Sublimating the sexual urge through Yoga

The path of Yoga demands the difficult task of transmuting the sexual energy(Retas) into spiritual vigor(Ojas) as discussed in a previous post. Sex is a natural urge implanted in human beings for the procreation of the species but when indulged in excess, it leads to the degradation of the soul. The spiritual solution lies neither in forced suppression nor licentious expression but moderation through the application of progressive self-control. There is usually a period of struggle, which varies depending on past-life development, before the individual consciousness evolves to a stage where the sexual urge drops off naturally. How you pace yourself in this conversion is upto you. This post brings together some observations on the sublimation of sexual energy derived from the works of Sri Aurobindo and the Mother.

The power of the sexual impulse

Love is not sexual intercourse. Love is not vital attraction and interchange. Love is not the heart’s hunger for affection. Love is a mighty vibration coming straight from the One. And only the very pure and very strong are capable of receiving and manifesting it.

(Mother Mirra Alfassa, Mother’s Agenda, Sept 25, 1963)

The Rig Veda say that the phenomenal world is crooked (Vrjina) because every Divine vibration is distorted by the human ego into some selfish desire. Due to the limitations of our consciousness, everything on earth becomes a shadow of the original delight and puissance.

  1. The aspiration for Delight (Ananda) gets distorted into the desire for Satiety expressed through food (over-eating) and sex.
  2. The aspiration for Intensity (Chit-Shakti) can deform into acts of Cruelty.
  3. The aspiration for Expansion of Consciousness morphs into the desire for Aggression and Domination.
  4. The aspiration for Love deforms into the desire for Possession and even Hatred.

The following is an observation by Sri Aurobindo on the nature of the sexual impulse.

Question: Why has the sex-impulse so powerful a grip over human nature? Why is it difficult to get free of its hold even when its indulgence brings a reaction of disgust?

Sri Aurobindo: It is because the sex-impulse is the greatest force on the vital plane. The thrill which accompanies it is a very gross distortion and degradation of the divine Ananda(Bliss). The pleasure attached to it is the lure by which Nature makes the vital consent to this otherwise unpleasing process. There are quite a number of persons who experience a recoil of disgust after the sexual act and repulsion from the partner in it because of the disgust, but they return to it when the disgust has worn off for the sake of the lure. [1]

Sri Anirvan in his book Inner Yoga offers some illumination on why the sexual urge is so powerful.

We discover that every thought and movement gives rise in the nervous current in the spinal channel to a vibration which is subtle and deep, yet full of ecstatic power. At present the spinal channel in us is insensitive and unfelt, and as a rule human beings are seldom ever aware of it except at the climax of the sexual experience; the spinal channel opens briefly at that time, which is why the sexual hunger in human beings is so strong. When the spinal channel is open and awake, our inner consciousness is flooded with samarasya, an equal delight in all things. [2]

An ecstasy of the infinite is her cause.
It turns in us to finite loves and lusts,
The will to conquer and have, to seize and keep,
To enlarge life’s room and scope and pleasure’s range,
To battle and overcome and make one’s own,
The hope to mix one’s joy with others’ joy,
A yearning to possess and be possessed,
To enjoy and be enjoyed, to feel, to live.

(Sri Aurobindo. Savitri, Book II, Canto IV)

What factors drive the sexual impulse?

The first step in changing anything within us is to become self-aware. If we analyze ourselves, we will see that a combination of all the following factors in varying degrees contributes to the sexual impulse:

  1. Mind: There is the intellectual preference for an ideal companion, someone who is like-minded and shares similar tastes.
  2. Vital: There is the vital’s desire to possess someone or be possessed by someone.
  3. Physical: At the physical level, there are the hormonal triggers implanted in us by virtue of a human birth. These fade away gradually with the inflow of light, peace and power into the consciousness that occurs through the practice of Yoga.
  4. Subconscious: In the subconscient, there exists an idealized body image of the partner one desires. This is the image which rises up and occupies the imaginations of the idle mind.
  5. External: There is also the action of the universal forces and occult spirits which, unknown to us, are always influencing us. (See Occult spirits which influence our actions). In the following passage, the Mother Mirra Alfassa elucidates on the swarm of occult entities which surround people who are obsessed with sex.

