Question: Tantra or the practice of "Sacred Sexuality," is becoming very popular in the West today. Do you think these teachings offer an authentic spiritual path?
Swamiji: No, I do not think that these teachings offer an authentic spiritual path. Why? Because of human frailty, human weakness. The human mind is so made that it always takes the path of least resistance. It always wants the easy way.
Tantra is an approach to God through all types of sense enjoyment. Everything is offered to God and so everything becomes sanctified; nothing is profane. One enjoys sense satisfaction and sees it also as part of God’s bliss. There is a view, and it has something to it, that while in all human experiences duality persists—there is an "I am enjoying this object" feeling—that in the ultimate sexual experience between a truly loving male, intensely in love with the female and fully reciprocated by the female, there is no consciousness of one’s separate individuality. There is a total fusion of the separatist consciousness in each one, and there is only the awareness of bliss experience. There is no experiencer. They say this is a possibility when it is done to its perfection. The two cease to be and there is only one, non-dual experience, Experience Absolute, Brahmic-consciousness. So they say that the human body is an instrument that, if properly made use of, can bring about a rising above body consciousness.
For one in a million it may click.
The pursuit of pleasure is part of the Western view of life—not the denial of pleasure. And one teacher in ten may be an authentic teacher genuinely offering something suited to the Western temperament. But nine of them are very shrewd people. They know there is a market for this, and they are wise to it. The approach is: You can have your cake and eat it too.
Mind you, this was an authentic path that did once upon a time exist in India, especially in the Eastern part. Even now it exists. But it became grossly perverted. People became enmeshed in it. They said they were practising tantra but it was only wining, dining, and sex pleasure. It took them nowhere, but I suppose it took them where they wanted to go. So it was dubbed by enlightened people of that time as the "perverted path." Two paths then came into existence: the authentic path which was called the "right-hand path," and the perverted path which was only after enjoyment. That was called the "left-hand path."
There is an episode in the life of the great Sri Ramakrishna, the guru of Swami Vivekananda. He practised all the yogic paths as well as Christianity, Islam and others, and he discovered that they all led to the same ultimate God-experience. And during one period of his spiritual life he practised tantra also. A woman tantric approached him and said, "I have been sent here by God to initiate you into the tantric way of attaining God." Day after day she expounded the tantric way. But when it came to the final stage, Sri Ramakrishna, who swore by brahmacharya, replied that through this [his] body it is impossible. She said, "Then I’ll have the whole thing enacted before you." So she got a tantric male and a tantric female to enact the ultimate consummation of the practice before him. As he was observing it stage by stage she went on describing it to him: "Observe carefully. Now you see how they are in ecstasy; they are ecstatic. They are losing their own consciousness." And at that stage, suddenly Ramakrishna lost all consciousness. He went into deep samadhi. So he vicariously proved to himself that that ultimate sexual experience can lift one up into that state beyond all duality.
And so the science as such exists, but there are very few authentic gurus, and it has to be strictly followed under the personal supervision of a true guru. I am likely to be accused of being uncharitable, but I believe that most purveyors of modern sacred sexuality are interested in making a profit out of it for themselves.
As I told you, the sex force is sacred; sex is sacred. It is one of the most sacred of all things. But sacred sexuality is a misnomer. Once you get enmeshed in sexuality, the sacredness is given the bye-bye. That is due to man’s weakness, frailty. Therefore, I am not going to be an advocate of it.
Question: Considering the number of lapses and aberrations in those who have taken a lifelong vow of celibacy both in the West and East, do you feel that perhaps undertaking the practice should be restricted to individuals who have attained a certain degree of spiritual maturity first?
Swamiji: I wouldn’t fully subscribe to this view because, first and foremost, people who have attained to a certain degree of spiritual maturity would have reached that at least partially through brahmacharya. The very fact that they have reached a certain degree of spiritual maturity indicates that brahmacharya, at least in the broader sense of the term, must have been part of their make up or part of the way by which they ascended to that degree of maturity. And I have no hesitation in saying that the lapses and aberrations you refer to cannot lessen the validity of the concept and the tradition of brahmacharya in any way. They are solely due to the imperfection of the persons concerned.
On the other hand, before one takes a lifelong vow of celibacy one has to make sure one has a real vocation; there has to be an inner call to the life and to embrace celibacy. It cannot be a decision based on sentiment and emotional euphoria, rather it is a judgement through a rational, logical appraisal of the life. I also insist that one should not take the vow of monasticism until one is old enough to understand one’s own biology and has had some experience of what one has within oneself, what one has to deal with. One has to face this squarely.
I would also suggest that a person be allowed to take the vow of lifelong celibacy only after they have been kept under observation and tutelage for some time. For example, the Ramakrishna Mission keeps a person as a pre-probationer for one full year. Then he goes through a probationary period for a minimum of eight years. Only then is he eligible to request that he be a full monastic swami. So this type of taking in, sifting and observing would perhaps obviate many of these lapses and aberrations. You only allow a person to undertake that vow after a certain period in the spiritual life.
However, even when all the conditions I have mentioned are fulfilled, extreme caution must be exercised until a stage is reached where brahmacharya is one’s normal and natural condition.
Brahman is the highest brahmachari because He is One without a second, and if you are established in Brahman, you are in that same state—where there is no second, where there is no other. There is a stage where one becomes totally devoid or free from the sex idea. There is no sex or man or woman or this or that because one’s view has radically changed. Quite apart from whatever is around—the world in which one is living—one is totally changed. One’s consciousness is no longer kept upon that level where these things have any meaning or relevance. When consciousness is in another place, all things are seen, perceived, but they make no difference. You look at this, you look at that; you are seeing everything, but it doesn’t bring about any change in the state of your inner consciousness, which always remains the same. That is the ultimate transcendence which is a possibility and which is an ideal, which ought to be striven for and which ought to be attained. That is what the guru wants for the disciple. That is what the saints want for the ordinary man. Because, before this there is still risk of a downfall. So our saints say that until the last breath always exercise caution.
Actually, the vast, vast majority of human beings are human animals only; they are totally rooted in body consciousness. So the yogi says that their consciousness only revolves in the lowest three centres, that is food, sex and lower elimination. If some higher awakening comes and they develop compassion for others, a spirit of service, wanting to make others happy, then the consciousness occasionally manifests itself in the fourth centre, the centre of feeling.
If the consciousness persists in the upward trend of spiritual evolution and ideal living, it can come to the visuddha-chakra where one can have many subjective experiences, visions etc., but still the experiences come and go and the consciousness moves up and down, up and down.
If consciousness rises further to the ajna-chakra, one tends to be more and more stable, established, because it is the centre of the mind, the psyche. But it is only when consciousness comes to the sahasrara that there is no longer a chance of a downfall. One is above body consciousness. One is not aware of oneself as a body. One does not think or feel or conceive of oneself as a physical entity at all. There is no moving down. Consciousness is firmly established. But until then there is always a need to be vigilant.