Friday, 20 March 2015

ONLINE LECTURE SERIES 4: FASTING, A RADICAL WAY TO EASE YOUR SUFFERING



Life is not easy, and only a fool or an overly idealistic teenager would ever think otherwise. Our path in life is strewn with challenges and peculiar obstacles that might mean very little to anyone else, but loom large in our own world. Money problems, relative problems, family problems, employment problems, sickness, dark moods, overwhelming urges - it all adds up. The general cry that rises to the heavens from humanity is pretty much mostly one large wordless, constant, wail. This is as it was, as it is, as it may well be and on this plane of existence, the game of life is a game of challenges and obstacles with very few moments of respite. On other heavenly planes. life is certainly easier - but on this earth plane there is a good reason why things are as they are: we sign on for an incarnation to overcome obstacles, to learn how to cope with our human body, mind and feelings, to right wrongs we have committed and to reach towards the Divine.

Throughout history, humanity has explored short-cuts to this process. Some are radical. For example in post-Roman empire Europe some over-enthusiastic Christian monks decided the radical way to rid themselves of lust was castration: the idea never really caught on among the general population! In India for some millenia the opportunity existed for people to drop all attachments and sally forth into the world as sannyasins, able to survive through the generosity of others. 

Our modern age has looked closely at other short-cuts. And it is interesting to see that two very quick growing movements in the 20th century, Yogananda's Self-Realisation fellowship and Maharishi's TM movement, both claimed to offer speedy advancement to enlightenment. Yogananda said his kriya yoga was the difference between walking and driving a car in terms of spiritual progress. Maharishi, never one to avoid a grandiose claim, said something along the lines of "Car? Well, TM is a jet plane!" And in our wired age it's amazing, and depressing to see so many claims on You Tube about "very powerful mantra" to cure this and that and the other.

But nobody talks about fasting.


A gift

Why? Because it costs nothing, cannot be controlled by powerful spiritual organisations or personalities, is a personal practice, and has nothing flashy about it. You can't sell or market a "very powerful" fasting technique, because fasting is what it is. But what a gift!

Fasting belongs to no religion, it is common to all. The practice is as old as the hills. It is used in the most ancient cultures just as much as in the modern ones. Fasting is one of the most sacred acts that we can intentionally do.

How to fast is not rocket science. You simply don't eat solid food. Going entirely without water is another more problematical option which is not advisable at all, with serious dehydration in a hot climate a possibility. So, you need to approach this subject with determination mixed with adult common sense and apply mature judgement about what is possible.If you are lazy and overweight, sluggish and drained of energy... this is a wonderful way to tackle the problem. But, drink water!

I fast two days a week, week in and week out. The first of these days is dedicated to world peace and anyone who really asks for help, so I fast for them, or along with them. The second fast is dedicated to the problem of lust and anger, and for all who suffer from rampant animal tendencies. The fast is not water-free, but it involves no solid food at all. This is the practice I'd recommend and say "give it a go."

(Audience groans)

No: really! Try this out. 5 days normal food, 2 fasting.

The first day is normally easy, apart from the evening when energy gets pretty low. The second day is great in the morning, again a bit tiring by end of day two. The morning after the fast, I  eat whatever I want. And boy does that food taste great! Only when you have been deprived of food do you start to come back into right relation with it.

No the spiritual benefits of fasting are great, but often hidden underneath the surface. Greater sobriety, clarity of thinking, calmness. And a diminution of thought forms that annoy and harass us. An inner alignment of the body, like logging off and rebooting an inner computer. Things become fresh again. You break the normal narrative of self-pity and depression.

Just two days is a great period, too. Anything longer and you seriously do run out of energy, which is no good to anyone. You can enjoy your other 5 days eating guilt-free. 

Back to the spiritual benefits. Did you know that Jesus himself said about a particularly distressing set  of mental problems, "This kind of demon can only be driven out by prayer and fasting". And do not Vaishnavas follow the once a fortnight Ekadashi fasts? Or Shaivites during Mahashivarartri? Or Shaktas at Navarartri? And Islam with Ramadan? And so on and so forth. History often tends to blur the lines, and in Catholic christianity what is deemed a "fast" is in fact the day to eat fish rather than meat! That's not fasting.

