Is Sex an Impediment on the Spiritual Path?

By Rudra Shivananda

This is one of the more frequently asked questions that I’m emailed about and it seems to be at the root cause of a lot of stress among spiritual seekers. In the history of humanity’s spiritual efforts there has always been an ambivalent attitude towards one of the most basic instinct and pre-occupation of human beings. The sexual instinct is the animal urge for the survival of our species while the pre-occupation with the sexual act is conditioned by the gratification of sensual pleasure and consummation of emotional love.

How then did it get such a bad rap? At the root of our attitudes is the realization that the life-force and energy required and released during sex is the most powerful force that can be accessed by normal men and women. In the ancient mysteries and religions of the West, there were actually ceremonies and festivals which sought to harness these energies under controlled conditions and for higher purposes.

However, over time these practices degenerated into merely gratifications of pleasures and resulted in newer religions which sought to control the energy by making sex into a sin in fact if not in name. The rise of Christianity and Islam has burdened humanity with
a major guilt trip, including the popular misconception that Adam and Eve got kicked out of Paradise because they had sex and St. Augustine somehow related his concept of original sin to sex as well. The current status is that sex and spirituality seems to be contradictory and celibacy a requirement for a truly religious or spiritual person – priest, monks, nuns etc.

In the East, during ancient times, all the great spiritual Masters were married householders with children and demonstrated that sex was not an impediment. However, during the advent of the minor Kali Yuga or materialistic age around 600 BCE, there was a movement to harness the sexual energy for spiritual purposes by emphasizing celibacy. This led to the founding of first the Buddhist monastic order and later to Hindu swamis. The premise then was that householders could not be serious about the spiritual path. The emphasis was the saving of the energy which would somehow be used to speed up spiritual evolution.

Naturally, not long after occurred the counter-trend to utilize the sexual act itself which led to the rise of Tantra. This has given rise to an absurd amount of confusion for spiritual seekers over the last two thousand years and Sexual Tantra has become a major trend among the pleasure seekers in the West.

My purpose in going over this historical outline is two-fold: it shows that our attitudes toward sex shifts and changes over time and in different cultures and also that provides a foundation for how the attitudes can affect our spiritual life.

Lahiri MahasayaTo wrap up the outline, I wish to point out that we finished the minor Kali Yuga in 1800 CE and are now in the Dwapara Yuga, a somewhat more enlightened era. In 1862, the immortal Babaji initiated a householder into the sacred science of Kriya Yoga – Lahiri Mahasaya went on to sire children even after his initiation and becoming a Master, to demonstrate that sex itself is not an impediment to spiritual attainment. However, his enlightened teaching which matches those of the ancient Rishis is to utilize as much of your energy, including sexual energy in one’s practice, as possible.

Engage in marital sex if there is a need or duty or if one feels the desire, especially for procreation. This is no different than if one is hungry or thirsty, one should eat or drink. Sex is a natural part of our human and animal heritage. Eventually, by the persevering practice of Yoga, the spiritual seeker attains to Realization in which his/her energy system is wholly and totally harmonized and under effortless control in all activities – there is no separation into material or spiritual anymore.

There is the danger that some neophytes try to integrate their spiritual practice into their sexual activities in the hope that this will speed up their progress. However, this is almost always a big trap for a practitioner as only a Master can maintain the necessary self-control in the midst of sensual and sexual activity. The trap is that instead of overcoming the attraction and attachment to the five senses, the seeker justifies indulgence in the name of spirituality becoming more and more attached to the five senses. The theoretical logic of sexual tantra breaks down in the practical sphere of sensual gratification.

One should also keep in mind that much of the Tantric literature, the righthand path, is concerned with meditative activity utilizing the emotions and released energies for spiritual purposes through transformation – there is no actual sexual activity, apart from the male and female energies within oneself.

I’m not saying that sexual tantra is all wrong, but a Tantric Master may be more difficult to find that anyone realizes. Therefore, my recommendation is that one should engage in spiritual practice and sexual activities separately and let them have their own sphere. It is easier to bring the fruits of one’s realization into different spheres such as work, family and sex, social activity etc, as one’s consciousness is raised.

The important point is to relinquish any guilt associated with sexual activity or any doubts about the attainment of higher consciousness while still engaged in worldly activities. Don’t let the left-over lower consciousness of the Kali Yuga affect your spiritual
progress.

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