I have written several articles on vows and feel that any discussion on vows wouldn’t be complete without addressing sexual restraint. Plus, men often ask me how to control sexual desire and I felt that to do justice to this question I would need to write an article.
I am approaching this issue mainly from the male perspective (obviously because I am a man and also because the scriptures approach it more from that perspective). Still, although men and women are wired differently and thus respond to physical, sexual attraction differently, the basic principles of sexual attachment and material bondage transcend gender.
The purpose of this article is to better understand how sexual attachment affects our spiritual lives. There wasn’t room to discuss the positive aspects of Krsna conscious grihastha life, and this article in no way is meant to demean married life, attachment and affection for one’s spouse, providing for a family, or being responsible parents, although it could appear that way.
And it is not meant to minimize or criticize those who are not practicing celibacy.
For those who haven’t taken initiation, vows, or who are not practicing celibacy, my hope is that you will better understand the role of sex in spiritual life and how to gain more self-control.
The exercises I suggest you do are contained within the main body of the newsletter.
May you always think of Krsna,
If You Want To Play, You’ve Got To Pay
Recently I spent a week in England. On the way back the devotee driving me to the airport said, “I’d like to become more renounced.” Without thinking for a second I immediately said, “That’s not really difficult because the material world is just sex and working to pay for it.” Surprised that I so spontaneously blurted that out, he laughed and said, “Wow, you’re right. That’s all it really is.”
“Karmis work very hard simply to enjoy sex. Modern human society has improved the materialistic way of life simply by inducing unrestricted sex life in many different ways. This is most prominently visible in the Western world.” (SB 4.26.26)
In the early days of the movement a devotee explained Sigmund Freud’s theory to Prabhupada that everything one does is motivated by sex. The devotee disagreed and said he felt people are primarily motivated by a spiritual yearning. Prabhupada said no – Freud was actually right. Why did Prabhupada say this? Because Srimad Bhagavatam clearly explains that sex attraction, subtle or gross, is the impetus behind all material activities. Thus Prabhupada wrote in one letter:
“If one can just get free from sex desire, he is 50% liberated.” (Letter, 15/02/68)
So it follows that minimizing the gross and subtle forms of sex is the means of getting out of material life.
It’s Hard Work
It is obvious that people work hard to enjoy sex. To find a girlfriend or boyfriend is hard work. Women especially go out of their way to attract men (dieting, exercising, having facials, going to hair salons, injecting Botox, having plastic surgery, etc.).
Next time you are at a mall notice how many clothes, jewelry, sunglass, cosmetic and shoe stores there are. And don’t forget the hair and nail salons. Compare that number to the number of stores which cater people’s “spiritual yearning” and you’ll be able to see that Freud knew what he was talking about.
Once a relationship is established with the opposite sex, it takes more effort to maintain it than it took to establish it. And speaking of work, raising children takes a tremendous amount of work and time. And on top of this we have to work forty or more hours a week to maintain the family.
What’s The Price?
So enjoying with the opposite sex, even religiously, comes with a price. And there is an even higher price to pay for enjoying illicit sex: unwanted pregnancies, sexually transmitted diseases and the karmic reaction for having an abortion. And ultimately the big price we pay for uncontrolled sex is taking another body. And what do we do when we get that next body? That’s right. We work hard again to maintain the body so we can enjoy the opposite sex. It’s kind of a rotten deal, especially when you know there are much better options – like dancing eternally with Radha and Krsna in the spiritual world.
“So purification means getting free gradually from sex desire.” (SB 2.2.12)
For most of us, “gradually” means becoming Krsna conscious grihasthas. Becoming attached to one’s Krsna conscious family is actually the means for ultimately becoming detached.
Subtle Sex in the Form of Pride
But even if you want to practice celibacy you still have to work hard to overcome the whole realm of subtle sexual attraction. Krsna wasn’t kidding when He said in the Gita that we are “struggling hard with the six senses, which include the mind.” There’s really no easy way out.
In the Srimad Bhagavatam (2.2.12), Srila Prabhupada explains what subtle sex desire means. He refers to a domino reaction that follows the attraction of male and female: marriage, accumulating wealth and property, raising children, working hard, establishing some reputation for oneself and family, etc.
