Question one and two were submitted by Stuart Sovatsky, PHD.
Q 1: Vedanta, Taoism, Buddhism, Judeo-Christian Gnosticism,
Mystical Sufism, all laud sexual transcendence of duality and
desire verified by transcendence of sex, from Buddha to Dalai
Lama and millions of others in India over the millenniums. Has
modern non-dualism created something new where sex and desire
are not transcended?
Q 2: Is this a higher state than what Buddha and the founder of
advaita, Adi Shankara, taught to monks and lay people and lived
Life is a sacrifice, a sacred ritual, as well as a ‘play’. The
first sacrifice consisted in the One becoming many.
Correspondingly, there is a tendency or drive (ontological and
psychological) in multiplicity to become One, to recover unity.
Within this multiplicity there was a first differentiation: that
between masculine and feminine, yang and yin, passive and
active, etc. Shiva-Shakti represents this primordial dichotomy:
two that are one. (St. Gregory of Lyons spoke of the deiformity
of Man: God became Man – multiple individuals, which is
equivalent to fragmentation of the One - so that Man may become
God). Hieros-gamos, sacred marriage between a god and a goddess
enacted as a symbolic ritual, is a mythological motif that
speaks to that mystery in creation or manifestation. In Indian
mythology, purusha, which stands for “God, Supreme” (or
for the “individual soul or jiva”, depending on the
context), underwent dismemberment at that primordial sacrificial
Conversely, the part sacrifices itself for the whole
(self-negation or self-annihilation), so that unity may be
regained. Form sacrifices itself for its essence, so that unity
may be re-established. This last way of expressing this mystery
belongs to the metaphysical dimension, whereas at the physical,
human one it is equivalent to tanzih, abstraction - the
ascetic way (fanah in Sufism), corresponding to
Transcendence. Contrariwise, tashbih is characterized by
analogy, sublimation (bakah in Sufism), the way of
shaktism, corresponding to Immanence and equivalent to tantrism
-- which, for some (likely good) reasons, practically
disappeared from India after a few centuries. Some practices
within tantrism included the consumption of meat and alcohol and
indulging in sex, all of them normally shun or prohibited.
Most saints, but not all - or most - sages have practiced the
ascetic, or celibate way, including Shankara. One has to
consider here two aspects or sides: 1) vocation, temperament,
and 2) the aim or motivation. A 3rd factor would be opportunity
(circumstances – personal, social, etc.). This is a complex
issue, but under ‘opportunity’ such things as immediate
environment (with or without women being present), culture,
geography, and national character or proclivities, have to be
taken into consideration. Finally, the time in which one lives,
with its particular social and environmental circumstances, is
of paramount importance - ‘Time does not flow in vain’ (Spanish
saying). Circumstances change, at least in the ‘external’ world.
‘All this is very well’, someone may remark, ‘but what about
sex: is it not universal, at all times and in all places, the
strongest attraction for man (neutral sense), other than
self-preservation?’ Indeed, one reads that in ancient India
sexual obsession among the population was prevalent. ‘Hardly
comparable to today’s North-America and Western Europe since the
sexual revolution’, another might retort… ‘You only have to walk
in the streets, or go into the subway system – women, women
everywhere and scantly clad at that exhibiting their charms…’
Well, things may be different living in a remote village, but
not necessarily so; the ‘revolution’ has extended – or is
gradually extending - everywhere.
One way to avoid temptation if one lives in a city is – as pious
Muslims are enjoined to do - to lower the gaze when passing by
or confronting a woman. Or enclose oneself in a room; but this
is ineffectual, since temptation resides in the mind, even if it
may be said to start in and through the senses. What is left,
then, is discipline and will power, hoping for the best (and
‘God’s grace’). And concentrating on what is most important:
freedom and delivery.
A whirlpool of uncertainty, a palace of pride, a prison of
punishment, a storehouse of sin, a fraud in a hundred different
respects, an obstacle placed for us before the gates of
paradise, the field of deceit, a basket of illusions, the open
throat of hell. Such are some of the features of women, who
change nectar into poison and are a chain by which man is
attached to the chariot of folly,
was sung by Bhartrihari, a seventh century Indian poet, with
evident respect for (and fear of?) women and young girls of
lotus eyes, face resembling the splendour of the moon, and the
ambrosia on their lips.
