Of sacred & secular eroticism

From the preface to “Sri Caitanya’s Teachings” by Srila Bhaktisiddhanta Sarasvati Thakur

The sexual principle is a misunderstood principle of [spiritual] reality. It cannot be further banished from our consciousness than consciousness itself.

Bhaktisiddhanta B secular eroticism The male and female forms do not only exist in this world. There is also a reality in which they are based. The soul has a [spiritual] body, symbolized by the feminine form, which is completely free from any corruptive material association.

The ascetic’s aversion to the female form prevents an unbiased examination of femininity, which is a necessary part of our concept of amorous love. This amorous love is the highest subject of human poetry and the most powerful factor in all human activities. Their uselessness cannot be justified by refusing to recognize them as part of our nature. It would be much more useful to try to understand what it really is.

The Srimad Bhagavatam is the only book that answers this most important question of all. The worship of Radha-Krishna is considered dangerous and even immoral by some modern thinkers. They seem to take exception to the erotic element which is the predominant aspect of the highest worship of Sri Radha-Krishna. Sri Caitanya Mahaprabhu teaches us that it is inevitable for everyone to pay homage to the spiritual love that characterizes the highest service of the Divine Person. This is the central theme of Srimad Bhagavatam, which deals with the transcendental service of the Personal Absolute.

Spiritual love affair is the highest service to Divinity in its most perfect manifestation. The true nature of Divine Personality will never be fully understood by those who are incapable of appreciating the outstanding excellence of His service in amorous love. The concept of personality that is available to us in this world necessarily refers to the gross human stature, combined with convention-filled human mentality. These two are the definitive parts of the concept. The functions of such personality can only be significant if they provide the needs of the body and mind.

Man is connected to the beings of this world through five types of relationships for the satisfaction of the needs of his body and mind. These five tones permeate all possible forms of such relationships. A person may have a relationship of impartiality with other human beings, but the emotional relationships may be said to begin with the relationship of a servant to his master. This is characterized by the feeling of distant respect for the Lord. The relationship of friendship is more intimate than that of servanthood. Parenthood is even more intimate. Marriage, such as that of a woman or lover to her husband or lover, is the most intimate and complete form of relationship possible with another living being. The chain of relationships is complete, through the reciprocal relationships of master to servant, friend to friend, child to parent, husband or lover to wife or beloved.

There is no reason to believe that the five forms of relationship are not also inseparable accompaniments of the personality of the Absolute Being. However, they are free from the shackles of the material gross body and subtle material mind. The love affair, like that of a woman or lover in this world, is not capable of forming the basis for other relationships on its own. Worldly love affairs are condemned, at least outwardly, to retreat into the most private sphere of this world’s affairs. It is not desirable for it to visibly influence other activities. She can only show herself openly within the limits of the utmost privacy.

Radha Krishna Lake2Despite everything, the love affair is credited with giving life its deepest attraction, which would not be worth living without this type of relationship. However, everyone in this world is more or less forced to suppress the workings of this, admittedly deepest principle, of their individual nature. This occurs in view of the opposition of the unpleasant environment, in the form of defective organs, through which it must be lived out. But this cannot condemn the principle as such, which is the controlling force of life itself. It operates with no less predominance, but with less burden of responsibility, having been banished beneath the surface by the blind resistance of an unsympathetic environment and gross sense organs.

Should we willfully deny ourselves the benefit of spiritual advice and well-considered opinions on this most vital and important question of life? All major religions ruthlessly avoid this advice and prohibit any study of this extremely important subject. Worship of Sri Radha-Krishna is the only exception to this rule. The worship of Radha-Krishna became the subject of many easily avoidable misunderstandings, born of sheer ignorance and quickly welcomed prejudices. The personality of Sri Krishna, the Eternal Divine Lover of Sri Radhika, is the leading spiritual male being of Vraja, which is the Eternal Abode of the Divine Couple as described in the Srimad Bhagavatam. This is viewed by some as an unworthy concept of the Absolute Personality, and even as the remnant and historical myth of a national hero, from times of promiscuous sexuality and primitive barbarism.

Hostility to the divinity of Sri Krishna is maintained on the basis that morality should be the core and pervasive principle of religion. However, we should not forget that this vaunted morality is at best a regulating and restrictive principle. We are so wedded to this indispensable nature of moral regulation that it requires no small effort of the imagination to admit that moral intervention would be unwanted and harmful if it did not address the actually flawed nature of our present environment and sense organs. It would be unreasonable to reject moral regulation while we are still trapped in our current flawed nature. But surely there must be a plane free from all error, which is the natural, eternal sphere of activity of our unadulterated spiritual nature. The level of divinity is superior to that of our conditioned souls. In the spiritual world, where the soul is not subject to the limiting functioning of its current material and mental appendages, there is no need for limiting moral principles. The moral principle assumes that a strong and spontaneous tendency toward evil is innate in human nature. The good in this world is in eternal conflict with the dominant evil. Moral regulation thus becomes an absolutely necessary and permanent external expression of the suppressed good life.

