Spiritual Attainment and Sexuality: Is Celibacy a Myth?
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Dr Joanna Kujawa, Spiritual Detective :).
Spiritual Attainment and Sexuality: Is Celibacy a Myth?
This blog comes as a reflection after a pair of interviews were conducted (one with Dr Jeff Kripal and the other with me) for the Aeon Byte Gnostic Radio Show.
Celibacy and spiritual attainment are often treated interchangeably with the assumption that one is naturally connected to the other. But is it?
I do agree that periodic temporary sexual abstinence, like fasting, can be very beneficial for most of us. However, we would not ask a person to fast their entire life. There are some individuals who can master lifelong abstinence (good luck to them) but, personally, I do not believe this makes them more saintly or necessarily better people.
A close friend of mine, a young woman, divorced her husband because although he was heterosexual and loved her, he had hardly any need for sexual intimacy. Some people simply have a low libido – does this make them saints?
It is a controversial topic because in its nature it relates to sexuality and spirituality. And, it has not been discussed in a mature and enlightened way in traditional religions which insist on portraying sexuality as demeaning and perverse.
Jeff Kripal in his Aeon Byte interview and through several of his books including Kali’s Child and Secret Body: Erotic and Esoteric Currents in the History of Religions) plunges into the fascinating topic of spirituality, religion, mysticism and, yes, the sexuality of some of history’s most cherished religious figures.
As you can fathom, his books have created much debate, especially the first one, Kali’s Child. This work caused a stir in the Hindu community because Kripal’s research into the Bengali writings of the beloved Hindu saint Ramakrishna argues that the saint had homoerotic tendencies. On one occasion, writes Kripal, Ramakrishna sank into a mystical trance after looking at a young man. The book created so much controversy that it was even debated in the Indian Parliament. At the root of this controversy lied the assumption that high spiritual attainment can’t be experienced along with sexual desire.
This kind of response is not limited to India. Many Westerners have the same reaction to the possibility that Jesus and Mary Magdalene, for example, enjoyed a loving and intimate sexual relationship.
Jean-Yves Leloup, a French scholar and ex-priest, argues that Jesus and Mary Magdalene modelled this new paradigm of an intimate and spiritual at the same time relationship for us. Unfortunately, that was quickly dismissed and covered up mostly by creating the fiction of Mary Magdalene’s unworthiness and supposedly her demeaning status.
Many comments on the topic can be summarised in the following way: ‘Why do we always have to reduce everything to sexuality?’
This could be a good question, except that I believe we can answer this question with another one: Why do we have such a low opinion of sexuality?
I think a partial and perfectly understandable answer to my question is that many people have experienced sexual abuse and/or have had terrible sexual experiences. Sexual abuse is the worst kind of abuse because it affects the most personal, intimate and intense part of both a person’s psyche and body. It is never excusable.
Another answer to this question is related, to the fear of female sexuality. I would argue that most of the traditional religions are organised around controlling of not only sexuality in general but female sexuality especially.
Since the beginning of organised religion, women and their sexuality have been considered the main danger to men’s spiritual evolution. For example, according to the legend of Saint Anthony (an early Christian saint) there is the old story about a naughty temptress bent on ‘ruining’ his sainthood.
One of my favourite takes on this topic is a famous book, Thais, by a self-proclaimed Gnostic author, Anatole France. In Thais a Saint Anthony-like hermit realises in the last moment of his life that he is going to hell while the beautiful prostitute whom he despised all his life is going to heaven. He is going to hell because he spent his life indulging in a sense of self-righteousness and judgement while the beautiful prostitute lived her life with love and grace, despite her circumstances.
Many other saints of all traditions struggled with the strange notion that repressed sexuality (manifested as celibacy) would bring them closer to God.
Saint Augustine of Hippo, one of the fathers of the Christian Church, as well as many early Desert Fathers (early Christian hermits, ascetics, and monks who lived mainly in the desert of Egypt beginning around the third century AD) spent years debating how many involuntary erections per year a man could have and yet still consider himself a saint. They arrived at number 3 – do not ask me how!
