Question: Wife and husband should be seen more like spiritual friends or more like “spiritual lovers”? What is the difference between the two?
Answer: If the spiritual is authentic both definitions are synonymous. But only if it’s authentically spiritual, because today it is a fashion to say spiritual: “Oh, today I got to know a very spiritual person.” Often people don’t know anything about the dimension of the spirit. I remember, years ago, I had so much discussion on this with one person. I had to rebuke and correct him so many times. Slowly, slowly, he stopped. He had friends—some poets—that he considered spiritual but who were actually conditioned by everything: by tobacco, alcohol, or foul language. What a distorted idea of spiritual! I have explained and re-explained to him the definition of spiritual—five, seven, ten times—and it seems that lately he has grasped it. But the idea of spiritual is generally very vague; therefore it’s better to further clarify.
Let’s analyze the category that indirectly emerges from your question: if the two, instead of being spiritual lovers, are carnal lovers. Then they are known as grihamedhis, which is different from grihasthas. The distinction is that for the grihasthas the fundamental goal is spiritual realization, while for the grihamedhis the aim is to get a beautiful wife or a handsome husband and enjoy each other. (Of course we know that it’s only an attempt and than there is the other side of the coin.) These are the two categories. We have to make this essential distinction: does the person want to get married to increase his or her own potentialities of enjoyment, or does the person—in this case a sincere spiritualist—choose another sincere spiritualist in the form of the other gender to have a companion for the journey of spiritual realization? Therefore we have two categories: those who pair for enjoying life better and those who unite for reciprocal help in self-realization.
We exclusively deal with the second category, while sexologists, psychologists and other researchers deal with the first category. We are concerned only with those who try to have a family as a suitable and useful instrument for spiritual realization. The single man and the single woman may think, “By myself I can’t make it.” They may think that they are not yet ready to live as brahmacharys or brahmacarini. Therefore they look for a person with whom to walk a section of the path together, understanding from the beginning that the aim is to help each other to obtain liberation, to obtain love of God. In this category—the grihasthas—there could be some short-circuits at times, because the body is there, the senses are there, and the karma is there. Therefore by being together they may find themselves overcome with passion, and there might be exchanges of affection surpassing the level allowed in the sastras. I would say that this is not a tragedy. Some leaders have made a tragedy of it but then they themselves created tragedies many times greater than this. Probably I won’t be acclaimed for saying what I am saying but, in all conscience, I am taking full responsibility and I have solid arguments to support my theses.
Going Beyond the Conditioning of Modern Culture The information of the media—which the mass misinterprets as progress and emancipation—doesn’t stimulate at all a “positive” process of liberation and emancipation of the human being. Instead, indiscriminate consumption, which only profits the great financial and industrial groups has resulted. The disposition of modern man is to be lenient, to be accommodating with the weak side of his character, to let his own psychophysical impulses and the external influences dominate his personality. Even if superficially he appears original, spontaneous and self-assured, in reality he is an off-centered and fragile individual, because of being selfishly directed.
Control doesn’t mean repression or suppression. Repression involves an irrational fear (taboo) that impedes the elaboration of psychic energies, which are mostly unconscious. Rather, reasonable control consists in governing the energetic manifestation, with the objective of utilizing those same energies for a constructive goal. Among the innumerable examples I could make I limit myself to the case under examination: the transformation of the sexual push into a satisfactory rapport of love, a process that for years I have defined as “From Eros to Love.” In other words, through using a well-trained willpower* , it’s possible to control the psychophysical energy through reason (logos). This control is the opposite of repressing or suppressing one’s impulses, as it can produce the transformation of the egoistic-destructive pushes in ecologic energy, beneficial to the individual, the collectivity and the environment. This process is defined as transformation and sublimation.
The same principle applies to inhibition. The modern psychological literature—especially from the Freudian school—has incorrectly attributed a negative connotation to the vital psychic function of inhibition. Evidence of the erroneousness of such ideas is provided by scientific research in physiology, which has amply demonstrated that inhibition is a normal neurological function to better govern the organism. On the psychic plane also, to inhibit doesn’t necessarily mean to suppress, but to apply a temporary brake to a reaction of the conditioned consciousness, in order to reflect on one’s behavior. To reflect means to activate the intellect, the buddhi (in Sanskrit), and to deliberate with emotional detachment on the present event without being overwhelmed by one’s urges. Inhibition is pathologic when used stubbornly or non-critically. However, it is therapeutic when used as a process for sublimation (Krishna explains in Bhagavad-gita, 2.58, that one who is able to withdraw his senses from the sense objects, as the tortoise draws its limbs within the shell, is to be understood as truly situated in knowledge).