Bhartrihari’s ambiguity towards love and women (the love of
women) is, one would say, universal, paralleled in all
traditions. Must one choose between a life where sensual
enjoyment of natural pleasures is permitted and one of austerity
There are, of course, other options (or opportunities), such as
romantic love where physical intimacy is either avoided or
becomes spontaneous, generous, giving – the lovers being lost as
individual beings in the high altar of unity or
undifferentiation (two as/or in one). This is exemplified by
(the myth of) Tristan and Isolde in the West, and the practice
of sahaja in Medieval India. The former was sacrificial,
redemptive love, and the latter (mostly) symbolical and free,
signifying the marriage of Heaven and Hell, the identification
of spirit and matter, the two poles in creation. As A. K.
Coomaraswamy wrote, Physical proximity, contact, and
interpenetration are the expression of love, only because love
is the recognition of identity. These two are one flesh, because
they have remembered their unity of spirit… The least intrusion
of the ego, however, involves a return to the illusion of
duality (‘The Dance of Shiva’, ch. ‘Sahaja’). This
perfect state must be one without desire, because desire implies
lack; whatever action the jivan mukta or spiritual freeman
performs must therefore be of the nature of manifestation, and
will be without purpose or intention... This is the
innocence of desire (ibid).
Coomaraswamy warns about the danger of pursuing love of woman as
a way of liberation which, for many, is an impossible way.
In this context, he remarks that all desire (even of the husband
for his wife) is adultery, and thus, it is non-attachment, not
repression, which is the mark of the spiritual life. As Dennis
Waite has remarked during a recent discussion on ‘Sex and
Desire’ in ‘Advaita Vision’ (Q. 352), dwelling on it in any
way will only take you away or keep you away from ever finding
out the truth of the matter. And, let’s face it, you cannot
prevent your body and mind from functioning in the way that
nature has intended! Stop worrying about it! Turn your attention
to the only thing that really matters, namely getting rid of
Self-ignorance by trying to discover the nature of the world and
your Self. On this same line, I can do no better than end
these reflections with one or two more quotations from
To refuse the beauty of the earth – which is our birthright –
for fear that we may sink to the level of pleasure seekers –
that inaction would be action, and bind us to the very flesh we
seek to evade. The virtue of the action of those who are free
beings lies in the complete coordination of their being – body,
soul and spirit, the inner and outer man, at one.
All that is best for us comes of itself into our hands – but if
we strive to overtake it, it perpetually eludes us.
NDM: Alberto, just a couple of follow up questions, if you
Some say that overcoming a wrong "identity view" is nowhere near
enough, because of the residual samskaras and vasanas. That it
takes more practice and continual effort, even after a so called
"Self realization". What are your views on this below by Swami
Shivananda for example?
"The following rules would be very useful to those who are
trying to observe Brahmacharya in thought, word and deed:
Give up evil company, loose talks, cinemas and televisions,
and newspapers and magazines dealing with sex and love. Do
not mix freely with the opposite sex. If this is found
unavoidable in the course of the daily duties of life, a
male can mentally address a member of the opposite sex as
‘mother’. A female can address a male as ‘father’. Sri
Ramakrishna used to look upon all women as forms of the
Divine Mother. Anadamayi Ma, the well-known saint of Bengal
who lived during recent times, used to address all elderly
males as ‘Pitaji’ (father) or ‘Baba’.
Keep your head bowed down while you walk in the street.
Minimise your needs. Do not look into the mirror often. Lead
a rigorous, disciplined life.
Avoid looking at the mating of insects, animals and birds.
Do not ride too much on a bicycle.
Root out love of leisure and ease. Overcome laziness and
always be engaged in some useful work. Let the mind be
always occupied in the study of spiritual literature or some
active work along useful lines. Let there be no time for
Let the work you do be a source of joy. Find pleasure in
your work. Let it not be done under compulsion. The mind
turns away from that which it does not like, and then takes
recourse to other objects for getting pleasure. You should
work freely and happily, so that there may not be occasions
for the mind to resort to unhealthy practices. Work for the
sake of God. Then all work will become interesting. Take to
hard physical labour but do not exhaust yourself. Do your
work as a hobby. Then you can do it happily.