You have perhaps read the books of Maurice Magre(1877–1941); there are some in the library. He describes this; he had come here, Maurice Magre, and we spoke and he told me that he had always noticed – he was highly sensitive – he had always noticed that people who have sexual desires are surrounded by a kind of small swarm of entities who are somewhat viscous and rather ugly and which torment them constantly, awakening desire in them. He said he had seen this around certain people. It was like being surrounded by a swarm of mosquitoes, yes! But it is more gross, and much uglier still, and it is viscous, it is horrible, and it turns round and round the person and gives him no peace, and it awake in him the desire that has formed these entities and they batten on it. It is their food. This is absolutely true. His observation was quite correct. His vision was very true. It is like that. [3]

Negative consequences of the sexual act

In the path of Yoga, the sexual act carries certain negative consequences which need to be understood.

  1. Vital exchange with the other: Human beings feed off each other’s vitality in every social interaction ranging from conversation to sex (as an aside, that is why we sometimes find ourselves depleted after conversing with blabbermouths). The exchange of the vital energy during the sexual act can lead to immixture and depletion of vitality. Going within during meditation requires some free energy and this effort can be hindered by every social act which depletes vitality.
  2. Subconscient gets polluted: Every sexual act weighs down the individual subconscient with additional deposits of images, making it more tamasic. This leads to two problems. During sleep, this can invite attacks from occult beings of the vital worlds which is mentally translated and experienced as nightmares of being attacked by serpents and other animals. Secondly, during the waking state, these images can rise up during idle moments to captivate the mind and drain energy.
  3. Loss of spiritual force: The sexual act disrupts the conversion of sexual energy(Retas) into spiritual force(Ojas) which is occurring due to the circulation of the Kundalini within the body through Yoga. For more on this, see a previous post – The transmutation of sexual energy
  4. Period of unconsciousness: There usually occurs a period of unguarded laxity after the sexual act as outlined in the following passage by the Mother Mirra Alfassa

One’s entire physical activity should be organised to help the body to grow in balance and strength and beauty. For this purpose, one must abstain from all pleasure-seeking, including sexual pleasure. For every sexual act is a step towards death. That is why from the most ancient times, in the most sacred and secret schools, this act was prohibited to every aspirant towards immortality. The sexual act is always followed by a longer or shorter period of unconsciousness that opens the door to all kinds of influences and causes a fall in consciousness. But if one wants to prepare oneself for the supramental life, one must never allow one’s consciousness to slip into laxity and inconscience under the pretext of pleasure or even of rest and relaxation. One should find relaxation in force and light, not in darkness and weakness. [4]

Steps towards sublimation

It requires a period of rigorous awareness and endurance, demanding the utmost psychological resilience, to rise above the sensual passions. There will be many setbacks before the consciousness is fully transformed. These are a few techniques which may help along the way.

  1. Sleep in a hard bed: When you sleep in a soft bed, the senses get lulled and the consciousness sinks into the subsconscient leading to  unpleasant dreams. To keep the senses alert, use a hard bed. Sri Aurobindo used to sleep on a hard bed, according to an account from his life in Baroda:

He never slept on a soft cotton-bed, as most of us do, but on a bed made of coir (coconut fibres) on which was spread a Malbar grassmat which served as a bed-sheet. Once I asked him why he used such a coarse hard bed and he said with his characteristic laugh, “My boy, don’t you know that I am a Brahmachari (celibate) ? Our shastras (scriptures) enjoin that a Brahmachari should not use a soft bed, which may induce him to sleep.”[7]