Fasting enables us to stand up for ourselves, for once, to do something secretly beneficial. We should not make a big statement about it, go around telling the town "Look at me, I'm special". No, we do it secretly, purposefully, modestly.

So, anyone up for it?

So you are saying that fasting is good? Is eating therefore bad?
What do you think? Eating is necessary, enjoyable, wonderful, of course it is. Unless you are an advanced enlightened sage who can directly live off light, it is our only option to survive. A normal person in this day and age cannot live on light. Eating is good, fasting is good. And the link between the two is common sense and not taking things to extreme. Too much food: everything falls apart and you live a life of aches, pains, wind problems, digestion problems etc. Too little food and you become a dried up stick who can scarcely move a muscle or lift a bucket. 

Have you ever done longer fasts?
Yes I have, but I  have found the 2 day fast is short enough to safely endure. A  3 day fast brings problems of energy levels. If you are safely in a good place and on retreat, then a liquids only 8 day fast is good, too. But remember that fasting gives the body all sorts of chances to kick out impurities, so you can feel pretty terrible on occasion. Your tongue gets coated, you feel grey and grumpy. But it does clear up.

What if the only spiritual practice you did was fasting?
Well, it's an approach. But only mature seekers can do fasting, and I would say that the extra clarity that fasting brings will inevitably lead you on to complementary practices, because it increases access to the inner presence, the inner silence.

I am massively overweight, a family person. I cook for others, so it is difficult to even contemplate this kind of thing.
Aha. Well, I've got experience of that. For around two years I  worked as a cook in Maharishi's ashrams. In fact I  was the only cook for many months in a converted hotel that had 220 course participants. During that whole time, while cooking for others, I lived off just one meal a day, which I  ate at 2pm, apart from two apples in the morning and evening. Now, I was young and life hadn't quite beat me down yet, but what a wonderful natural discipline. I grew so clear and crystal pure, it was like dancing on air for seven months. 

This could lead someone to anorexia, it's a very dangerous thing 
Yes? Well, that is why we must stress common sense and not leaping to extremes. Spiritual fasting is not about body image, or repressing sexuality, or weight control. It is about directing the attention away from that which normally sustains us. Excessive fasting and starvation is just as harmful as excessive eating. As the Bhagavad Gita puts it in very clear terms: "Yoga is neither for him who eats too little or too much." This is very good common-sense advice. 

Talking of Jesus, isn't it said he fasted for forty days and nights?
It is said, but who really knows. Many great Yogis manage this kind of state. Many Yogis, too, fast once a week. I always remember some vision that Baba Muktananda had, which he felt was an excessive divine gift in return for, as he put it, "my inadequate weekly fasts". I am sure Swami Sivananda wrote enthusiastically about fasting in one of his books, can't remember where, though.

What if you try but can't keep to the fast?
That's the human condition. With every great spiritual effort we do, we need to develop muscles to do it. We may try and fail repeatedly, until for some reason finally something sticks. Don't punish yourself for the failure, just investigate it and learn from it. Some time in the future, if you keep at it, you will achieve what you aim for. The sense of having achieved a fast, having actually gone through the discomfort... well, it's a celestial but also very real sense of satisfaction, of a job well done.

What about the case of desperate poverty, where a whole family goes hungry?
Starvation is not fasting and it is the duty of others to help out the distressed. There are many teaching stories from the Vedic Puranas about the "poor righteous" - usually Brahmins in the story - who get helped out in desperate trouble. But, starvation in this day and age is a disgrace to our common humanity. What to do if we fall through the safety net? I've had that experience myself and it is not easy at all. An American friend of mine flirted with the reality of having no money and no food to eat for years. He would get down to his last can of food regularly. These situations, even if they are karmic, are not easy, and lead people to desperate acts in order to save their kids from this kind of fate. Involuntary fasting is a whole different thing, a sad thing, something that should make us all hang our heads in shame. And it happens regularly.

