In this excerpt from Kishor Gandhi’s book Light on life-problems, Sri Aurobindo eludicates on the spiritual purpose behind the transmutation of sexual energies and whether psychological disorders can be caused by abstinence. Please note that this exchange occurred in the early twentieth century and therefore contains references to some personalities who were prominent at that time.
Question: Balzac, the famous French novelist, was of the opinion that indulgence in sex greatly hampers the high type of mental activity. According to him, “The man of genius is frigid. When he tries to lead both lives, the intellectual life and the love life, the man of genius dies, as Raphael died (it seems he died at 37 after a night of excessive sex) and Lord Byron.” So also Havelock Ellis, recognised as the world’s greatest authority on sex, maintains that to increase artistic and mental capacity and force it is necessary to restrain sexual activity. “The brain and the sexual organs,” he says, “are yet the great rivals in using up bodily energy, and there is an antagonism between extreme brain vigour and extreme sexual vigour, even though they may sometimes both appear at different periods in the same individual”. We find this evidenced in the life of some great masters of art like Beethoven and Mozart, in whose life sexual indulgence played a much smaller part than in the life of an average man. This would seem to imply that it is necessary to conserve sexual energy for the energisation and intensification of higher intellectual and aesthetic life. How far is this view justifiable ?
Answer: That is correct. The sex-energy can be controlled and diverted from the sex-purpose and used for aesthetic and artistic or other creation and productiveness or preserved for heightening of the intellectual or other energies. Entirely controlled, it can be turned into a force of spiritual energy also. This was well known in ancient India and was described as the conversion of retas into ojas by Brahmacharya. Retas, the sex-fluid, consists of two elements, one meant for sex-purposes, the other as a basis of general energy, and if the sex-action is not indulged and the sex-fluid is prevented from being spent away, it turns into ojas. The whole theory of Brahmacharya is based upon that by the Yogis.
This is a list of Sanskrit terms to help understand the next question:
- Retas = sexual fluid.
- Tapas = spiritual heat felt in the body during meditation.
- Ojas = spiritual vigor which is felt after union with and immersion into cosmic energies.
- Tejas = spiritual light observed within.
- Vidyut = electrical power which courses through the body during Yoga.
Question: What is the process by which ‘retas‘ (sex fluid) is transformed into ‘ojas‘ (vigor)?
Answer: The fundamental physical unit is the retas, in which the tejas, the heat and light and electricity in a man, is involved and hidden. All energy is thus latent in the retas. This energy may be either expended physically or conserved. All passion, lust, desire wastes the energy by pouring it, either in the gross form or a sublimated subtle form, out of the body. On the other hand, all self-control conserves the energies in the retas, and conservation always brings with it increase. But the needs of the physical body are limited and the excess of energy must create a surplus which has to turn itself to some use other than the physical. According to the ancient theory, retas is jala(fluid), full of light and heat and electricity, in one word, of tejas.
- The excess of the retas turns first into heat or tapas which stimulates the whole system, and it is for this reason that all forms of self-control and austerity are called tapas or tapasya, because they generate the heat or stimulus which is a source of powerful action and success.
- Secondly, it turns to tejas or light, the energy which is at the source of all knowledge.
- Thirdly, it turns to vidyut or electricity, which is at the basis of all forceful action whether intellectual or physical.
In the vidyut again is involved the ojas, or pranashakti, the primal energy which proceeds from ether. The retas, refining from jala to tapas, tejas and vidyut and from vidyut to ojas, fills the system with physical strength, energy and brain-power and in its last form of ojas rises to the brain and informs it with that primal energy which is the most refined form of matter and nearest to spirit. It is ojas that creates a spiritual force or virya, by which a man attains to spiritual knowledge, spiritual love and faith, spiritual strength. It follows that the more we can by Brahmacharya increase the store of tapas(heat), tejas(light), vidyut(electric) and ojas(vigor), the more we shall fill ourselves with utter energy for the works of the body, heart, mind and spirit.
Question: Many eminent psychologists, doctors and thinkers believe that complete sexual abstinence is dangerous and may lead to serious nervous trouble and even mental derangement. They maintain that the new form of energy produced from the sublimation of sexual energy may be harmful and may lead to perversities and morbidities. Rene Guyon, for example, points out: “When the libido is repressed, when its impetus is crushed back, it is forced to find an outlet by some other route …. But this compensation is not necessarily useful, superior and worthy of admiration. It can just as well be harmful and destructive.” How far is this true ?
Answer: It is a fact that sex suppressed in outward action but indulged in other ways may lead to disorders of the system and brain troubles. That is the root of the medical theory which discourages sexual abstinence. But these things happen only when there is either secret indulgence of a perverse kind replacing the normal sexual activity or else an indulgence of it in a kind of subtle vital way by imagination or by an invisible vital interchange of an occult kind; harm never occurs when there is a true effort at mastery and abstinence.
Question: The Freudian system of psycho-analysis has attributed a large number of physical and mental disorders to suppressed sexual desire. To what extent are the assertions of this system true?
Answer: The psycho-analysis of Freud takes up a certain part, the darkest, the most perilous, the unhealthiest part of the nature, the lower vital subconscious layer, isolates some of its most morbid phenomena and attributes to it and them an action out of all proportion to its true role in the nature. Modern psychology is an infant science, at once rash, fumbling and crude. As in all infant sciences, the universal habit of the human mind to take a partial or local truth, generalise it unduly and try to explain a whole field of Nature in its narrow terms runs riot here. Moreover, the exaggeration of the importance of suppressed sexual complexes is a dangerous falsehood and it can have a nasty influence and tend to make the mind and vital more and not less fundamentally impure than before.
- Napoleon Hill in his book How to think and grow rich illustrates how the men of greatest achievement are also those who have mastered sex transmutation. See Chapter 11 : Mystery of Sex Transmutation. Another copy of the chapter is available @ Google books: Mystery of Sex Transmutation
- Sri Aurobindo and the Mother on the “Sex urge in Nature”
- Sri Aurobindo and the Mother on “Yoga and the conquest of sex”
- Swami Vivekananda in his Lessons on Raja Yoga expatiates on the transmutation of sexual energy into ojas (spiritual force)
- Kishor Gandhi was a disciple of Sri Aurobindo. His book Light on Life Problems from which the above excerpt has been taken is freely available at Google Books and the Internet Archive