Saint Jerome went into an isolation only to discover that he could not stop thinking about naked ‘dancing girls’. Nuns, when in his company, were asked to cover themselves up in dirt so they would not create ‘sinful’ desires in him and thus prevent him from becoming a saint. And, yes, ladies and gentlemen, it was assumed that it was the nuns’ fault!
A great Indian philosopher and Brahmin, Abhinavagupta, secretly practised the Tantric Kula Ritual which involved having intercourse with beautiful strangers (with breasts ‘like the fruits of bimba trees and slim waists’).
So what is going on?
The power of sexuality, like all great powers, can have both good and bad uses. And the fear of this great power, especially within the spiritual realm, has not produced much positivity, to say the least. Just do a quick search on various religious groups, leaders and churches and you will find a sea of information on the sexual abuse and activity practised by groups and individuals beneath simultaneous claims of celibacy.
Jeff Kripal referred to his personal experience when, as a very young man, he decided to enter a Christian monastery only to learn that he was the only heterosexual man there. The monastery was a place of seclusion for spiritually-minded homosexual men who, as Kripal says in his interview with Miguel Conner, ‘practised their sexuality in a healthy and sublimated way’. The monks provided him with spiritual friendship, cured him of his anorexia and sent him back to the world.+
Although he did not make any judgment about the men’s sexuality, he was struck by the inconsistency between what was being preached by the religious institution (celibacy or sex only for the sake of procreation) and the actual practice within the monastery.
It is also interesting to remember that in the West, celibacy was not imposed on priests until the 12th century. And the main reason for not allowing them to marry was economical, not spiritual. The Church did not want the priesthood to become hereditary – moving from father to son – but rather that it be based on merit. In theory, this might have been a wise precaution but it was without any understanding of human nature and sexuality.
In my life, I have been lucky as I have almost always experienced sexuality in a spiritual and uplifting way. And, when, at a certain point, I did experience its darker and addictive side, it only taught me to respect its power.
That power could be used for our spiritual evolution.
We need more guidance, more awareness and less judgment coming from traditions that not only did not manage to uplift sexuality but, often did not walk their talk either. ..or acted just a bit mad.
So my question is: What do you think?
Sending you so much love,
As always I would love to connect with you via your comments and discuss this fascinating topic.
To hear the interview with Dr Jeff Kripal and myself on the Aeon Byte Gnostic Radio On Esoteric and Erotic (my part of the interview begins at 1hr 5 min), please click here: http://www.joannakujawa.com/talks-readings/
Dr Joanna Kujawa
Goddess News Spiritual Blog
Dr Joanna Kujawa
This reminds me so much of Chi energy. Making love always improves me, spiritually, physically and mentally.
Love this Joanna, in my humble opinion sexuality is a great blessing and source of joy in our lives. Spirituality is also a great blessing and joy, I fail to understand how diminishing the importance of one broadens the experience of the other. Surely the combination of these magnificent forces serves to make the whole greater than the sum of it’s parts?
Thank you Linda for your beautiful comment. I could not agree. It seems that still live by the rules that were created millennia ago when there was either a complete lack of understanding of human nature and spirituality or, worse, the rules were created by some neurotic individuals who happened to be in a position of influence. Either way, it is the highest time to bring awareness and healing to this unhealthy dualism between spirituality and sexuality. Much love, Joanna xxx
Thank you Joanna,
‘..the darker side taught you to respect it’s power.’ Much of what you write here has touched my own experiences. I spent my childhood in an institution and was abused mentally, emotionally and physically .. even by my own (much older) brother.
My sexual life thereafter was a disaster and caused sexual disorientation and a loss of libido. I have had to wait until my later years to realise what true intimacy means .. as par for the course I find myself in touch with so much as I near the end of the journey .. sigh!
Anyway, on a spiritual theme these experiences have raised my consciousness to where I see “sexuality” as not separate from the Mystical experience of body-mind-spirit union.