A person who lives the traditional values (sacrifice, work, saving, honesty, family, religion, etc.) doesn’t maximize commercial profit. To obtain maximum profit, financial companies need to transform man into an avid consumer, because to realize profit they need people to buy their products. Maximum profit for companies will be realized from a population that works to the maximum of their psychophysical capacity and consumes to the maximum of their financial capacity. The worker who is content leading his social or family relationships based on religious values and behavior is a bad consumer. He yields little, because to realize oneself in that way costs little or nothing and consequently doesn’t push the individual to work to the maximum of his capacities. Similarly, the chaste girl who doesn’t go out at night to have fun, the faithful wife who stays at home, or the monk and the priest, produce very little commercial profit. The need therefore arises to create the consumer, who seeks pleasure and entertainment, who seeks an individualistic, materialistic actualization. Such a person frees himself from all the factors that could have inhibited such evolution, spending to buy goods and services in excess. Modern culture achieved this by demolishing those ethical and social values—or motivational vectors—that checked the establishment of consumerism.
Modern culture promoted liberation from duties, sexual liberation, blameworthiness of prohibitions, devaluation of the family and of family roles, emptying of religion, and the relativistic view of ethics and authority. It created innumerable new personal fancied wants—essentially responding to the need of the industry to sell and gain: divorce, fashion, designer clothes and accessories, hankering for status symbols of every type, from classy cars to vacations in particular places. Rigid versus Rigorous Many times, listening to his tapes and reading his books, I heard Shrila Prabhupada say that illicit sex is illicit sex. Very true. However, I have heard him thundering against extra-marital illicit sex while being understanding, compassionate—not approving or condoning—towards those who, out of weakness, break the principles in family life. Pay attention to this point: I don’t approve the breaking of principles and I am not condoning those who break them, even within family life. But I am ready to be quite tolerant, ready to provide help to overcome these weaknesses—without an air of catastrophe, without excessive criminalization—because those instincts, if negated or brutally repressed, slide into the unconscious and create much more damage than when they are dissolved in the sunlight. One can’t avoid taking them into consideration.
Either accepting such instincts or rejecting them should be done consciously, with awareness. One should use all one’s resources to sublimate these instincts to a higher level, the spiritual one. And even if one succeeds nine times out of ten but the tenth time bangs his head, he should try again till perfection. There are spirit souls who are more reawakened and those who are less reawakened; those who have more success and those who have less success, but the important thing is not to embark in disasters. I believe that in the past many tragedies occurred due to interpreting things, although in good faith, in a rigid manner instead of in a rigorous manner. There is great difference between these two concepts. What is rigid is unfortunately also very fragile. What is rigorous is much better. Rigid has a negative connotation while rigorous has a positive one. A rigid, crude, hard, radical negation—which, I repeat, could be in good faith—means repression, but if these impulses don’t act on the conscious level they act, and even more powerfully, on the unconscious level. In a moment of distraction or in a moment in which our perception of God is a little hazy, in a moment of tiredness or in a moment of disappointment, these impulses surge out like a torrent overflowing its ridges and flood our consciousness. And the apparently faultless person becomes abominable. This is a school of life. We have to learn the art of living.
We have to be comprehensive towards the needs of others. We should help all those who are sincere but conditioned and with weak willpower to canalize and orient their urges upwards—without brutally negating them. In the process of giving up our bad habits we may gradually diminish them or we may occasionally fall victim to these old habits. In general, when one is giving up tobacco, let him smoke a cigarette once in a while. If one is prone to drinking alcohol, let him drink a glass once in a while. If one is addicted to sex, let him have intercourse once in while. In this way the mind organizes itself to do always better, to improve. If a devotee is helped, cared for and inspired spiritually, receiving guidance and mercy by the spiritual master and understanding by the Vaishnavas, and behaving sincerely, then this process will lead to the purification of one’s samskaras and desires. Bhakti is especially meant for the correction and transformation of one’s deep, unconscious tendencies (vasanas). Brutal negations are a terrible teaching and it’s for this reason that great thinkers have also classified organized religion—or rather the Churches—as one of the neurosis-generating environments: family, work and religion.
