown.

Such scenes with partial public nudity are still common across India. But how is this even possible? I think we all agree, that if today’s mindset of the devotees would dictate public behavior, such public nudity would at once be “sanitized” and forbidden. These body-friendly policies of public nudity are clearly the survivors of a body-friendly earlier culture. And this earlier body-friendly (and eros-friendly) culture must have been very strong to survive despite over two thousand years of significant body-unfriendly Shramana influence. Today’s devotee manuals of social behavior strongly forbid public nudity and refer to the conduct of well-mannered Indians, who, as they claim, “never expose their private parts, even to the elements” (Brahmacarya in Kṛṣṇa Consciousness, p. 67). Of course, this stands in contrast to the clear evidence of the great amount of freedom in relation to nudity in the early days of India, and of even the most advanced gopi devotees of Lord Krishna taking their bath fully naked in the holy river Yamuna.

Gopi-vastra-harana-lila. Classical Odishan Pattachittra painting.

Sculpture of Lord Krishna stealing the clothes of the bathing gopis. Brihadisvara Temple, Tamil Nadu, 1010 CE.

The above art works clearly show that there was a time in which it was perfectly acceptable to depict and publicly display even the most holy of devotees – Lord Krishna’s beloved gopis – in full nudity. If anyone was to dare to continue this tradition today, he would at once be cencored by the apologetic sanitizers and labeled obscene and blasphemous. However, in those days, such body-positive depiction of the Divine was obviously considered an acceptable form of Bhakti.

Another example of the earlier family-friendly culture surviving till today is the fact that many Hindus criticize the Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi for not having a family but remaining a bachelor. These people opine that somebody who lacks the experience of family life is not fit to lead the country. For a long time I could not understand such an opinion, as I was steeped in the renunciation-centric spirit of most of today’s traditions in India. Didn’t Modi Ji embody the high ideal given by the Hindu scriptures by giving a perfect example of remaining a celibate and dedicating all of his time to God and serving his people? Yes, he did embody the high ideal of the later version of Vedic faith after the Shramana influence made it renunciation-centric. But – and I learned this perspective only a few years ago – he did not embody the ancient family-centric spirit of Vedic-culture before it turned renunciation-centric, and many Hindus still live their life in accordance with that ancient spirit and expect other Hindus to also embody that ancient family-centric spirit.

Many old artifacts also show that in bygone days, people in India were much less inhibited about their body (as they were family-centric and not renunciation-centric) and that in certain places and circumstances, people hardly wore any clothing and their breasts and even their genitals were left uncovered, as in the below depicted sculpture.

Sculpture from the Government Museum in Mathura entitled “Female Devotee, Mathura – early 2nd century – Sandstone.”

A similar sculpture.

Cosmetics-bearing Lady. Kushan period (2nd century CE), Diyara (Faizabad). Benares Hindu University Museum.

Shalabhanjika, lady holding a tree branch. Auspicious motif that traditionally graces gateways, as in this bracket of a gateway found in Sonkh Tila in Govardhan, Mathura. 100 CE. Government Museum Mathura. PC: Radhamadhav Das.

Detail of similar statue in the same Museum.

Lady holding a pot. Braj area. 6th century. Braj Museum of the Vrindavan Research Institute.

Gopi carrying two earthen pots. Odisha State Museum Bhubaneswar. PC: Radhamadhav Das.

Radharani with attending Sakhis (others say it is a royal lady served by her servants). 13th – 14th century. Found in Bahugram, Cuttack. Odisha State Museum. Photo by Radhamadhav Das.

Seeing such artifacts can be an eye-opening experience. The above depicted statues from the Government Museum in Mathura are not rare isolated motifs but very prominent motifs with many different artifacts displayed. Can anyone imagine such art being commissioned in Mathura-Vrindavan-Govardhan today? Can you imagine people wearing such dresses today? What has happened that lead to such a massive shift in dresscode – practically from complete freedom to puritanism?

If you happen to be in Vrindavan and don’t want to go the Government Museum in Mathura, you can also visit the sculpture gallery of the Braj Museum in the Vrindavan Research Institute in Raman Reti. There you can see the above depicted sculpture of a lady holding an earthen pot that was found in the Braj area. In the painting gallery you can also see regional 100-300 years old traditional paintings in the Mathura, Bikaner, Bosohli and Nathadwara style of Krishna with the gopis. The painted gopis mostly wear the choli or blouse in a very minimalistic way, revealing the lower parts of their breasts, without further covering except sometimes partially with a very thin, almost transparent veil. As the Indian people started to cover their bodies more over time, the artists have also more and more depicted the gopis with more covering dresses. Below are examples of paintings as described above and a costume reference painting. The sixth painting depicts how such minimalistic cholis must have been very practical when breakstfeeding children.

Scene from the Gita-Govinda. Rajput miniature painting.

Krishna combing Radharani’s hair in the pastime at Shringar Vat.

Radha-Krishna dancing in the monsoon rain. Pattachittra painting. Odisha State Museum, Bhubaneswar.

Detail of traditional Indian Kota painting depicting domestic life, woman serving food to her husband, ca. 1700.

Costume reference painting. Detail from “The Soldier Of The Rajah Coming To The Sword Sharpener Of Ahmedabad” by Edwin Lord Weeks (1849 – 1903), American artist, painter and explorer. Painted around 1890.

King Nanda with Queen Yashoda suckling Krishna and fondling Balaram. Ca. 1630. Kanoria collection. Photo by Suresh Vasant.

Mother statues on a balcony next to the State Bank of India in Pratap Bazar (behind Loi Bazar), Vrindavan. PC: Radhamadhav Das.

Detail of above image.

As seen in the above depicted statues from today’s Vrindavan – even until just recently it was socially perfectly acceptable to depict a mother with a child who has one breast uncovered to suckle her child.

In very rare cases in Northern India, the breasts are entirely uncovered, and in rare cases, they are covered by an almost transparent veil and/or choli only.

Krishna Awaiting Radha, ca. 1750-1760. Guler school. Cleveland Museum of Art.

Garga Muni performing the secret name-giving ceremony of Krishna and Balaram in the presence of Nanda, Yashoda and Rohini. Rajput painting, 1765.

Lady in Prayer (detail). Bangali Ragini of Pancham Raga. Rajput painting. Ludwig Habighorst Collection.

An Ascetic Receiving an Offering from a Courtly Woman, Unknown artist, Rajasthan, Kishangarh style, circa 1750-1775, Opaque watercolor and gold on paper.

Lady worshiping a Shiva Lingam. 18th century CE. Deccan School of Art. From the Central Museum, Nagpur, India.

A Night Scene of Shiva Puja. 1760–70. Gum tempera and gold on paper. Cleveland Museum of Art.

 

Below is a depiction of the evolution of the Indian dress over time. We can clearly see how more body-friendly the earlier culture was.

The above series however, does not do full justice to the freedom of choice of dress the early Indians had, as it doesn’t include female dressing fashions with bare chest, which were very common in the early days. Many say it was the most common standard. Below are some further Indian dress varieties with at least partially uncovered breasts.

Varieties of Indian dressing styles. Unknown source.

Kerala Lady With Fruit by Raja Ravi Varma. 19th century.

Dancing Girls, painted by Mukul Dey in 1919 at the Ajanta caves.

Mother with child. Government Museum Mathura. Photo by Radhamadhav Das.

Mother with children. Painted by Swiss artist and scholar Alice Boner. Bharat Kala Bhawan Museum BHU. Photo by Radhamadhav Das.

Village of Gatiganawa, Sri Lanka. Illustration from “Voyages Dans l’Inde” By Russian Prince Alexis Soltykoff (1806–1859).

Princess Samudra Devi of Diyawannawa (16th century) painted by Prasanna Weerakkody.

Some may think that the above painting is just the artist’s fantasy, but in fact Prasanna Weerakkody based this painting on original artifacts of that very royal family, as the one pictured below:

Original royal coronation casket – the source of costume reference for the above painting.

Abduction of princess Swarnapali, the daughter of Girikada Siva. Painted by Prasanna Weerakkody.

“Princess giving golden earring to Brahman boy” by Archibald Herman Muller, an Indian-German painter (1878–1960) from page 478 of the book शिल्पकार चरित्रकोश खंड ६ – दृश्यकला.

Sculpture of a Dancing Lady. Chennakeshava Temple, Belur, Karnataka. 12th Century.

Above we see a masterpiece sculpture of a dancing lady carved into a single stone at the Chennakeshava Temple in Belur, Karnataka, which was built in the 12th century. According to this source, the 42 charming maiden sculptures or madanikas in this temple were crafted by portraying king Vishnuvardhana’s queen Shantala Devi, who was considered to be the epitome of feminine beauty. I am mentioning this also because some apologetic people try to discredit the possibility that the early Indian people had such eros-friendly attires by claiming that all such sculptures depict apsaras or heavenly damsels, and not Earthly humans. Some also claim that nudity was only found among lower castes like tribal people. However, such and similar artifacts show that partial nudity and eros-friendliness was also common amongst the early royals of India.

The Vaishnava research scholar Bhakti Ananda Goswami (David M. Sherman) wrote in an online comment (here): “When I was in Sri Lanka I studied the ancient Vaishnava, Shaivite and Shakta traditions of the South-Indians there.

The evidence was that many South-Indian Hindu women and those from Tamil Nadu that were living in Sri Lanka were commonly still living with their breasts entirely uncovered right into the era of the British Raj.

Most of the time I saw dated art work depicting South-Indian and Sri Lankan Hindu women wearing a rather short sari or sarong-like wrapped skirt with a sari-like upper wrapping-cloth and no choli or blouse underneath it at all. This apparently left their breasts completely uncovered much of the time. Thus this type of dress was the same as that depicted on ancient temples and shrines in South-India, which showed Goddesses, celestial maidens and human women with their breasts uncovered.

With their second or upper cloth they could cover their heads or wrap their breasts or tie a baby or some other bundle on their front or back. Therefore, their upper cloth was really an all-purpose article of clothing and utility cloth.

The point is that as in many ancient civilizations, chastity and modesty were considered to be a matter of attitude and behavior, not dress. In such cultures, a naked woman or man was deemed decent or indecent purely on the basis of their demeanor and behavior, regardless of how much clothing they were wearing.”

In some places, women still didn’t cover their breasts until a few decades ago. One example of a place where Hindu women normally went out of their houses bare-breasted until the recent times is Bali, whose population still consists to 87% of Hindus (Hinduism was the dominant religion in Indonesia before the arrival of Islam). This was possible because Bali is an isolated island and hence the people there were spared from the influence of prudish people for a longer time. It is noteworthy that they were also bare-breasted when they went to the temple.

Photograph of Two Hindu Temple Dancers From Bali. Circa 1930s.

Balinese women in traditional sarong attire. Wooden sculpture.

Traditional Balinese Dancers. c.a. 1920. Collection of Leiden University.

Balinese Hindu temple goers carrying Banten Tegeh offerings. 1920s. © Franklin Price Knott/National Geographic Society/Corbis.

Below we can see some of the oldest found depictions of the ancient Indian dress fashion in stone.

Queen Samavati, the spouse of King Udayana, with her attendants. Kanaganahalli, Karnataka. Ca 1st century CE.

Emperor Ashoka with his two queens and attendants at Sannati (Kanaganahalli Stupa), Karnataka. 1st-3rd century CE.

King Ashoka with his queens. Kanaganahalli Stupa, Karnataka (replica). Satvahana Period, 2nd-3rd century CE.

King Ashoka, supported by his two queens, in grief over the neglected sacred pipal tree. Relief at the Sanchi Stupa, Madhya Pradesh. Ca. 1st century CE. PC: Kevin Standage.

Below are frescos from the Ajanta caves in Maharashtra, which are also said to be among the earliest available realistic depictions of Indian people. Most of them are dated around 600 CE. Some of the dressing features can still be found in the same area – of course, today women are no longer allowed to go about bare-breasted. Some art experts have called these frescos the finest ancient art of mankind. These beautiful wall paintings bear witness to the rich ancient Indian culture, which, at least in this case, was evidently extremely liberal, permissive and eros-friendly.

Lovers close to the medallion on the ceiling of the main hall of the Ajanta caves.

Royals, Fresco, Ajanta Caves

Palace Scene, Fresco, Ajanta Caves

Amorous palace scence. Fresco, Ajanta Caves.

Princess with Sakhi, Ajanta caves, copy painting by Vijay Kulkarni.

Mural of royals, Ajanta Caves.

Queen Shivali, being perplexed after her husband, King Mahajanak of Mithla, had just announced his intention to abdicate the throne and to take sannyasa. Ajanta Caves, Cave 1. Gupta Period, 5th Century.

Similar paintings can be seen in the Ellora caves near Mumbai.

Dancers Sequence, Ellora Caves

Princess with Sakhis, Ellora Caves, copy painting.

What is still more or less common in rural areas across India is that women wear their sari (or other outer garments) over their bare chest without wearing the usual choli or bodice-like upper garment underneath. When they move, their sari shifts and often reveals their breasts, which doesn’t concern anyone in the village. This, however, is today mostly only accepted for the older generations, and the new generations are expected to follow the new standards of wearing a choli, which means that soon even that freedom will be lost. It must be said that in many places of India, temperatures often approach 50 degrees Celcius and every extra layer of cloth becomes a great burden, as you can imagine.

Srimati Bhagavati Devi Datta, the beloved second wife of Srila Bhaktivinoda Thakura (Kedarnath Datta) and mother of Srila Bhaktisiddhanta Sarasvati Thakura (Bimala-prasada Datta). Note that even while posing for a photographer, which was a rare occasion these days and which requires one’s appearance to be up to the mark of social and religious etiquette, the Dattas didn’t think it improper for a respected Vaishnavi to appear in public without wearing a choli. Another photograph of her shows the same choice of attire.

Below we see stills from various movies on Sri Caitanya Mahaprabhu. What is noteworthy is that all depicted ladies wear their sari the traditional Bengali way of those days without a choli or blouse. The irony is that, if Vishnupriya Devi were to visit a temple today the way she actually dresses, she would probably be told to go home and dress properly.

Scene from Nadier Nimai – the oldest movie on Caitanya Mahaprabhu.

Vishnupriya & Mahaprabhu in a scence from the movie “Chaitanya Mahaprabhu.”

Saci Mata & Vishnupriya in a scence from the movie “Chaitanya Mahaprabhu.”

Vishnupriya in “Mahaprabhu Shree Chaitanya.”

Shri Chaitanya meeting Mother Sachi. By Kshitindranath Mazumdar. 1950s. Bengal school of art. Watercolour wash on mount board.

Young woman in saree with lota. By Kshitindranath Majumdar.

Mother Sita with her sons Lava and Kusha. From an illustration of a book.

Scene of film the film “Choker Bali” depicting the typical choli-free dress fashion of Bengali women of that period.

Another scene of Choker Bali featuring actress Aishwarya Rai. Notice the Tulasi mala and sandalwood tilak.

A Sisterly Remembrance. By Raja Ravi Varma. 1893.

Rural Queen. Giclee by J. P. Singhal.

Market Scene painted by J. P. Singhal.

Let us now, with this deeper understanding, re-visit the third reason to embrace eros-friendliness mentioned earlier:

Because eros-friendliness is not foreign to Vedic culture – rather it used to be a natural part of it. Hence we can simply revert to the earlier Vedic standard of eros-friendliness. Shramanism that spread erotophobia in India came from outside the Vedic tradition and is not essential to Bhakti. We need not worry about losing anything because erotophobia is actually alien to Bhakti.

To be clear, I’m not saying we should be eros-friendly just because the Vedic culture was eros-friendly. I’m saying let’s be eros-friendly because experience has shown it to be much more healthy and spiritually beneficial. The fact that the Vedic culture was originally eros-friendly simply comes to our help in this transition by allowing us to revert to an earlier setting of a culture that we already identify with. Even if someone was able to prove that the original Vedic culture was eros-unfriendly or even that all of human culture was eros-unfriendly, we should not be blind adherents but mature enough to learn from what experience has taught us and compassionately move forward with urgently needed reform, just as Vyasadeva did when he compiled the Srimad-Bhagavatam.

“If we study a little bit of history, we will find how the ancient Vedic culture from which Gaudiya Vaishnavism has historically sprung was free from erotophobic narratives. The eros-friendly Kama-sutra promotes throughout its texts the notion of kama (sensual delight) as one of the four human goals of life. Denying these facts and instead encouraging a suppression and even demonization of natural human eros has deep damaging consequences for people of all ages.” – Swami Padmanabha, Radical Personalism, p. 114.

Why Sublimation of Sexual Desires is not Working

The hope for the attainment of sublimation of sexual desires remains an unattainable utopia for most devotees, even if they practice very sincerely for decades. The standard approach to this issue has been to try to find lacking in their practices. It is said that the holy name doesn’t yield its fruits of purification and sublimation when chanted with offenses, and hence the typical stance to explain why devotees still have sexual desires even after chanting for decades is that they are chanting with offenses. The result of this is that the devotees now have the double burden of guilt – guilt for still having sexual desires and guilt for allegedly committing offenses to the holy name.

Perhaps we should try a different approach. If sublimation of sexual desires is not working despite decades of serious practice (while other material desires like intoxication and meat eating are usually efficiently sublimated), it is very likely that it simply is not God’s will! The easier and more natural explanation is that spiritual sublimation of sexual desires is not working because it goes against our eternal nature. God-dess made us erotic beings because God-dess wants us to be erotic. In this perspective, going against our erotic nature is going against the design of nature, the will of God. To me, this makes much more sense than claiming that our erotic nature is dirty and unwanted by God and that if we want to come closer to God we have to suppress and sublimate human eros.

There are various religious stories of how humans have acquired the “burden of lust.” These stories have, among other functions, the function to avoid people blaming God for creating our lust. Because, naturally, people will think, if human eros is dirty and unwanted, why has God created it in the first place? If God created it to test us, why has God given us such strong sexual inclinations that are practically impossible to overcome? Is God a masochist, after all? Whatever religious explanation of human eros one may choose, God could have either prevented us from having sexual desires, or God could at least have lessened our burden or have provided a remedy hat actually works. You see how messy it gets when you really look deeper into the implications of the dogma that human eros is unwanted. The explanation that God made us humans erotic because it is God’s eternal will to have us experience eros makes much more sense and is much more simple, beautiful and natural.