  1. Mula Bandha : The Hatha Yogis are known to practice Mula Bandha.  See the Yoga Journal page on Mula Bandha.
  2. Develop the Witness Consciousness: One must be able to hold thoughts outside the mind and thwart the imagination process before it creates a runaway train of thought. This calls for ceaseless self-awareness of every thought and mood that may take hold of the consciousness. This is Sri Aurobindo’s elucidation on this issue : “As for the method of mastery, it cannot be done by physical abstinence alone —it proceeds by a process of combined detachment and rejection. The consciousness stands back from the sex-impulse, feels it as not its own, as something alien thrown on it by Nature-force to which it refuses assent or identification – each time a certain movement of rejection throws it more and more outward. The mind remains unaffected; after a time the vital being which is the chief support withdraws from it in the same way, finally the physical consciousness no longer supports it. This process continues until even the subconscient can no longer rouse it up in dream and no further movement comes from the outer Nature-force to rekindle this lower fire. This is the course when the sex-propensity sticks obstinately; but there are some who can eliminate it decisively by a swift radical dropping away from the nature. That, however, is more rare.” [6]
  3. Aspiration and devotion: One of the unfortunate consequences of silencing the mind through Yoga is that mental control over the desires, AKA our cloak of morality, suddenly disappears! Then one discovers that one is capable of engaging in all kinds of things! One finds dormant hungers rising up unexpected and unchecked, as if one has become the passive instrument for their operation. The best way to ward off such influences is to practice surrender and remembrance of one’s chosen Guru or deity to gain protection.
  4. Impede new images from entering the mind: One must be cautious in watching television shows, reading popular magazines and browsing the Internet. The subconscious registers every image seen by the eyes even though the mind is unaware of the ill-effects. These images later rise up in incoherent dreams.
  5. Meditate before falling sleep: When you fall asleep, mental control is lost and your consciousness can travel along two paths : it can either sink into the subconscient and produce incoherent dreams or it can rise into the superconscient and have a restful sleep. If you meditate before falling asleep, it increases the chances of a restful period of sleep.
  6. Eat food which is bland and nutritious: Spicy food excites the senses and stimulates the imagination while food that is bland and nutritious uplifts the mind.
  7. Transmute vital love to psychic love: Purify your emotions towards your partner. Move the relationship to a higher sphere. As the Upanishad says, ” The wife is not to be loved for the sake of the wife, but for the sake of the Self which resides in the wife.” (Brihadaranyaka Upanishad 2.4.5)
  8. Impose your will on the subconscious: This was the advice given by Sri Aurobindo to a disciple .

“As for asserting one’s will in sleep it is simply a matter of accustoming the subconscient to obey the will laid upon it by the waking mind before sleeping. It very often happens for instance that if you fix upon the subconscient your will to wake up at a particular hour in the morning, the subconscient will obey and you wake up automatically at that hour. This can be extended to other matters. Many have found that by putting a will against sexual dreams or emission on the subconscient before sleeping, there comes after a time (it does not always succeed at the beginning) an automatic action causing one to awake before the dream concludes or before it begins or in some way preventing the thing forbidden from happening. Also one can develop a more conscious sleep in which there is a sort of inner consciousness which can intervene.” [5]

Final sublimation

Sexual desire drops off when the Kundalini rises out of the Muladhara through the various Chakras, activating the subtle body, transforming the consciousness and creating an atmosphere of alertness, purity and rejuvenation within. As Sri Aurobindo told a disciple, “there is a force of purity, not the purity of the moralist, but an essential purity of spirit, in the very substance of the being. When that comes, then sex-waves either cannot approach or they pass without imparting any impulse, without touching anywhere.” [6]

Pandit Gopi Krishna describes the vivid difference between sexual ecstasy and spiritual ecstasy that he experienced:

It is not possible to describe the intensity of orgasmic sensation that occurs in the spinal cord and the brain on the arousal of kundalini. Except for the related character of the transport experienced, there is no comparison between the climax of conjugal union and the rapture caused by the flow of the kundalini force from the base of the spine to the head. The duration of the former may be only of a few moments, followed by a sense of relief and lassitude on the part of the individual. The latter can last for several minutes, creating almost a swooning condition of the mind at the intensity of the rapture experienced. It seems to the individual as if one has been in an ocean of incomparable bliss to taste the rapture as long as one likes or as long as there is sufficient vitality in the body to cause it. On returning back to normal, there is usually no sense of lassitude or satiation. On the contrary, the experiencer feels mentally more fresh and invigorated than before. [8]