Only when you have both lived in the west and a poorer country do you come to realise just how much the well-off have, and how much the poor have. In my business persona, I've often taken long taxi trips in different countries and then stopped off to see the taxi drivers families. In the west we take it for granted a house has clean walls, heating, carpets, furniture, a well stacked fridge and so forth. This in a global scale is a rarity. So: another thing, why not dedicate your fast to the benefit of world hunger?

Why should this have any effect? Isn't it naive to think so?
If you believe the world is simply what you see in front of you, Then I agree. But, as the saying goes, when you can see the back of your own eyeball, tell me what you then think of this issue. The hidden element in life becomes self evident through careful sadhana. We do not just eat, live, excrete and die. We swim in a wider sea.





Tuesday, 10 March 2015

ONLINE LECTURE SERIES 3: THE EROTIC AND THE SPIRITUAL - WHAT ARE THE LINKS?



Tonight we are going to talk about a topic which is rife with misunderstanding, misinterpretation and much folly. So, we need to proceed carefully, leaving our usual cultural attitudes outside the door, along with our shoes. The leaving of shoes outside a sacred place is a symbolic gesture that says "Look, I am going to park my ego outside before I approach the Divine". So, let's do that.

How do we experience life? What is it that we actually grasp? Now the wise tell us that behind this seeming appearance of body, mind and sense is our real awareness, and that the rest is illusion. These are brave statements of truth, but disconnected for most of us with what actually goes on in life. Let's put that aside for the moment and examine what the experience of life actually is for most of humanity. 

Life Force

How would you describe the experience of being alive? An intermeshing web of physical sensations, causing and being caused by mental activity? A mesh of feelings, sensations, urges, fluctuating emotions plus the urgent upswelling of primal urges like hunger, lust, anger, fear? When you really look into it, then there is one characteristic that links all this activity: it is energy, a fizzing energetic force - we could call it the Life Force.  We are alive, we are not just aware like some baleful super computer that has suddenly been switched on. No: We are alive, we have the Life Force. Human beings, like other organisms, generate an electrical charge. No scientist by the way has yet managed to explain exactly what is electricity and where it comes from.

This primal energy can be felt and witnessed all around us. It is not just confined to our own little corner of the multiverse. It can be felt as a wave of life everywhere you look. Here in London, for example, there is the beginning - a very cold beginning - of the season of Spring, of Vasanta as the Sanskrit calls it. And you can feel, every spring, a sort of upsurge of energy in nature as the earth warms up from the Sun. The pace of life quickens all around us and in us.

So: Primal Energy, the Life Force. Where is it expressed in its most basic form? For most of us, it is found in the complex area of sexuality: sexual desire and yearning as a force that erupts, or burns for years, always tending to an explosion, a release, a dispersion. So: an upwelling, a coalescence, and then scattering.

 Now there is something very curious about the way sexuality is set up in humans. Animals have their breeding seasons, but humans can and do breed the entire year around. And furthermore this is not just breeding. No. Somehow, humans have evolved the most fantastic and complex ways to  heighten this act of Life Force expression so that it can be completely disconnected from the purpose of making babies.

With me so far? So, let us call this part of human activity, the Erotic. And there are many intriguing aspects to it. Why, for example, if sexuality is simply for the purposes of creation (the sort of joyless sex that many religious traditions swear should be the norm), are human bodies set up to make the act not just functional, or pleasurably, but ecstatic? And why, too, do women biologically have a far more advanced body in terms of sexuality? A woman's genital area, for example has something like 8,000 nerve endings in a very small area - far more than a man's genital organs. A woman's skin is also measured to be on average about 8 times more sensitive than a man's. So, what's really going on?


The Primal Symbol

Now lets look into spiritual tradition, avoiding the religions of the books which condemn a whole bunch of things, (especially a woman's superior capability for pleasure), and see what symbolic teachings tell us about this fizzing energy that contains life.