Nobody is Free From Eros

Many devotees have the impression that as one progresses to pure devotion, one will at one point become totally free from eros – but this is not a fact. One may become niṣkāma, free from material desires, but as long as one has a material body, there will always be a natural leaning towards eros. One pure devotee once personally told me that this is his own experience. Niṣkāma or anyabhilāṣitā-śūnyaṁ doesn’t mean that there is no more leaning, but that one’s desires for serving Krishna are so strong that one doesn’t actively desire anything else, despite the presence of various leanings of the material mind and body, and hence one usually also doesn’t act upon such leanings.

tat-sṛṣṭa-sṛṣṭa-sṛṣṭeṣu
ko nv akhaṇḍita-dhīḥ pumān
ṛṣiṁ nārāyaṇam ṛte
yoṣin-mayyeha māyayā

“Amongst all kinds of living entities begotten by Brahmā, namely men, demigods and animals, none but the sage Nārāyaṇa is immune to the attraction of māyā in the form of woman.” –  Śrīmad-Bhāgavatam 3.31.39. (*The same applies for men for women, of course.)

Everyone can come under the spell of Kamadeva, even Lord Shiva, the greatest of all Vaishnavas, what to speak of other Vaishnavas and other people including great Yogis.

Urdhva-lingam Shiva chasing Mohini Murti before discharging his semen (see Śrīmad-Bhāgavatam 8.12.26-32). Garhwal school, 1790. Watercolour on paper. From Exoticindia.com.

Shiva embraces Mohini as Parvati seated on Nandi turns away in distaste. Mural at the Mattancherry Palace, Kochi. From Wikipedia.

Lord Shiva burning Kamadeva (Cupid).

When Indra tried to entice the sage Nārāyaṇa by presenting various celestial girls to him and by having Kamadeva try to bewilder him personally, he remained composed and told Indra not to worry because he didn’t intend to take over heaven. He then created Urvashi, an even more beautiful girl, through his mystic power, and presented her to Indra. Lord Shiva, on the other hand, became infuriated when Kamadeva tried to bewilder him and burned his body to ashes through his third eye.

We need to remember that the sage Nārāyaṇa is an incarnation of Lord Vishnu, and thus his powers of sense-control are totally out of reach for us. The fact that only the sage Nārāyaṇa is immune to eros translates into the human life condition that practically speaking, nobody is free from eros. Even Kamadeva has himself boldly declared:

Rati & Kamadeva with his bow and the five arrows of flowers symbolizing the five senses. Parshvanath temple, Khajuraho.

“I (Kama/Kamadeva) cannot be slain by anyone by any existing means. If a person should seek to slain me, putting their trust in the strength of any means, then I appear in that very means and conquer them instead.” – Mahabharata 14.13.13.

In the verse of the Bhakti-rasamrita-sindhu that defines the benefits of sadhana in all stages (sadhana-bhakti and sadhya-bhakti), Śrīla Rūpa Gosvāmī also didn’t mention that one becomes free from the urges of the mind and body:

kleśa-ghnī śubhadā mokṣa-laghutā-kṛt sudurlabhā |
sāndrānanda-viśeṣātmā śrī-kṛṣṇākarṣiṇī ca sā 
||1.1.17||

“The unique characteristics of Bhakti are: its ability to destroy suffering; its bestowal of auspiciousness; its disregard for liberation; its rarity of attainment; its manifestation of concentrated bliss; and its ability to attract Kṛṣṇa.”

It is indeed a great plus point that our shastras are so frank about this fact that nobody is free from eros.

The simple conclusion from the fact that Krishna will not allow anyone to become fully free from eros despite great efforts would be that Krishna has given us eros because it has many material and spiritual functions and benefits.

However, most shastras take the opposite stance and say that despite it being impossible to overcome, eros is unwanted and unbeneficial for our spiritual progress. Why do they take such a logically less plausible stance, and why, despite it being so difficult, do they nevertheless advocate such difficult standards of renouncing human eros, thus creating the great dilemma for most devotees of having to engage in artificial suppression although this is declared to be spiritually destructive?

In answer to this, we have to remember how most Indian traditions including the Bhakti traditions are heavily influenced by the renunciate Shramana tradition and that such extreme renunciation is neither beneficial for Bhakti nor is it representative of our eternal nature. Śrīla Jīva Gosvāmī wrote in his commentary to Bhakti-rasāmṛta-sindhuḥ 1.2.254:

bhakti-praviṣtāsya vairāgyaṁ

citta-kāṭhinya-hetutayā heyatvenoktam

“For a person who has entered into Bhakti, the over-cultivation of renunciation is to be rejected, because it hardens the heart.”

Śrīla Bhaktisiddhānta Sarasvatī Prabhupāda wrote in an article in The Harmonist (Jan-March 1932, emphasis added.):

“The spurious brahmacarya ideal as misconceived by its worldly supporters embodies this puritanic outlook. The scriptures, indeed, enjoin that everyone should serve Godhead from the womb. This is the real meaning of brahmacarya. The ascetic practices that have come to attach themselves to the conception [of brahmacarya] were interpolated into the scriptures in order to ensure worldly values by this form of the empiric method. (…) It is not a spiritual affair to be able to control one’s carnal desires. (…) The soul desires neither sensual nor sexual purity. The soul is not a mere moral being. If brahmacarya means a method of gaining moral power, it is wholly a mundane affair and is as such not one of no concern to the soul but is positively obstructive of spiritual well-being. (…) The soul rejects nothing. He regards nothing as redundant or useless. The soul has a use for everything. Everything is absolutely good on the plane of the soul.”

We have every right to employ our own sense of discrimination and choose an approach that is less renunciation-centric than the present blueprint. This will lead to the attainment of true authenticity and honesty and to the freedom of pretense of artificial renunciation.

 

What Sexual Repression Did to India

We are spiritual descendants of the Bhakti tradition which has its roots in India. Looking into what sexual repression did to India can be very insightful, because at least in terms of culture, we are part of India and India lives within us. In the New York Times article Sexual Repression in the Land of the Kama Sutra

“Premarital sex is considered patently and categorically immoral. Should a woman be raped, she is treated not as a victim but an outcast, and her family is disgraced. There is little or no formal sex education, and psychologists say that both men and women tend to enter marriage substantially ignorant of each other’s sexual nature. Marriages are usually arranged, and sex within them is viewed as being for the man’s pleasure only. (…) middle-class India’s very strong repressive attitude has made it impossible for many married couples to function well sexually, or even to function at all. (…) In India, the extended family is the usual arrangement, and the psychiatrist says he has encountered numerous cases of sex between brothers-in-law and sisters-in-law, for example, or between cousins, or uncles and nieces, or aunts and nephews.”

A person who is close to me just recently went to the court in Mathura for some work and was shocked as she was sitting next to a devastated young girl who had been raped by her father, and there was nobody else there with her to support her. Adding to her shock were the people at court telling her that this was sadly a common occurrence there.

I once volunteered in a girls education campaign of an NGO that educates Indian girls about menstruation hygiene. Their educators often encounter horrifiying circumstances. Many girls are shocked when they first start to menstruate because they were left in ignorance about it due to correlated stigma. According to one study, 71% of adolescent girls in India are unaware of menstruation until they get it themselves. Many get infected with diseases because they use old rags and other things instead of proper sanitary products. Here is an article on this topic. This article is about what else menstruating women have to endure, and how the stigma around menstruation being impure largely originates in the Hindu narrative that menstruation blood is Indra’s sin of killing the brahmana Vishvarupa, which he has cast off to women and other places like trees. This is partially described in Śrīmad-Bhāgavatam 6.9.6-9., and goes back to the Taittirīya-Samhīta II.5. It is also mentioned in Mahabharata 7.329.28-41. The Varaha-Purana states:

He who touches Me (the Deity) after touching a woman during her monthly period, remains in hell drinking menstrual blood for one thousand years.” (132.12-20.) “(He who touches the Deity after) seeing a woman who is in her monthly period or who has recently delivered (…) is guilty of one of the thirtythree offences (connected with worship), О Earth. He who is guilty of these will never see Lord Vishnu.” (179.4-10.)

The female blood discharge during childbirth is similarly seen as dirty – in fact, everything related to the womb is tragically considered impure. Last year I met a devotee in Vrindavan who had recently given birth in the same clinic as my wife. To my surprise, she said, “Oh, I’m so excited to meet you in person, you know, you are famous in Vrindavan – the doctors and nurses were very impressed how you assisted your wife throughout the entire process of your daughter’s birth!” Frankly speaking, all I did was hold my wife and assist her in breathing and chanting loudly, and yet they have never witnessed this before. As I learned from the nurses, in India, men wait outside at a “safe distance” until the “dirty” thing is over and the baby is washed. Even all the hair of the baby is later shaven off because it is believed to be contaminated from having been in the womb. I am mentioning this because it is all related to the suppression of eros in India.

Ways of making “arrangements” in the sexually repressed India other than the incest mentioned in the first quoted article are consuming pornography, bestiality and sexual abuse of children. India is infamous for being the world’s leading country in mobile phone pornography consumption with a staggering 1.2 billion people or 89 percent of all Indian people (in 2019) despite a country-wide pornography ban.

Once I visited an idyllic Gaudiya-Vaishnava temple on the banks of the holy river Ganga. Some times later, news reached my ears that two pre-teenage brahmacaries there had raped a cow (despite their belief that cows are holy). Some time passed, and I saw, this time in the public news, that the leading sannyasi of the same temple was charged for sexually abusing the brahmacari boys. I knew all of these people personally from staying with them for a few days, and I can frankly say that they were not evil by nature, but very friendly and soft-hearted people. However, the pressure cooker effect of sexual repression can corrupt anyone and turn gemlike people into monsters.

The same thing happened to another sannyasi whom I knew very well, who, as it turned out, secretly had intimate relationships with at least thirty of his female disciples, lying to each of them that she was his only chosen lover. Many of them are still trying to heal from their trauma.

When you hear of such horrific deeds as an outsider, you could conclude that these people must be evil by nature, but if you know them personally like I did, you can attest to the fact that many of them were wonderful well-mannered personalities who turned into criminals as a consequence of sexual repression.

In another temple where I happened to stay for some times in Mayapur, the leading sannyasi school master had, as I found out years later, raped at least one young girl and abused countless other children. In the same school, thousands of children have been abused over three decades, and until things recently escalated in the public space, nothing has been done to stop such evil despite many parents and leaders of that community being well-informed of the atrocities.

I’m not saying sexual repression is the only factor in the equation, but it is common sense that if these perpetrators were in a healthy relationship with eros instead of suppressing it, they would most likely not have committed such crimes.

Once people become so desperate that anything goes, they are ready to overstep all moral bounderies. During Vraja-mandala parikrama, the devotees are always strongly advised not to fall back, as there have been several rape cases in the recent times. Men have abducted pre-teenage girls who fell back from the parikrama group and raped them in bright daylight. One of the most senior devotees of the Krishna-Balaram temple in Vrindavan, an elderly around eighty years old Russian grandmother that I know personally, was also raped during parikrama in the middle of Vrindavan. How desperate do you have to be to commit such heinous crimes? I think most will agree that teaching the people how to have a healthy relationship with eros free from taboo, stigma and suppression would be preferred to people becoming so desperate that they turn to rape, even of little girls, grandmothers and cows.

Another consequence of sexual repression in India is that many people don’t attain full mental maturity as sexual maturity is not just a question of age, but much more so of conscious engagement, realized embodiment and integration. Indians are usually expected to transition directly from youth to parenthood, skipping over the typical romantic period of life, which is actually an important initiation adding a lot to human maturity. Asides from religious propensities, the pure propensities of parenthood are supposed to save one from developing all the “dirty” sexual propensities. The more or less sexually castrated people often direct most of their love to their mother, and this is one of the reasons that it can seem that some Indians still remain a child at heart – because a big part of their mind still identifies with just being the mother’s son or daughter, as this is the sanitized “safe space” that will not get them into the troubles of socially unacceptable sexual maturity and erotic character development. Their mind has created this space and identity for them as a self-protection mechanism. On the energetic level, this means that they often have not yet been able to cut the umbilical cord to their mother.

As long as one hasn’t grown mature on all essential levels including full embodiment of eros, one is unable to cut the cord to one’s parents and larger family and friends in the positive sense of being able to fully function as an independent mature human.

I am very often witnessing here how toxic dependence is crippling people and relationships. Immaturity, like any other lack, is a gaping hole that cries to be filled and will force you to act in toxic ways until you finally muster up the courage to do the needful to attain maturity. I’ve been totally let down and hurt here in so many ways even by my best friends, after which they expected me to not call them out for it. There is often an unwritten policy here of not calling out each other for wetting the bed because everyone else is wetting the bed too. In Hindi, this is expressed with the idiom teri bhi chup, meri bhi chup – I won’t call you out and you won’t call me out. Sadly, if you decide not to play by this rule anymore, attain maturity and won’t let people off the hook so easily, you will be seen as the offender. Many Indians who have taken this step either live in highly ambiguous or isolated circumstances or leave the country. If it wasn’t for the priceless spiritual treasures, I would also never choose to live here.

Related to the topic of erotic immaturity is the issue of a high amount of consensual mother-son incest cases in India. This is not just a rumour. As mentioned in this article in the Indian Journal of Psychiatry (Jan 2013), “Repressed sexuality has also been a factor in what in the West might be considered widespread incest.” A person who spent over a year in the Mathura prison personally told me how many of the (Vrajavasi) prisoners in that prison were incarcerated because they became mentally ill during their mother-son incest relationship and ended up murdering their own mother. Unlike in these cases, the much larger number of men engaged in mother-son incest don’t act violently and are thus not punished as incest is still not illegal in India, although it is not allowed in Hindu scriptures. Varaha-Purana 176.44 states: “The only purification for the guilt of incest with one’s mother, teacher’s wife, daughter, sister or daughter-in-law is immolation of the offender in fire.”

A friend of mine who held the respected position of a Panchayat council confirmed to me that mother-son incest is a widespread phenomena. From looking at public online discussions of affected people of mother-son incest in India, the main issue seems to be sexually repressed men who are not allowed to date and then get married to an unknown woman of their parents’ choice and whose only deep/intimate relationship is usually with their mother, who in turn also may not be so intimately related to her husband, as she was neither able to chose him herself.

In regards to youths being forbidden to be sexually active, it may seem that this works because commonly nobody talks about the disasters happening unknown to the public. What is not allowed to develop naturally usually perverts and emerges in a toxic way. Without sex education and a certain license, youths will get their “education” from online pornography and other media and engage secretly in unsafe ways. Actually, sanatana-dharma has its own scriptures of sex education called kama-shastras. Unlike in today’s erotophobic days, during those days, sanatana-dharma never taught stigmatization and tabooization of sexuality. In verse 1.3.1., Vatsyayana says that his Kama-sutras should be studied also by women before they reach the prime of their youth (of course we need updated versions of the kama-shastras these days).

If the youths are brought up in a toxic erotophobic environment and not fully educated how to properly embody eros, their secret sexual encounters are full of fear instead of love and thus often of an exploitative and violent nature. As incredible as this may sound, many grown-ups don’t know how to have safe sex here, what to speak of youth. Children of our local friends here in Vrindavan Dham have told us how the youths here meet secretly and engage in sex in extremely toxic ways that also include prostitution with under-age girls for as little as 50 Rupees. I know an eye witness personally, so this is not just hearsay. In the largest devotee community of Mayapur, some youths regularly have sex orgies. I don’t know if they still have them today, that was several years ago. I only know of them because a young friend of mine confided in me in shock when they also invited him. India has an STD rate of 10.8%, just like the UK (the global average is 19%, which means that every fifth human has at least one STD). If we assume that the Indians have less sex than the English, it follows that they engage in it in more unsafe ways. Of course, this data also shows, that despite the stigma, Indians nevertheless engage in sex with multiple partners.

In view of the above mentioned tragedies, it should all the more be emphasised, that for a wholesome and humane embodiment of eros, sublimely taught sexual expression and embodiment is very much needed, and that it deserves a cultivation free from repression, taboo and stigma.

Artificial Suppression or Faking Renunciation is Destructive

The mantra of artificial suppression is “fake it ’till you make it.” But can dishonesty really bring us closer to truth? A rotten seed cannot bear healthy fruits. Hypocrisy in the name of advancement is the attribute of the age of Kali.

A friend of mine once arrived at the Bangkok airport. At that time he was still wearing saffron. When a local prostitute saw him in the crowd, she immediately approached him. In surprise, my friend asked her: “Why me – can’t you see that I’m a monk?” She started laughing, saying: “I approached you because I know you guys very well! You are the ones with the funny underwear! Am I right? Your dress means good customer!” While this may be a funny bonfire story, it also goes to show how broken our inner constitution and public image is. The appearance of the dhoti-kurta dress (the funny underwear are the kaupinas) invokes the image of sex-starved people, the ideal customers of prostitutes – just the opposite of what it is supposed to represent!

This story happened over twenty years ago. In the meantime, prostitutes have realized the market opportunity right in the heart of the Hare Krishna communities, namely in their temples. A few years ago, the biggest Hare Krishna temple in Vrindavan had to put up an infamous public notice at the information centre saying that people who are approached by prostitutes should at once report them to the temple authorities. The difference to Bangkok is that here, the prostitutes are mostly devotees. Especially the white-skinned prostitutes are in high demand, and people visit the temple from far away for “special darshan and sadhu-sanga.” I was doubtful when I first heard about these dynamics, but then I was one day myself approached by a devotee who offered me a large sum of money introducing his uncle to a Russian devotee prostitute, which I of course denied. The locals here are responding to these happenings with shock, but also with humour. They tell each other stories like,

“You know, yesterday I talked to one of those famous foreign Matajis. I asked her what she is doing in Vrindavan, and she told me, ‘I’m doing only Bhakti – nothing else!’ I then asked her which devotional activities she was performing here, and she told me that she is doing social work. When I further inquired what that exactly entailed, she replied, ‘oh, very simple – I am making people happy with my devotional activities!’ Finally I asked her what she is living from, and she answered, ‘Men proposes – God disposes!'”

However unfortunate, visiting prostitutes is still among the least harmful arrangements to deal with artificial sexual suppression. Sadly, in many cases, artifical suppression acts like a pressure cooker on our entire psychophysical being. Under the increasingly high pressure of sexual starvation, devotees’ minds often corrupt and they start engaging in the most perverted and heinous crimes.

