The Nature of the Sexual Impulse

The sexual impulse and energy is one of the basic primary drives in Nature and is widespread in the animal kingdom, although there are instances of asexual reproduction. The drive is so powerful that it can drive beings to extreme lengths, even killing off rivals, or fighting to maintain dominance to control the access to breeding and the sexual activity that goes along with it. Sex is a powerful motivation that permeates virtually all aspects of human relationships, has been the subject of both scientific study, and is central to much of human creativity and imagination, including art, literature, poetry, drama and sculpture. Sex is so far involved in the society that it governs almost every access including habits, customs , dress, and relationship rituals. There are mating rituals and dating rituals that try to govern or at least direct the method of sexual expression, and yet, humanity has found that it is not so easy to govern this impulse.

For the spiritual practitioner, then, the issue of sex becomes one of importance, if only because he is tasked with finding a way to redirect the focus and direction of energies away from the action of the lower forces of Nature toward a higher evolutionary force in the development of the spiritual nature, which by its very nature, is an asexual level of consciousness.

Spiritual traditions have taken a diverse approach to the sexual energy. Some ask the aspirant to renounce sex entirely by what seems to be an act of will, or at least suppress its expression. Others take the approach that the sexual energy can in fact be utilized and turned into a mode of realisation, as in the tantric tradition. Still others acknowledge the role of sex, find ways to channel it so that it is minimized as a distraction, such as encouraging marriage and controlled sexual liaisons within the framework of the spiritual development. There are also those who believe that the sexual energy can and should be sublimated to create new powers of action at higher energetic levels of the being, the conversion of the base energy of the lowest chakras into the expressions of the higher chakras in action. There are many variations on these themes and the experience generally has been that one way or the other, the sexual impulse has won out, and found a way to focus the attention and in some cases, finds unapproved or illicit forms of expression even in the traditions that are most extreme in trying to deny sex by act of will-power.

Sri Aurobindo’s approach first starts with an understanding that the sexual impulse, as with other vital energies, is one that arises from universal Nature and is not something that belongs to or is generated solely within an individual. Thus, it is a matter of observing the impulse, changing the “channel”, and refocusing the attention away. This is not simply a matter of sublimation as others have tried, but a wholesale change of consciousness that moves beyond sex. Note that this is related to the practitioners who aspire to the realisations of the integral yoga, and has not been intended as a general prescription for humanity in its normal interactions, and thus the objections raised by those who claim that sex is a natural impulse and is needed for perpetuation of the species, are not central to this review. At the same time, a more complete understanding of the sexual impulse and how it works and how to manage it could be extremely useful within the framework of society as a whole. And it is not to be denied that with the advent of a next evolutionary principle, that sex as an instrument of procreation and propagation of the species may itself give way with changes to the physical body that would arise over time. Thus, this impulse may find its own eventual reduction and demise in the course of time.

Sri Aurobindo notes: “All movements are in the mass movements of Nature’s cosmic forces, they are movements of universal Nature. The individual receives something of them, a wave or pressure of some cosmic force, and is driven by it; he thinks it is his own, generated in himself separately, but it is not so, it is part of a general movement which works just in the same way in others. Sex, for instance, is a movement of general Nature seeking for its play and it uses this or that one — a man vitally or physically ‘in love’ as it is called with a woman is simply repeating and satisfying the world-movement of sex; if it had not been that woman, it would have been another; he is simply an instrument in Nature’s machinery, it is not an independent movement. So it is with anger and other Nature-motives.”

“In most men the sexual is the strongest of all the impulses of Nature.”

Sri Aurobindo, Integral Yoga: Sri Aurobindo’s Teaching and Method of Practice, Chapter 10, Difficulties in Transforming the Nature, Sex, pp 299-308

Violence and Non-Violence — in Life and in Yoga

‘The law of the jungle.’ ‘Dog eat dog’. ‘Survival of the fittest.’ ‘Darwinian evolution.’ These ideas illustrate the way we understand life on earth, and its requirements for survival and success in worldly life. When Jesus proclaimed ‘the meek shall inherit the earth’, he expressed an idea that until now has shown no signs of coming to pass. He asked people to ‘beat your swords into plowshares’, but we have more ‘swords’ today than ever. Conflict, violence, competition for resources, aggressive ‘alpha male’ behavior and a pecking order built on wealth and power makes it seem like there is no escape from the law of violence as the predominant term of life on earth. Power struggles between those that are in control of the resources and those seeking to gain access to resources are ongoing, and even if they take place through passive resistance, violence is part of the equation and occurs either overtly or through subtle vital interactions. We and all other animal species survive by consuming other living beings. The physical powers of earth wreak vast destruction without seemingly caring about the harm done to the lives affected. When we speak of ahimsa, or non-violence, people challenge the notion as impractical, unreal and impossible to bring into effect. Clearly the concept of non-violence is not yet operative at the level of life on earth in general, and we see no clear or easy path to its accomplishment.

This does not, however, mean that individuals, particularly those seeking spiritual growth, cannot implement and develop ahimsa as a principle, understand the deeper and subtler implications of this principle, and bring it about in their own lives, and provide thereby a potential path forward for humanity as a whole in its evolutionary development. Sri Aurobindo speaks to those spiritual pioneers when he discusses the need for, and implementation of, non-violence. He at the same time recognises that while these individuals also live and relate within society, they must needs, from time to time, respond effectively under the general principles operative in the world at large, without at the same time, giving in, in their inner life, to the passions and vital forces that support the way of violence as a principle of survival and success in the world.

Eventually the entire basis of human life on earth would need to change in order to accomplish non-violence on any widespread or general level, and it is just these spiritual pioneers and evolutionary leaders who are working towards finding solutions that resolve the basis of violence in our human interactions.

Sri Aurobindo observes: “The Essays on the Gita explain the ordinary Karmayoga as developed in the Gita, in which the work done is the ordinary work of human life with only an inward change. There too the violence to be used is not a personal violence done from egoistic motives, but part of the ordered system of social life. Nothing can spiritually justify individual violence done in anger or passion or from any vital motive. In our yoga our object is to rise higher than the ordinary life of men and in it violence has to be left aside altogether.”

“There is a truth in Ahimsa, there is a truth in destruction also. I do not teach that you should go on killing everybody every day as a spiritual dharma. I say that destruction can be done when it is part of the divine work commanded by the Divine. Non-violence is better than violence as a rule, and still sometimes violence may be the right thing. I consider dharma as relative; unity with the Divine and action from the Divine Will, the highest way.”

Sri Aurobindo, Integral Yoga: Sri Aurobindo’s Teaching and Method of Practice, Chapter 10, Difficulties in Transforming the Nature, Anger and Violence, pp 296-299