I am very fortunate to have a committed, spiritual relationship in which my partner and I are devoted to God first and to serving and loving one another and all in Him.
We are a young couple and physically very attracted to each other. So we recognize enjoying intimacy and sex as natural.
It becomes very difficult, however, for us to “set” an appropriate frequency for sex, when our spiritual aspirations of moderation and self-control seemingly conflict with our sexual drive and day-to-day preferences.
How can we find balance between indulgence and self-control, high spiritual ideals and natural, loving intimacy?
I don’t think there is any other area of life where there is such a wide gap between what the fully liberated masters say, and what the average person experiences.
Sex, the masters declare, is one of life’s great delusions. Yet most people believe that it is one of life’s greatest joys. It isn’t easy to bridge that gulf!
Modern society has, for the most part, simply turned its back on the high spiritual teachings of the masters and committed itself to sex. We swim in a sea of constant stimulation. Like fish in water, we hardly even notice. To say that women’s western fashions are immodest is putting it mildly. That which used to be considered pornographic is now commonly seen on television, movies, and billboards.
I mention this only to say that to live even a sexually moderate life, what to speak of a celibate one, is not easy in these times. In such a restless age, even to want to focus our energy in a committed loving relationship is a big step forward. When that relationship includes devotion to God, we have the potential for a happy, fulfilling life.
Whether your relationship is pleasing to God will not be determined by the frequency of your sexual relations, but by the overall direction of your energy. To Love God with ever-increasing devotion, and serve others – that’s what matters. And that is how you describe yourselves. If you were not so attracted to each other, you probably wouldn’t be together. Then all of the other positives of your relationship would not be there either.
Swami Kriyananda said that sex is one of the greatest sources of tension in marriages between devotees. My response was, “That makes us pretty much like everyone else!”
He remained serious in the face of my lighthearted quip. He explained that, with devotees, there is a twist. One partner or the other might decide to renounce sex, or they develop a complex about it. Sometimes it is because of a spiritually inspired disinclination for sex. More often, it is because he feels guilty about his attraction to sex, and he can’t reconcile his actual state with the ideal of purity described in the teachings.
I use the male pronoun here for convenience, but women are just as likely to feel this way. We begin then to look upon our partner not as a friend, but as a tempter, or temptress. Things go rapidly downhill from there.
On another occasion, I remember a monk who left the Ananda monastery to marry. He then decided that he would continue to live a celibate life, even within the marriage.
Unfortunately, this was not what his wife had signed on for! When Swamiji heard of the tension between the couple over this issue, he advised the former monk: “You can’t have it both ways. You can’t take on the responsibility of a wife, and not take her reality into account.”
Fortunately, both of you agree about your sexual relations. Whatever you do from now on, you will need to find a way to act from a shared understanding. There is no point in forcing yourselves to meet some artificial external standard, if it isn’t a sincere expression of your own consciousness. To do so would be mere suppression, not transcendence.
Transcendence comes naturally, when self-restraint is not the result of guilt, fear, or a desire to “look good,” but arises from a clear understanding that restraining the desire is more fulfilling than indulging it.
At first for one who seeks to transcend, there may be a middle ground when the desire is still strong, and discipline is needed to restrain it. In time, however, restraining that energy with a wholesome attitude opens up an entirely new reality. As Swamiji put it, “Once the desire for sex is overcome, you can’t imagine why you were ever attracted to it in the first place.”
For you now, sex is a great pleasure. Neither suppression nor transcendence is the issue. Swamiji’s comment will probably be incomprehensible to you. To give up sex would feel like a loss. Still, the teachings promise that you will, as sincere aspiratins, in time transcend it. That time, however, has not yet arrived for you. This is nothing to be proud of, nor is there any reason to be ashamed. It is just a fact.
Mahatma Gandhi, who was famous for his asceticism, said that we should never seek to renounce a pleasure until we have replaced it with a higher pleasure. On the path of Self-realization, we have no choice but to go by our own experience.
In the meantime, keep in mind the reasons why sex can work against your spiritual aspirations. If you know what the pitfalls are, you are less likely to fall into them.
To begin with, sex is inherently ego-affirming. Greater emphasis of the ego is, of course, the opposite of where you want to go spiritually. Ego is “the soul, identified with the body,” Paramhansa Yogananda said. Sex constantly reinforces that definition. “I am a woman. You are a man. We can unite most intimately through our bodies.” That is the underlying premise of your attraction.
The starting point for sex is a compelling personal desire. In a spiritually refined relationship sex is based on mutual giving. Still, the extent to which you have a personal need is the extent to which you cannot be entirely selfless. The purpose of marriage, like all relationships, is to learn to love selfessly – considering the other as your own self.
A sexual relationship emphasizes our own, unique personal connection with the other; and the uniqueness of our connection. Most people, of course, wouldn’t consider this to be a fault. But as the Bhagavad-Gita reminds us, “What is day to the worldly man is night to the yogi. What is night to the worldly man is day to the yogi.”
To become overly infatuated with each other, and too defined by being a “couple,” is not, in the long run, helpful. Love gradually grows from the personal to the impersonal; from the individual to the universal.
Be sincere and utterly open with God and the Guru. Don’t be ashamed or embarrassed by your sexuality. At the same time, don’t make a dogma of it. Meditate often on these words from a wedding ceremony that Swami Kriyananda created for the Ananda communities: “May our love grow ever deeper, purer, more expansive, until, in our perfected love, we find the perfect love of God.”
Above all, trust that the Master has brought you together, and that together he will lead you to God.