A few years ago I stayed in the beautiful Sant Seva Ashram in Rishikesh. I had a few brief friendly conversations with my balcony neighbour, a French yoga teacher. I was usually wearing casual clothes, but when I one day wore a white kurta, her face turned pale in shock and she said, “so you are one of those Hare Krishnas?” After that, she started to avoid me like the plague. I gave her some time, and with difficulties, I was able to ask her why she was so opposed to the devotees. She then revealed to me that two well-known male kirtaniya devotees invited her best friend for kirtan and preached to her in Rishikesh. Once they became friends, they started to do black magic Tantra on her with occult rituals oddly involving Gaura-Nitai Deities, and during those rituals, they repeatedly raped her. I shall not go into details here, but needless to say, her faith in the devotees was totally shattered. I am not saying that this crime was the outcome of sexual repression and artificial renunciation only, but it is quite likely involved to some degree.

When Srila Raghunatha Dasa Goswami wanted to renounce his family before the right time came, Sri Caitanya Mahaprabhu instructed him:

markaṭa-vairāgya nā kara loka dekhāñā
yathā-yogya viṣaya bhuñja’ anāsakta hañā

“You should not make yourself a showbottle devotee and become a false renunciant. For the time being, enjoy viṣaya, the pleasures derived from the senses, in a befitting way without becoming overly attached to them.” – Caitanya-caritamrita Madhya 16.238.

Lord Krishna says that true detachment can only come from a higher taste, not from artificial suppression:

viṣayā vinivartante
nirāhārasya dehinaḥ
rasa-varjaṁ raso ’py asya
paraṁ dṛṣṭvā nivartate

“Though the embodied soul may be restricted from sense enjoyment, the taste for sense objects remains. But, ceasing such engagements by experiencing a higher taste, he is fixed in consciousness.” – Bhagavad-gītā 2.59.

Yet, when it comes to navigating our human eros, most devotees are engaging in artificial suppression. We should understand that this is not at all recommended by shastra. In fact, Srila Bhaktisiddhanta Sarasvati Thakur said in his purport to Upadeshamrita 1:

Mithyacara or pretending to be somewhat renounced by suppressing ones sexual impetus while internally contemplating erotic intimacy is avaidya-upastha-vega, navigation of sexual impetus that is against the principles of dharma and thus spiritually destructive.

Or, in the words of Srila Bhaktivedanta Swami Prabhupada (SB 3.27.5): “If one wants to artificially stop the activities of the senses, his attempt will be a failure.” It is actually common sense that any kind of dishonesty, pretense or hypocrisy is spiritually destructive, as it is diametrically opposed to truth, which is the birth place of the spiritual essence.

Since most Hare Krishna devotees are engaging in such destructive artificial suppression, the host of maladies in our societies shouldn’t be surprising. All of us have to pay the price of the unnecessary war against eros.

What is the solution to this hypocrisy? The remedy for dishonesty is honesty. It all starts with being honest. If we are unable to sublimate eros with the most powerful spiritual practices in existence, then, perhaps, Krishna simply doesn’t want us to sublimate eros, but to embrace it and spiritually align it with devotion.

Thomas Moore, a former Christian monk and professor of religion and psychology, writes in his book The Soul of Sex (p. 155):

“The highly spiritual person will have to realize at some point that you do not become spiritual by suppressing sex but by transforming its expression.”

How to Spiritually Align Eros

There are many ways of spiritually aligning eros and I’m not here to suggest the best way of such an alignment – I am simply sharing some experience and knowledge, so others can possibly be inspired and choose whatever may suit them. To begin with, in one sense there is no need to spiritually align eros, as eros is by nature purely spiritual in essence.

A proper spiritual alignement of eros is not an artificial superimposition, but a return to the very core-essential nature of eros.

When the originally purely spiritual eros is reflected in the material world, its spiritual alignment falls out of place to various degrees and thus there is a need for its spiritual realignment. A sublime embodiment of eros requires proper education and sufficient dedication of time, space and energy. Due to not knowing the spiritual value of a sublime embodiment of eros, devotees have sadly become experts at denying eros its required time, space and energy, and are thus facing the dire consequences of such neglect.

Once devotees have learned the art of spiritually aligning eros, they will grant eros its deserved amount of time, space and dedication, and then only can we be healed from the consequences of our toxic relationship with eros.

A spiritual realignment of eros is the therapy to cure our disease of missing out on the divine connection of eros with the Divine. It is said in the Śrīmad-Bhāgavatam 1.5.33:

āmayo yaś ca bhūtānām jāyate yena suvrata
tad eva hy āmayaṁ dravyaṁ na punāti cikitsitam

“O good soul, does not a thing, applied therapeutically, cure a disease which was caused by that very same thing?”

Purport by Srila A.C. Bhaktivedanta Swami Prabhupāda:

“(…) Everything is an emanation from the Supreme Spirit, and by His inconceivable power He can convert spirit into matter and matter into spirit. Therefore a material thing (so-called) is at once turned into a spiritual force by the great will of the Lord. The necessary condition for such a change is to employ so-called matter in the service of the spirit. (…) When everything is thus employed in the service of the Lord, we can experience that there is nothing except the Supreme Brahman.”

“Everything” of course includes eros as well. If we were to say that something cannot be re-spiritualized, we would lack in faith that everything emanated from Krishna and that everything can again be converted into spirit by the great will of the Lord. Śrīla Rūpa Gosvāmī wrote:

anāsaktasya viṣayān
yathārham upayuñjataḥ
nirbandhaḥ kṛṣṇa-sambandhe
yuktaṁ vairāgyam ucyate
prāpañcikatayā buddhyā
hari-sambandhi-vastunaḥ
mumukṣubhiḥ parityāgo
vairāgyaṁ phalgu kathyate

“When one is not selfishly attached to viṣaya, the self-centered pleasure derived from the senses, but at the same time employs it and everything else in relation to Kṛṣṇa, one is engaged in yukta-vairāgya, renunciation by employing everything in the service of Kṛṣṇa. On the other hand, if one rejects things related to the Lord, thinking them to be merely material, just like those who seek mukti, such endeavor is called phalgu-vairāgya, false renunciation.” – Bhakti-rasāmṛta-sindhu 1.2.255-256.

In this foundational verse, Śrīla Rūpa Gosvāmī delineates the golden formula to engage anything and everything in Krishna’s creation in Bhakti, namely by yukta-vairāgya. Adultered Bhakti is of two types; karma-mishra-bhakti (Bhakti mixed with desires for bhukti or self-centered enjoyment akin to viṣaya, bhoga and kama) and jnana-mishra-bhakti (Bhakti mixed with desires for mukti/impersonal liberation). Unadultured or pure Bhakti is by definition free from both bhukti and mukti (anyābhilāṣitā-śūnyaṁ jñāna-karmādy-anāvṛtam, Bhakti-rasāmṛta-sindhu 1.1.11). If we engage in eros with self-centered interests, it is tainted with bhukti, and if we disengage eros although it could be engaged in Bhakti, we are engaging in the tendency for mukti or improper renunciation. Proper renunciation or yukta-vairāgya means to renounce the self-centered tendencies of both bhukti and mukti and engage everything including eros in Bhakti.

For example, realizing how the craving for food can be a great spiritual obstacle, some people try to reduce eating as much as possible. However, this not only often comes with great disturbances for the mind and body, but it also diverts our energy from Bhakti, as such an effort is mixed with the tendency of mukti. Unadultered Bhakti will engage the attraction of tasty food in the service of Radha-Krishna by offering Them nice foodstuffs and honoring Their prasadam. Similarly, if we simply renounce eros, we err on the side of mukti by trying to avoid bhukti artificially, which will lead to toxic encounters. Enjoyment – including eros – cannot be renounced artificially, else it will turn toxic. It can only be used in its originally intended purpose, that is, in the service of Radha-Krishna. So for a devotee, by definition, the question should not be how to renounce eros, but how to engage eros in the service of Radha-Krishna.

Due to the strong Shramanic inflow into the river of our tradition thousands of years ago, our spiritual forefathers have incorporated plenty of renunciation-centric values that dismiss human eros as dirty, and hence eros can understandably appear as something that cannot be offered to Radha-Krishna (creating children cannot really be counted as offering eros, as it should, according to what most Vaishnavas teach, be as much as possible be bereft of romantic erotic engagement). When we break free from that renunciation-centric spirit, however, and stop categorically seeing eros as dirty, the doors of offering eros open wide.

We can also draw inspiration from some other theists who have already accomplished a transition from seeing eros as dirty to integrating eros into their spirituality. The Christian minister and former professor of sexology, William R. Stayton, writes in his essay A Theology of Sexual Pleasure (SIECUS report Vol. 20, No. 4): “One of the tasks of life is integrating into wholeness these two aspects of our being (spiritual and sexual)… It became very apparent to me… how closely our sexuality is bound to our spirituality… It is my thesis that love, spirituality, and sexuality are inextricably bound together…

When the integration of love, sexuality and spirituality are experienced, God’s intention is born anew in the world.”

In regards to the spiritual essence of eros, the devotees of Krishna believe that Krishna is the original Kamadeva (God of eros, the Indian equivalent of the Latin Cupid or the Greek Eros), and that Radharani is the original Rati (Goddess of eros).

Sri Yugala-murti, the intertwined form of Radha and Krishna.

If you compare the narratives of different Gods of eros, the holy pastimes of Radha and Krishna stand out as the most sophisticated in all respects such as spiritual, cultural, philosophical, psychological, artistic and erotic sophistication.

It is verily ironic that eros is so much at home with us, but we are so little at home with it!

This has various reasons. It is likely that in other universes, the relationship of Krishna’s devotees with eros is much different, because the conditions there vary in order to give countless fresh experiences. While we could wait a long time till the cards are reshuffled, we can also take things into our hands and re-order our own stack of cards and create the relationship with eros that is most suitable for our advancement in Bhakti. Before we do so, it is important to remind ourselves of the origins of Indian erotophobia and the fact that it is mostly Shramana baggage that is alien to the ancient Vedic culture. Hence, a reform to eros-friendliness is more a realignment to earlier values than a new creation or an incorporation of modern values of sexual freedom (which we have already discussed to still be utopian in many ways), and thus we need not have a bad conscience and feel guilty of deviation, even if some may accuse us of it.

If you nevertheless feel hesitant because you could still be somewhat wrong, then you may want to express that in a simple prayer. The following prayer has helped me a lot in such situations:

Dear Guru and Gauranga, dear Radha and Krishna! If anything in our efforts of aligning eros with Bhakti is incorrect, please correct it, and if it is correct, please support it! Since we mostly lack methods of spiritually aligning eros, kindly inspire us with the ways that are most pleasing to You!

When I started praying thus, in a very short time, Krishna made amazing arrangements for me to meet exactly the right people I needed to meet to learn and realize many things that were in full support of such an alignment.

For reasons of privacy, I am simply going to refer to the collective of the eros-friendly people I know when talking about practical experiences. Here are some practices that we have found to be beneficial and pleasing to Krishna:

– Attain and maintain maximum guilt and shame hygiene. Talking about all related topics with like-minded people is most powerful in this regard. Even if you think there are no more feelings of guilt and shame in your heart, such talks may bring to daylight and heal deeper layers of eros-unfriendly conditioning that you were not aware of yet.

Heal related traumatic experiences if you have some. It may take some time to heal, but it is totally worth it.

Find a suitable spouse. All types of compatibilities are important, but I’m going to talk about sexual compatibility here as this is often neglected and as this post is about eros. Sexual compatibility (matching of grade of eros-friendliness, sexual preferences, body build, etc.) is not the most important type of compatibility, but it does have some gravity.  It adds to the causes of why marriages suffer or fail. It goes without saying that sexual compatibility cannot be fully determined simply by talking, and in regards to those aspects that can be determined by talking, most people will be too shy to have such discussions in a very traditional framework of no intimacy before marrying.

Some may prefer not to get physically intimate before marriage, but the couple should at least be allowed to have such intimacy that intimate discussions can happen. Let’s take for example the compatibility of the sexual organs. Unless physical sex doesn’t matter to you, this can be an issue, which is mentioned in the Kama-sutra (not that I agree with all things mentioned there). At least the couple should discuss their sexual compatibility and whether they prefer to try it out or save sexual intimacy for after marriage with all the risk involved.

There are other factors of partnership that you can also only determine with at least a bit of physical closeness. Take for example odor preference. Krishna created various body odors and odor preferences for different sublime purposes, one being that it’s an important matching tool. Yes, there are good reasons why too much deodorant is not a good idea, especially for people who are dating. One’s odor reveals many biologically crucial traits like DNA makeup, state of health and diet preference. Studies have found that people who match in odor preference make better couples in regards to biology and psychology. For example, their DNA combination will pass on better traits to children such as a strong immune system, which requires a combination of differing DNA. Devotees have a higher divorce rate than non-devotees. Is part of that equation perhaps the fact that they often don’t get physically close before marriage, and that they neglect eros in general? I leave the answer up to you.

We should carefully assess all life conditions and make wise decisions. Purity is a question of consciousness, not a question of sexual abstinence. If sexual abstinence would make us pure, then asexual people should have a higher purity of consciousness – but this is not an observable fact. The fear of loss of purity during dating and the connected traumata only exist in an erotophobic framework in which sexual intimacy is regarded as something dirty.

There is no question of becoming impure by something pure.

In regards to the purifying nature of sex, Thomas Moore, a former Christian monk and professor of religion and psychology, writes in his book The Soul of Sex (pp. 204-205):

“Sex is the religion of a marriage. It is its contemplation, its ritual, its prayer, and its communion.

As we work out our sexual difficulties and find out our way to bliss, we are doing the alchemical work of the soul, transforming old and raw frustrations and emotional blocks into the golden art of erotic pleasuring. It is of no small thing in a marriage to practice at sex until it is free of interference, for this is the nature of the deep alchemy by which we rough and primitive individuals become persons of refined sensibility capable of union with other humans…

Sex purifies!

In various stages of mutual generosity, showing and gazing, touching and being touched, the individuals lose their defendedness and discover what it means to be present to another body and soul. This smelting of the ore of passion makes us people of strength and vitality.

We find the spiritual marriage not beyond the sensual but through it, by means of it.”

– If you decide for physical intimacy before the official marriage or engagement, you may want to opt for a small private marriage preparation ceremony. You could stand in front of the altar and pray to Krishna for His blessings in your efforts to prepare for married life. Offer arati and kirtan together. Offer prasadam to each other. You may want to exchange prasadi garlands or you may wait for that till marriage – it’s up to you. Just make it clear what this means for you if you do it. This is just to say that you wouldn’t be the first ones – many devotees have done such an early exchange and found it very supportive and pleasing to Krishna. It also helps to dissolve feelings of guilt around pre-marital sex. If you feel repulsed by such a ceremony then please consider that in the Vedic culture, even the event of a couple having sexual union together is in itself a sufficient ritual to make them a married couple, even without exchanging garlands, as exemplified by unions like the spontaneous love marriage of Satyavati and Parashara Rishi on an island in the Yamuna river, which cannot have been impure in any way, as it brought forth – as we all know – none else but their impeccable son Vyasadeva.

Sublimity of sexual union is about consciousness, not circumstances. A related topic here is the claim that the first relationship creates the deepest bond and following relationships cannot recreate such a deep bond anymore and will also suffer from the remaining emotional bond with the first partner. Although in one sense there is such a dynamic, experience of many couples has shown that if one puts in the required labor of love, new bonds are much deeper than ealier bonds. Deep bonding also requires healthy rituals of letting go of earlier bonds, which include bonds from our previous lifes, which all of us have, even if we marry our so-called “first” partner – you know what I mean? The sky castle of humanity’s obsession with some certain purity that one is supposedly granted by avoiding pre-marital sex at once tumbles when we take into consideration that all of us have been having sex with countless partners in countless lifes in countless ways. If pre-marital sex would really be evil, we would all be guilty of it. But why load more guilt upon our shoulders than required? If we engage in pre-marital sex for sublime purposes like trying our best to find a suitable partner, we should never be stigmatised with guilt, but rather supported.

– If you decide to create children together, then that requires special attention and education. You may choose to practice a devotee version of the Vedic garbhadhana-samskara, which typically involves several days of more intense chanting and praying before and during conception to attract a Krishna-conscious child. It is definitely crucial to ask advanced devotees for their blessings. If you want to go into details, there are even ways to determine the day of birth of your child. My friend’s parents successfully planned their children in this way – both him and his brother were born on Nityananda trayodashi.

If you are considering to only get sexually intimate at the time of conception, and never before, be aware of the possible stress and failure this can mean for such a most crucial and sacred event. Many devotees have a completely utopian fantasy about a certain kind of magic that is supposed to happen when a couple’s first sexual union happens on their wedding night (or after marriage) and/or at the time you create children. You could be in for a rude awakening. Often couples are so tired and stressed-out after the long wedding ceremonies that naturally the only thing they can do during their wedding night is sleep. If you want better circumstances for your first sexual union, choose a day with no stress and lots of free and private time.

Also, let us be realistic about the stress that is usually involved in the first sexual union. Studies have shown that most women experience pain of various types during their first intercourse. This pain doesn’t just come from breaking the hymen (which is not painful for all), but also from vaginal dryness (which usually depends on arousal, and arousal is hampered by stress, fear, etc.), the pains of fear around virginity (some women fear, for example, that the man could disbelieve her virginity if she doesn’t bleed during the first intercourse, which actually quite often happens), pains of stress (this and the following pains also apply to men. Will I perform well my first time? Will he/she be gentle, good, a good match, etc.? Will he/she like my private parts?), pains related to shyness and last but not least pains related to sexual inhibition.

It often happens – and that shouldn’t surprise anyone – that people who have suppressed eros most of their life cannot just reverse that on demand on the magical day X; some simply cannot open up the first time and some actually first need therapy to heal their toxic relationship with eros. The Charaka Samhita, a foundational text of Ayurveda, mentions that one of the causes of decreased libido is suppressing sexual urges for a longer duration. The Christian minister and sex therapist William R. Stayton writes in “A Theology of Sexual Pleasure” (SIECUS report Vol. 20, No. 4):

“It is amazing to me how many people I see suffering from a lack of sexual desire who blame their dysfunction on their religious upbringing. To me this is an indictment of Christian theologies that have failed to take into account a theology of sexual pleasure or even a theological affirmation of sexual expression other than for procreative purposes.”