See Also

  1. Sri Aurobindo and the Mother on the “Sex urge in Nature”
  2. Sri Aurobindo and the Mother on “Yoga and the conquest of sex”

References

  1. Kishore Gandhi. Light on Life Problems, p 23 (online at Google Books and the Internet Archive)
  2. Sri Anirvan. Inner Yoga, p 15 (amazon)
  3. Collected Works of the Mother. CWMCE vol 6. Question and Answers, 11th August 1954, p 279
  4. Collected Works of the Mother. CWMCE vol 12. On Education. The four austerities and the four liberations, p54 (online)
  5. Mother’s Agenda. vol 9, June 15 1968.
  6. Sri Aurobindo. SABCL vol 24. Letters on Yoga, Transformation of the Physical.
  7. Sri Aurobindo in Baroda, p 30; A.B. Purani, Life of Sri Aurobindo 4th edition, p 62.
  8. Gopi Krishna, Living with Kundalini (Shambhala, 1993), pp 362-363

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31 thoughts on “Sublimating the sexual urge through Yoga

  1. Pingback: Kundalini in ancient Greek and other non-Indian cultures | Integral Yoga of Sri Aurobindo & The Mother

  2. Pingback: When does the soul enter the body? | Integral Yoga of Sri Aurobindo & The Mother

  3. Sandeep Post author

    The Jan 2010 issue of Prabuddha Bharata features an article by Swami Yukteshananda on “Brahmacharya (celibacy) and Its Practice”.

    See page 73 of the magazine (which is page 84 in the PDF) click here

    For other issues of this magazine published by the Ramakrishna Mission, see the Archives section at http://advaitaashrama.org/prabuddha_bharata.html

    Reply
  4. Sandeep Post author

    Ramakrishna Paramahansa on continence:

    “One has to observe strict continence to attain God. Sukadeva and people like him were men of absolute and unbroken continence. They never discharged semen. There are others who have discharged semen earlier but now conserve it. A person conserving semen for twelve years builds up a special power. He develops a new nerve of mental power. When this nerve develops, one remembers everything, can know everything.” (Gospel of Ramakrishna)

    The “nerve of mental power” which Ramakrisha mentions above is known in the scriptures as Medha Nadi (nerve of intelligence)

    From Yogis’ Secrets by Sandra Heber-Percy, Page 148: “By means of many years of celibacy a special nerve, medha nadi, is developed which helps in further development of the brain and in awakening the power of intuition.”

    See also:
    1) The Primal Power in Man: The Kundalini Shakti By Swami Narayanananda, page 21
    and
    2) http://www.atmajyoti.org/INC_Techniques_of_Sex_Sublimation.asp

    Reply
  5. Pingback: Should women dress modestly? | Integral Yoga of Sri Aurobindo & The Mother

  6. Pingback: How to choose the right life partner | Integral Yoga of Sri Aurobindo & The Mother

  7. Pingback: Further remarks on sexuality | Integral Yoga of Sri Aurobindo & The Mother

  8. mike

    “Many have found that by putting a will against sexual dreams or emission on the subconscient before sleeping, there comes after a time (it does not always succeed at the beginning) an automatic action causing one to awake before the dream concludes or before it begins or in some way preventing the thing forbidden from happening. Also one can develop a more conscious sleep in which there is a sort of inner consciousness which can intervene”
    This is true. lt happens with me if any of these sex-dreams occur [fairly infrequent these days, thank God] l wake up exactly at the right moment. lt’s like an automatic trigger that slaps me into wakefulness. To tell the Truth, l can’t remember putting a will or command on the subconscious to wake me from these ugly dreams. l think it must be some kind of psychic or other intervention, for which l’m eternally grateful.
    l hadn’t heard about the 12 year NERVE before. Sounds interesting.

    Reply
  9. Pingback: What exactly is a “crush” or “love at first sight”? | Integral Yoga of Sri Aurobindo & The Mother

  10. Sandeep Post author

    The expense of spirit in a waste of shame
    Is lust in action; and till action, lust
    Is perjured, murderous, bloody, full of blame,
    Savage, extreme, rude, cruel, not to trust;
    Enjoy’d no sooner but despised straight;
    Past reason hunted; and no sooner had,
    Past reason hated, as a swallowed bait,
    On purpose laid to make the taker mad:
    Mad in pursuit, and in possession so;
    Had, having, and in quest to have, extreme;
    A bliss in proof, and proved, a very woe;
    Before, a joy proposed; behind, a dream.