But upon closer inspection, we discover that moral judgment consists only of a milder form of the evil it supposedly seeks to eradicate. It does not stand up for the essential good. What morality calls goodness is only a relative and temporarily lesser evil. The essential good has remained an open question and will always remain so if we are content to be ultimately guided by a purely restrictive moral code. The above-mentioned difficulty and inadequacy of the immoral code is clearly realized by every serious practitioner. Such a code can never be good in itself. Empirical morality, as a synthesis, is a representative of purposive thinking for the introduction of a certain radically flawed type of social life. Doesn’t the existence of positive regulation hinder the exercise of true goodness? The goodness that can be produced through so-called moral regulation is not essentially different from depravity. It is essential to focus our attention on this positive issue. Is the act of producing offspring good or bad? Should love affairs be condemned or recognized? Can a questionable principle of blind regulation provide the answer to these real problems of life?

Lovership is a hard fact of life. It is perhaps the controlling thing par excellence. Why should it be able to do harm? Or should it be regulated because of our inappropriate character and our current organs and environment? Can a policy of suppressing a truly good principle be healthy in the long run? Does this not amount to refusing to think about the right solution? Would it be honest or helpful, in order to let this criminal inertia have its way, to silence those who put forward good proposals for the true solution?

Indeed, religions have systematically avoided thinking constructively about this fundamental issue. They have only prescribed regulations of the existing immoral life brought about by the unpleasant nature of the present environment and the flawed nature of our minds and bodies. It is not even negative help if this is the only precaution. The disease has been detected, but no effort has been made to cure it. But disease cannot be cured by an approach that refuses in principle to consider the restoration of healthy activity.

The question thus resolves itself into a question, “How can the fullest natural benefit be derived from this amorous endowment?” Aesthetics does not provide an answer. Aesthetics can neither monitor nor cure the truly harmful side of the worldly principle, which is the sole aim of its enquiry. The ethical answer, which in a way is more to the point, has been considered and rejected.

Medical science, biology and eugenics are limited to the physical effects of love and its effects on the mind. They also cover far fewer areas than ethics.

The positive answer to this entire subject is given only by the Srimad Bhagavatam. This was accepted and explained by Sri Krishna Caitanya. The answer illuminated by the teachings of Sri Krishna Caitanya is protected from misinterpretation by His own exemplary career. Anyone who has taken the trouble to read the records of Sri Krishna Caitanya’s career, written by his associates and successors, must be astonished at the total absence of the erotic element in his life. Sri Krishna Caitanya never surrounded himself with women on the basis of sexual intimacy. His life story is a disappointment to all those who hope to find a rich booty of erotic activities, for he was the most exalted teacher of the loving service of divinity.

In our present sinful state, sexuality gives us a sense of impurity because our present self is sensual. The feeling of impurity is really nothing but the disagreement of any material, limited, unconscious substance with the nature of the human soul. We are not on the same plane with the object of our thoughts, but are chained to them in a most unnatural way.

This desire is the feeling of impurity or aversion. So as long as we look at sexuality with a covetous eye, we cannot think about it in any other way. But this desire is also part of our current appropriated nature and cannot leave us until we are able to free ourselves from this second nature as such. With this reformation of nature, our relationship to the principle of sexuality also undergoes a complete transformation, which, however, is otherwise incomprehensible to our present capacity.

The relationship between the female form of the human soul and Sri Krishna is not the relationship between the material female form and its corresponding male form. The amorous past-times of Sri Krishna with the spiritual milkmaids of Vraja are not the amorous past-times between men and women of this world. The amorous adventures of Sri Krishna are not an invention of the wild mind of a man of pleasure. The amours of this world could not exist if the basic principle did not exist in Sri Krishna. But no one denies the existence and importance of the principle of love in the realm of the Absolute in its perfect exemplary form.

Since we consider the feminine form of the soul to be material, we are shocked by what we consider to be the shameless sensual proclivities of the transcendentalists. This remains unavoidable as long as we wilfully choose to feed the error that the sex of our experience is the true essence and not its perverted reflection. This remains inevitable as long as we imagine that we have solved the problem of sexuality by shifting our sensual activities from the body to the mind and condemning the excesses of the outward sexual act as impure without a coherent principle. Such bungling philosophy has never been able to constrain anyone and will never convince anyone of the true nature and purpose of the sexual act. This is so because the sexual act is the outward concomitant of the highest spiritual function in this sinful world, which can never be minimised or abolished by our empirical efforts. Right understanding alone can save us from the dire consequences of our present suicidal sexual indulgences.