All this is to say that if you want a stress-free, pain-free and smooth experience of creating children with your partner, the chances for that are much higher after you have already gotten to know each other sexually, and yes – not on the wedding night. We probably all agree that the consciousness of the parents at the time of procreation influences the mindset of the future child. You do not want to invite the above mentioned pains into your consciousness at the time of conception. And that may require letting go of certain utopia. Realistic children require realistic parents. And all children deserve that.

Be conscious of which aspects of eros you decide to celebrate. It usually is a mixture of different benefits of eros. It could be creating children, but mostly it is other benefits, such as bonding between partners, deepening one’s relationship, holding space for each other’s deeper feelings, heart-opening, honoring each other’s erotic being, celebrating eros together, relaxing together, healing, working out together, etc. Swami Padmanabha mentioned in Radical Personalism (pp. 115 & 335):

“As strange as it may sound to some, relational intimacy has the potential of becoming a very powerful path to inner healing and awakening.” “Apart from the function of that of procreation, sexual connection affords the necessary synthesis of the male-female principles in the building and flowering of our human personality.”

Thomas Moore wrote (The Soul of Sex p. 209-217):

“Marriage is a rite of passage, not just into a role in life but into a new level of being. … sex is the opus of the soul… The best glimpse of meaning we may ever enjoy could be found in regular sex with our spouse in the holy sacramentality of the marriage bed. The bedroom is truly holy ground… What is marriage but a mysterious, indescribably complete way of being present one to another, where sex is the epitome, ritualization, source and celebration of that presence?”

Sexual union is not the only way to celebrate eros as eros can manifest in unlimited ways, even just walking barefoot over grass can be an erotic experience if one is open to it. Simply becoming more conscious of these aspects of eros is already a great start to make them more spiritually aligned.

Offer your experience to Radha and Krishna. Some may object to this, because they think it is a “dirty” thing that cannot be offered. But let’s be honest – is it really more dirty than eating cake? What’s more natural and healthy – making love or eating a cake with tons of sugar? If eros is not less “dirty” than a cake, why can the cake be offered but not eros? Krishna Himself says that we should offer everything to Him:

yat karoṣi yad aśnāsi
yaj juhoṣi dadāsi yat
yat tapasyasi kaunteya
tat kuruṣva mad-arpaṇam

“Whatever you do, whatever you eat, whatever you offer or give away, and whatever austerities you perform – do that, O son of Kuntī, as an offering to Me.” – Bhagavad-gītā 9.27.

A similar verse is found in the Śrīmad-bhāgavatam. Srila Jiva Goswami quotes this verse quoted below saying,
“Even desire-based worldly action (yādṛcchika-ceṣṭā) becomes of the nature of bhagavata-dharma, if offered to Bhagavan.” – Bhakti-Sandarbha, Anuchheda 217.2.
kāyena vācā manasendriyair vā
buddhyātmanā vānusṛta-svabhāvāt
karoti yad yat sakalaṁ parasmai
nārāyaṇāyeti samarpayet tat

“In accordance with the particular nature one has acquired in conditioned life, everything (sakalam) one does with body, words, mind, senses, intelligence or purified consciousness one should offer to the Supreme, thinking, ‘This is for the pleasure of Lord Nārāyaṇa’.” – Śrīmad-bhāgavatam 11.2.36.

Srila Sridhar Svami wrote in his commentary to this verse:

“When the verse says that one should offer all of one’s acts, it does not mean that one should offer only prescribed Vedic actions. It also includes all wordly actions (laukika-karma) or actions impelled by one’s aquired material nature (svabhavanusari laukikam; for example, taking care of one’s body hygiene, learning languages and other skills, etc.).”

Srila Jiva Gosvami elaborates on this commentary: “In the offering of activities born out of one’s aquired material nature, there is also the question of offering dushkarma or unwholesome acts. (…) Those who are full of material desires (kaminam) should by all means offer all their unwholesome deeds.”Bhakti-Sandarbha, Anuchheda 217.

Naturally, when it comes to unwholesome acts like intoxication, this should not be done without an apologetic spirit of repentance and efforts to overcome the same. If you can even offer unwholesome acts to Krishna, then what to speak of wholesome acts! Hence, if you are eros-friendly and consider human eros a wholesome activity, you can offer it to Krishna without hesitation and without apology.

In relationship with eros it is crucial that we cultivate an unapologetic spirit free from guilt and shame. As long as we are apologetic about eros, we still believe eros to be dirty and sinful, and we still trigger the unwholesome feelings of guilt and shame, which are a hindrance in healing our toxic relationship with eros as they reinforce our negative attitude towards eros.

However, during the transition period, it makes sense to express one’s left over feelings of doubt to Krishna, as He is the one who can swiftly clear all our doubts.

Krishna didn’t exclude anything that should not be offered to Him in Bhagavad-gītā 9.27. Of course, there are certain considerations of what cannot be offered, and if one has an erotophobic vision, naturally, one will consider human eros dirty and against dharma and thus unofferable. Beauty is in the eye of the beholder. Let’s not forget that the perception of eros as a dirty thing in Indian eyes lies in the erotophobic conditioning of the Shramanic push for asceticism that started only around 2500 years ago. As long as we perceive eros as dirty, we of course should not offer it to Krishna. But once we have been cured from such conditioning, it is most natural to offer eros to Krishna, as we are told to and want to offer everything beautiful and pleasurable to Krishna.
As far as the fear of sahajiyaism is concerned, one should avoid the sahajiya endeavor of trying to imitate Radha and Krishna by identifying with Them during sexual union. This is not favorable to Bhakti as it involves mayavada.

Since we cannot directly offer eros to Krishna yet (unless we do so in certain spiritual forms, but that is very rarely attained), we can do so indirectly, that is through the pleasure of the other devotee, and through one’s own pleasure. So an offering prayer could be as follows:

Dear Radha and Krishna, may You accept the erotic pleasure we offer You through each other. May it be dedicated to You, may it please you, and may it strengthen our Bhakti for You! May You also be pleased in our efforts of bonding, heart-opening, healing, living healthy, etc. May all this be done for Your pleasure and in Your holy presence. Please forgive us our shortcomings, correct us whenever needed and let us realize whether You are pleased or displeased with our offering!

Devotees apply tilak and sacred water with chanting twelve holy names of Krishna on twelve places of their body. You can similarly apply sacred water with chanting of these twelve holy names to these twelve places on your partner’s body. This serves to invoke Krishna’s presence and our awareness that our naked bodies are His sacred temples. You can also offer incense and flowers or full arati to Radha-Krishna together or chant or read together before your sexual union. Chanting together softly (or loudly or silently) during sexual union, at least in the beginning and in the end, is very helpful. Of course, the inner calling for Radha and Krishna’s presence should fill our hearts at all times. Don’t think that this is impossible because you will be absorbed in mundane enjoyment during sex. It’s like every other Krishna-conscious activity such as honoring prasadam. You have to train your mind to do it in the proper spirit, and that is very much possible. I haven’t met a single devotee who tried and wasn’t successful in this effort.

In regards to a possible correction of mistakes, there are many stories in which Krishna has made His devotees realize that something is unpleasant to Him, for example when Lord Jagannath air-lifted Sri Ramanuja Acharya from Puri to Kurma-kshetra after he tried to change the standards of worship in His temple, or when the Narasimha Deity in Mayapur appeared to his pujari in his dream and told him to stop worshipping Him with so much fear. I have had my own share of corrective teachings of Krishna in my life, and probably most devotees can remember similar experiences. Although we were expecting correction in our offerings and such correction was very much possible, it is quite remarkable that in our collective of eros-friendly people, Krishna has never made us feel that He was displeased with our offering of eros (adjustments of details did occur, as with most other things in life).

On the contrary, He has made us realize in many ways that He and Radharani were pleased with such an offering. They have even made us realize Their presence during some of such offered unions in one way or another. Their presence in some rare occurences lead to both partners simply looking at each other in a hug, with tears streaming down their eyes involuntarily, unable to say a word, and later when they were again able to speak, they said that they both experienced Their presence in the same way, and that it was beyond the realm of words. The amount of spiritual bliss experienced in such rare unions by far surpassed any worldly bliss and often it was one of the most blissful spiritual blessings that these devotees had so far experienced. All the doubts we still had in our hearts about our efforts of spiritually aligning eros flew away at once. Once you experience it yourself, there is no more doubt. You just have to put in some effort to get there.

I am not sharing this to brag. Better a beggar than a bragger. I’m only sharing this to encourage other devotees that there are ways to align eros with Bhakti that please Krishna, and that His positive reciprocation comes in favor of our unapologetic offering free from feelings of guilt and shame. If I knew similar examples of well-known devotees then I’d share those, but we lack these in the public sphere. As mentioned earlier, these experiences were not just auto-suggestive or placebo, as they were exceptionally intense, unexpected, confirmed by other devotees and repeatable. This is an example of phalena parichayate, the principle that actions should be judged by the fruits they bear. From these fruits you can judge that in the best case, these offerings are not sakaitava-bhakti or adultered or deceitful Bhakti but kaitava-shunya or free from any deceit and adulteration.

Some devotees have explained how non-procreational sex can be offered to Krishna and be counted as sanga-siddha-bhakti or endeavours favorably associated with Bhakti (for example here by Padmanabha Swami), or aropa-siddha-bhakti or endeavours which are indirectly attributed with the quality of devotion by offering them to Radha-Krishna (for example here by Hariparshada Das). Here it is important to note that it was Srila Jiva Goswami who first presented these three categories of sanga-siddha-bhakti and aropa-siddha-bhakti along with svarupa-siddha-bhakti or activities that are intrinsically counted as Bhakti (even if done in ignorance) such as sravanam, kirtanam and smaranam, in his Bhakti-Sandarbha. According to him, depending on one’s consciousness, all these three versions of Bhakti can be performed either as kaitava-shunya-bhakti or unadultered Bhakti or as sakaitava-bhakti or adultered Bhakti. Only later it has been said that only svarupa-siddha-bhakti can be unadultered. Just to be clear, here, the two devotees of the above linked talks and myself are talking about sanga-siddha-bhakti and aropa-siddha-bhakti in the spirit of Srila Jiva Goswami, in which they can be unadultered.

To conclude; there are sublime ways to offer eros to Radha-Krishna with pure consciousness. And as with all things sublime, this requires a sublime cultivation, for which we need to be ready to walk the extra mile. I don’t want to make the wrong impressions that everything on the journey to eros-friendliness is just gonna be chocolate and rainbows. You will have to face your challenges, you will have battles between your doubting mind and your knowing heart, you will be challenged by others and you will have your lean periods and fire tests, but with a little help from your friends and Krishna, you will emerge successful, and you will realize for yourself how priceless it is to have a spiritually aligned eros.

What About the “No Illicit Sex” Rule?

First of all, we need to understand that principles are not just for principles sake. Regulative principles were designed with the intention to lift us up. If a particular principle doesn’t serve the purpose of upliftment then it needs to be adjusted or redesigned. It is that simple. That’s why the overall No 1 principle is to accept everything favorable for Bhakti and to reject everything unfavorable for Bhakti (the first two of the six principles of saranagati or surrender). All other principles are subordiant to this principle and must be examined in its light and handled accordingly.

Thomas Moore, a former Christian monk and professor of religion and psychology, writes in his book The Soul of Sex (p. 174): “An alternative to moralism and inner division is morality with soul, erotic morality. The very phrase ‘erotic morality’ may sound like an oxymoron, a contradiction in terms. We usually imagine eros and morality to be opposites. Then, because eros is the principle of vitality, when we are behaving and thinking morally we get depressed and life becomes colorless. When it has no roots in eros, the very pulse of life that draws us forward, morality has a deadening effect that tends to spread through families, marriages, and communities. People who choose to live life in its fullness have no choice but to test the limits of accepted morality and often transgress them.”

We need to keep in mind that sublime reform often comes across as transgression, even when it is actually an act of deep loyality to the eternal principles of dharma. The Srimad-Bhagavatam, for example, contains statements by Vyasadeva about the cheating nature of the previous religious blueprints that clearly seem like transgressions from an ancient orthodox perspective. However, such seeming transgression is not just justified in the light of needed reform – it is actually a passing of rite in passing the fire test of deeper loyality to truth even while having to face internal adversities.

The actual problem with the “no illicit sex” principle is not just that it is too austere, but that it is based on the wrong Shramanic assumption that human sexuality is dirty. This Shramanic misconception needs to be uprooted entirely and then the principle needs to be formulated anew.

Every other adjustment we try to make is simply trying to dilute dirty water in the hope to make it pure. If we want pure water we need to go straight to the source of pure water. If we want a pure or sublime regulative principle to navigate sexuality, we need to reconnect with a healthy and unapologetic positive relationship to eros. Fortunately, as I have pointed out earlier, the original Vedic blueprint is already eros-friendly and we can simply reconnect to that spirit without having to reinvent the wheel. In order to get to the root of the issue, let us summarize the history of the modern Indian fear of eros:

In the Vedic time there was hardly any fear of eros. People had no fear to see the highly erotic parts of the human body because they didn’t fear eros. Women often went topless, and some even dressed in a fashion that left their genitals uncovered – something we cannot imagine in today’s erotophobic modern times (I’m not saying we should imitate that standard – at present this would obviously not work). People wrote books like the Kama-sutras that approached eros free from taboo and stigma. Again – something we cannot (yet) imagine in today’s versions of Sanatana-dharma. People thus lived happily and procreated fast. Those early days also saw the transition from the nomadic lifestyles to permanent settlements in the very fertile Sarasvati-Ganga doab (tract of land between rivers). With settlement came the ability to store goods, and thus came the creation of more wealth differences, increased trade, the hardships of land property, increased theft and conquest and increased need of guards, armies, war, creation of money, universities and libraries.

What also increased in those days was the spread of disease (due to more people being in one spot), pests (single crops are more vulnerable to pests), corruption, violence through animal sacrifice and societal injustice through caste discrimination, by which spiritual education was monopolized. Seeing these maladies, more and more people started to join and support the renunciate Shramanas, who opposed the killing of animals and caste discrimination. The Shramana philosophy in those days can be summarized as follows:

“Many people in the Brahmanical society misuse the Vedic injunctions for sacrifice to slaugther animals and they misuse the caste system to monopolize power and education. Their religion has degraded into a licence to enjoy and exploit others. We thus reject the authority of the Vedas and their Gods, we reject the caste system, we oppose the violence to animals, and we reject eros and family life as the dirty breeding ground of all such maladies. The aspiration for svarga or heaven through pleasing the Gods is illusory – we declare shram, exertive striving for liberation, to be the true path.”

After some time, the Brahmanas, in response to the Shramana philosophy, and in order not to lose more people from their fold to the Shramanas, started to reform their tradition and incorporate a great amount of the Shramana ethos like renunciation-centrism, ahimsa and equal rights to spiritual education into their body of knowledge. This is how fear of eros came into the Vedic fold. What is needed now is another round of reform to revert to the earlier eros-friendly standard without letting go of the good values we have gained in the Hindu synthesis so far.

Applying this knowledge of our history to dealing with the fourth regulative principle means that we don’t have to feel guilty of deviation when we engage in such reform as the fear of eros that was imported from “philosophically foreign Shramana lands” was just a short detour and not anything essential to our tradition. In fact, a return to the earlier native values is much more an act of loyalty to the tradition than sticking to imported values, especially if experience has shown them to be toxic.

So how to formulate the fourth regulative principle in an eros-friendly way? Let’s formulate it in a positive way. Here are just a few suggestions; you may do it in a way that make more sense to you.

We commit to a spiritually aligned eros, which is:

– Within a committed relationship.

– Offered to Radha-Krishna.

– For sublime purposes like expressing heart-felt intimacy, bonding, deepening of relationship, creating Krishna-conscious children, health & healing – not just for superficial pleasure.

– Not overly excessive but in moderation.

Will Sexual Expression Lead to Increased Carnal Propensity?

In regards to the fear of increased carnal propensity through sexual expression, nobody of us has experienced that, rather the opposite. Usually sexual expression goes through some intense phases and then over the years becomes more subtle and less frequent. This is in synch with Nature, who made our bodies in such a way that with age, it gradually cannot provide for the more bodily ways of expressing eros, and hence we are by Nature directed to more subtle and internal ways of expression of the creative and amorous energy. However, as the experience of many devotees has shown, if you miss the typical time of full physical embodiment of eros, when your natural time to embody eros in less physical ways comes, your mind will still be preoccupied with the physical ways, as it was not granted its experience. This may also suddenly come as a surprise in the later stages of life.

If you prefer to think about sex less frequently, then sexual expression is the better strategy to suppression. One devotee compared it with eating a rasagulla sweet. You can either think of eating a rasagulla all day or you can eat one in one minute and then forget about it for the rest of the day. This sums it up very succinctly.

Sexual expression also serves as a valve of expressing the sexual energy within us (this is a no-brainer but it needs to be said). We can choose to sometimes open that valve in a decent and controlled way or we can try to forcibly shut it close, which will either make the energy burst open in uncontrolled and unexpected ways or lead to corruption of our sexual energy under pressure, or to both. We have all seen this happening with more or less devastating effects. Thomas Moore, a former Christian monk and professor of religion and psychology, writes in his book The Soul of Sex (p. 167):

“The spirit of repression simply hyperactivates the sexual passion and directs it along inappropriate lines, because it is not woven into the whole of one’s thought and values.”

Sexual appetite is similar to hunger for food. As long as you don’t give your body food, the hunger remains and increases – it only goes away with eating. Similarly, sexual appetite remains and increases as long as you suppress your sexual expression. It only becomes less if you still your sexual appetite. Again, this is a no-brainer but it needs to be said.

Many people have the utopian belief that their sexual appetite will decrease if they don’t engage in sexual activities. This logic is like believing that one’s hunger will cease if one doesn’t eat for a long time. In reality, long time abstinence from sexuality often leads to traumatic sexual starving, just as abstinence from food leads to starving.

Although due to social stigma, this is usually not discussed in public, it is actually a quite common phenomena that devotees who come to Krishna-consciousness experience an increase in libido instead of a decrease (a decrease should be the case if the sublimation is working well!). Unfortunately, this is usually not admitted to be simply caused by artificial suppression, but other causes for such occurance are named. For example, in Brahmacharya In Krishna-consciousness, p. 103, it says, “Some new devotees experience that they feel more sexual agitation after coming to Krishna-consciousness than they did before!” The author then goes on to explain how this is caused by the purifying practise of Bhakti, by which “the stockpile of dormant material desires within the heart has become manifested.”