    All this the world well knows; yet none knows well
    To shun the heaven that leads men to this hell.

    (William Shakespeare – Sonnet #129)

    Reply
  11. Pingback: The rhythms of our consciousness | Integral Yoga of Sri Aurobindo & The Mother

  12. mike

    ““One has to observe strict continence to attain God. Sukadeva and people like him were men of absolute and unbroken continence. They never discharged semen. There are others who have discharged semen earlier but now conserve it. A person conserving semen for twelve years builds up a special power. He develops a new nerve of mental power. When this nerve develops, one remembers everything, can know everything.” (Gospel of Ramakrishna)”

    Does this power come to anyone who is celibate for 12 years or just those who practice Yoga or meditation [what about those who don't meditate?]. l mean, will a catholic priest attain this ‘new nerve of mental power’?. Would an ordinary person, who has no Spiritual aspiration, achieve this ‘special power’ too?
    l wonder what Sri Ramakrishna mean’t by ‘can know everything’- would that mean remembering past lives, for instance.

    Reply
    1. Sandeep Post author

      The memory that Ramakrishna refers here to maybe subliminal memory, wherein if you hear or read something once, you remember it throughout your life. Swami Vivekananda is said to have such a memory capacity. It is different from memory of past lives which blossoms only after a psychic transformation.

      Mike: Does this power come to anyone who is celibate for 12 years or just those who practice Yoga or meditation [what about those who don't meditate?]. l mean, will a catholic priest attain this ‘new nerve of mental power’?. Would an ordinary person, who has no Spiritual aspiration, achieve this ‘special power’ too?

      The celibacy of Catholic priests is imposed rather than natural and has been proven to be unreliable. Ordinary people might experience some upliftment if the continence is actual rather than a form of repression but, if I am not mistaken, the conserved sexual energy must climb up the Kundalini and invigorate the brain in order for the nerve of memory (medha nadi) to develop.

      Reply
  13. mike

    “The celibacy of Catholic priests is imposed rather than natural and has been proven to be unreliable”

    Yes, l think that’s true. The Catholic church [and many other churches too] appear to be swarming with peodophiles.

    “the conserved sexual energy must climb up the Kundalini and invigorate the brain in order for the nerve of memory (medha nadi) to develop”

    Yes, l thought it must have something to do with kundalini.
    Ordinary ppl seem to be attracted to celibacy mainly for the health benefits or as in ‘athletes or sportsmen’ it’s for better sporting performance. Although, we aren’t talking 12 years of abstinence with them lol.

    Reply
  14. Pingback: Dalai Lama on Women and Temptation | Integral Yoga of Sri Aurobindo & The Mother

  15. Pingback: Gender differences between men and women | Integral Yoga of Sri Aurobindo & The Mother

  16. Sandeep Post author

    Disciple : As regards the degrading effects of the sexual act, does marriage and legal sanction make any difference ?

    Sri Aurobindo : Absolutely none. These moral injunctions are for the maintenance of society, for the welfare of the children born, but so far as the yogic life is concerned the sexual act with one’s own wife is as much harmful as that with any other woman. Only those who have risen above the human level, those who have a certain kind of spiritual force as well as vital force, can possibly make a proper use of the sexual act for a spiritual purpose. If Sadhakas (aspirants) at a lower stage take to these things they are certain to fall.

    Disciple : If the sexual act is so full of danger, why should it at all be used as a help ? Why not confine oneself to a safer course ?

    Sri Aurobindo : That is a dangerous question to answer. I shall answer that question when you have risen above the human level.

    Disciple : When one has reached that level beyond the human consciousnes, how is the loss due to the sexual act averted ? What happens to the excitement and dissociation from the higher centres of consciousness?