The person Sri Caitanya Mahaprabhu is identical with Sri Krishna and yet different from Him. The activities of Sri Caitanya Mahaprabhu are therefore, also identical and yet different from the amorous past-times of Sri Krishna. The activities of Sri Caitanya Mahaprabhu appear in a form that can be accepted by the conditioned souls without being perverted by their conditioned judgement.

The perfect chanting of Krishna’s name is accessible to all souls, and it is identical to the amorous service of the spiritual milkmaids of Vraja. This is the centrepiece of the teachings of Sri Caitanya Mahaprabhu. On the other hand, those who do not practice chanting the name of Krishna together without committing offences are not able to realise the nature of Divine Love.

Those who do not have such realisations remain subject to the miserable slavery of worldly lust. Sri Radhika is not directly mentioned in the Srimad-Bhagavatam. However, in the description of the circular love dance, the rasa-dance past-times, it is described how Sri Krishna leaves the circle of dancing milkmaids in the company of a beloved who is more important to Him than all others. The milkmaids, who had thus been abruptly abandoned in the midst of the dance, praised the sincere devotion of the nameless beloved, who could make Sri Krishna prefer communion with her alone to the collective attractions of all others.

However, although the Srimad-Bhagavatam mentions the above incident, the subject is not elaborated upon in this work. The Gosvamis of Vrindavana, the apostles of Sri Caitanya Mahaprabhu, explained that this was done by Sri Sukadeva, the speaker of the Srimad-Bhagavatam, with the ulterior motive of not exposing the ‘hidden topics’ of the scriptures to his colourful audience. The ‘hidden themes’ can be recognised only by the special grace of Sri Krishna and not otherwise. They are not meant to be revealed to all without discrimination.

This explanation given by the Gosvamis is not opposed to the open treatment of the same subject by Sri Jayadeva Gosvami and other authors. Despite the Sri Gita-Govinda and its similar works, the subject of Sri Radhika’s relationship with Sri Krishna remains veiled in an impenetrable mystery. No language can give the assistant deacon anything but a misleading idea of the nature of the subject about which Sri Sukadeva maintained such a tactful silence.

The result is praised by Srila Krishnadasa Kaviraja Gosvami, the author of Sri Caitanya-Caritamrita with unmistakable delight. Kaviraja Gosvami very appropriately remarks that nothing can surpass the joy of the narrator, the hidden subject matter, when he realises that unqualified persons are completely and automatically excluded from all knowledge on the subject.

Sri Sukadeva’s reluctance to reveal the secrets of the Vedas is well founded.

Sri Jayadeva Gosvami’s approach of speaking without reservations is also in order when we realise that his book cannot be understood at all by those who are not versed in the highest spiritual culture. Certain uncritical scribes have even rubbished the author of Sri Gita-Govinda; but this is rather the exception. Usually the writers have thought it wiser to avoid all reference to this subject, as they could not understand how a book which presents a most obscene appearance could be held in great honour by all the great devotees of the country, whose conduct was considered by all to be free from all indecency. It is this paradox which has always exercised a salutary restraining influence on the more sensible writers in dealing with this incomprehensible subject.

Sri Radhika can be realised as the complementary whole of the Personal Absolute. She is the Controlled Half of the Absolute Whole. In relation to Sri Radhika, Sri Krishna is the Dominating Half. The concept of male and female refers to personality. Since both personalities are completely divine, no physicality or inadequacy of the worldly concepts pertaining to them need be carried into this subject. Subject to the incomprehensibility of our present conceptual capacity, it is nevertheless necessary to recognise the absolute logical soundness of the concept that the Divine couple actually possess male and female spiritual forms.

The individual souls serve Sri Krishna as constituents of Sri Radhika. When they forget that they are constituents of Sri Radhika, they forget the nature of their own self and engage in the abnormal activities of the worldly plane of existence. The relationship between one individual soul and another is that of mutual obedience as constituents of Sri Radhika, in the performance of their assigned service to Sri Krishna. To endeavour a worldly analogy, all individual souls are spiritually feminine beings in a subordinate position to Sri Radhika, whose service to Sri Krishna they share by their very nature as their constituents. The aim of the endeavours of individual souls is to learn to obey Sri Radhika. Only through obedience to Sri Radhika can they serve Sri Krishna.

Sri Krishna is the only goal of all worship. Sri Krishna alone is the recipient of all service. No individual soul can be the recipient of any service by himself or for another individual soul. This points to the true importance of the scriptural injunctions to refrain from sexual activity and avoid the association of all sensual persons in order to qualify for service to Sri Krishna on the spiritual platform. No idea of the positive nature, the function of the higher platform, regarding the sexual activity of this world can be imparted to those who are not completely free from the disease of worldly sexual lust. It is therefore advisable to refrain from all empirical studies, descriptions of the amorous activities of divinity until one has actually been freed from all worldly passion through preliminary service to Sri Krishna under the guidance of a bona fide spiritual master.