Now let us, for the sake of illustration, compare sexually starved people with hungry wolves and sexually satisfied people with happy domestic cats. Guess which one of the two is more dangerous? It goes without saying that sexually starved people tend to attack and abuse vulnerable people such as minors, just like hungry wolves tend to attack the weaker animals and humans. Sexually satisfied people, on the other hand, have much less reason to abuse others, just like happy domestic cats are self-content. The big question is; on the large scale, do we want to create a society of hungry wolves or happy domestic cats? And, more particularly, would you prefer to send your children to a school whose teachers tend to be hungry wolves or would you prefer them to be grounded and self-content like happy domestic cats? Most likely, if Srila BVS Prabhupada would have known that artificial suppression of eros will contribute to the abuse of countless Gurukulis, he would have made sure that at least all teachers were married, as he was well aware that married people tend less to rape (Morning Walk in Perth, May 11, 1975):

“So this Vedic law says, ‘Better married. Then you will be controlled.’ (…) So he will not be so lusty as without married life. (…) Without married life he will commit rapes in so many ways, so better let him be satisfied with one, both the man and woman, and make progress in spiritual life.”

Of course, even if devotees get married, this doesn’t yet mean that they have entered a healthy relationship with eros, which is a basic requirement for being well-grounded and self-content. This means that, if we are really sincere about healing the various toxic implications of erotophobia in our societies, we need to not only reestablish the actual glories of the householder ashrama, but also learn and teach how to engage in a healthy relationship with eros as devotees. We have earlier established that sublimation is not an option for most devotees, so we are left with moderate engagement.

It is a great utopia to think that one can somehow skip over the eros-intense phase of one’s life. I have seen that in many cases such attempts lead to great unnecessary peril. Despite all efforts of preaching to the mind and sublimating eros, devotees who didn’t honour their eros-intense phase often secretly regret it throughout the rest of their life. The fire of eros that is not allowed to melt one’s heart during erotic engagement keeps burning oneself from inside and burns people in one’s environment too. Internally, this fire leads to frustration, dissatisfaction, hypocrisy (constant phoney pretense that one is doing fine while one is burning inside), disharmony (lacking integration of eros), immaturity (lacking a substantial initiation) and disease like depression and cancer (which, symbolically, is also burning like a fire, but self-consuming). Of course, a similar correlation is there with artificially avoiding family and children.

We should not think that we can hide this inner smoky fire from others. They do perceive it and avoid such smoky people unless they have the same issue or a related karma. Externally, this fire burns others in various ways that harm them as well as one’s relationship with them. Especially minors like children are effected – in the best case they get burned subtly and in the worst case they get burned through abuse. Child abuse is the last limit of the perversion of love, and it is rampant in our societies! Also we have plenty of otherwise traumatized children, frustrated marriages leading to high divorce rates, an overall increasing erosion of the social fabric with people becoming more and more socially disfunctional and over average cancer rates. All this should be seen as a wake-up call.

One thing that is noteworthy about the earlier eros-friendly culture in India is that in this culture, people were much less burdened by hard and fast clothing rules. As we can see from old artifacts, people in hot places wore very little clothing, women were often topless and sometimes even their most private parts were uncovered.

Just think about it – such a culture of people walking around almost naked would be unimaginable if the people of those days were like hungry wolves and not like happy domesticated cats. From this it is evident that proper eros-friendliness leads to people being much less agitated by their urges – just the opposite of what erotophobic people claim! Hence, the fear of increased carnal propensity is unjustified. At the end of the day, whether you like or dislike eros – in either case you are better off with decent sexual satisfaction than with sexual starvation.

Will Eros-friendliness lead to Taking Krishna’s Lilas Cheaply? Is it not Sahajiyaism?

Since devotees in our lineage have been extremely shy with anything related to human eros and have in a sense reserved eros for Krishna, naturally the question comes if giving eros more space in one’s life will diminish our capacity to properly appreciate the transcendental erotic pastimes of Krishna and to potentially think that these are just human acts that we can imitate.

In answer to this I can simply say that till date we have not heard of a single devotee in our circles who has suffered in this regard from becoming more eros-friendly. On the contrary, our experience is that you will have more proper regards for Krishna’s transcendental pastimes. Krishna has Himself drawn the line between human and transcendental eros very clearly by displaying His superhuman feats that cannot be imitated. My Guru-Maharaj used to say that if you properly associate with someone huge you will naturally become small – in other words, if you properly see Krishna’s greatness you will become more and more humble. Hearing about Krishna’s transcendental pastimes from the proper source naturally makes one more humble, and only a fool will dare to imitate such pastimes.

Having some experience in the art of eros oneself will only increase one’s capacity of appreciation, as one not only has more reference points and ways to empathize, but also it becomes more clear that it is absolutely impossible to imitate Radha and Krishna and that the best way to experience the true original eros and the essence of eros is to serve eros personified – the transcendental Divine Couple, Sri-Sri Radha-Madanamohana and Their loving devotees.

In regards to fear of sahajiyaism, this fear is only justified for whosoever dares to imitate Radha-Krishna’s transcendental pastimes. Sahajiyaism means that the woman identifies with Radha and the man identifies with Krishna as they imitate Their love play. The Sarasvata-Gaudiyas object to this as it involves mayavada, which is detrimental to Bhakti. A little bit of tattva-siddhanta can save us from daring to go down such a path.

Is Non-procreational Sex Sinful? Is Sexual Pleasure Dirty?

Our present version of our tradition says that human sexual pleasure is mostly dirty. But let’s think for ourselves too. And yes, this is also wanted – in the words of Srila ACBVS Prabhupada (lecture on Caitanya-caritamrita, Madhya-lila 6.169-196, New York, January 7, 1967):

“Don’t be blind, follower. Blind, leading the blind—both will fall in the ditch. Try to understand with your arguments. That is wanted. Don’t be foolish and rascal, that ‘I am speaking; you should accept whatever I am saying.’ That is not wanted. Caitanya Mahāprabhu said, ‘Use your arguments, logic.’ Yukti. Yukti means logic. ‘Then accept.’ That is the process.”

We need to understand how things made sense in their cultural context, which keeps on changing. In a strongly erotophobic culture, it makes sense to despise erotic inclinations and to credit Bhakti for overcoming them. However, if later it is discovered that this erotobhobia infiltrated into our tradition through the Shramanas and is unbeneficial on all levels, then it is time to go back to the earlier eros-friendly Vedic default setting, especially in a time in which most common people have already chosen an eros-friendly lifestyle and are repelled by the stubbornness of certain traditions to still cling to outdated and toxic value-systems like fear of eros.

If God wanted to create the sexual organs only to urinate and procreate, He could have easily designed them in such a way that we could avoid sexual pleasure while begetting children. However, while a couple can have sex without procreation, they cannot procreate naturally without giving each other sexual pleasure. Erotic pleasure makes the masculine and feminine sexual bodily fluids flow, without which there is no chance of natural procreation. Nature has clearly hardwired sexual pleasure into our basic biology. No sexual pleasure – no natural life. It makes much more sense that God’s message is that sexual pleasure is not just needed but also wanted in our life.

For one who has realized how Nature is celebrating erotic pleasure in countless ways, the doctrine that it is advisable to suffocate eros and that this is pleasing to the Creator of Nature sounds absurd and offensive.

I hope nobody disagrees that love between the future parents should be there when a couple is begetting children. Still, some people think that the erotic aspects of love should be avoided as much as possible in one’s life. Not to mention any names, but there was one community leader who suggested not to waste much time on trying to get the wife wet and use lubricant if needed and just somehow get the dirty insemination job done as quick as possible. Needless to say, this is an illustrative way of how the push for extreme renunciation and the demonization of non-procreative sex and sexual pleasure in our society plays out in ways that are an assault on Nature and the Divine Feminine (as well as the Divine Masculine).

In regards to non-procreational sex, most devotees are unaware that there are also other permissible types of celibacy for the householder asides from sex for procreation. In a class on the Upadesamrita, Hari-parshada Prabhu quotes Kritya-kalpataru by Lakshmidhara Bhatta, in which four types of celibacy for the householder are mentioned:

“Celibacy for a householder is of four types. It should be understood that a householder should always avoid ladies other than one´s wife. That is a constant rule for a householder. Besides that:

  1. To engage in sex only with one´s spouse is the krishna (black) variety.
  2. To avoid sex even with one´s spouse on auspicious days and fasting days is the rakta (red) variety.
  3. To approach one´s spouse only on the days subsequent to the menses is the shukla (white) variety.
  4. To completely avoid sex except for progeny is the vimala (spotless) variety.”

However, it is also mentioned therein that only the vimala variety qualifies one for liberation (which corresponds to attaining pure devotion for devotees). Hence, a reform to more eros-friendly standards is still required. Swami Padmanabha wrote in his Radical Personalism (p. 114):

“In the contemporary Gaudiya dynamics, it is often proclaimed that sexual union can be invoked only for bringing a child into this world. Otherwise, it falls into the category of sin or “illicit sex.” This restricted understanding of the role of sexuality has had terrible consequences in the past decades throughout many Gaudiya communities and needs to be urgently revised.

(…) Sexual activity outside of procreation in a committed relationship is not something that necessarily goes against one’s spiritual goals. (…) Thakura Bhaktivinoda mentions in his Bhaktyaloka that the term brahmacarya can be understood as continence but also as “proper use of one’s semen,” and he then further qualifies his idea by explaining that this form of brahmacarya refers to “not indulging in sex with women other than one’s own wife.” He doesn’t further qualify sex as limited to procreation. Thus, there is place for sexuality outside of procreation in the context of a committed and mature relationship.”

Let’s now look at a wide-spread argument for dismissing non-procreational sex. The postulate under discussion is that nature has linked sex with procreation and therefore non-procreative sex is against nature and sinful. First of all, there is a logical fallacy in this postulate. If I have five fingers attached to my hand it doesn’t follow that I have to use all of them every time I use my hand. Procreation is only one of many functions of the genitals. The logical fallacy becomes obvious when we demand that every time we use the genitals to urinate we should also make a baby. This would be absurd.

Secondly, the postulate gives the wrong impression that nature has made it impossible for us to have non-procreative sex naturally. In fact, if a couple has sex on random days, the average chance of conception is only one in twenty. By avoiding the calculated days of likely conception, couples can have non-procreative sex on around twenty days a month without “unnatural” ways of prevention. There are also age-old natural techniques for men to withhold semen and for women to stop menstruating and only restarting it when conception is desired. Also, human beings are sexually functional before and after their period of being able to procreate. The Christian minister and former professor of sexology, William R. Stayton, writes in his essay A Theology of Sexual Pleasure (SIECUS report Vol. 20, No. 4):

“… we discovered that males and females are born sexual and that sexual responses occur from before birth until death. While still in utero, females vaginally lubricate and males have erections. These phenomena occur while males and females are asleep, every 40-80 minutes, until death unless interrupted by disease or chemical interventions. If human beings respond sexually from before birth until death, then this has important implications for our understanding of our creation as sexual beings with the potential for sexual pleasure as a natural part of our life. The fact that sexual response is pleasurable has theological significance. It could be said that the Creator intends sexual pleasure for the human creature. For example, females have an organ, the clitoris, which has no other function than sexual pleasure… Pleasure is intricately woven into human sexual response. If sexual pleasure was intended only for procreational purposes within the marriage bond, then God has played a terrible joke on the multitudes throughout history who never married or could not have children or who theoretically could have had over 30 children during their child-bearing years! Must not our theology take into account the fact that we have the capacity to experience sexual pleasure at birth and that sexual pleasure can be experienced until death?”

Biologically speaking, it doesn’t hold true that nature has designed living beings only for procreative sex.

“It’s a common misconception that animals only have sex in heterosexual pairs and only when the female is fertile… Life-long, same-sex pairings are the norm for some animals, including male lions and dolphins. Both sexes of many primates, including virtually all of the monkeys, seek out males and females for sexual encounters, have sex even when they could not possibly reproduce such as during pregnancy… These tendencies show that sex serves more than just a reproductive purpose.”

(https://sciencing.com/animals-besides-humans-mate-pleasure-8390317.html)

Even if animals had sex only to reproduce, we are not animals, and sublime human culture in all fields of life is what distinguishes us from animals. Hence it would serve no purpose to try to reduce humans to animals only in the field of sexuality. We would also have to discredit books on human sexuality like the Kama-sutras, which, by the way, were at times referred to by some of our Acharyas in an non-disapproving way. And interestingly, in the Kama-sutras (2.2.20), Vatsayana dismisses that the main purpose of sex is reproduction with the simple argument that one of the differences between humans and animals is that humans very commonly engage in sex also when the woman is not in her fertile period. And as stated in the Brihadaranyaka Upanishad 2.4.11:

sarveṣām ānandānām-upastha ekāyanam

“The genitals are the one goal of all kinds of enjoyment.”

What, then, is the purpose of non-procreative sex? Besides social bonding, cultural and recreational purposes, sex has many health benefits, including strengthening of our immune system, lowering blood pressure and heart attack risk, stress relief, better sleep, better mental health, relationships and memory (https://www.webmd.com/sex-relationships/guide/sex-and-health and other sources).

Why should we despise such a wonderful gift of God that comes with so many benefits on so many levels in one single activity that is also totally free and eco-friendly? Let’s talk about employing sex for social bonding, recreation and healthcare. In Switzerland, some of my devotee friends sometimes play soccer together, and I also joined them once. It was not just “mere sense-gratification,” but a very fun way of social bonding, recreation and healthcare. And didn’t Mahaprabhu Himself lead the way in such recreational sports when He was playing and splashing around in the ocean in Puri with His friends for three-and-a-half hours daily?

It is refreshing to observe that such recreational activities are more and more accepted as also being part of Bhakti in the devotee communities. But again – why exclude the sport of love-making? Why should for example skydiving be acceptable, but not love-making, which is free of the high financial and ecological costs of skydiving and much more natural?

Collapsing sex to reproduction would reduce human sex life to less than an hour in a lifetime, which is practically zero (a sexless marriage is defined as a couple having sex less than ten times per year). Besides certain advantages like avoiding STDs, a sexless life comes with various disadvantages such as a lack of the health benefits of sex (https://www.webmd.com/sex/stop-having-sex-health).

If you are not asexual or one of the very few who can transform sexual desire completely, living a sexless life can lead to sexual starvation, which comes with countless negative effects, especially psychological ones. If our religion allows for our belly’s hunger to be stilled, why should it teach us to sexually starve ourselves? And last but not least, to demonize non-procreative sex is shutting the door in the face of those queer devotees for whom procreative sex is impossible. Is this how we want to treat our queer brothers and sisters? Let’s rethink. And reform.

To summarize: The way God created us and this world clearly tells us that erotic pleasure is crucial and natural to life, and that it has value and purpose in itself, not just in combination with procreation. The reason God made erotic pleasure so highly pleasurable is simple: because, if practiced purely and in moderation, it is highly beneficial to us.

What About all the Renunciates?

Being eros-friendly doesn’t mean we should categorically denigrate the renounced orders – that would simply make us land on the flip-side of the same coin of fanaticism. Although they are very rare, there are genuine renunciates who can navigate their celibacy very smoothly with very little efforts of sublimation and most importantly without artificial suppression (as this is against dharma and destructive on many levels). A strong natural inclination to live as a renunciate shows in one’s astrological chart, which is very rare and cannot be imitated or attained by practice. That’s why many traditions like the followers of Madhavacharya will only accept people into the renounced order of sannyasa if they have a very strong indication for renunciation in their charts.

Such an indication is mostly combined with a very bad constellation for family life and eros – indeed, a terrible constellation for family life is seen as an indication for renunciation. For such people, being renunciates, wearing robes and taking themselves out of the common society of householders makes sense. It is important to understand that the saffron robes do not signal that “here comes someone who is spiritually more advanced,” but “here comes someone who is unfit for family life, so help this person not to disturb others and not to get disturbed.” If a renunciate happens to be spiritually advanced, it has nothing to do with that person being renounced, but simply with blessings and practice.

To equate external renunciation or becoming a renunciate with spiritual advancement is toxic as it wrongly implies that family and human eros are a spiritual disadvantage rather than a blessing. If that was true, then asexual people should be highly self-realized – but such a correlation doesn’t exist. We need to return from a toxic society of saffronmaniacs to a society of happy householders.

Swami Padmanabha points out that the preconceived notion that “renunciant equals saint” becomes clear when you put the Sanskrit term “sadhu” (saint) in Google Search and see how all found reference points to a renunciant (Radical Personalism, p. 118). It is crucial to know the proper distinction between the vairagi-ashramas or the ashramas of external renunciation and vairagya or internal renunciation, which doesn’t depend on circumstances like ashrama. External renunciation is a choice or destiny of ashrama, while internal renunciation is an attitude, a skill, a certain consciousness, and a blessing. Internal renunciation or detachment is one of many results of the successful practice of Bhakti.

vāsudeve bhagavati
bhakti-yogaḥ prayojitaḥ
janayaty āśu vairāgyaṁ
jñānaṁ ca yad ahaitukam

“By rendering devotional service unto the Personality of Godhead, Śrī Kṛṣṇa, one immediately acquires causeless knowledge and detachment from the world.” – Śrīmad-Bhāgavatam 1.2.7.

If we wrongly equate the vairagya or internal detachment spoken of in this verse with external renunciation, we are misled to believe that when one progresses in Bhakti, one takes to the renounced orders of life. While this is advisable for some rare people who are renunciates by nature (svabhava or material nature), it is not advisable for most people, because most people don’t have that nature. What this verse says is that, as one progresses in Bhakti, one aquires internal detachment in any circumstance and ashrama.

The general meaning of vairagya is detachment in the sense of being without (vi) attachment/passion (raga). Sometimes devotees misunderstand the meaning of vairagya and artificially try not to have love for their family. We need to remind ourselves that material attachment doesn’t mean loving one’s family and having a nice house, but it means having attachment for things while one fails to devote those things to Krishna. For example, a sannyasi without many possessions can be attached to the praise he gets for his classes because he lacks internal detachment, while a householder who loves his family and has many possessions may have genuine vairagya or internal detachment, as he devotes all his relatives and possessions to Krishna’s service. In this example, the householder is the real vairagi, although he is not situated in a vairagi-ashrama, and the vairagi is not a true vairagi, although he dons the robes of a vairagi. From this example it becomes clear that renunciation is an internal state of consciousness that has nothing to do with ashrama or saffron robes.

