Intimate relations, exploring Indian se+uality.
Chicago, 1990 [KaS2]
[KaS2 3] Apart from any possible universal grounding in brain physiology, the Indian celebration of the narrative (and the dramatic) has its roots in one of the more enduring and cherished beliefs of the culture. This particular belief holds that there is another, higher level of reality beyond the shared, verifiable, empirical reality of our world, our bodies, and our emotions. A fundamental value of most schools of Hinduism and Buddhism, the belief in the existence of an ultimate realityrelated to ordinary, everyday reality in the same way as everyday reality is related to the dreamis an unquestioned verity of Hindu culture, the common thread in the teachings of the culture's innumerable gurus, swamis, and other mystics. This ultimate reality, whose apprehension is considered to be the highest goal and meaning of human life, is said to be beyond conceptual thought and indeed beyond mind. Intellectual thought, naturalistic sciences, and other passions of the mind seeking to grasp the nature of the empirical world thus have a relatively lower status in the culture as compared to meditative praxis or even art.
[KaS2 28] The propensity to state received opinion and belief as observation, to look for confirmation of belief rather than be open to disturbing new knowledge, to generally think in a loose, associative rather than a rigorous and sequential way, is neither Indian, American, Chinese, Japanese, or German, but common to most human beings. However, I would hypothesize, without passing any value judgment, that, relatively speaking, in India the child's world of magic is not as far removed from adult consciousness as it may be in some other cultures. Because of a specific thrust of the culture and congruent childrearing practices which I have described in detail elsewhere, the Indian ego is flexible enough to regress temporarily to childhood modes without feeling threatened or engulfed.
[KaS2 51] In many tales, women perversely favor fakirs and yogis as lovers, doubtless also because the disheveled holy men, with their unkempt beards and matted hair, are fantasized by Hindus and Muslims alike to be possessors of great virility, capable of satisfying the most insatiable of women.
[KaS2 118] Indian mysticism is typically intended to be an intensely practical affair, concerned with an alchemy of the libido that would convert it from a giver of death to a bestower of immortality. It is the se+ual fire that stokes the alchemical transformation wherein the cooking pot is the body and the cooking oil is a distillation from se+ual fluids. The strength of this traditional aspiration to sublimate se+uality into spirituality, semen into the elixir Soma, varies in different regions with different castes. Yet though only small sections of Indian society may act on this aspiration, it is a well-known theory subscribed to by most Hindus, including non-literate villagers. In its most popular form, the Hindu theory of sublimation goes something like this.
Physical strength and mental power have their source in virya, a [KaS2 119] word that stands for both se+ual energy and semen. Virya, in fact, is identical with the essence of maleness.Virya can either move downward in se+ual intercourse, where it is emitted in its gross physical form as semen, or it can move upward through the spinal chord and into the brain, in its subtle form known as ojas . Hindus regard the downward movement of se+ual energy and its emission as semen as enervating, a debilitating waste of vitality and essential energy. Of all emotions, it is said, lust throws the physical system into the greatest chaos, with every violent passion destroying millions of red blood cells. Indian metaphysical physiology maintains that food is converted into semen in a thirty-day period by successive transformations (and refinements) through blood, flesh, fat, bone, and marrow till semen is distilled forty drops of blood producing one drop of semen. Each ejaculation involves a loss of half an ounce of semen, which is equivalent to the vitality produced by the consumption of sixty pounds of food.
In another similar calculation with pedagogic intent, each act of copulation is equivalent to an energy expenditure of twenty-four hours of concentrated mental activity or seventy-two hours of hard physical Iabour.
[KaS2 119] If, on the other hand, semen is retained, converted into ojas and moved upwards by the observance of brahmacharya, it becomes a source of spiritual life rather than cause of physical decay. Longevity, creativity, physical and mental vitality are enhanced by the conservation of semen; memory, will power, inspirationscientific and artisticall derive from the observation of brahmacharya . In fact, if unbroken (akhanda) brahmacharya in thought, word, and deed can be observed for twelve years, the aspirant will obtain moksha spontaneously.