If you look at the painting in the photo above (which I painted recently) you can see it is a familiar representation of Shiva and Shakti locked in ecstatic union. this image is particularly popular in tantric Buddhism. But it predates Buddhism. You have to dive a little deep to "read" the symbol.

Shiva represents the unmanifest, and Shakti the manifest - Spirit and Matter. The two are conjoined, and the result of this union between the two is creation, the entire universe in which we live. As you can see: Shiva is the inert, being awakened by the active principle, Shakti. So: spirit is being awakened by matter.

The iconography of Shiva and Shakti is explicit. But there are many other slightly different and less "in your face" versions of this primal union: Radha and Krishna, Lakshmi and Vishnu, and to a lesser extent Vac (Saraswati) and Brahma - and the most extreme of them all, Shiva and Kali. Wherever you look in both Veda and Tantra, this repetition of something ecstatically united with something else is described and honoured.

Other religions and creation myths carried the same understanding in the past, especially in Ancient Egypt, Native American, Taoist and Shinto traditions. But modern religions in Kali Yuga lost the symbols. And without understanding what the symbol of Shiva and Shakti actually says, then we lose a vital teaching on the erotic and the spiritual.  

The Now

The union of Shiva and  Shakti is not just a pretty picture on the wall, or something that happened in an unspecified legendary time, like a fantasy adventure in a movie, or a coy bit of erotic titillation. No: this is a symbol that leads us right back to the present moment. This is where we are, this is where the ecstatic union between matter and spirit takes place. At every second an outpouring of being-consciousness-bliss is expressed, which we normally dimly perceive as the Life Force. Our sexual urges when expressed consensually aim to bring us back to that explosion, that explosion of bliss which is the ecstasy  of living in the Now.

The Now is all we ever have. The past is our baggage. The future is unknown. Notice in the picture of Shiva and Shakti that the two are deliberately unclothed: this is the naked moment. Where does one end and the other begin? Again, notice the two are intertwined. The manifest, Shakti, is the one moving the inert, Shiva. The dance of Shakti is all to do with awakening the unmanifest, with enticing Shiva (The Absolute) from his tapasya and meditation, with producing the bliss of the coupling of Matter and Spirit.

The moment of bliss, the cosmic orgasm, this is the experience of ecstasy that the enlightened live in: the profound bliss of the unmanifest and the manifest coupled together - yet still separate. The unmanifest remains the unmanifest: Shiva remains blue. The manifest remains the manifest: Shakti is coloured with the colour of life. So: distinct, yet inseparable and merged. Joined: the dynamic and the still.

The goal of all spiritual practice is not just to be there with a ringside seat, but to remove the false sense of individuality and there be fully awake to this blissful coupling moment by moment by moment.

Back to Sex...

 What has this got to do with our own little lives, our lusts and our urges? What is the sexual urge? Certainly it is an animal urge to couple and conquer or submit (the product of thinking from the Amygdala, the lizard part of our brain concerned with food, territory, fighting, and survival). But it is more than that, too. The development of the "modern" part of the brain, the Neocortex, allows us to all these fantastic possibilities of pleasure from the sexual act, but also see beyond the urge and examine the whole process. We are pushed towards excitement, towards release of what? Release of a nervous current in one explosion. But what happens at this moment on a spiritual level? 

Again, we need to look beyond the obvious release of endorphins, which produce intense pleasure in the brain. At the point of release, however, thoughts are banished, everything is wiped out in one monster explosion. And without thought, the ecstasy behind the physical release is uncovered. So in one sense, sex uncovers the inner bliss - but this bliss is not recognised and instead the individual stays in the body and wants to feel delight there.

The erotic moment is just one way of experiencing the bliss in the now. And, of course, it is over in a flash (if you are a man) or a little longer (if you are a woman). It passes: you want to roll the dice and do it again. And your whole life might then become a search for the greatest bodily pleasure, irrespective of the cost and harm of the practice. Or, you can say "let's make this act between us sacred and see what happens" - hence Tantric practice.