In the ultimate sense, vairagya means special (vishesha) attraction to a particular mood of service to Radha-Krishna (raga). This is so, because true detachment can only come if one is positively attracted to something higher due to having a higher taste (paraṁ dṛṣṭvā nivartate, Bhagavad-gītā 2.59, quoted earlier), and a higher taste or deep attraction only develops once we know our relationship with Krishna, at least in terms of inclination. Again, the development of vairagya in this ultimate sense doesn’t depend on one’s ashrama, but on a sublime cultivation of consciousness.

Due to the Shramanic renunciation-centric influence, most Indian traditions have turned into saffron enthusiasts, but this has come at the price of vast calamities, as most devotees have engaged in artificial renunciation and artificial renunciation is destructive (see the particular previous chapter). In order to heal the wounds of artificial renunciation, asides from the rare genuine renunciates, all other renunciates should be encouraged to return to their natural ashram of family life, and they should be given an official green pass to do so.

That is to say that their change of ashrama must not be seen as a failure or falldown, but celebrated as a healthy return to their real dharma. It goes without saying that such a return would bring tremendous healing to our societies and should be celebrated when it happens. To facilitate such healing, we must get rid of the so-called “saffron trap,” or the fact that a return to household life from wearing saffron is seen as a falldown. Taking away that saffron trap and freeing all the devotees who are trapped in it will bring great healing to the world of Bhakti. Let’s summarize what a transition to a healthy navigation of renunciation would look like in a bullet point list:

  • Renunciation should not be seen as a better alternative to family life, but as an option if one is not qualified for family life and has a natural strong inclination for renunciation.
  • Householders must be reinstated in their natural glory, that is to say, they must be seen as not less qualified than renounced devotees. The litmus test here is if devotees no longer prefer renounced leaders and Gurus, but are happy with or even prefer householder leaders and Gurus.
  • The return of the glory of the householder ashrama will naturally decrease the amount of renunciates, as a big impetus for renunciation is gone. Hence their duties have to be re-distributed to the householders. Renunciates are naturally mostly unfit to manage, and thus redirecting their managerial duties to the householders comes with relief for all parties.
  • There should be a tight screening system for potential renunciates and only those who have a strong renunciate nature and a chart that indicates the same should be allowed to renounce.
  • Renunciates should not advise householders in topics related to family, and they should not encourage anyone to renounce unless they are some of those who are renounced by nature.
  • There are devotees who are natural householders but prefer to devote the time they would otherwise spend with children to Krishna. In order to prevent them from faking renunciation, they should be allowed to stay married without having children free from any stigma that this is unwanted or less valuable (Srila Bhakti Ballabh Tirtha Maharaj and other spiritual leaders have allowed some disciples to stay like that).
  • The saffron trap must be dissolved and devotees who should better return to family life must be given support and a green pass to do so. A vow for lifelong celibacy when taking saffron must be replaced with a more realistic commitment to the renunciate ashrama as long as that makes the best sense for everyone’s devotion to Krishna.

Some people may think that I have some grudge against renunciates, and thus I am trying to reduce the glory of the renunciate ashrama. While I have seen the dire consequences of false renunciation, I have no objection or grudge against genuine renunciation. I have personally served my sannyasi Guru-Maharaj as a brahmachari and know the glories of these ashramas very well. However, due to the toxic backlash of false renunciation, which includes various atrocities from false advice, social inadequacies to child abuse, many devotees have come to fear the saffron color like forest fire. To heal the wounds of these saffron-traumatized devotees and to return to genuine renunciation, a reform from the present Shramanic saffronmania or renunciation-centrism back to the earlier Vedic standard of family-centrism and a return to only very few selected genuine renunciates is crucial.

Vanaprastha & Sannyasa are Later Additions

I have already discussed how the originally family-centric Indian traditions mostly turned renunciation-centric due to the Shramana influence in my article the Hindu Synthesis and our Freedom to Reform, which I have earlier summarized on this page. Here I am adding some additional information in line with that article in regards to the late development of the vanaprastha and sannyasa ashramas.

As long as we stick to the belief that is common amongst devotees that the renounced ashramas of vanaprastha and sannyasa were always present in the Vedic society, there seems to be a contradiction with what an unbiased study of history says, namely that they developed relatively late after the 7th century BC and 3rd century CE respectively. This late development of the renounced ashramas is in agreement with the transition from a family-centric culture to a renunciation-centric culture due to the influence of the Shramanas that started during the same period (as discussed in my above linked article).

In his article “Contributions to the Semantic History of Saṃnyāsa” in the Journal of the American Oriental Society (Vol. 101, No. 3, pp. 265-274 ), Patrick Olivelle explains that the term “sannyasa” (as meaning “renunciate,” not other unrelated meanings) is not mentioned in the Vedas, Upanishadas, Arthashastras and the Ramayana, but only in later scriptures like the Mahabharata. The go-to Sanskrit grammarians Panini and Patanjali both don’t mention the term, nor does the famous Amarakosha dictionary. Even later dictionaries (Halayudha, 10th century, Yadavaprakasha, 11th century) omit it in the list of synonyms for “renunciate.” The term “sannyasa” must have aquired its present classical meaning not before the 3rd to 4th century CE. Different scriptures give different accounts of the ashrama system. The earlier versions of the ashrama system do not entail a sequential transition through all the four ashramas, but a parallel system, in which one can choose a particular ashrama and remain in it for life, without any hierarchy of one over the other in terms of spiritual value.

Hence, in the early versions of the ashrama system, most people would choose to remain householders for life and that was accepted as a choice of no lesser value than someone choosing vanaprastha or sannyasa.

As mentioned in the Scholarly Community Encyclopedia entry on “sannyasa”, “a three-stage ashrama concept along with vanaprastha emerged about or after the 7th century BC” (see JF Sprockhoff, Sanyāsa, Quellenstudien zur Askese im Hinduismus).

What does this mean practically?

  • The ashramas of vanaprastha and sannyasa were incorporated only after the 7th century BC and 3rd century CE respectively, which coincides with the rise of the renunciate Shramanas.
Before around 2500 years ago,
  • There were no vanaprastha and sannyasa ashramas.
  • The Vedic system of society was entirely family-centric. It didn’t advocate renunciation, but integrity in family life.
  • Householder life was seen as the best course of life (with exceptions).
  • After student life (brahmacarya), one became a householder for life. There was no ashrama for renunciation as renunciation was discouraged with the exception of rare cases.

This finding carries great significance in context of eros-friendliness – the main topic of this page – as well as body-friendliness and family-friendliness, as these were all drastically reduced with the adaptation of the later renunciation-centric ashrama system, which, as we all know, has had deep negative implications on many levels. “Renunciation-centric” here means that renunciation is over-idealised.

Instead of giving equal value for all ashramas at all later stages of life, renunciation is advocated as success in life and remaining a householder for life is propagated as failure. Due to this, householders often suffer from minority complexes, the artificially elevated renunciates suffer from false prestige, the citizens’ naturally inherent friendly inclination towards family, body and eros disintegrates into artificial negativity towards family, body and eros and the global push for renunciation leads to mostly artificial renunciation with vast dire consequences.

The good news is, that as we now know that the original Vedic society was entirely family-centric, we can simply revert to that standard and don’t have to be apologetic about breaking away from the present renunciation-centric spirit.

This finding is one of the biggest pieces in the puzzle of healing the wounds that over-emphasis on renunciation has brought to our spiritual traditions.

Verses Praising the Householder Ashrama

If it is really true that the earlier Vedic culture was family-centric, then we should also find verses expressing this ancient spirit throughout the Vedic literature. And in deed, we do find such verses in many Vedic scriptures. Here are just a few selected ones that emphasize the greatness of the householder ashrama. In the Manu-Samhita we find (I disagree with certain things mentioned in this scripture, but these verses are interesting in relation to the topic at hand):

सर्वेषामपि चैतेषां वेदस्मृतिविधानतः ।
गृहस्थ उच्यते श्रेष्ठः स त्रीनेतान् बिभर्ति हि ॥ ८९ ॥

यथा नदीनदाः सर्वे सागरे यान्ति संस्थितिम् ।
तथैवाश्रमिणः सर्वे गृहस्थे यान्ति संस्थितिम् ॥ ९० ॥

sarveṣāmapi caiteṣāṃ vedasmṛtividhānataḥ |
gṛhastha ucyate śreṣṭhaḥ sa trīnetān bibharti hi || 89 ||

yathā nadīnadāḥ sarve sāgare yānti saṃsthitim |
tathaivāśramiṇaḥ sarve gṛhasthe yānti saṃsthitim || 90 ||

“And in accordance with the precepts of the Veda and of the Smriti, the householder is declared to be the best (śreṣṭhaḥ); for he supports the other three. Just as rivers and rivulets attain their resting-places in the ocean, so do men of all other orders obtain support in the householder.” – Manu-Samhita – 6.89-90.

In the Gautama Dharmasūtra, verse 6.36, it is mentioned (Gautama’s Dharmasūtra is believed to be the oldest of the four Hindu Dharmaśāstras, dated around 600-200 BC):

“But the venerable teacher prescribes one ashrama only, because only the ashrama of householders is explicitly prescribed (in the Vedas).”

Haradatta comments in his Mitākṣarā commentary:

“The duties of a householder – the Agnihotra and the like – are frequently prescribed and praised in all Vedas, Dharmaśāstras and Itihāsas. As, therefore, the householder ashrama is explicitly prescribed, this alone is the ashrama obligatory for all men. The other ashramas are prescribed only for those who are unfit for the duties of a householder. That is the opinion of many teachers.”

The Mahābhārata says:

आश्रमांस तुलया सर्वान धृतान आहुर मनीषिणः।
एकतस ते तरयॊ राजन गृहस्थाश्रम एकतः ॥
समीक्षते तु यॊ ऽरथं वै कामस्वर्गं च भारत।
अयं पन्था महर्षीणाम इयं लॊकविदां गतिः॥
इति यः कुरुते भावं स तयागी भरतर्षभ।
न यः परित्यज्य गृहान वनम एति विमूढवत ॥

(शान्ति पर्व, १२. ११ १२. १३)

 āśramāṃs tulayā sarvān dhṛtān āhur manīṣiṇaḥ
  ekatas te trayo rājan gṛhasthāśrama ekataḥ
 samīkṣate tu yo ‘rthaṃ vai kāmasvargaṃ ca bhārata
  ayaṃ panthā maharṣīṇām iyaṃ lokavidāṃ gatiḥ
 iti yaḥ kurute bhāvaṃ sa tyāgī bharatarṣabha
  na yaḥ parityajya gṛhān vanam eti vimūḍhavat

“Once the wise weighed in a scale the relative weight of the four ashramas. They kept the householder ashrama on one side and the other three on the other. Weighing them on the scale of close analysis, the householder ashrama was found to be of greater weight; for it is in this ashrama that the fulfilment of desires and the higher purposes of life, the Earthly and the heavenly, get combined.” – Mahābhārata, Shanti Parva 12.11-13.

In the Southern Recension of the Mahābhārata (the Kumbhakonam edition), in a beautiful dialogue between Lord Shiva and his consort Uma in the Anushasana Parva, we find the following verses:

शीलवृत्तविनीतस्य निगृहीतेन्द्रियस्य च।
आर्जवे वर्तमानस्य सर्वभूतहितैषिणः॥
प्रियातिथेश्च क्षान्तस्य धर्मार्जितधनस्य च।
गृहाश्रमपदस्थस्य किमन्यैः कृत्यमाश्रमैः॥
यथा मातरमाश्रित्य सर्वे जीवन्ति जन्तवः।
तथा गृहाश्रमं प्राप्य सर्वे जीवन्ति चाश्रमाः॥

(अनुशासनपर्व, 13.211.47-49)

“Who has the nobility of conduct and humility of spirit; has disciplined his physical senses and mental faculties; is simple and straightforward; has in his hearts the good of all beings; offers affectionate hospitality to his guests; is forgiving; and who has earned his money in accordance with dharma – what need has such a householder of any other ashrama? Just as all living beings live with the protection of the mother, so do all other stages of life live with the householder as their support.” – Mahābhārata, Anushasana Parva 13.211.47-49.

In the spirit of the above verse, Srila Bhaktivinoda Thakura wrote in the last chapter of his Sri Bhaktyaloka:

“There are two kinds of sadhus (saintly people) – householders and renunciates. (…) For a devotee, to remain a householder or to become renunciate is the same thing. Srila Ramananda Raya, Sri Pundarika Vidyanidhi, Sri Srivasa Pandita, Sri Sivananda Sena, Sri Satyaraja Khan, and Sri Advaita Prabhu were all grhastas and have shown us the way of faultless living. (…) If the home is favorable for devotee’s devotional service, then he should not leave.”

You may ask why the above verses are practically never quoted by the followers of most of today’s schools of Hinduism. The answer is that they have imbibed the renunciation-centric spirit of the Shramanas and are thus not inclined to refer to such verses. This is why most devotees have probably never heard such verses. These verses that represent the earlier family-friendly spirit of the ancient Vedic culture are helpful to balance out the later renunciation-centric tenor, according to which the renounced ashramas are superior to the householder ashrama. When we come across the renunciation-centric instructions, we should keep in mind that they only represent one side of the story and that the other side is family-friendly and much older. To keep everything in view of the historic delineation of the development from the Vedic family-centrism to the Shramanic renunciation-centrism helps to harmonize the seeming contradiction when we find both values represented in many Hindu scriptures and in most of today’s versions of Hinduism.

Verses & Quotes Praising the Renounced Ashramas and Belittling the Householder Ashrama

Because there is a plethora of verses in praise of the renounced ashramas and minimizing the householder ashrama, and since they are already highlighted, some may say, “Why even mention them – most devotees know them all too well!” However, others may not be aware of them, and hence, at least for them, it makes sense to exemplify some of them here. Again, it is important to remember that such verses represent the renunciation-centric spirit, which started after the beginning of the Hindu Synthesis 2700 years ago, and was absent in the early Vedic culture and scriptures.

na tathāsya bhaven moho
bandhaś cānya-prasaṅgataḥ
yoṣit-saṅgād yathā puṁso
yathā tat-saṅgi-saṅgataḥ

“Of all kinds of suffering and bondage arising from various attachments, none is greater than the suffering and bondage arising from attachment to women and intimate contact with those attached to women.” – ŚB 3.31.35 (repeated in 11.14.30).

ŚB 3.31.39

saṅgaṁ na kuryāt pramadāsu jātu
yogasya pāraṁ param ārurukṣuḥ
mat-sevayā pratilabdhātma-lābho
vadanti yā niraya-dvāram asya

“One who aspires to reach the culmination of yoga and has realized his self by rendering service unto Me should never associate with an attractive woman, for such a woman is declared in the scripture to be the gateway to hell for the advancing devotee.” – ŚB 3.31.39.

Srila BVS Prabhupada writes in ŚB.2.2.11:

The grossest type of anartha which binds the conditioned souls in material existence is sex desire, and this sex desire gradually developes in the union of the male and female. (…) Bhakti-Yoga leads to gradual evaporation of the sex desire (…).”

yopayāti śanair māyā
yoṣid deva-vinirmitā
tām īkṣetātmano mṛtyuṁ
tṛṇaiḥ kūpam ivāvṛtam

The woman, created by the Lord, is the representation of māyā, and one who associates with such māyā by accepting services must certainly know that this is the way of death, just like a blind well covered with grass.” – ŚB 3.31.40

Purport by Srila BVS Prabhupada:

“(…) Acceptance of service rendered by a woman may appear very pleasing, but one should be very cautious in accepting such service because it is clearly said that woman is the gateway to death, or forgetfulness of one’s self. She blocks the path of spiritual realization.”

 

Eros-friendly Verses

Here are some eros-friendly verses that represent the early family-centric spirit of the Vedic culture.

Kāma is declared to be the prime mover in Rig Veda 10.129.4:

kāmas tad agre sam avartatādhi manaso retaḥ

“In the beginning there was eros/desire, which was the first seed of the mind.”

Below verse ascribes the function of experiening enjoyment to the genitals instead of just reproduction.

स यथा सर्वासामपां समुद्र एकायनम्, एवं सर्वेषां स्पर्शानां त्वगेकायनम्, एवं सर्वेषां गन्धानां नासिके एकायनम्, एवं सर्वेषां रसानां जिह्वैकायनम्, एवं सर्वेषां रूपाणां चक्षुरेकायनम्, एवं सर्वेषां शब्दानां श्रोत्रमेकायनम्, एवं सर्वेषां संकल्पानां मन एकायनम्, एवं सर्वाषां विद्यानां हृदयमेकायनम्, एवं सर्वाषां कर्मणां हस्तावेकायनम्, एवं सर्वाषां आनन्दानामुपस्थ एकायनम्, एवं सर्वेषाम् विसर्गाणाम् पायुरेकायनम्, एवं सर्वेषांअध्वनाम् पादवेकायनम्, एवं सर्वेषां वेदानां वागेकायनम् ॥ ११ ॥

“As the ocean is the one goal of all sorts of water, as the skin is the one goal of all kinds of touch, as the nostrils are the one goal of all odours, as the tongue is the one goal of all savours, as the eye is the one goal of all colours, as the ear is the one goal of all sounds, as the Manas is the one goal of all deliberations, as the intellect is the one goal of all kinds of knowledge, as the hands are the one goal of all sorts of work, as

the genitals are the one goal of all kinds of enjoyment (sarveṣām ānandānām-upastha ekāyanam),

as the anus is the one goal of all excretions, as the feet are the one goal of all kinds of walking, the organ of speech is the one goal of all Vedas.” – Brihadaranyaka Upanishad 2.4.11.

The following verse compares the yoni to a sacrificial altar and sexual intercourse to a world-expanding sacrifice.

tasyā vedirupasthaḥ, lomāni barhiḥ, carmādhiṣavaṇe—samiddho madhyataḥ—tau muṣkau; sa yāvānha vai vājapeyena yajamānasya loko bhavati, tāvānasya loko bhavati ya evaṃ vidvānadhopahāsaṃ carati

“Her genitals are the sacrificial altar, her hairs the grass offering, her skin the soma press, and her two labia the fire in the center. Verily, as great as the world is for him who sacrifices with the vajāpeya (sacrificial offering or libation of strength) sacrifice, so great is the world for him who, knowing this, practices sexual intercourse.” – Brihadāranyaka Upaniṣad 6.4.3.