Do Sirshasana, Sarvangasana and Siddhasana. Practise deep
breathing and Bhastrika Pranayama. Take long walks. Take
part in games and sports.
Take cold baths if you can. Do not use perfumes and
fashionable dress. Do not attend dance or music parties. Do
not sing worldly songs. You may take part in Kirtan and
Bhajan without trying to display your musical talent.
Do not smoke or take drugs or alcohol. They are harmful to
the body and mind. Avoid non-vegetarian food.
Give up tea, coffee, pungent foods and excess of sweets and
sugar. Take them moderately if you cannot give them up
altogether. If possible, fast once a week. Take only milk
and fruit on that day. Do not take milk without mixing a
little ginger with it. Avoid pungent, stimulating dishes,
sauces, savouries and pastries."
Alberto Martin: I get your point, but first it must be realized
that ‘overcoming a wrong “identity view”’, by the nature of
things - namely, the customary upbringing from early childhood
and the social environment, including general and well
entrenched opinions as to ‘who and what we are’– must be the
hardest thing to do, more so, even, than resisting temptations,
which can be helped, or overcome, besides force of will, with a
series of measures – such as those included in the list of
recommendations by Swami Shivananda (with which I am in
practically complete agreement). I did mention before such
things as casting the eyes downwards when confronting or passing
by a young woman (an injunction to a sufi… a spiritual person, a
There is a phrase in the Bhagavad Gita which can work as an
inspiration or motivation to go in the right direction: There
is no lustral water like unto Knowledge (IV, 38). I quote
here also a maxim, which I have as coming from the Maharajas of
Benares: There is no religion higher than Truth –
Satyân nasty paro dharmah.
But, going back to ascetic practices, the question of
temperament, inclination, or vocation (svadharma) is relevant.
Should those practices be well nigh mandatory for all spiritual
aspirants? My answer, as I point out below, is a qualified
‘YES’. Unquestionably, the majority of those items in Sw.
Shivananda’s list may well be recommended to all such persons,
whether married or unmarried. As to the former (the married), I
mentioned in my previous comments that looking to one’s wife,
for example, with lascivious eyes – indeed all desire - is
equivalent to adultery. So, the mark of a spiritual person is
being innocent of desire, according to this view.
Furthermore, there is a place for abstinence within the
framework of marriage, which, as the traditionalist author,
Frithjof Schuon, has remarked, goes hand in hand with the
virtues of detachment and generosity, essential conditions for
the sacramentalization of sexuality. He goes on: Nothing
is more opposed to the sacred than tyranny or triviality on the
plane of conjugal relations; abstinence, the breaking of habits
and freshness of soul are indispensable elements in any sacred
sexuality… abstinence, which is both a sacrifice before God and
a homage of respect and gratitude towards the spouse. For the
human and spiritual dignity of the spouse demands that he or she
should not become a habit, should not be treated in a way that
lacks imagination and freshness, and should thus keep his or her
mystery; this condition demands not only abstinence, but, also,
and above all, loftiness of character, which in the last
analysis results from our sense of the sacred or from our state
of devotion (‘Esoterism as Principle and as Way’ – ch. ‘The
Problem of Sexuality’).
I used the term ‘persons’ above. Incidentally, and in this same
context, it has been said that ‘person’, ‘personality’ means
being attracted to the world outside, willingly being an agent
in that world – thus, different from being a contemplative, a
spirituel, as the French say.
On the question of samskaras or vasanas, and taking from what I
just mentioned, once I know that I am not a ‘person’ (an
active “collaborator”, as it were), no longer there is agamin
samskara for ‘me’ – in fact, there is no ‘me’. Prarabdha
samskara, on the other hand, continues, as per Vedantic
teaching, because ‘the arrow has already been released’. In
other words, there are things which we are not able to avoid
doing, or, let’s say, are being inclined to do.
