Thursday, February 16, 2012

Puritanical Bhava? Never heard of it.

A NOTE OF CLARIFICATION: In thinking back on this topic, there is something I probably should clarify here, right up front, and that is that what I understand to be "lust" and what more conservative religionists call "lust" could be two different things. Especially as it pertains to bridal mysticism/madhurya bhava.

The kind of lust that the gopis were said, by some, to have had for Krishna was, I would imagine, dominated by love primarily; it goes through the heart before it goes anywhere else. It's the sort that a girlfriend would have for her boyfriend or a wife for her husband -- it's what's called "chemistry". And in the context of it involving God, there's something in the "texture" of it that's somehow purer, higher, cleaner, than the sort between two humans. God brings a depth to it because of His eternality that isn't there in the context of human mortality.

By contrast, the kind of lust that religious conservatives are warning against is likely the kind that is purely physical for it's own sake.  It doesn't go through the heart, in love, at all.

The ideal kind of "lust", if it must be called that, is more along the lines of Love, with lusty undertones, with the ultimate goal being that of Ultimate Union and not just merely to relieve an "itch". :)   
I hope all that made sense.  Please also note that I was feeling a tad ... annoyed ... when I wrote the following, so the tone is a bit sardonic in places.  
And now, on to the main post...
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"Woe to you, teachers of the law and Pharisees, you hypocrites!  You shut the kingdom of heaven in men's faces.  You yourselves do not enter, nor will you let those enter who are trying to." 
~ Matthew 23:13 ~

I was reminded of the above verse in researching the subject of lust as it relates to the devotional mood of madhurya-bhava (romantic love for God, a.k.a. "bridal mysticism").

It would seem that, in Hinduism, there's this mixed-message being delivered when it comes to Lord Krishna's exchanges with the cowherd-girls in Vrindavan. The loving exchanges are sexual in context, though there's a deeper message to it than just that. However, there seems to be what can only be described as 'damage control' by some religious leaders in the field who insist that, as provocative as the presentation of Krishna's pastimes may be, one must not have lustful feelings for the Lord, because, in spite of what it may look like, the cowherd-girls didn't have such feelings.

Let me say up front that I'm not the sort who feels the need for everything to be about physical relations. Quite the opposite — I would be happy as a clam if I were to spend the rest of my years living a nun's life. So, for anyone concerned that the following material is presented by someone interested in maintaining a life of raunchy carnality, it ain't.

Now, perhaps we should establish the meaning of the term "lust". The following is from

As you can see, while "lust" can refer to an overabundance of sexual desire, it can also mean merely "intense" sexual desire. Frankly, I think "intense sexual desire" is a redundant term. Sexual desire is, by nature, intense. So, rather than insisting there be no lust (or sexual desire) in madhurya-bhava, perhaps it should be modified to say that such desire should not be out-of-control. After all, too much of anything, even if it's basically good, isn't good for you.

Madhurya-bhava is a romantic mood. It's like that found between lovers. As such, it will necessarily contain sexual desire or lust. That's what distinguishes it from the other, more platonic, modes of relating to God.

Let's examine some of the more puritanical sound-bytes floating around out there concerning this mood as it relates to God:

"Thus there is not the slightest taint of lust in the gopīs' love. Their relationship with Krishna is only for the sake of His enjoyment." CC Ādi 4.172

Personally, I think such statements as the above derive their inspiration more from male-dominated cultural norms than from Divine decree. A deity who is made to appear as though He is perfectly comfortable mingling with the ladies the way He is said to have done is not going to be uptight about such things as lust. The above attitude seems to be saying "God forbid the woman enjoy herself in the area of romantic relationships!" Maybe it's this attitude that influenced how Mary, the mother of Jesus, was said to be eternally virgin. It's almost as though women are expected to undergo a spiritual form of female circumcision. Can't have the ladies enjoying these things! Heck no.

Here's a gem, from the International Society for Krishna Consciousness (ISKCON) — an institution that, in spite of being all about lust-free living, struggles with sexual scandal itself:

"First there must be no lust or sex desire, otherwise you go to hell. To think of Krishna while lusting for sex is sahajiya life. This contamination comes from the babajis in Vrindaban. No devotee should wander around Vrindaban apart from our organized program. If this sahajiya nonsense continues, then all preaching will stop." ~ Srila Prabhupada, ISCKON and Madhurya-Rasa

I'm sure they're learning the hard way, through the aforementioned scandals, that what we resist persists. It reminds me of the Catholic Church, which also tries to stamp out natural desires in it's followers and only winds up with more scandalous issues as a result. I would also have to ask why Prabhupada is playing the "hell" card; I was under the impression that such a place wasn't part of that belief system. It's certainly not a part of mine.

Having been brought up with the hell-fire doctrines of Christianity, I daresay that clinging to God in a spirit of lusting after Him is far superior to doing so out of avoidance of supposed eternal hellfire, the latter which involves fear and not attraction per se.