 

apūtah pūto bhavati yaṁ māṁ smṛtvā

avratī vratī bhavati yaṁ māṁ smṛtvā

niṣkāmaḥ sa-kāmo bhavati yaṁ māṁ smṛtvā

aśrotrī srotrī bhavati yaṁ māṁ smṛtvā

“Simply by remembering Me, one who is impure becomes pure. By remembering Me, one who follows no vows becomes a strict follower of vows. By remembering Me, one who is niṣkāmaḥ, free from desires/erotic lust, becomes sa-kāmaḥ, full of desires/erotic lust (in relation to My service). By remembering Me, one who has studied no Vedic mantras becomes an expert knower of the Vedas.” – Gopala-tapani Upanishad, Uttara 4.

 

“Without kāma-kriyā or the action of kāma, there would be no birth or death. Shiva is manifested as Mahalinga and Shakti in the form of the Bhaga (womb). By Their union, the whole universe comes into being. A place without love-imagery or love-art (kāma-kalā) is known as a place to be shunned (…) It resembles a dark abyss (…).” – Shilpa-Prakasha II 500-502 (an early text on Odishan temple architecture from ca. 1000 CE)

 

“The world shall only attain peace when my Lingam is conjoined with the Yoni.” – Shiva Purana, Kothi Rudra Samhita 4.12.17-46

 

Eros-unfriendly Verses

Let us now look at some eros-unfriendly verses that embody the later renunciation-centric spirit that started to be assimilated into the Vedic culture with the beginning of the Hindu Synthesis around 700 BC.

From “Up-and-out” to Embodied Spirituality

When we talk about a transition from family-/body-/eros-unfriendliness to family-/body-/eros-friendliness in Yogic traditions, the same transition in the postural Yoga community lends itself to be studied by us, as this community is way ahead of us in this transition. As a Yoga teacher and organizer of Bhakti Yoga tours within the global Yoga community, I’ve had the chance to witness the changes of that community from within.

Already since several decades, but more so since the recent years, in which a lot of failures in celibacy of Yoga gurus and also abuse by Yoga leaders have surfaced, most Yogis have realized that the traditional family-/body-/eros-unfriendly approach to transcendence has failed them big times and it is high time for a reform to embracing our Earthly embodiment without the usual fears of the “up-and-out” approach, as the Yoga community now calls it. With “up-and-out” they mean to bypass the “lower” chakras of Earthly embodiment, eros, etc., focus only on the upper chakras and escape as fast as possible out of the body to transcendence.

In contrast to this, the most common new version of Yoga declares that the full spectrum of Earthly embodiment is not only beneficial for spiritual upliftment, but is part of the real/better/eternal Yoga philosophy, which many have also come to call “embodied spirituality/philosophy.” In general terms, embodied spirituality refers to the idea that spirituality should be applied and manifested in practical, tangible ways without any escapist disconnect from our Earthly embodiment. In the Yoga communities, the term is additionally used to carry the meaning that they have crossed the milestone of reformation to a family-/body-/eros-friendly tradition that has renounced the earlier “up-and-out” spirit.

The “up-and-out” spirit is often identified with Vedanta in the Yoga communities, as many prominent Yoga teachers like Swami Shivananda Saraswati strongly relied on the Vedanta philosophy, which carries a lot of Shramanic and thus embodiment-unfriendly values. For example, in his “Practice of Brahmacharya,” he says (pp. 5, 6 & 9):

“You all should sincerely struggle hard to control passion—the enemy of peace and prosperity—by Sadhana. (…) The satisfaction of sex impulse begets a delusive pleasure, but it has a disastrous effect on the spiritual well-being of the person. (…) The very idea of sex should vanish from the mind.”

His spiritual successor, Swami Chidananda, said (in this interview): “There is a stage where one becomes totally devoid or free from the sex idea. (…) It is only when consciousness comes to the sahasrara (chakra) that there is no longer a chance of a downfall. One is above body consciousness. One is not aware of oneself as a body. One does not think or feel or conceive of oneself as a physical entity at all. There is no moving down. (…) What they call the male sexual organ is not a sexual organ at all. It is only a urinary drainpipe. (…)

The ultimate key to success in brahmacharya is the Vedantic process of shifting your consciousness—rejecting the body consciousness and becoming established in your true Self-awareness as something where there is neither male, nor female, nor body, nor sex, nor personality.”

Of course, not only Vedanta, but also Hatha Yoga itself has many Shramanic roots. According to Prof. Geoffrey Samuel, the “best evidence to date” suggests that yogic practices “developed in the same ascetic circles as the early śramaṇa movements, probably in around the sixth and fifth centuries BCE (The Origins of Yoga and Tantra. Cambridge University Press, p. 8). Nevertheless, the shramanic body-negativity of Vedanta is also worth mentioning here because we identify as a Vedanta tradition and we should know why Vedanta is more and more seen as a no-go for many spiritual seekers. Many Yogis have realigned themselves with more embodiment-friendly traditions, in particular the Tantra tradition. Tantra is already related to Yoga as many Yoga elements like the chakras, nadis, many bija-mantras and the Kundalini energy originate in the Tantra tradition.

In regards to Kundalini, it is interesting, that just now as the Yoga community is moving towards a more body-friendly approach, research about a descending Kundalini is surfacing and being more and more taught in various Yoga circles. So far, the focus was only on the ascending Kundalini energy, which has contributed to the up-and-out disembodied spirituality. The descending Kundalini complements the ascending Kundalini with a descent into holistic embodiment and Earthily energies. The two Kundalinis meet in the heart chakra where their Sublime Union is celebrated as the essential mystery, which also relegates the focus on the higher chakras to the middle of all chakras – the heart chakra. The heart also happens to be the main natural locus of spiritual alchemy in the Bhakti tradition, in which the Beloved manifests on the purified lotus of one’s heart.

Regarding Tantra and embodiment, it should at least be briefly mentioned that the early pre-Shramanic Vedic tradition is more embodiment-friendly than the Tantrika tradition. Tantra was strongly influenced by the Shramana tradition and thus usually has an ultimately negative approach to embodiment (by aspiring its ultimate dissolvement), to eros and even to desire per se (by aiming at an entirely desire-free state). What is not taught in most Tantra seminars is that classical Tantra only allows for sexual practices if one fulfills all of the following five conditions: (1) One is properly initiated by a Guru coming in an unbroken sampradaya.  (2) One is initiated in the heterodox and less prominent vāmācāra or left-hand path. (3) One has spent at least ten years of intense sadhana in preparation. (4) One has succeeded in graduating from the conditioned pashu to the very difficult vira or hero stage (see Mahanirvana Tantra 1.54). (5) Each time such practices must be preceded by hours of intense rituals and with the goal of ultimately overcoming sexual attraction, which, of course, is not actually eros-friendly in the true sense.

“Actual intercourse comes after seemingly endless preliminaries that would deter anyone but the most determined and focussed practitioner… One way in which Tantra seeks to prevent emotional bonding and sensual entanglement between participants is by random selection of partners.” (Georg Feuerstein, Tantra, the Path of Ecstasy, p. 245). The actual disinclination to common human eros of Tantra becomes very clear when we envision the classical place of Tantrika maithuna, which is in the ashes of the dead bodies on a cremation ground, and not in a cosy candle-lit bedroom.

“The belief that the Tantras are in any way hedonistic or even pornographic, though a belief shared by many Hindus as well as by some Euro-Americans, is not justified; the Upanishads and Puranas – not to mention the Kamasutra – have far more respect for pleasure of all kinds, including sexual pleasure, than do the Tantras. The ceremonial circumstances under which the Tantric sexual ritual took place make it the furthest thing imaginable from the exotic roll in the hay that it is so often, and so simplistically, assumed to be.” (Wendy Doniger in The Hindus: An Alternative History).

What is often presented as so called “Tantric sex” is mostly Neotantra, which is a Western new religious movement that freely celebrates eros with non-traditional methods of “sacred sexuality” that have little to nothing in common with classical Tantra. What adds to the confusion is that many presenters of Tantra unkowingly mix in elements of Neotantra. It is not my intention to despise Neotantra here, but simply to try to distinguish it from classical Tantra to avoid confusion. As perhaps the most eros-friendly spiritual path, Neotantra would also deserve some mention here, but I am focussing on more traditional schools since our main field of discussion is the Bhakti tradition. Suffice it to say, that although Neotantra spread some useful methods of eros-friendliness, it was also exploited by predators, which, of course sadly happens in all spiritual traditions.

If we compare the Tantrika sadhana, which clearly aims at an ultimate overcoming of sexual passion, to the Vedic approach to kama or desire, in which kama is a purushartha or a major integral eternal value of life to be pursued, and in which there are various literatures like the Kama-sutras that are wholly unapologetic about eros, then it becomes clear that the Vedic culture is more aligned with an eros-friendly spirit than Tantra. It is important to understand in tattva or ontological truth why Tantra ultimately aims at a state of consciousness beyond embodiment, eros and desire.

This is so, because most Tantrika schools are non-dualistic. Embodiment, eros and desire still involve dualism, and hence need to be ultimately given up in most classical Tantra schools. The maxims so’ham (Isha Upanishad verse 16) and shivo’ham are commoly used in Tantra to express how a Tantrika sadhaka is to ultimately identify with the absolute One Reality, which, although often called “Shiva”, is really beyond any person, including Lord Shiva and all His pastimes. On the other hand, the personalities and pastimes of Radha-Krishna (or other forms of Bhagavan) are aspired for as the absolute transcendental reality by the Bhakti-yogis, and hence, because they can accommodate a transcendental dualism, there is room for an eternal embodiment, eros and desire on the highest platform of Bhakti.

This is also significant in the present discussion because many devotees have, similarly to many Yogis, started to to some degree align themselves with the Tantra tradition in their effort to transition to a more embodiment-friendly spiritual practice. Some former devotees have also entirely transitioned to Tantra for the same reason. If they would have instead realigned themselves to the earlier Vedic culture, they would not have had to leave the priceless treasures of prema-bhakti and the family of Bhakti-yogis. This is not to denigrate the Tantra tradition, which has its own authenticity and validity, but simply to present the importance of rediscovering the ancient Vedic tradition’s inherent eros-friendliness to which we can easily realign. If we actively spearhead such a realignement, we could keep and also attract many wonderful spiritual seekers who will otherwise align themselves with other traditions.

What the Bhakti tradition can learn from the international Yoga community is how they overall made the transition to embodiment-friendliness very swiftly and didn’t remain long in the stages of denial and bargaining, if at all. For example, I have witnessed some online discussions that took place after the sexual encounters, sexual abuse and even rape by the supposed celibate guru Yogi Bhajan came out, and these discussions were very mature and progressive, with nobody engaging in denial, bargaining and spiritual bypassing, and with many spiritual leaders taking a lead instead of sitting on the fence or even opposing reform. If more and more devotees could follow that spirit of progress and reform, it would be fantastic.

We conclude this section with the grounded words of the Gaudiya devotee Swami Padmanabha (Radical Personalism, p. 109):

“By discounting our own bodies, we deprive ourselves of the grounding necessary to function in a holistic way. Radical Embodiment thus calls us to get off our theological elevators that take us up into an abstract sky of over-idealized ideas of transcendence, and instead ground ourselves in immediate reality. A tall and expansive tree can only be such by its deeply rooted grounding.” “In our premature sense of transcendence, we generally engage in what we may call “disembodied spirituality.” We usually do not inhabit our body with intimacy and depth, but spend most of our time in its uppermost chamber – the headquarters (…).”

Manipulation through Unfulfilled Eros

People who have an unfulfilled eros are amongst the best potential victims of manipulation and exploitation. I am not claiming that anyone intentionally exploits such people, but it surely happens unintentionally and subconsciously. Sublime people engage others with love, whereas socially and spiritually poor people engage others with subtle or gross manipulation or unwritten contracts of co-dependence. Material life and its relationships are usually a mix of both sublime and manipulative engagements.

You cannot sell any product without demand. The bigger the demand, the better. The worst customers are happy people. They are fulfilled within themselves and don’t need to fill an inner hole with external goods, services and religious practices. On the other hand, those people who have a great inner vacuum tend to walk the Earth in an effort to suck in as many goods and praised emotions to fill their inner vacuum. Such unhappy people are the best customers of commerce and religion. They are the cash cows that can be continuously milked because they never stop walking around grazing the Earth for more and more and more.

The worst thing for the present rogue capitalistic economy would be if people became internally fulfilled, because they would reduce their consumerism drastically. It would be the best thing for Mother Earth and the people, but who cares for them? It’s all about your bling bling and your followers. While commerce sells profane emotions, religion sells spiritual emotions and assurances of future liberation. Demonizing eros is beneficial for manipulative religion on many levels. Since eros is one of the most powerful inner cravings we have, if we suffocate eros, we create a permanent powerful unfulfilled craving, and all we have to do now is to throw products in front of such eros-deprived people and tell them how our products or emotions will fill their inner vacuum. Easy game. You have a problem (that we co-created) and we have the solution!

When your svādhiṣṭhāna-cakra (the centre of eros and thus also intimacy and creativity) is disengaged and blocked, your creative energy is blocked, which means you are not able to adopt to changing circumstances creatively and tend to repeat the same thing over and over. This is much desired for a cult that hates people who ask too many questions and come up with ideas how to creatively improve the tradition. A blocked svādhiṣṭhāna-cakra is a goldmine for narcissists in their search for yes-men and yes-women who are bankrupt in intimacy – just like them!

In contrast to degraded or toxic eros, sublime eros is the primeordial feminine drive of human life within and without. That’s why suppression of sublime eros is the hallmark of toxic masculinity. A toxic and tendentially narcissistic system may outwardly advocate certain stunted and degraded forms of eros, but never unchained sublime eros, as that is its very antithesis. The unleashed eros is the worst enemy of the exploitative enterprise – and the enslaved eros is its best servant.

A transition to true eros-friendliness by ending the war on eros on both the commercial and religious fronts would lead to happier people and a greener Earth (it is part of the much needed inner rewilding that desperately needs to accompany external rewilding). But again – who really wants that? The end of rogue capitalism is only possible once we transition to a healthier system of economy in which those who consume less gain more. Or, through collapse. And this is what is happening now through ecocide and economic collapse. As long as we live in societies of rogue capitalism and religious systems that follow in the same spirit of endless external growth and expansion, there is no incentive in ending the war on eros.

However, if eros Himself & Herself (the yugala or Divine Couple of Radha-Krishna/Ishvari-Ishvara) will again emerge full-fledgedly, no commercial or religious war will have any chance of victory. It is a question of Their desire and our cooperation. May Their sweet will be victorious. Jay!

Semen Retention

There is a lot of hype about semen retention these days. Also, in some Hindu scriptures you find claims of its benefits. Let’s start with some needed disambiguation. There is no official distinction in this field yet, so I’ll just use my own definition here for the sake of disambiguation. With “semen retention” I mean the efforts to prevent ejaculation of semen for long periods, often with the goal to never ejaculate or as little as possible. Many of the claimed benefits of such retention are not scientifically backed. With “ejaculation control” I mean the skill to control one’s ejaculation. This is a beneficial basic skill to extend the time one can last during sex and to provide for men’s health in general. We’ll discuss this later.

The fear of loss of semen is another fear related to the fear of eros. As if we don’t already have enough fears surrounding us – here’s yet another one! But is it really well-founded? The common claim is that semen contains highly concentrated nutrients and life energy and that its spillage leads to damaging our spiritual and material health. A related claim is that another reason why human sexuality is bad is because it leads to loss of semen.

Some proponents of semen retention claim that it can lead to increased energy, improved mental clarity, enhanced athletic performance, and other health benefits. However, these claims are largely anecdotal and lack scientific backing. The benefits perceived by advocates of semen retention are most likely placebo and/or unknown correlations such as the health benefits of the usual activities like kegel exercises or meditation and positive affirmations that advocates of semen retention typically engage in.

Practitioners of semen retention can easily refute the more fantastic claims such as, “If a sadhaka is able to retain semen even for three months, then his gray hair will become black again, wrinkles will be gone, and even new teeth will be growing and other miracles may happen. But not a single drop should be lost.” During my own semen retention period I was often able to retain my semen for over a year and none of such claims were observable.

While there is no scientific backing of the benefit claims of semen retention, experts are pointing to its potential risks. Regular ejaculation is a natural bodily process that helps expel old and damaged sperm, as well as preventing the buildup of harmful bacteria in the reproductive system. Why do you think nature has men ejaculate at night beyond their control through nocturnal discharge even if they try to prevent ejaculation for a long period? This is so, because such discharge has its benefits. By prolonging abstinence, there is also a possibility of increasing the risk of prostate issues, such as prostatitis or benign prostatic hyperplasia (BPH). The above reasons why regular ejaculation is good are also part of the often mentioned common health benefits of a healthy sex life. In other words, a “normal” human sex life with regular ejaculation is beneficial in many ways.

Ayurveda, which is one of the six vedangas or main limbs of veda, mentions: “Stopping the urge to urinate and forcibly stopping semen that is about to spill (calita-virya) can lead to severe medical conditions such as shukrashmari, sperm stones. Such behavior is detrimental to this life and the next. Therefore, one must not restrict these two urges.” – Bhava-prakashah, Purva, 1.297-298.

Furthermore, the claim that semen somehow contains the concentrated essence of all life energy and that its spillage impacts one’s vitality is unfounded. The composition of semen is relatively simple, consisting mainly of water, proteins, enzymes, and minerals. Any nutrients present in semen are typically present in tiny trace amounts and are easily obtained through a balanced diet. Let’s now look at some mention of semen retention in Hindu scriptures.

The Hatha Yoga Pradipika, one of the oldest and most influential texts on Hatha Yoga dated to the 17th century, says (Chapter 3, Verse 58): “By preserving the bindu (semen), a person becomes very wise and heroic. One who conserves it for twelve years develops a radiant intellect.”