These ideas on semen and celibacy, I have emphasized above, are a [KaS2 120] legacy of Indian culture and are shared, so to speak, by Hindu saints and sinners alike.
[KaS2 120] The raising of the seed upwards, then, is a strikingly familiar image in the Indian psycho-philosophical schools of self-realization commonly clumped under the misleading label of mysticism. As Wendy O' Flaherty remarks: So pervasive is the concept of semen being raised up to the head that popular versions of the philosophy believe that semen originates there. [Wendy O'Flaherty, Women, Androgynes, and Other Mythical Beasts. p.45] The concept is even present in the Kamasutra, the textbook of eroticism and presumably a subverter of ascetic ideals, where the successful lover is not someone who is overly passionate but one who has controlled, stilled his senses through brahmacharya and meditation. [See Wendy O'Flaherty, Asceticism and Eroticism in the Mythology of Siva. p.55] Indian mythology, too, is replete with stories in which the gods, threatened by a human being who is progressing toward immortality by accruing immense capacities through celibacy and meditation, send a heavenly nymph to seduce the ascetic (even the trickling down of a single drop of se+ual fluid counting as a [KaS2 121] fatal lapse), and thereby reduce him to the common human, carnal denominator.
Of course, given the horrific imagery of se+uality as cataclysmic depletion, no people can procreate with any sense of joyful abandon unless they develop a good deal of scepticism, if not an open defiance, in relation to the se+ual prescriptions and ideals of the cultural superego. The relief at seeing the ascetic's pretensions humbled by the opulent charms of a heavenly seductress is not only that of the gods but is equally shared by the mortals who listen to the myth or see it enacted in popular dance and folk drama. The ideals of celibacy are then simultaneously subscribed to and scoffed at. Whereas, on the one hand, there are a number of sages in the Indian tradition ... who are admired for their successful celibacy and the powers it brought them, there are, on the other hand, also innumerable folktales detailing the misadventures of randy ascetics.
[KaS2 122] The ultimate if ironic refinement of celibacy is found in the tantric version, where the aspirant is trained and enjoined to perform the se+ual act itself without desire and the spilling of the seed, thus divorcing the se+ual impulse from human physiology and any conscious or unconscious mental representation of it. The impulse, it is believed, stirs up the semen in this ritual (and unbelievably passionless) se+ual act and evokes energetic forces that can be rechanneled upwards. This and other tantric techniques were familiar to Gandhi, whose own deeply held religious persuasion, Vaishnavism, was pervaded by many such tantric notions. On the one hand, as we have seen, Gandhi often sounds like Chaitanya, the fifteenth-century father of North Indian Vaishnavism, who rejected a disciple for paying attention to a woman, saying: I can never again look upon the face of an ascetic who associates with women. The senses are hard to control, and seek to fix themselves on worldly things. Even the wooden image of a woman has the power to steal the mind of a sage.... [Cited in Edward C. Dimock, The Place of the Hidden Moon. p.154.] On the other hand, however, Gandhi in his se+ual experiments seems to be following the examples set by other famous Vaishnavas like Ramananda and Viswanatha. Ramananda, Chaitanya's follower and companion, used to take two beautiful young temple prostitutes into a lonely garden where he would oil their bodies, bathe, and dress them while himself remaining unaffected.[Edward C. Dimock, The Place of the Hidden Moon. p.54] The philosopher Viswanatha, it is said, went to lie with his young wife at the command of his guru: He lay with her on the bed, but Viswanatha was transformed, and he did not touch her, as it had been his custom to do. He lay with his wife according to the instructions of his guru.... and thus he controlled his senses.[Edward C. Dimock, The Place of the Hidden Moon. p.156]
There are germs of truth in the signal importance Indian cultural tradition attaches to se+uality. The notion, arising from this emphasis, that se+ual urges amount to a creative firenot only for procreation but, equally, in self-creationis indeed compelling. Further, a tradition [KaS2 123] that does not reduce se+ual love to copulation but seeks to elevate it into a celebration, even a ritual that touches the partners with a sense of the sacred, and where orgasm is experienced as a symbolic blessing of man by his ancestors and by the nature of things, is certainly sympathetic. My concern here has to do with the concomitant strong anxiety in India surrounding the ideas of the squandering of the sperm and biological self-sacrifice. Such ideas and the fantasies they betray cannot help but heighten an ambivalence toward women that verges on misogyny and phobic avoidance.