But spiritual practice uncovers a whole different way of approaching the bliss of union of Shiva and Shakti. In Tantric tradition  especially we come across the huge secret of Kundalini. Inside us, within this temple of body, subtle body, mental body which encases the individual soul, resides Shakti who, when awake, longs for union with her husband Shiva. But normally She sleeps - at the base chakra.

When Shakti awakes, then we are in for a wild ride. We experience within ourselves her urgency, her speed, her longing, her irresistible power. The union takes place when Shakti reaches the Sahasrara, a union beyond words to express. But when you first "click" and perceive the Kundalini force rising in you, it can be so shocking that it up-ends every tired preconception of yourself. You realise your soul encasing is simply the playground for this divine play between Shiva and Shakti. In fact, your real Self, beyond the Witness, your primal awareness IS Shiva, the unmanifest - witnessing the play of Shakti.

Time and time again life expresses itself, moment by moment, at every step is the bliss of union between Spirit and Matter. How to experience it? The cheap shortcut: the energy dissipation of the orgasm. The far more rewarding route: the constant flow of bliss moving in bliss that is the fruit of spiritual awakening. And this is normally got through repeated spiritual effort - abhasya. 

This effort of abhasya, of lengthy repeated spiritual practice, is so important because it builds strong and sure foundations: we build ethics, morals, decency in our life. We have a framework that safely allows us to channel the energetic flow so that we do not harm ourselves or others. Without this framework, chaos can ensue. Often the problems come with individuals who might experience an awakening, but nevertheless have never worked on their characters or understood their personalities. The awakening (which will have been partial) leaves the narcissistic and grandiose personality intact and hey ho, you get odd gurus and spiritual teachers who end up grabbing for money, illicit sex, and so forth while claiming enlightenment. Be wary of wolves with smiling faces, of oily looking men and women wearing silk robes and discussing tax exiles!

How to awaken? How to move beyond the cage of physical release? This is up to destiny, application, to the grace and mercy of great teachers who help us along the way: and it involves the victory over the mind. And that, brothers and sisters, is a whole other topic.

Question

Well it sounds to me that we should all then simply stick to sex as a spiritual practice (laughter). I mean, what is the point of this whole spiritual rigmarole and fuss?

Ah, if only life were so simple! (laughter). No: you miss the point. That moment of release certainly opens a door or window to primal awareness beyond thought, but it is momentary, is it not, and mostly then identified with the body experiencing a burst of pleasure and a flood of endorphins. The window slams shut. Furthermore, that window is in fact covered by all sorts of layers of grime, so the correct witnessing of this bliss, which is ultimately with no subject or object thus simply bliss experiencing bliss, that gets lost every time. Now spiritual practice, sadhana, does something different: it moves us ultimately beyond the body and mind, beyond the neurochemical flow, to an unending apprehension of bliss.

An unending orgasm, in other words?

No, not as we understand an orgasm. Bliss consciousness has a different quality. The body drops away, so you are not intensely in the body, jerking around, clutching and sweating. You are not in your mind either. You are instead constantly on the edge between the ocean and the shore, constantly aware of the inner act of creation, and of course destruction: it is the apprehension of the eternal wave crashing on the shore.

So, lots of people go on about Kundalini this and that. Is this all rubbish?

The existence of Kundalini has yet to be located by science and perhaps never will be, because kundalini is located in our subtle bodies, not physical bodies. Kundalini is real, not symbolic. Kundalini can also be awakened in many different ways, not just spiritual practice. What this process involves is an upward and inward flow of energy, not a downward and outward flow. Women understand this far more easily then men, who tend to think about spitting fluid out, about discharging and so forth. The play of awakened Kundalini in a seeker's life is unique in every case.

We all have a different symbolic language. But the general experience is of a super-intelligent energy that plays with us, with us as the inert Witness. Kundalini is not just a set of odd experiences. This is where it is vital to build the foundations so that when this tremendous energy is perceived, it is safely understood and recognised for what it is. You need the context. A very dear friend of mine, for example, was born in a culture where kundalini was not known at all. Yet at a certain age her head split apart as this energy overwhelmed her. She did a painting at that time, which showed exactly that - a head in pieces. Only when she was driven by her odd state of being to find out what this was did she start to read about kundalini, and then everything made sense.