The Shiva Samhita, one of the foundational texts of Hatha Yoga from around the 16th  century, says (5.74): “Of all the things that are, or ever were, or ever will be, that which is of the nature of semen (retas) is the highest; by this (semen) the Rishis and Devas acquired greatness.”

The Yoga Kundalini Upanishad from around the 15th century says (1.80-1.83): “By preserving the semen, the yogi acquires steadiness. He who is steady becomes free from sins. With the mind full of Brahman, he is firm in his vow. The semen flows upwards by the practice of yoga. Then the flame of the yogi increases and the agni (fire) moves upwards in the sushumna (central energy channel).”

It is important to note that the above sources are Hatha Yoga texts, and that postural Yoga is a school that was largely influenced by the erotophobic Shramanas. In fact, if you study the history of postural Yoga, you will be surprised how extremely austere the beginnings of Yoga were, with practices like remaining in difficult poses in extreme heat or under water for months or even years at a time. However, it is true that excess ejaculation is exhausting. As with most things, moderation is also advisable with ejaculation.

According to this website, the following 15 great personalities happened to discharge their semen involuntarily:

  1. Lord Krishna. As mentioned in the Brahma-vaivarta Purana, Brahma Khanda 4.6-25, after Kamadeva emerged from the mind of Krishna, he released all his five arrows to test them and all people became passionate. Because of his arrows, Lord Krishna also discharged semen, which He placed in the water, and it later emerged as an egg, from which the base of the universe formed as the gigantic universal form.
  2. Lord Shiva. As mentioned in the Śrīmad-Bhāgavatam 8.12.26-32, ”The beautiful woman (Mohini Murti) was already naked, and when She saw Lord Siva coming toward Her, She became extremely bashful. Thus She kept smiling, but She hid Herself among the trees and did not stand in place. His senses being agitated, Lord Siva, victimized by lusty desires, began to follow Her, just as a lusty elephant follows a she-elephant. After following Her with great speed, Lord Siva caught Her by the braid of Her hair and dragged Her near him. Although She was unwilling, he embraced Her with his arms. Being embraced by Lord Siva like a female elephant embraced by a male, the woman, whose hair was scattered, swirled like a snake. O King, this woman, who had large, high hips, was a woman of Yogamaya presented by the Supreme Personality of Godhead. She released Herself somehow or other from the fond embrace of Lord Siva’s arms and ran away. As if harassed by an enemy in the form of lusty desires, Lord Siva followed the path of Lord Visnu, who acts very wonderfully and who had taken the form of Mohini. Just as a maddened bull elephant follows a female elephant who is able to conceive pregnancy, Lord Siva followed the beautiful woman and discharged semen, even though his discharge of semen never goes in vain.”
  3. Lord Brahma. As mentioned in the Padma Purana 1.55.16b-18a”The grandsire of all the worlds, after seeing Amoghā (the wife of sage Santanu), ejaculated. From that is said to be the rise of Lauhitya. It purifies all people. It is full of all sacred places; resorting to which a man goes to the healthy world of Brahmā.” And in the Shiva Purana 2.2.19.16-29, we find: ”O sage, while going round the fire, the feet of Sati protruded out of the cloth that covered them. I (Brahma) looked at them. (…) I looked at the face of Sati many a time. I was helpless in curbing the onset of a sensuous organism. Four drops of my semen virile got displaced and fell on the ground like drops of dew as a result of staring into her face. (…) I covered up the semen drops lest anyone should see them. Also, in the Brahma Vaivarta Purana, Krishna Janma Khanda 131.14-19, it is mentioned, “Looking at their (the nymphs’) well built body, the flesh, smiling faces and the pelvic region, Brahma was infested with passion. O Brahmana, Brahma could not control himself and his semen fell. Brahma feeling ashamed hid it in a cloth.”
  4. Agnideva. The Brahma Vaivarta Purana, Krishna Janma Khanda 131.34-38, says, ”Once upon a time, all the gods having assembled in the council of the gods, the celestial concubines busied themselves with dancing and singing. On that occasion, the fire-god (having seen Rambha with graceful buttocks, who is also the concubine of Indra), was excited with passion and discharged his semen.”
  5. Mitra & Varuna. As mentioned in the  Srimad-Bhagavatam 6.18.6, ”Upon seeing Urvaśī, the celestial society girl, both Mitra and Varuṇa discharged semen, which they preserved in an earthen pot. The two sons Agastya and Vasiṣṭha later appeared from that pot, and they are therefore the common sons of Mitra and Varuṇa.”For the last ten personalities below, you may refer to the original above linked website for references.
  6. Prajapati.
  7. Vyasadeva.
  8. Sage Satyadharti.
  9. Sage Suparshva.
  10. Bharadvaja Maharaj.
  11. Sage Vibhandaka.
  12. Sage Mankana.
  13. Sage Dadhica.
  14. Kashyapa Muni.
  15. Sage Devarata.

Of course, in the erotophobic approach, the morale in these narratives of great personalities ejaculating is; “You see, even the greatest personalities sometimes involuntarily ejaculate, hence be all the more careful to avoid unwanted ejaculation!” However, if we allow ourselves to return to the ancient eros-friendly blueprint, then the teaching would change into “From the fact that even these great personalities sometimes involuntarily ejaculate we can conclude that this is a natural occurrence on all stages of consciousness, hence it is all the more natural if it happens to you and there is no need to be frustrated about it or try to artificially suppress it.”

In regards to the claim of an upwards flow of semen through Yoga practice, not only can such an upward flow not be scientifically detected, but even several Yogis have themselves pointed out that this claim is false as it is based on a wrong assumption and that the upwards-flowing energy should actually refer to the Kundalini energy raising in the Sushumna nadi, which is not related to semen retention. This can be witnessed by men who sometimes ejaculate and practice such Yoga and by women who don’t have semen and practice such Yoga successfully (although people often forget that women can have female ejaculations). In other words, both such men and women can experience the rising of the Kundalini energy. By the way, some verses claim that there are certain planets that can only be attained by men who have mastered the upward flow of semen. It goes without saying that such verses are quoted by certain individuals to “prove” the superiority of men over women. I shall leave this without any further comments.

During my brahmacari years I first also believed that the energy I felt rising was connected to my abstinence, but when I later started to sometimes ejaculate while I still continued my Yoga practices, I understood that this rising that didn’t stop at that point was in fact caused by the practice of Yoga and Bhakti-Yoga.

To summarize: If you don’t excessively spill your semen, you have nothing to fear. Radical semen retention is harmful, but excessive semen loss is also unhealthy. We are left with proper ejaculation control.

Ejaculation Control

Ejaculation control is a basic skill that every man should learn as he gets sexually mature. It should be one of the crucial rites of passage and initiations into life for men.

Again, just think about it –  the fact that this basic skill is practically nowhere taught to men proves that we as a human collective are still a largely eros-unfriendly species!

While it is not true that moderate ejaculation is a threat to spiritual and material progress, excessive ejaculation certainly depletes men on all levels. To complicate things, the sweet spot of how often to ejaculate differs from man to man according to his psychophysical composition, which can also change throughout his life. Ejaculation control is a fine art that requires deep schooling and skilled handling. I have encountered men of all shades, from natural celibates who hardly or rarely ejaculate to an extremely virile man who, for many months ejaculated daily without feeling depleted. Of course, it would be harmful to state a one-fits-all rule, but just as an orientation, an ejaculation rate of once or twice a month is probably close to the sweet spot of an average man (for the celibates, the average sweet spot is usually less than once a month, but it’s crucial to note that they too need to ejaculate regularly if they don’t want to invite physical and emotional damage. If they don’t self-pleasure, such ejaculation usually happens involuntarily during noctural discharge – the existance of which is another clue that regular ejaculation is natural and wanted). And if your personal sweet spot of ejaculation rate is over or below the average, this doesn’t make you are better or worse in any way.

Now just to be clear, if you’ve mastered ejaculation control and your sweet spot is for example to ejaculate once a month, this doesn’t mean that you can have sex only once a month. Part of ejaculation mastery is to learn the skill of ejaculation-free sex, which includes ejaculation-free male orgasms. Because of lacking ejaculation control, the average man lasts only five and a half minutes during sex, which in most cases is too little to give a woman a basic orgasm, what to speak of the profound and long-lasting ones. The least thing a healthy man should be able to do is to last long enough to give his partner a basic orgasm before he reaches his climax. This was already instructed by Vatsyayana in his Kama-sutras (2.1.23-30):

“Therefore the woman should be treated in such a way that she achieves her sexual climax first.”

Most men cannot imagine lasting for twenty minutes, but with proper schooling in ejaculation control, most men can learn how to last as long as they want. Some of the best ejaculation control techniques are, in descending order; the mastery of sexual energy through various techniques, kegel exercises, deep breathing and edging (in rare and ideal cases, edging is not required).

These techniques also help to counteract blue balls, erectile dysfunction and premature ejaculation, which are common men issues. They are also part of the techniques that are helpful for mastering ejaculation-free orgasm skills (most people don’t know that these exist, but they are also beneficial in many ways, as you can imagine). Those who have fully mastered ejaculation control can also use it as a means of contraception. I am planning to create a course on ejaculation control.

My Personal Story and Intention

You may wonder about my intention in my attempt to support eros-friendliness in Bhakti. In short; it’s a question of being true to myself and to my fellow human beings, and of sharing my experience with those who can benefit from it.

Some may assume that perhaps I just want to justify my change of ashram or my inability to follow the regulative principles, or perhaps I want to attain name and fame with such an effort. Well, in the eye of most traditional devotees, such an attempt would only give me a bad name. In regards to not following the regulative principles, I personally chose to follow my own version of licit or appropriate sex, which is spiritually aligned sexuality in a committed relationship, and I feel no need to justify that, as this choice is personal. In regards to changing my ashram, that was also my personal conscious choice and not because I had difficulties maintaining celibacy. On the contrary, I never had any such difficulties, and those who have seen me during my seventeen years of brahmacarya can bear witness to this. Since I believe that the change from the renunciate to the householder ashram is an upgrade, there was also never a need to justify such a change in the first place. Those who have difficulties with celibacy are actually in a sense more in synch with nature than those who don’t, and hence my so-called “success” in brahmacarya can also be seen as a failure from that perspective.

To be clear, although I lived in the brahmacari-ashrama in various temples, I never wore saffron clothes, and I never took a vow of life-long celibacy. I was offered saffron and sannyasa several times by my seniors, but following my gut feeling (or call it the prompting of Antaryami, if you will), I always preferred to wear white, despite the fact that then I was still planning to remain a brahmacari for my entire life. My mindset at that time was purely traditional, which means I never doubted that the demonization of human eros taught within the Bhakti traditions is actually unhealthy.

Over the years, I realized that there must be some issue with our relationship with eros, as most monks and householder devotees I met and lived with were either breaking the principles in secret or engaging in artificial suppression of sexual desires and struggling with feelings of guilt and shame. My friend once talked to a talented healer and asked him how he perceived the devotees. He said that he can see sublime energy at the places where they apply tilak, but that they mostly carry toxic energy of guilt and shame that can be seen around the neck and shoulders and that they typically have an energy blockage in the Svadhishthana-chakra due to sexual suppression.

Adding to the toxic feelings of guilt and shame is the hypocrisy of preaching full or almost complete abstinence while being sexually active. Some may think that they can hide it, but many people actually look through such pretense, as it can be detected in various ways like in the body language, tone of voice, colors of the aura and even in one’s subtle odor. A temple visitor once told me:

“I know that you people have problems with sexuality. Many of you carry around a scent of hypocrisy. I come here to see the Deities, but I avoid the devotees as they put me off.”

It goes without saying that such perception is also repulsive to other people and that it can also lead to them avoiding the devotees.

Since the majority of devotees are somehow or other involved in this hypocritical behavior, there is even an unwritten law of “just don’t get caught” in many places. I personally know several big sannyasi leaders who have been sexually active for very long times. One is the leader of one of the biggest and most famous ashramas in India that often welcomes dignitaries from all over the world. He is secretly in a full-time relationship with one of his female disciples, who is also wearing saffron clothes. Many of their followers are aware of this duplicity, but nobody holds them accountable. In another society of devotees, the secret relationships of most renunciates has become the accepted norm and hardly anyone bothers with it anymore.

This is not to point fingers, but to exemplify the problem at hand. I’m not saying that the partial or full acceptance of secret relationships is worse than its condemnation, as living out our natural erotic drive is more healthy than suppressing it. Having said that, such arrangement is of course still toxic. If everyone would accept the fact that the religious push for renunciation is mostly toxic and support reforms to reverse and heal it, then people would not have to fear stigmatization when they lay down their robes and become householders or when they talk about being eros-friendly in public. Without such reform, the deceit is bound to continue.

I also had a hard time understanding why the sublimation of sexual desires through spiritual practices was working for me, but was not working for others, especially why it was not working for devotees who had been practicing Bhakti much longer than me and whom I deemed more advanced than myself. Furthermore, I was shocked and heart-broken when I learned about the terrible amount of sexual abuse in our societies, especially the abuse of thousands of children. When I learned that suppression of eros is one of the causes of such abuse, I started to do more research about suppression of eros in general. It was at that time that I realized in discussion with various eros-friendly devotees that suppression of eros was in fact an unhealthy artificial imposition. It should also be mentioned, that before I came to Krishna-consciousness, I lived an eros-friendly life and actually had experienced how such a life is not an impediment to spirituality, but when I joined the temple I initially accepted the traditional erotophobic teachings, because I was told that the scriptures and the saints are infallible. When I later learned that the scriptures and the saints are only infallible in regards to pure Bhakti, but not in all regards, I allowed myself to identify certain parts of our tradition that need reform, such as our relationship with eros.

As I thus regained my eros-friendly disposition, I understood that the reason why devotees were unable to sublimate their sexual desires through Bhakti practices was because in most cases this is simply not desirable as one can benefit more by aligning them with Bhakti. Such alignment is more in line with God’s will than sublimation, as God has created us as erotic beings for a sublime purpose. With this new perspective, I inferred that my own so-called “success” in sublimation was in fact not connected to my Bhakti practices but to my renunciate mindset that I had carried forward from past lives, my long practice of Yoga with bandhas, my strict diet (sattvic, no honey, almost no sugar) and my firm mental deprogramming and reprogramming. All these are to some extent manipulative means to override nature’s nature.

For the sake of an experiment, I thus reprogrammed my mindset to that of an eros-friendly householder and stopped those Yoga practices that are said to help with sublimation such as mula-bandha and inverted asanas, and voila – my sexual desires came back stronger (to clarify, during my celibate phase I had very little sexual desires, so that navigating celibacy was a very smooth journey, not that I had zero sexual desires, although for certain periods that was also the case). Hence I learned that my so-called “success of sublimation” was not really a success in Bhakti as some would say, but simply an achievement of physical and mental manipulation.

Since most devotees don’t have the habit of such manipulation, they mostly also don’t get a corresponding result. Such manipulation helped me have a smooth journey in my celibacy, which was helpful for serving as the personal servant of my celibate Guru-Maharaj for many years – but if it wasn’t for that it would have been better if I married earlier for many practical reasons. This is just to say that in many cases, sublimation/suppression/manipulation of sexual desires can actually be a distraction to one’s supposed journey, and I would say that in most cases it is. If our nature-given human eros really is also God-given and not just the result of sin, then even well-intended sublimation actually goes against God’s will of giving us a corresponding erotic experience of reality.

This doesn’t mean that I am proposing to simply throw sublimation out of the window. In most human conditions, some amount of sublimation is beneficial to achieve the desired amount of libido, which of course can keep changing according to circumstances. I am still practicing a certain amount of sublimation. I’ve added kegel exercises to the bandhas, as they are very beneficial not only for sublimation but for overall health, ejaculation control and for keeping the sexual organs and the related muscles and glands fit, which, asides from mental benefits, is a basic requirement for a healthy sex life for both women and men. As I’ve mentioned earlier, one of the reasons of the wide spread of erotophobia is that many people cannot appreciate eros because they have no idea what a truly healthy sex life feels like and are thus sexually frustrated in one way or the other.

This is also so, because people in general are not being taught the basics of the art of love-making, which involves building up basic fitness by strengthening the pelvic floor muscles through kegel exercises among other things. Every activity involves a corresponding art, science, community and education. The fact that all of these basics are completely missing from the standards of human education proves that we as a human collective are still totally erotophobic, and that the war on eros is still raging across the globe. People generally think that latest after the sexual liberation of the 60s, most people have been eros-friendly, but such an impression is a deception. If anyone does anything seriously, the basics simply cannot be missing. The basics don’t just include physical fitness and knowing the anatomy, but especially the art of pleasing one’s partner to the deepest extent, instead of just scratching on the surface, as most people do. This most importantly involves the spiritual alignment of eros, which sadly still is a taboo topic in most traditions.

And so, after seventeen years of celibacy, I was at a crossroads. What should I do now? One part of me wanted to continue my celibate life and its comfortable lifestyle and another part of me wanted to become a householder. After some deliberation, I chose to leave my comfort zone and to become a householder. Asides from this being a very natural decision with my new eros-friendly stance, it was also the only way I could personally put to test my belief that eros-friendliness is our natural default setting and spiritually most beneficial disposition. It was also the only possibility of being able to have such public discussions as we are having here now, as in any temple setting I would have probably been stigmatized and thrown out of the ashram for my eros-friendly stance.

The experience I then gathered as an eros-friendly householder fully validated my belief. This was not just placebo, as the experience was solid, deep-reaching and repeatable and as other eros-friendly devotees have made similar experiences. I am very happy that I took this step and thank everyone who has been a support in this transformation. If you too are on a journey to become more eros-friendly then I wish you like-minded association and lots of amazing realizations. If you have anything to add, share or correct, or if you want to be added to our private Facebook group, let me know.

We are all united in this sublime journey of healing.

Hare Krishna! Gauranga! Radhe-Syam!

 

Stay tuned and revisit this last spot for upcoming courses on how to spiritually align eros. I will also be offering ejaculation control courses (for men) and personal counseling for individuals and couples, as each approach to a sublime navigation of eros requires an individual tailoring of attitudes and skills.

PS: If you appreciate this presentation, which was only possible with a lot of research, kindly consider making a donation. I have no patron so far and my financial situation is not stable yet (as I, like many others, was never encouraged to prepare for married life). With some support, this presentation could easily be turned into a book, so if anyone is interested in joining this effort, kindly contact me.

Footnotes:

[1] See https://archive.org/details/bindu459.