The following post is taken from my response to a young person interested in practicing celibacy as a way to cultivate spirituality:
…The whole idea of celibacy made sense to my mind: conserve the vital essence and transmute “lower desires” into higher “spiritual perceptions”; do not waste or dissipate the sex energy as it is a strain and hindrance in cultivating the spirit.
Ok, what am I getting at?…The constant fight and discipline year after year was exhausting me physically and tweaking me mentally. Even though I could sit for hours on end and once in awhile experience the most sublime out of body states, I came to realize that the constant fight would ensure my ultimate separation from the very Source I prayed and fought for. I was fighting the very energy (sex) that was needed to feel deeply alive and aware. I found that the more I was able to kill the sex instinct, the more dead I felt on the inside…and my body started to fall apart. I was getting sick for longer and longer periods.
It’s kind of interesting to note the corner I painted myself into. It seems that the world loves and reveres the monk or nun who “gives up the world” for a “higher calling.” And it’s so easy to fall into the trap of feeling special, that somehow you’re doing something “selfless” and beyond the scope of the rest of the world, that achieving the highest spirituality somehow required a separation from the world. In fact the world and worldly pastimes (especially sex) was a sort of enemy—one to be denied and fought. And the ones who fought the hardest were the ones most revered, even if the battle left physical and mental scars.
It was quite a cosmic set-up. Devotees of the church revered the sanyasis, the senior monks and nuns of the order. Of course they revered the ideal that we represented, but it was a little too easy to go along with the unspoken charade of being somehow separate and higher than the rest of the world. A seductive kind of spiritual arrogance would creep in. Try as one might to remain humble and to be authentic and real, the power of group-think and the tidal pull of living in close community with those who thought along the same lines made it difficult to think and act differently. In other words, the voice of the community and the role of monastic would more often than not overshadow and overpower the voice of my own heart, which was sublimated to such a degree that I came to consider body, mind and even my heart as a kind of enemy, something not to be trusted.
The idea of “transmutation,” the raising of the kundalini to sublimate sexual desire was a nice sounding principle that meant nothing to me in practice. You see, I started from the premise that sex was something that got in the way of spirituality and that it was a “waste” of vital essence, that it was something to “transmute,” that higher spiritual perceptions occur only when the sex desire is let go of. This starting point would hardly allow for the transmutation of sex desire, as I was not able to transmute that which I did not wish to fully look at or embrace within myself.
I chopped myself into pieces: Higher Self vs. lower self, sex desire vs. spiritual desire, ego vs. soul, etc. etc…This very separation of self and Higher Self was also the backdrop of my prayer for oneness with God, and in my own fragmented consciousness, I relegated God to an impossible future: “If I try harder, if I’m chaste enough, if I’m good enough and strong enough…maybe then I will find oneness with God.” That inner schism between my “weak” and “faulty” self and with the God Ideal was tweaking me mentally to no end!
Fast-forward 19 years. When I left the ashram, it was with the thought from some in the community that I gave up, that I did not try hard enough, that somehow I was caught by delusion. It was part of a belief system that was extremely difficult to dislodge from. However, I finally came to the understanding that I needed to just be, sex desire and all… to embrace rather than to fight the energies of my humanness. Was it delusion on my part? Maybe, but I knew that the ultimate surrender would begin by learning little by little to trust the voice of my own heart, and not the loud voices shouting “failure” and “fallen one” from the outside.
During that difficult period, I felt a need for a major housecleaning: I threw out all of my holy relics and sacred scriptures! I felt a need to toss it all: the baby along with the bathwater! It was not from desperation, but rather from an inner knowing that it was ok to let the whole superstructure of my spiritual belief system to collapse, along with all the assumptions, props and mythologies built up around the lives of the holy saints, the gurus, sannyasis, etc. I felt that the voice that called me to the ashram was now calling me to enter another phase of learning, one that called for a greater trust in what my heart was saying.
Now about celibacy…this is my opinion: What belief system do you wish to build up around it? Do you wish to believe the rishis and gurus who apparently develop great powers through the mastery of brahmacharya? Or do you subscribe to the present medical model that says there is no harm in losing the sex fluid? In my experience, yeah, it’s great to abstain for long periods, and yeah, it’s also fabulous to indulge. Why make either way such a big deal? In my opinion…it comes down to just being aware from moment to moment. If you wish to have sex, do so with all your awareness and being. If you wish to practice celibacy, do so with all your awareness and being. If you wish it to be a fight, do so with awareness and being.
In the ashram, some of the monks who seemed to be most disciplined could also be the most emotionally disconnected and harsh. This is not to say there were not some wonderful and loving individuals there. I have also met some deeply spiritual and powerfully loving householders, people who have the responsibilities of raising a family. I bow my head to those who have been able to achieve such balance in their lives while caring for family.
The belief systems we build up around spirituality and the saints can be just as much a trap as can be in losing ourselves in the day-to-day dramas of “worldly living,” sexual overindulgence, relationship problems, etc. Again, I think it comes down to connecting with the lessons that are here for us when we just allow ourselves to be available to where we are in the sacred moment.
It sounds so simple…and I think it really is. But the mind seems to want to complicate things, to idealize the saints and gurus, to build huge edifices of stone and scriptures. I think it’s fine in the beginning, in fact maybe it’s necessary as a way to develop some kind of spiritual routine…And for me it took me almost two decades to get to a point of understanding the fundamental simplicity of the spiritual path…I’m a slow learner. It’s something that a 5 year old can understand. But the practice of moment to moment awareness is fought by the mind because it wants to make the path to God the most arduous, where only the saints and renunciants abide.
…I could be wrong about the whole thing, and I only have my heart to filter all the experiences garnered over a lifetime. But I think that is all that anyone has. We can mentally process, but the heart will ultimately filter it all. If we cannot trust our hearts, where are we?