Ironically, the lack of sexual experience and the associated emotions are all part of what has caused me to look deeper ~ I no longer see a split.
Thank you Michael for your touching comment. I am so sorry that you had to go through this and appreciate that you have managed to transcend it all and see the unity. I sometimes think, when I reflect on my own painful experiences in other areas of my life, that that pain is sometimes a way to the Mystical as you call it. But it is a hell of a path sometimes. Perhaps a big part of Life well-lived is the path of a wounded healer and the way for the soul to bring us to the Source that is All. It is only us who can uplift our lives and you have done it so beautifully and courageously. Thank you for this comment and sharing your experience and awareness. Much love, Joanna.
Thanks Joanna, love your writings.
I am just in the middle of the book „The Life of a Galilean Shaman” by Pieter F. Craffert. Gorgeous book!
This is a quote from the book:
One of the few certainties abou Jesus life is that he was not married – at least, there is no piece of evidence pointing in this direction. In Israelite life, this was unusual for a man of his age…………there is no indication why it was the case, but read with conjunction with the disdain for sexual activities, it may have something to do with religious experiences……
Abstinence from sexual intercourse is not only one of the features often ascribed to the induction of ASCs, but it was believed that abstinence made the body ”a more appropriate vehicle to receive divine inspiration”….This is perfectly understandable in terms of one of the embryological theories, the hematogenic theory……..according to this theory, there was a very close link between spirit and semen where semen was seen as a foamy concoction of blood, other bodily fluids, and spirit. In therms of cultural logic abstinence had nothing to do with the avoidance „worldly pleasures” or possible „sins” in the sexual act but with the prevailing view regarding the nature of seminal emission…..
End of quotation.
For me, there are at least three theories on sex and spirituality.
1)Tantric sex, which is considered something close to divine experience
2) „Normal” sex, the symbol of oneness
3) Asexuality. Can’t remember where I heard/read this theory but according to it, the apetite for sex automatically decreases with spiritual development. Example: Ghandi, he became totally asexual at the age of 40. He conducted some experiments to prove it. The same theory is about nutritions. The higher stage of spiritual development, the bigger disgust firstly to meat, later eggs, dairy and so on ….and finally, highly spiritual people, become fruitarians.
Thanks Joanna for your writing. It is highly appreciated. Great stimulation every month.
Thank you Katerina and it is so good to hear from you again ?. And thank you for sharing what you are reading at the moment as well as your kind comment about the blog. X This is the purpose of the Goddess News blog to be a food for soul and initiate a conversation on things that are soul-related. Hopefully, these discussions bring us all closer to Oneness and closer to the experience of Divinity. So I love when people comment. I agree with you that there are 3 major ways of looking at spirituality and sexuality and it is such a difficult topic to discuss with Grace. I agree that unless used very consciously, with integrity and guidance sexuality, as it s commonly practised, can diminish in intensity as we progress spiritually. It often is a natural response. Yet intimacy, at whatever level of spiritual evolution, is always beautiful between two conscious beings. And I am sure that when it happens it is practised with lots of self-discipline and awareness as described in some Tantric works and the Gospel of Philip. Thank you for your comment, again ?. Much love and appreciation for your insight, Joanna
There’s so much fear built up over something so natural as sex. It’s really about controlling our primal urges to control us. The church is in the business of control, so why not deny us pleasure? It’s really no different than fasting if one chooses, but why? The function of the orgasm releases endorphins and other beneficial chemicals that heal the mind and body, why would we not want this? Sure people get addicted, but that is usually out of some perversion which came about because of someone abusing them. It’s actually quite soothing p, lessens stress and helps the heart. Also people reach great heights spiritually. IT IS A SPIRITUAL ACT! It’s also been proven that the ejaculate is a different composition when being with a loving partner, is this not God? God created sex for pleasure, end of story. I recall a story of a Japanese monk who reached Satori (spiritual enlightenment) through sex, even from a prostitute! I have come to the conclusion that we become perverted if we don’t have sex.