NDM: Are you saying that post moksha, there is no more free
will, or a sense of free volition, to overcome these
Alberto Martin: I said ‘being inclined to do’, not ‘determined
to do’. There is bindingness, there is inclination (samskara or
vasana), and there is freedom. In a way, everything is bound to
happen – there is no free will; individual destinies (life
stories) are what they are and were destined to be; this is the
play of life, of samsara, where each person (‘persona’=mask) has
a role to play, and one can either resist it or accept it
willingly, knowing that it is a role. That is because samsara is
also nirvana. If I know that I am not the role, but the witness
behind the mask, then I, who am witness-consciousness, am free.
Witness-consciousness is not different from pure consciousness;
in fact they are the same, as taught by Advaita Vedanta. The
tendencies (vasanas) are there, but under the light of
consciousness they become inert. This understanding is called
paramarthika in Advaita; the first one, which gives some reality
to the vasanas, is called vyavaharika, which is empirical or
‘Man is born free, but everywhere he is in chains’, said, or
wrote, Jean-Jacques Rousseau - “out of control”, as you say. How
can it be so except that (unlike with Rousseau’s meaning and
intention) ‘he’ sees himself as occupying a restricted space,
the tiny space of the ego? Ignorantly, but willingly - and this
is the tragedy - he has not seen his true dimension or stature,
and as a result his perspective has become extremely narrow. The
controlling factor (‘controlling’ in a positive, not a negative
sense) is not other than the light of consciousness which,
inexplicably, has been obscured since birth by a kind of veil.
This veil is (congenital) ignorance. The gods have played a bad
trick on men (was it because Prometheus’ act – stealing the
‘fire’ from them?). Fallen man’s will power, unless it is
illumined by reason=intelligence=light of consciousness, amounts
NDM: Some say that upon Self-realization, with the total
understanding that one is not the doer, all of the samchita
samskara, (back account, or piled up karma) is destroyed and
future actions incur no more agamin samskara.
Alberto Martin: ‘samchita karma…’ I am not an academic or
scholar, only a free-lance ‘something’. I could be called a
generalist – who knows nothing about everything (whereas a
specialist is someone who knows everything about nothing). Every
time I see that word, let alone many other Sanskrit words, on a
printed page, I have to go to the dictionary. Karma as
cause-effect relationship in the physical world of phenomena, as
well as in the moral one is understandable, and I have no qualms
about the latter. I prefer to talk, though, about inherited or
congenital traits, familial upbringing, and environmental
(social, geographical, climatic) factors; also
happenings/accidents affecting or influencing the individual. A
deeper understanding, I think, is the Buddhist law of depending
origination – a concatenation of causes and effects as an
explanation for everything that happens.
Two kinds of karma (samchita and agamin samskaras), as you said,
are inoperative in a fully realized ‘person’, such as Sri
Atmananda Krishna Menon. But also the prarabdha, I submit, since
such person is no longer a ‘person’; he knows his true identity.
Any consequences of his/her actions may have some repercussions
in their body or mind, but will be inconsequential. S/he ‘will
not mind’. The body has to die. The mind is already dead – or
transfigured – in their case.
NDM: But what if you violate these conventional laws?
Alberto Martin: If by ‘conventional laws’ you mean moral laws,
I already said that they are understandable, as Kant’s moral
imperative is so, and they must be rooted in reality itself:
Beauty-Goodness-Love (sat-chit -ananda) – the supreme archetype
or ‘Idea’ of Plato, which is the Good Itself. So, I would take
their root as being metaphysical rather than merely moral
(understood as empirical and social and based mostly on cultural
differences, that is, custom, and thus relative) - Rta, Dharma,
the eternal law or Order, cosmic as well as moral, is that root.
But if by ‘conventional laws’ you mean those taught in
traditional Hinduism (prarabdha, etc.), I already gave my
position in the previous paragraph; they are true to an extent –
to the extent that they are practical and preparatory towards a
deeper understanding of reality. That is why I think that,
rather than metaphysical, rooted in reality, they are
methodological, doctrinal and, I suggested, provisional.
END OF INTERVIEW