The subtle aspect of sex – the one that lurks under everything we do – is the desire to control, be recognized and be honored. In other words, the desire to have power and prestige (to imitate Krsna) is simply sex desire luring its ugly head in a subtle form. So when Prabhupada says things like, “The more we forget sex life, the more we are advancing in spiritual life,” he is referring to all the trappings and aspects of both subtle and gross sex.
Do people work hard for subtle sex? I saw an interview with Donald Trump and he said he only sleeps four hours a night. Why? Obviously he doesn’t need to work that hard for money. He’s busy enthusiastically building up his empire and reputation. Certainly that’s not motivated by a spiritual yearning. Yes, the material world means sex and working to pay for it. Even Donald Trump is working hard for it.
After all, imitating Krsna is hard work.
Actually, Prabhupada said the material world means “the shackles of sex.” The great heroes are not the Donald Trumps, who build huge empires in this world. The real heroes are the ones who get out of this world.
Naturally the question arises, “If purification means freedom from both the gross and subtle aspects of sex desire, how do I become free from them?” Good question. I am glad you asked.
First we have to put sex in its proper place in our spiritual lives if we are going to be able to successfully control it.
“Sex life is the background of material existence. Here also it is repeated that demons are very fond of sex life. The more one is free from the desires for sex, the more he is promoted to the level of the demigods; the more one is inclined to enjoy sex, the more he is degraded to the level of demoniac life.” (SB 3.20.23)
When the scriptures or Srila Prabhupda speak about sex in a negative way, they are referring to sex for purposes other than producing Krsna conscious children. Yes, I know that’s a very restricted definition, but ultimately we are meant to become free from sex desire.
“Sex life, licit or illicit, is practically the same, but through illicit sex one becomes more and more captivated. By regulating one's sex life there is a chance that one may eventually be able to renounce sex or renounce the association of women. If this can be done, advancement in spiritual life comes very easily.” (SB 4.25.62)
Wow. That’s some really good news about celibacy. We always wanted the easy road, the fast food way to Vaikuntha. And here it is: all you have to do is renounce sex and immediately you’ll be half way to the spiritual world. We have found Easy Street to Vaikuntha. Haribol!
The only problem is that renouncing sex is not easy. It’s probably the most difficult thing we’ll ever do. So how do we do it? I am proud of you for asking that question because only a few rare souls ever ask it. Everyone else will ask, “Where can I get some Viagra?”
The Key is Determination
The first thing, the main thing, and ultimately the only thing we can do to conquer this obstacle is to be determined to control it. That is the magic formula. Of course, chanting Hare Krsna is the ultimate “magic formula,” but if one is not determined to control oneself, chanting will not be very effective.
“Maya is so strong that unless one is determined not to fall victim, even the Supreme Personality of Godhead cannot give protection.” (Cc. Madhya 17.14)
But why is it so hard? Prabhuapda said maya is strong because your purpose is not strong. Or as the saying goes, “Obstacles are those things you see when you lose sight of the goal.” Translated into a Krsna conscious context this means:
Sex desire is what you see when you lose sight of Radha and Krsna.
One god brother of mine told me that Prabhupada said maya doesn’t have anything to do because she created sex desire. Since she has everyone bound by sex, her work is pretty much on automatic pilot.
Once when Prabhupada gave sannyasa, he said that it’s not that your sex desire will go away, but now you cannot act on it. So determination (and tolerance) is the key. Sex desire will be there to some degree as long as we have a material body. It’s a question of whether or not we choose to control it.
“By making plans with determination, one should give up lusty desires for sense gratification.” (SB 7.15.22):
Therefore we can conclude that if we are having difficulty controlling either the subtle or gross aspects of sex, we need to be more determined. Although it might decrease with age, it is not just going to completely go away on its own. Prabhupada said it will continue right up until death if we don’t make the effort to control and purify ourselves. I think you can agree that you probably have better things to think about at the time of death.
So let’s get to work on this problem. And when do we start? YESTERDAY!
“Beginners in Krsna consciousness have a tendency to relax their efforts in a short time, but to advance spiritually you must resist this temptation and continually increase your efforts and devotion.” (SPL Ch. 19)
Have you ever seen the T-shirt that says, “I am in no shape to exercise”? Do you ever feel this way about your spiritual exercises? Actually, you don’t have to tell me. I already know the answer.