If we all live in the eternal now, why aren't we aware of it? Why go through this whole drama of suffering and misery?

This universe is what? Well, traditions tell us, this universe is the field in which Shiva and Shakti play. So the key word is lila, is play.  We are aware of the eternal now, it's just we cannot consciously connect to this. The suffering principally comes from our identification with the whole drama of narcissus - of us as a separate individual with incredibly heart-stopping imports things to do. Spiritual practice reveals that the "I" is a sort of phantom reflection of our real essence. That essence is inherently blissfully perfect in a blissfully perfect eternal now.

Yet it does not pay the bills. And we do suffer.

It is a great and awesome drama. One way round this, very practically and simply is simply step back from a sense of doership. This is deceptively very simple yet also difficult. The successors of the 20th century teacher (and rogue) Gurdjieff, under the Russian emigre Ousspensky, for example, built a whole practice around constantly remembering "I am aware that I am aware". This produced the most awful kind of inactivity and lethargy. So: it happens naturally, and it happens through spiritual practice. Now, whether you do this or not is up to you. But it's just important to know there is a way out of the maze of suffering. As for paying the bills, an awakened person does this and anything else others do, without a problem or ripple. The experience of living with the awareness of ecstatic union is one of unusual orderliness and harmony in everything. So, awakening does not mean wandering around an ashram looking holy and spurning your partner in the bedroom. It is far, far beyond this.

So what is the quickest way to awaken?
You tell me from your own perspective. What are your own ideas?

I don't know. I guess doing japa, reciting texts, burying myself in meditation seems way to dreary. I mean, life is life, so why kill yourself in order to experience it?

If this is the case, then you will also experience that life brings sorrow as well as joy - so you accept the whole dimension of life. That, too, is a great way to live, the kind of wise way that peasants grounded in the land can feel. And don't go complaining to God for your troubles, but be brave and adult to simply live a life and see what happens. But nevertheless, I am saying there is a way out, and this way involves repeated effort and practice for most of us. There is a saying from I think Rumi, that says "come join those of us who bet our entire existence on the fact that God exists". What a lovely thing. Or you can choose "I'm going to be utterly normal, and simply put up with it." Above all, choose a path that you can sustain, after mature consideration. Don't chuck everything up, lock your room and expect the universe to give you food, clean your clothes and pay you money simply because you, the wonderful you, are alive. This is the tyranny of the narcissistic ego in all of us.

I  have had many such moments, I think, of what you could call peak experiences, like climbing a mountain at dawn and so forth. Is that Kundalini or the Erotic?

No, that's an experience that gets you out of yourself and allows your mind to settle down naturally (which it does every time you fall asleep). When the mind settles down, everything gets far more coherent and intensely vibrant. You get a wider view of life. But it's still you in the mundane world, looking out at this great panoply of activity. So at that point on the mountain top, who's looking out?

Me, I guess

Which is?

Well, me (laughter), the same old personality

These peak moments can, if used well, actually bring you further inwards than that. You, it's a far wider definition and as you approach what you think to be you, you can perceive everything is actually very tightly packed, layers like an onion all one on top of each other - the you that thinks, the you that chooses what to think, the you that realises you are choosing, the you that perceives you are realising, the you that perceives that everything outward, everything with any quality whatsoever is in some mysterious way not part of this inner ground which is totally silent, totally all encompassing. Where is the personality in that? Somewhere in the layers.

When two people make love, are they both then the same ultimately?

The 20th century Kashmiri teacher Lakshman Joo once said that the greatest pleasure humans could perceive was two people having an orgasm simultaneously. Have you not had the experience of losing yourself at the point of climax, of lines and boundaries blurring?

