H.G. Matsyavatar Das

Monday, 17 January 2011

Family Matters (Part Two) - By Matsya Avatara Dasa (Marco Ferrini)

Dealing with Illicit Sex

Question: In ISKCON we are taught to follow the four regulative principles, among which avoiding illicit sex is often the most crucial one. However, there are situations where one member of the couple doesn’t agree on practicing sexual restraint, and this could lead to the drastic break-up of the marriage. What can be done in such cases?
This is a burning issue, which requires an honest and urgent clarification. It is not the first time I talk about it, but so far I have done it only with very intimate students.
According to my understanding of Srila Prabhupada’s teachings, I distinguish between two categories of illicit sex: the first is pre-marital and outside marriage―they belong to the same category―and the second is within wedlock, between a regular couple united before God, with the authorization and blessing of the spiritual master, who sanctifies the marriage. Both categories are classified as illicit sex―to use the classic terminology, but for me there is no comparison between the consequences of extra-conjugal illicit sex and those from illicit sex within a religiously constituted couple. The term “illicit sex” is used to point out that sexual organs are not toys and, for both men and women, their proper function is procreation. Sexual organs are parts of the body with a precise function, and every other function is improper or “illicit.” Having said this, the embodied being experiences many conditionings, arriving to this body with a huge karmic load of samskara (1) and vasana (2). For some people, therefore, the urges could be so strong that, despite all good intentions, there could be some lapses. But one thing is the lapse occurring within the married couple, and quite another thing is the lapse outside marriage. Outside the regular couple the failure is disastrous, both personally and socially, whereas within the regularly constituted couple the damage is contained, but I am still talking of damage, don't misunderstand. There is no comparison between the two damages. By the mercy of the divine grace, I have always strongly stressed the importance of following the regulative principles, and I am not talking like this to promote a different behavior, a different standard. I do believe that those who seek spiritual realization and aspire to develop pure love of God should strictly follow the regulative principles, and therefore should not engage in illicit sexual activities. At the same time, in my many years of experience counseling people, I have witnessed a lot of suffering caused by the uncritical, uncompromising application of the law.
People live on different planes of consciousness: it is exceptional to find two people on the same level, even if they both sincerely desire to become devotees at the same time. In a couple, there is often a partner who makes quick advancement, while the other might remain stationary for some time. This usually generates a gap. I have been advising couples for more than twenty years to help each other, be patient and tolerant. If one of the two needs help, the other should offer it generously. Perhaps I have not stressed this enough… I consider that one should rigorously follow the regulative principles, but I am now talking of cases that could lead to serious turmoil in a family and usually leading to betrayal. I don't want to suggest that anyone should abandon the principle of purity, but it should be understood that people can be cured through constant love and affection. If between husband and wife there is real sincerity and friendship, in some measure there will also be real love and affection; if there is the willingness to overcome one's limitations, some careful concessions can be excused, thus avoiding very big, serious and irreparable havoc.
In my answer I limit myself to saying that we shouldn't put extra-conjugal illicit sex on the same level as the occasional weaknesses in married life. Considering them the same would show a lack of spiritual comprehension and maturity and a misunderstanding of the function of controlling sexual energies. To rectify a person, to rectify the character, to cure a disease, we need to follow the path of recovery. An expert doctor always knows how to administer the medicine. I am not surprised or astonished if a young couple of my students once in a while indulge in effusions that go beyond the limit. Of course, I absolutely don't encourage such things because they dissipate emotional resources and increase bodily identification, distracting the devotee from the real purpose of life: Krishna-bhakti. At the same time, I am in my late fifties and I have some knowledge and experience of psychology, I have seen people who have rigidly negated their impulses for a long time and later, even in the guise of renouncers, have abandoned their religious vows.

Repression and Sublimation

Whoever represses his sexual instincts without being able to sublimate them, which means increasing his sadhana and connection to guru and Krishna, won't be able to resist long enough, and will inevitably head for a falldown. These falldowns could be so serious that the individual thrown in such a state of moral and spiritual prostration, might not be able to rise again, at least in that lifetime. As the Vaisnava scriptures explain, only a few people in this age are already so elevated that they can immediately and completely abstain from sexual activity. The majority of people need gradual distancing, protected by the institution of marriage and regulated by the four principles, the necessary groundwork for ethical life and the pursuit of spiritual realization. The management of emotions requires great competence and maturity, both cultural and spiritual. The guidance and direct assistance of the spiritual master is therefore essential, especially in crucial moments of life, when one is called to make fundamental choices (e.g.: choice of ashrama) that, if wrongly handled, could jeopardize or stop spiritual advancement.
Both repression of instincts and indiscriminate indulgence can produce neurosis and serious personality disorders. Our Vaishnava literature explains that psycho-physical energies, indispensable for the journey towards transcendence, should be neither negated or repressed, nor indiscriminately dispersed; they should be correctly used, beneficially and propaedeutically to the development of personality. In other words, they should be sublimated by engaging in devotional service. Hari-nama japa and nama sankirtana, Deity worship and spiritual association are the best means to overcome problems of lust.
Experience teaches us that through the discipline of bhakti-yoga it is not only possible to sublimate impulses, by the elimination of their self-destructive unconscious charge, but also to re-integrate them on the plane of pure consciousness, as divine rasa. Otherwise, when one gives in to such impulses without discrimination, they obnubilate and obscure the consciousness, provoking confusion, frustration and suffering; they enslave the subject in ephemeral conceptions and bodily identities, in destructive tendencies and instincts. The science of bhakti aims at the exact opposite: making the person fully conscious of his divine nature, his own relationship with God and an instrument for everybody’s well being, including his own.
The second and third chapter of the Bhagavad-gita teach us that whoever represses certain impulses but keeps cultivating attachment for the sense objects in the mind, persisting in their contemplation and internally longing for them, won't succeed in the path of yoga (3). We need to learn how to dissociate from the sense objects also psychologically, transcending the problem, and for this there is a discipline or a route to follow, with arrangements and methods that partially differ from person to person, according to the various states of consciousness and psychological conditioning. Such different arrangements are obviously all finalized to reach the same objective: overcome bodily identification and selfish gratification, and develop pure bhakti. Krishna says that discovering a higher taste is necessary to abandon the inferior, conditioned and conditioning taste, source of multiple sufferings, and to reorient physical and mental dynamics. "The embodied soul may be restricted from sense enjoyment, though the taste for sense objects [the desire for them] remains. By experiencing a higher taste and ceasing such engagements, he becomes fixed in [Krishna] consciousness."

(1) Traces or engrams in the memory that determine the conformation of the deep psyche or unconscious, and which are the origin of mental tendencies and automatisms.
(2) Latent tendencies that condition the individual character and behavior.
(3) "While contemplating the objects of the senses, a person develops attachment for them, and from such attachment lust develops, and from [frustrated] lust anger arises. From anger, complete delusion arises, and from delusion bewilderment of memory. When memory is bewildered, intelligence is lost, and when intelligence is lost one falls down again into the material pool." Bhagavad-gita 2.62-63.

No comments:

Post a Comment