February 02, 2008

Sri Aurobindo, Gandhi, celibacy, and sexuality

All renunciation is for a greater joy yet ungrasped. Some renounce for the joy of duty done, some for the joy of peace, some for the joy of God and some for the joy of self-torture, but renounce rather as a passage to the freedom and untroubled rapture beyond.Sri Aurobindo

The more I think about it, the more I have to conclude that sexuality is something the human species must transcend in the long run. Also I think that as we advance spiritually, sex starts to become more and more of an annoyance — much like mental noise — that one is compelled to drop. The thing is that any human relationship that is driven by some sort of external need or external pressure (as opposed to the inner freedom of Spirit) is bound to become manipulative at some point. Sexual relationships are inherently dualistic. We enjoy sex with someone because we see them as “other” than us. So for a sexual relationship to be totally non-manipulative would really require a miracle.
I think this is why a lot of spiritual teachers insist on lifetime monogamy as far as sexual relationships go. Monogamy for the body, polyamory for the soul. The whole point of lifetime monogamy — as in, marriage — is to learn to love for love’s sake alone, and not for any bodily need.
These ideas are not based on any puritanism or preconceived morality on my part — in fact it should be obvious I arrived at this place from the exact opposite position. While I was never really a fan of “casual sex” outside of a monogamous committed relationship, I have done my fair share of stupid things. So this conclusion is just based on my own observation of myself and others.
I don’t say I am living up to this ideal at all. I am still plagued with desire. I have a partner with whom I’m in a long-distance relationship. I have expressed to her that I will feel compelled to be celibate at some point. So far she says she is okay with this. But celibacy is not a silver bullet, a shortcut to enlightenment, or anything of the sort. Physical abstinence alone isn’t enough; what we are trying to do is not repression, but transmutation. If you suppress one desire, another one pops up. It’s impossible to escape desire unless one gets into a state where desire is no longer present. The conquest of sexuality requires that one detach and be able to catch the vibrations of desire before they enter our beings. You have to look at it from the perspective of the “witness consciousness” and realize that these desires and vibrations are not “yours” — they are coming from outside you, just like all the other vibrations of Nature (jealousy, anger, etc.).
Sri Aurobindo warns that the conquest of sexuality can take a very long time. For this reason, and due to the inequality of individual development, it’s impossible to prescribe rules like “celibacy for all” (such as Gandhi for instance insisted upon), but one ought to at least realize the rationale behind why spiritual celibacy is seen as an ideal.

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