[KaS2 123] How would Freud, who in his mid-life also chose to become celibate, have regarded Gandhi's celibacy and its intended efficacy? In general, Freud was understandably sceptical about the possibility that se+ual abstinence could help to build energetic men of action, original thinkers, or bold reformers. Yet he also saw such attempts at the sublimation of genital libido in relative terms:
The relationship between the amount of sublimation possible and the amount of se+ual activity necessary naturally varies very much from person to person and even from one calling to another. An abstinent artist is hardly conceivable; but an abstinent young savant is certainly no rarity. The latter can, by his self-restraint, liberate forces for his studies; while the former probably finds his artistic achievements powerfully stimulated by his se+ual experience. [Sigmund Freud, Civilized Sexual Morality and Modern Nervousness (1908), Standard Edition, vol. 9, 197.]
[KaS2 124] It is quite conceivable that Freud would have conceded the possibility of successful celibacy to a few extraordinary people of genuine originality with a self-abnegating sense of mission or transcendent purpose. In other words, he would have agreed with the Latin dictum that what is allowed to Jove is forbidden to the ox. The psychoanalytic question is, then, not of sublimation but why Gandhi found phallic desire so offensive that he must, so to speak, tear it out by the very roots.
[KaS2 125] Besides desexing the woman, another step in the denial of her desire is her idealization (especially of the Indian woman) as nearer to a purer divine state and thus an object of worship and adoration. That is why a [KaS2 126] woman does not need to renounce the world in the last stage of life to contemplate God, as is prescribed for the man in the ideal Hindu life cycle. She sees Him always. She has no need of any other school to prepare her for Heaven than marriage to a man and care of her children. [Polak, Mr. Gandhi, 34.] Woman is also the incarnation of Ahimsa, Ahimsa means infinite love, which, again means infinite capacity for suffering. Who but woman, the mother of man shows this capacity in the largest measure? Let her transfer that love to the whole of humanity, let her forget she ever was, or can be, the object of man's lust. And she will occupy her proud position by the side of the man as his mother, maker and silent leader. [Gandhi, To the Women, 28-29.]
Primarily seeing the mother in the woman and idealizing motherhood is yet another way of denying feminine eroticism.
[KaS2 126] Here we must note that the Hindu [KaS2 127] Vaishnava culture... not only provides a sanction for man's feminine strivings, but raises these strivings to the level of a religious-spiritual quest. In devotional Vaishnavism, Lord Krishna alone is the male and all devotees, irrespective of their se+, are female.
[KaS2 134] In the Indian context, this particular theme [the wish to be a woman] can be explored in individual stories as well as in the cultural narratives we call myths, both of which are more closely interwoven in Indian culture than is the case in the modern West. In an apparent reversal of a Western pattern, traditional myths in India are less a source of intellectual and aesthetic satisfaction for the mythologist than of emotional recognition for others, more moving for the patient than for the analyst. Myths in India are not part of a bygone era. They are not retained fragments from the infantile psychic life of the race, as Karl Abraham called them, nor vestiges of the infantile fantasies of whole nations, secular dreams of youthful humanity in Freud's words.
Vibrantly alive, their symbolic power intact, Indian myths constitute a cultural idiom that aids the individual in the construction and integration of his inner world. Parallel to patterns of infant care and to the structure and values of family relationships, popular and well-known myths are isomorphic with the central psychological constellations of the culture and are constantly renewed and validated by the nature of subjective experience. Given the availability of the mythological idiom, it is almost as easy to mythologize a psychoanalysis... as to analyse a myth; almost as convenient to elaborate on intrapsychic conflict in a mythological mode as in a case historical narrative mode.