So how do we develop this determination? You need to get some leverage. Meditate on the consequences of illicit sex. Think in a way that helps you put out the fire, not in a way that increases it.
You Have the Solution
Actually, we are surrounded by obvious solutions to help us gain more self control and advance spiritually. The problem is we don’t care to see them. How can I say that? Well, get out a piece of paper and write down a few things (or think of a few things) you could do that would help you become more Krsna conscious (or do it later if you don’t have time now). Obviously, you can easily think of a few right away. You could probably think of a lot if you took the time. So you have access to solutions if you want them.
If we would just think about how to advance in Krsna consciousness as much as we think about other things, overcoming the gross and subtle forms of sex would be a much less difficult task.
Don’t Make It Hard On Yourself
The more you think of something, the more you want it. This works either for us or against us. The more you think of Krsna, the more you want Him. And the more you think of sex, the more you want that.
Samskaras are mental impressions that become implanted in our subconscious. Contemplating sex, looking at the opposite sex, watching movies and hearing songs about sex, seeing pictures about it, putting too much attention on how we look, all add more sexual samskaras to our already overflowing stock. This just makes it that much more difficult to control sex desire.
And unfortunately, it makes it more difficult to want to control it.
Therefore, if we want to conquer this desire we can’t do it while creating more sexual samskaras. Men create these mental impressions primarily by looking at women’s physical features, either in person, in magazines, on TV, in movies or on the internet. By the way, I had a high school teacher who told us that our motive to fix up our cars was just sex. It’s true. Sometimes even cars are referred to as “sexy.”
Women do this by spending lots of time and money making themselves attractive. And watching romantic and sexually explicit movies, either for men or women, just makes it that much more difficult to be sexually controlled and think of Krsna. Radha and Krsna have the best romance. We are meant to hear about Their loving affairs, not the so-called loving affairs of actors in movies.
If you are having difficulty controlling either the subtle or gross aspects of sex, look at your activities and ask yourself what you are doing that is making it difficult for you to control this enemy. Why not make a list and see what you find? Hopefully that will give you some ideas to get you going. And if you decide not to make this list, can I ask you a question? Why not? You don’t have to answer me. Just answer yourself. Of course, if you are a liberated soul I can understand that you wouldn’t have anything to put on your list. But if you are not, I am sure you will find a few things that you should be working on. And those few things can help you tremendously.
So get to work on that list.
They Did It
In the modern world celibacy is obviously not popular. But that wasn’t always so. Here’s a short list of some great men in the material world who practiced celibacy.
Cervantes (who wrote Don Quixote while in prison), Dante (who wrote his Divine Comedy while in exile), Milton (who wrote Paradise Lost when blind and when he did not indulge in sex), Sir Isaac Newton (active in intellect until the age of 80), Leonardo da Vinci, Michelangelo, Pythagoras, Plato, Aristotle, Spinoza, Kant, Beethoven, Herbert Spencer, Mahatma Gandhi. Many other philosophers, artists and scientists have preferred to sublimate the sex drive in order to increase their creativity and concentrate their energy on intellectual pursuits.
If They Can Do it, Why Not You?
There is a way out and we all can do it.
“If we become staunch devotees of Krsna these material sex impulses will vanish. Because even Cupid becomes attracted by Krsna. We are attracted by Cupid, but Cupid is attracted by Krsna, therefore Krsna is Madana-mohana. That is the only remedy. If you stick to the lotus feet of Krsna—‘Krsna please save me’—then this material thing, sex agitation, will not disturb you. This is the only way.” (Lecture, 08/04/75).
Prabhupada writes in the Srimad Bhagavatam that we actually come into the material world to enjoy beautiful women. But here Prabhupada makes it clear that if we really want Krsna’s lotus feet, He’ll give them to us. But I can tell you from personal experience that “really want” must really mean really want if you really want to get Krsna. Otherwise, if you don’t really want Krsna, I don’t think you are really going to get Krsna. Really.
So get real. Otherwise, Krsna will give you more sex, the very thing you came here to get.
But you’ll have to work for it.
This article is taken from a monthly newsletter byMahatmaDas called Illuminations. If you would like to read previous issues, or get on his mailing list, go to www.mahatmadas.com.