Religions, when interpreted rigidly, to the letter, are dangerous means of serious conditioning, of neurosis, but religion, when explained by the spiritual master, the sadhus and the realized persons, is an extraordinarily effective means of spiritual realization. In the same ‘tree’ category there are hundreds and thousands of different trees, similarly there are many different human beings. We can’t make one law for everyone and make it so rigid that it doesn’t work for anyone. There must be general moral definitions, but they can’t be applied in the same way to every individual. We should have general definitions because man lives in community, is a social being and can’t negate his social needs. General definitions drive the group to grow; comparison among peers generates the drive for improvement, also among spiritualists. But even in law, the general definitions are not applicable to all individuals in the same way. Therefore the legislator—in our case the spiritual master, the Vaishnavas—has to understand the peculiarities of each person. The law remains one for everyone, but there should be personal considerations in the application.
Question: I would like to verify if I understood properly: we should see our spouse as a person who is helping us dissolve that attachment that is not spiritual—and which causes damage—and therefore we see him or her as a friend, with a sentiment of reciprocal help. This relation is like one of the various camps established in climbing a mountain, right?
Answer: Yes, if you feel alone and incapable of reaching the summit you might be overcome by desolation and by anguish. You might lack the energy to even start the climb. But you do have the desire to reach the summit and therefore we are not talking of grihamedhis but of grihasthas, whose aim is spiritual realization. Sometimes it’s necessary to make this journey in two, because by oneself one doesn’t have enough strength, even psychologically. It’s crucial that the spouses remind each other of why they got together. When a spouse has a difficult moment, the other must remind him or her of the original motivation in a consistent way. Otherwise, if they both forget, they go somewhere else.
Question: It’s about continence, abstinence from sex. Sometimes the couple fails to control the sexual urge and becomes so “confidential,” so familiar that they reach a point where they don’t value each other any more; they can’t see each other’s good qualities anymore.
Answer: This is a very interesting question. There is a confidentiality that doesn’t diminish respect. That’s confidentiality on a spiritual basis. When familiarity becomes excessive and it’s reduced to the material plane, it inevitably creates disrespect and causes disappointment. Step by step this darkness envelops the zone of light until the relation is largely consumed, depleted. During the excitement, the enthusiasm of the moment, one doesn’t perceive that this is happening, but it does actually happen. One whose vision is sufficiently detached—but attentive, profound, discriminating—can understand when this happens. Therefore we should try to define what love is, because this helps a lot, it helps enormously in creating categories. Life needs categories; otherwise we don’t understand what’s happening. There is a verse from the Svetasvatara Upanishad 6.23:
yasya deve para bhaktir
yatha deve tatha gurau tasyaite
kathita hy arthah
“Only unto one who has unflinching devotion to the Lord and to the spiritual master does transcendental knowledge become automatically revealed.”
In the path of bhakti, the basis of love is defined as the sentiment for guru and Krishna. Just like food has to be inserted in the mouth; there are innumerable other ways of inserting food but they don’t work. One could make little balls of rice and stick them in one’s ears, but it doesn’t work. One could even try intravenously, and also in that case there would be nourishment, but it won’t give pleasure and real strength. Shrila Prabhupada said: “We teach all people to love Krishna, the Supreme Personality of Godhead. If you learn how to love Krishna, which is very easy, then immediately you love every living being simultaneously.” (Letter of 10th March 1970)
Only the unflinching love for God gives the strength to love all other creatures. This is an essential point; the capacity to love all others is the result of loving God. Otherwise love undergoes devolution, degeneration; it becomes egoistic. Slowly, slowly it shrinks to the level of ahankara or false ego, the reflected self, the atma (soul) reflecting on the mental field. What is the ahankara? It’s the sum of all the psychic contents with which we identify. Love in this form shrinks to the minute field of the psychic contents, thus practically negating all the real needs of the living being. The effect of love for God, or love “in God”(yasya deve para bhaktir—deve is in the locative case) is not like falling inside a well and getting locked up. Love of God multiplies in love for the husband, for the wife, for the children, for the parents, for the neighbors, for the so-called enemies and for the so-called friends. Therefore through bhakti we can enter into respectful affection.
There is morbid affection, which has no respect—think of the pedophiles and the rapists. Criminologists working on the psychological profiles of criminals would assure that they always talk of affection, of an overflowing affection, but they often cause huge disasters. Love of God is that affection that bubbles over, overflows, and benefits everyone. *As for the development of any other quality, either physical or mental, also for willpower a discipline is needed (sadhana-bhakti). The efforts efforts will be abundantly repaid, because a wise, well-developed willpower ensures success in all human activities.
From a lecture by Matsyavatara Prabhu. Translated from the Italian by Kaunteya Das