One of the beauties of God being the focus of any supposedly-inferior emotion (such as anger, lust) is that He at least has the power to transofrm it into something positive. Anger and lust aimed at fellow humans just doesn't work out so well, since other people cannot get inside your head and heart and rewire those emotions (if necessary) the way God can. In fact, the Śrīmad Bhāgavatam says as much:
SB 7.1.26: "Therefore by enmity or by devotional service, by fear, by affection or by lusty desire — by all of these or any one of them — if a conditioned soul somehow or other concentrates his mind upon the Lord, the result is the same, for the Lord, because of His blissful position, is never affected by enmity or friendship."
SB 7.1.31: "My dear King Yudhiṣṭhira, the gopīs by their lusty desires, Kamsa by his fear, Sisupala and other kings by envy, the Yadus by their familial relationship with Krishna, you Pandavas by your great affection for Krishna, and we, the general devotees, by our devotional service, have obtained the mercy of Krishna."
Oh, so now we're told that the gopis did have lusty desires! Imagine that!
For a belief system which presents God as coming to earth and romancing more than one girl (at the same time!), and which exalts such writers as Mirabai, Andal, and Vidyapati, to turn around and say that no trace of lust is appropriate is quite disingenuous. Such a system is reminiscent of a woman who deliberately dresses provocatively and then smacks a guy upside the head for having the audacity to appreciate her efforts! It is a head-game at best and I see right through it.

It's been said that such prudery wasn't around at first, but gradually came into the picture after Islam and Christianity influenced things. According to an Indian art site, "The ideal of the Rasa Lila is very popular in contemporary India, despite the tendency to more puritanical religious modes of expression. Spiritual sensuality has, in general, been repressed in the East, largely because of the influence of Muslim and Christian invaders." If that is indeed the case, I think it's time folks stopped listening to the invaders and started reclaiming their original position on these things. Maybe the outrageously-ironic sex-scandals will even decrease as a result, because instead of lusting after each other, they'll be lusting after God again, in Whose hands such strong emotions are, obviously, far safer!

Consider the following:
"Devotee: 'Are you therefore saying that sex when aimed at God is pure and when aimed at another human body is impure?'
"Gurudev: 'Yes, exactly. Normal worldly lust for another person in another body is called Kaam but lust directed towards God is called NishKaam. When NishKaam awakens in the heart, it very quickly pulls the devotee to God. This was the attitude of the gopis of Vrindavan.'" — Om Sripada Bhaktivedanta Tripurari Swami, website, "Sanga: Q & A"
Here's a doozy:
"The spiritual kamadeva [Krishna, as the god of lust], who establishes a relationship with the soul, defeats Cupid [ananga, who is invisible] through the means of Cupid's own flower arrows of form, taste, touch, smell, and sound. Govinda (Krishna, who gives pleasure to the senses) engages the soul's senses in experiencing him, and thus establishes himself as the transcendental Cupid, with whom the soul can experience eternal love." — Swami B.V. Tripurari from Aesthetic Vedanta: the Sacred Path of Passionate Love, p. 44

Yeah, you read that right ... Krishna is referred to as the god of lust. The Puritanicals must love that!

Here's another, which essentially blows the whistle regarding from whence lust comes:
"When a living entity comes in contact with the material creation, his eternal love for Krishna is transformed into lust, in association with the mode of passion....Therefore, the origin of lust is also in the Supreme. If, therefore, lust is transformed into love for the Supreme, or transformed into Krishna consciousness—or, in other words, desiring everything for Krishna—then both lust and wrath can be spiritualized. Hanuman, the great servitor of Lord Rama, engaged his wrath upon his enemies for the satisfaction of the Lord. Therefore, lust and wrath, when they are employed in Krishna consciousness, become our friends instead of our enemies." — His Divine Grace A. C. Bhaktivedanta Swami Prabhupada, Purport to Ch. 3, Text 37, Bhagavad-gita As It Is, pp. 204-205

Makes sense — we come from God, so anything that is part of us will, by extension, also come from God. Including lust.

Then there's the following from Swami Tripurari:
"Q. In your book 'Aesthetic Vedanta: The Sacred Path of Passionate Love' you mention the Kama Sutra. Doesn't the Kama Sutra depict material physical sexual acts of exploitation? How can this be spiritual?

A. Actually, Krishna employed the Kama sutra in rasa lila, as did Balarama in his rasa krida. About Balarama's rasa lila, Sanatana Goswami says in his Vaisnava Tosanai commentary, 'Because he is ramah, he is expert in conjugal affairs. He is also the Supreme Lord, so he is very expert in in the various types of conjugal pastimes mentioned in the Kama-sutras.'

