NDM: Patanjali said "When one is confirmed in celibacy,
spiritual vigor is gained.” What did he mean by this and does
this teaching still apply today?
Roberts: I feel that the desire for a sexual connection can
dissipate to some degree through spiritual practice, namely
classical yoga in this reference.
lack of desire for sexual union is naturally attained without
force or will, then it seems that the lesser the attachment, the
lesser the suffering. There are less thwarted beliefs and
for women in the tradition of yoga is not condoned. In the
Indian culture of the not too distant past, women were
traditionally expected to marry and reproduce, as that was their
role, and to some degree not even try and attain spiritual
liberation. It was commonly understood that they had more of an
ability to attain liberation through their natural emotional
connection and compassion towards others, and so practice was
not as relevant for them. One of my Indian teachers claims that
women have an extraordinary quality of devotion within them that
makes it easier to surrender and follow the path of yoga. They
are often respected for the qualities of love, patience, and
forbearance, and compassion. It may be assumed that their love
is given freely without expectation. Child rearing can be
helpful to develop this love (Matru Bhavam) and these
firmly believe that some women do not have these tendencies as
much as some men do (a great generalization) but it does seem
generally that women have their brains are more wired to
function more emotionally, with right side brain dominance.
said that, there are definitely ancient references to women
practicing yoga for liberation in the ancient text, the Rg
Veda: Gargi- wife of sage Yajnavalkya-practised
to achieve liberation.
recent times, with more women in yoga than ever before, also men
practicing as householders, it raises the question, of whether
celibacy in spiritual practice is actually necessary. To know
the state of yoga- a state of "deep tranquility and sublime
peace"- I feel celibacy is not necessary. If people commit to
the life of a householder, then sexual activity to raise
children may be necessary to fulfill ones kama (enlivened
desires from latent conditionings) and dharma (to be in
accord with the natural flow of life). Without our deep latent
desires (samskaras) there would be no incarnation. Whilst
this may stop the endless cycle of death and birth, and
suffering, it is not considered completely necessary by yoga
traditions in recent times. This stands for men who choose the
path of householder as well, particularly when considering the
four clearly distinct stages of life laid out in the texts,
namely the ashramas as seen below:
In this stage, one does academic learning, usually under a guru.
His education is specialised based on his interest and
performance. This is a stage of learning and celibacy happens at
5-16 years of age, before taking on the next stage.
Grhastha ashrama is the phase where a person contributes to
society, with strict guidelines for this stage of life outlined
in an entire book for the householder, the Grihya Sutras. At
this stage, the sustenance of society, finances and family is
important, and usually one is not permitted to bypass this
Pursuits are based on Dharma, and fulfillment of desires. Both
kama (enlivened desires from latent conditionings) and
dharma (to be in accord with the natural flow of life), are
to be served here, based on Dharma. This ensures Moksha
Having lived half on one’s life by now, one should take up
At this stage one gives away financial securities to family or
donates it, goes into semi seclusion, and prepares for
reflection. Contribution to society is still required through
advising and teaching. Wisdom and experience are imparted to
the younger generation in this way. Having fulfilled desires in
the previous ashrama, one is expected have less desire for
sensuous pleasures. The work is dispassionate and detached, as
there is no specific result from sought the work.
Though one is supposed to celibate, one is not required to
renounce or live alone. One is also encouraged to earn a
livelihood, but not encouraged to acquire or accumulate. Without
any specific need, one does not enter the city - usually people
needing his/her advice come to seek it from the wiser person.
In this stage one renounces the world and detaches from social
and family relations to a greater degree. One should not earn in
this stage, or have material possession, or social ambition. All
work is purely for moksha (liberation). Technically, a
sanyasi has no debts, and lives freely until his death.
conclusion, being a Mother myself with an incredibly
compassionate and loving husband, I do not feel that the texts
and traditions always ring true for each of us. The scriptures
provide us with the best guidelines, but we must take their
relevance into our own situation and into the context of our
lives. If sexual activity is part of our lives, then include it
as a part of the path to liberation, like Tantra does,
the desire may cease as spiritual awareness is heightened when
insight into the nature of suffering takes hold, and we see
through our thwarted beliefs and expectations. At this stage,
all our energies must be used for attaining higher consciousness
and sexual union may be part of this path for some of us.
of celibacy we place upon ourselves and enormous spiritual
discipline may at times produce equal amounts of suffering,
internal struggle and confusion when choosing to follow a path.
there are energetic benefits to celibacy that are well recorded,
but also there are equal benefits to sacred union as well.
the path of least resistance” is the best advice I have ever
NDM: You mentioned the Rg Veda: Gargi- wife of sage Yajnavalkya-practised
to achieve liberation but it seems that at that time, they
didn’t use sex as a hedonistic pursuit, or for sense pleasures,
it was only for reproduction. I recently spoke with Ramesam
about this. He says, “It was undertaken as a holy pious ritual
done on select auspicious days after reciting special mantras
exclusively for the purpose of getting an offspring.”
you think it’s possible in this day and age to for most
westerners to go back to practicing in that sort of way?
seems a very common restraint in all religious practices and a
common form of ascetism that is practiced in many philosophies
to free desire for practice of liberation.
Interestingly, it is commonly practiced In Ayurveda to undertake
copulation on specific days with sacred chants to receive a
healthy child, and have the child's sex determined by intention.
A boy was traditionally welcomed in the culture as we know.
If we did
come back to such practices perhaps we would see a positive
effect. Any discipline has virtuous cycles and effects when
practiced with the right intention. As previously mentioned many
people who become involved in spiritual practice, have their
normal desires naturally fall away to some degree, and yet a
loving intention can pose a very effective union between two
people, both liberating and dissolving the boundaries of self.
NDM: What are your thoughts on some people who seem to
bypass these various stages, and leap to the very last stage of
seeking moksha, but without taking sanyasa? Is this a realistic
option to be in the world but not of it? Not to get polluted by
can happen where one can leap to the last stage of seeking
moksha without taking sanyasa. It is often documented in the
texts, but it is claimed to be very rare, and only suitable for
certain individuals. People do move away from society and try
and live on the outskirts to bypass this stage and I am sure it
is successful for some.
choose to leave society and join a monastery or ashram still
have their duties to perform.
We can all
justify where we sit in the grand scheme of things according to
our own karma, and how we choose to live according to that
position we have taken in life. It is personally very easy for
me to say that “being of the world” still provides me with
enough material to find clarity and freedom within. So I choose
that way of looking at it all….I am of the world and I use it to
see through my “self”. Suffering is always a perception.
NDM: What about tantra, how does this enter the equation?
Celia Roberts: I know little about tantra, as it is not my
formal training, but from what I do know, I admire its ability
as a way of life to encompass all as a spiritual discipline.
Nothing is separate from the totality, and all is an opportunity
NDM: Can one still have sex and attain moksha, exit samsara, or
will this sexual drive keep going at the point of death into
some other realm?
Having not have entered another realm at the point of death or
exited samsara, I feel unable to comment from experience.
However, the yogic tradition states we carry our sanskaras over
into our next life. Sanskaras are the imprints left on the
subconscious by experiences in past lives, so if these are not
cleared before death and you believe in re-incarnation, then we
must carry them on. Sanskaras are said to determine and
condition one’s desires and actions in the present.
clears all the sanskaras and latent desires then it may be
possible to exit samsara. If one sees with insight they can
exit samsara and still attain moksha through sacred sexual
union, then I don’t see why this could not take place as well.
Tantra again is our finest example, not from the common
misinterpretation of it being all about the sexual act, but more
so its ability to encompass the
totality of life as a spiritual discipline.