That's the great goal of sexuality and a real obsession in global culture. But Shiva remains Shiva, Shakti remains Shakti, even though they are in eternal union. But, if you are very careful to perceive, you would be surprised at what you would find in terms of who is who and what is what. In the highest viewpoint, there never was a you, there never was the other. There is just... incident.. movement over stillness... a ripple, a dance. That's what is going on: the cosmic dance.  The American teacher Ram Dass once explained to his hippie audience what it was really all about: the aim, he said was the be high, not get high. There is a whole world of difference between the two, so contemplate this.

There's a lot of interest in what they call Tantric sex. What is this and is it a valid way, then, to spiritual growth?
Yes, people talk about Tantric sex, especially in the west, but never about Tantric celibacy. This whole idea is for a ritual enactment of the union of Shiva and Shakti, while carefully avoiding the whole thing descending into animal sexuality: thus the man witholds the orgasm, and the idea is that both partners help each other's energies to rise upwards, not flow downwards.

This has unfortunately become utterly perverted in this modern age. Firstly, all sorts of dodgy and nasty gurus have used this excuse to rape their followers who are too awed or intimidated to speak out about it. Secondly, Tantric sex has now just become a brand for sleazy practices and the entire language behind it of chakras, nadis, breathing exercises etc, is lost. So in the west it has just become a catch-all phrase for prolonged sex done slowly with a few candles and a stick of incense. This is sad. I wish the whole concept had been not so trashed or even introduced to the wider world, but we live in the age of Kali Yuga where such a thing is inevitable.

This is all very well, but abusers, perverts etc are not doing anything spiritual or even erotic. Furthermore, so many scriptures tell us sex is wrong and so forth. So, is sex good or bad?

Sex is what it is, but it is also more or less than than that. The "less" in this case is when sexuality is purely dictated by the amygdala, so we are dealing with the old lizard brain in us that is concerned with food, territory and mating. All three such concerns together produce a cocktail of potential murderous violence, of sex as an act of conquering and power and aggression. And we can see in society what happens as a result. That is not spirituality, no. This is absolutely not. It is not the erotic. It is simply violence. That is humanity at its most bestial level and is in no way a spiritual act.

But the "more" is when the act of sex is an act of love, an act of giving, an act free from mental fantasies, free from urges to dominate or destroy. This is the Erotic. After all, we all came into the world through it, it is how our human race has survived and flourished. So if sex is entirely evil, then we have a problem! But if you are not a monk and in a relationship, especially a happy one, you will know that this act is a beautiful one and has many benefits. And it opens a window, as we have discussed, very briefly. Yet it has a down side always for normal humans: it is an addictive source of pleasure hormones. So, even sex in its highest form bears caution around it.

Yet you advocate celibacy and brahmacharya?
I advocate understanding sexuality, thoroughly investigating it, putting it under the forensic microscope of your attention. If you think that just having regular sex is going to be your main spiritual practice, then forget it. You may think this is viable when you are young. But what will happen as you age? And who will share your so-called spiritual activity? What is ultimately important here is the attitude, the wide angle you bring to it.

As for celibacy and brahmacharya, this is a wonderful practice which helps you understand the sex force because you deliberately put yourself outside it - it doesn't matter for how long -  but there you are, observing your desires at work,  urges arising, and so forth. If brahmacharya is done right - and this involves really supreme and unusual courage especially for young males - then you will start to feel a subtle flow of a very subtle essence up inside you. this essence, this Tejas, or light, is what then produces a glow, produces ojas around you. It gives you wonderful clarity, calmness and sobriety and hugely helps meditation in particular. So, it is recommended if you really are seriously going for intense spiritual practice.

The Vedas tell us that for a man, one drop of sperm wasted is the loss of the most vital distilled essence of vibrant life principle. Excessive loveless sex, self-sex and so forth wastes this life essence and essentially makes you age prematurely.

But with brahmacharya, you also need a context. You need to understand why you are doing it, what is the reason. If it is too much for you, be easy about it and try later in life. Try a few days at first - a target of 3 days, then 5 days, then 7 days and after that 14, 21, 28 days. These days will be like building a treasure palace in heaven, believe me.