The author of Kama sutra was a disciple of Gauttama, a very sober sage. The sutras are concerned with the art of love making. Krishna employed this art without any material selfishness. This is rasa lila, and this is the difference between mundane and spiritual life. However, one cannot remain in the bodily conception of life and experience the full measure of selflessness, and I don't think many people today properly understand the Kama sutra." (
That last part seems to be saying that, while utter selflessness is the ideal, it is an established fact that those still in their mortal bodies are not going to be able to measure up to that ideal. And that's okay! I figure if God has a serious problem with that, He can easily extract us from our mortal bodies and place us where we no longer struggle with such mundane things. Evidently, the way things are set up around here, it's not a problem for Him; on the contrary, it's all by His design.

Here's another exchange — somewhat surprising to me considering his more reserved stance pertaining to madhurya-bhava — between Srila Prabhupada and a young lady, which I found on a website dealing with Bhakti Yoga:

"But sometimes, Prabhupada said surprising things. In Mayapur, there's this young girl in the early days, and Prabhupada said,
'So, are you attracted to Krishna?'
She said, 'Yeah! Yeah!'
Prabhupada said, 'Krishna is a young boy,'
he then said:
'He might even kiss you!'
He just said it like that! She went all red and everything!"

Of course — and unfortunately — the site from which the above is shared is quick to add that things pertaining to Krishna's loving affairs are "very difficult to understand" and how one must be "pure from lust to understand". No, I think the young lady understood perfectly, unless the whole thing is just one big bait-and-switch scheme: lure 'em in with the ooh-la-la's and then, once they're in the fold, smother the life out of 'em with priggish prudery.  Seriously, if God didn't want people to view Him in such a sensual light, He would have gone about it a completely different way, one which would not so easily suggest the suggestive. He's pretty smart like that.

A couple of other interesting tidbits I have found which touch upon other areas of sexuality as it relates to the Divine, and which the puritanical set would likely shun. First off, a Wikipedia entry about Mohini, which is Vishnu in His female form, yields this startling little bit of trivia:

"The rare instance where an 'explicit, male homosexual act' is suggested is in a Telugu text where when Shiva is busy lovemaking with Mohini-Vishnu, the latter returns to his original form and still the lovemaking continues." (source: Splitting the difference: gender and myth in ancient Greece and India by Wendy Doniger, p.265)

Okay, so, anyone bashing homosexuals for being somehow spiritually inferior can stop right now. It's official. Vishnu and Shiva evidently didn't have a problem with it.

Here's another one, on a somewhat related note considering how such things apparently can go, in the Sri Ujjvala-nilamani by Srila Rupa Gosvami, which seems to suggest that ... how do I put this delicately? ... when it comes to loving exchanges, three is not a crowd:
"Describing the activities of Sasikala and Kamala (two friends of rangadevi), Rupa-manjari said to Rati-manjari: 'Kamala said: O Sasikala, I shall go now and leave you in Krsna's hand. Sasikala replied: Why do you speak these lies. I am your servant and messenger. It is I who should go, and you who should stay. Look! Krishna has become charmed by the sweetness of the extraordinary love these two gopis bear for each other. Simultaneously He embraces them both to His chest, and passionately enjoys amorous pastimes with them both."

"Krishna addresses the two gopi-messengers Madhavi and Malati: 'Madhavi, where are you going with My Malati? And you, Malati, where are you going with My Madhavi? My dear extraordinary beautiful and qualified girls, the dark-complexioned young bumble-bee of Krishna shall now take you both to a secluded place, drink the honey of your kisses, and enjoy transcendental amorous pastimes with you.'"

"The intimate, sweet, rare friendship existing among the sama-madhya-sakhis is very difficult to understand. Only those learned in the intricacies of transcendental love can understand it.

"Krishna said to gopi-messenger Mandaraksi: 'I am very glad to tell you that your friend Radharani said to Me: Mukunda, follow Mandaraksi and quickly bring her to Me in the cottage of creepers in this forest-grove. Appearing like a moon standing between two stars, Krishna then enjoyed transcendental pastimes with Radharani and Mandaraksi."

Now, I see it as being one of two things: Those Hindu writings which seem to support lust, homosexuality, and the occasional threesome can be considered either as divinely-inspired/canonical, or they simply represent a form of what is now known as "slash fiction", written by devotees who are at least as qualified to speak on the subject as any die-hard celibate experts in the field.

Perhaps my objection to the staunchly puritanical approach to loving God puts me squarely in the left-handed path along with the Vaishnava-Sahajiyas, but as Galileo once said, "I do not feel obliged to believe that the same God who has endowed us with sense, reason, and intellect has intended us to forgo their use." I figure that goes for any other human characteristic as well. It's not that they should never be used, but simply used wisely.
And when directed towards God, who is an expert in the field of our self-improvement, it's all good!

"To the pure, all things are pure." ~ Titus 1:15a