    Sri Aurobindo : The Higher Power can take up the things in its own way and prevent the harmful effects. Then the method and the act become absolutely different from the human.

    conversation dated 6th sept, 1926
    (A B Purani, Evening Talks With Sri Aurobindo, Second Series, page 119-120)

    Reply
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  19. proxer

    Sir,I have a great navel fetish how to avoid that?I also tried yoga and pranayama for 6 months. I am not able to control this fetish.

    Reply
    1. Sandeep Post author

      Sorry, but I don’t have any instant remedies. Keep practicing and gradually you will develop the willpower to withdraw from the fetish. Problems of sexual nature can take years to resolve because they are embedded deep within the subconscious.

      Reply
  20. mike

    And even when there is no physical indulgence it will continue for some time in dreams. l find it’s always better to ignore the impulse [whether it's a fetish or anything else]- easier said than done, l know, but it is achievable. Ultimately, l think lt’s an act of Divine Grace than overcomes it, and as has been said here, when the Force settles around the higher chakra’s it no longer bothers you so much, and hardly at all, in fact….

    lt sounds strange, but in my dreams after a long stage of celibacy, the sex organ would fall off – not kidding. l say this so that people don’t get worried if it happens to them lol.. lt’s purely symbolic, but, l haven’t read of this anywhere else..

    Reply
  21. KAI

    While most of the mystics regard sex as a powerful stumbling block in spiritual progression, Tantrikas use it as a means for energy manipulation.But I doubt whether it is possible to attain spiritual heights with tantric practices alone and I have not heard about any one who did so.May be through specific tantric techniques one may manipulate subtle energies inside but definitely not higher development.

    Even a person living an ordinary life will loose interest in sex over a period of time and it is surprising to hear in news about swamis getting caught in scandals.

    Reply
    1. Sandeep Post author

      Even a person living an ordinary life will loose interest in sex over a period of time and it is surprising to hear in news about swamis getting caught in scandals.

      People living an ordinary life lose interest in sex because there is too much stress born out of earning a livelihood and taking care of a family. Our modern Swamis have wealthy supporters who cushion them from that stress. Furthermore, like politicians and movie stars, the Swami’s ego can also become inflated by the adulation of nubile young women.

      Reply
  22. mike

    MP Pandit wrote some interesting books on Tantra.

    BOOKS:
    Bases of Tantra Sadhana
    Lights on the Tantra
    Sri Aurobindo on the Tantra
    Gems from the Tantras (Kularnava) Vol. 1
    Gems from the Tantras Vol. 2

    In this one – Sri-Aurobindo-On-Tantra, he describes how today, it’s a much watered down version of the original:

    “But in the end, as is the general tendency of Parakriti, Tantra largely lost it’s principles in it’s machinery and became a thing of formulae and occult mechanism, still powerful when rightly used, but fallen from the clarity of their original intention.”

    There is also the left-side of Tantra called Vama-Marga. which has caused it to fall into discredit. Varma-Marga seems to justify self-indulgence through a method of unrestrained social immorality.
    l don’t know what the state of Tantra is today, because SA was saying this quite a long time ago. l can’t imagine it’s improved much, though.
    These days, you here a lot of talk about ‘Sacred Sexuality’ on the internet – which l think must be taken from Tantra, in some corrupted form.
    But, as SA said, to be able to use sex in the right way, a man or woman has to be FREE – or in His words ‘Above the Human’, so it seems to me that a lot of people are playing with fire when they talk about using the sex-force in a Spiritual way….

    Reply
  23. KAI

    //People living an ordinary life lose interest in sex because there is too much stress born out of earning a livelihood and taking care of a family//

    Exactly.No energy for sex or yoga and what remains is frustration.May be that is the reason saints direct people towards bakthi yoga.

    Reply
    1. Sandeep Post author

      The lack of stress is also the reason why you see lot of “sexual innovation” in the wealthier Western countries. People over there have more free time and energy.

      Reply
    2. amsha

      Everybody works or performs some sort of actions, so it’s quite strange to hear that people don’t have time or energy for yoga, that’s just an excuse, isn’t it?
      Proper inner attitude and poise during work could change things quite noticeably, you don’t need even to be a yogi to know this.

      Reply

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