The Soul of Sex and Natural Devotion

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Browsing the local used bookstore, I found Thomas Moore’s The Soul of Sex: Cultivating Life as an Act of Love, Harper Collins, 1998. Some books have a classic timeless appeal, and this is one of them. I found it a delightful read since his views are similar to mine. We are both former monks who married and have a Christian theological education combined with other spiritual paths.

I begin the second chapter of my book, Universalist Radha-Krishnaism: The Way of Natural Devotion–

Practitioners of amorous natural devotion seek intimate communion with the divine as they re-enchant their lives and embrace the mystery of existence. Humans are sexual spiritual beings created in the holographic image of God-dess, Radha-Krishna, the Divine Couple. Universalist Radha-Krishnaism offers a contemporary, body and sex-positive spiritual philosophy to counterbalance puritan religious tendencies that cause suffering for many. Sexuality can be a window to ultimate reality. From the Stone Age to today, traditional cultures integrate sexuality into their spiritual worldviews.

Amorous spirituality may seem revolutionary, but it has a long and varied history. Universalist Radha-Krishnaism reintroduces it to enrich people’s lives. Those repressed by centuries of sex-negativity may think it a huge leap, but it is well worth the effort to become whole.

Natural devotees integrate the needs of body, mind, and spirit. They realize the interconnectedness of all existence. Practitioners bridge the gap between sacred and profane, thus healing themselves and potentially healing society as more people become whole. By transforming themselves, people transform society.

While most people may not speak of it, many have had transcendent experiences. Amorous exchanges in which lovers experience union on a deeper level than mere physical intercourse often triggers those experiences. Sexual orgasm is as close as most people come to experiencing a unitive state of bliss in which they experience reality as it is.

Many spiritual traditions recognize amorous love as a major gateway to mystical experience. The more practitioners become conscious of the divine pervading all existence and harness their sexual energy to link to the divine, the more effective a tool it becomes to join them to the Divine Couple. Transcending dualism raises life to the spiritual level. (23-4)

I dialogue with Moore’s The Soul of Sex to further develop Universalist Radha-Krishnaism’s views about sex since there is much that can be learned to help people live healthy spiritual sexual lives. He writes:

Unless we have lost imagination completely, when we look at the body we are seeing the soul, and when we have sex we experience the body as a way to the most penetrating mysteries of the soul. (4)

This is what I mean by “transcending dualism.” Practitioners of natural devotion see their bodies as spiritual vehicles that allow them to interact with other people and the world. Flesh and sex are not enemies to be overcome but extensions of our spiritual selves, which are also sexual if we follow the path of divine amorous love taught by Krishna Chaitanya and his followers. Our bodies and our sexual relationships in this world reflect Radha-Krishna’s sexuality in the ideal spiritual realm of Braj–especially when seen through the eyes of love and devotion.

Spirituality is best found in the midst of ordinary life rather than separate from it. When we see our spirit as the animating force of the body and engage the body in actions that promote love and well being, we live as whole human beings. When our sexuality is repressed, it manifests in unhealthy ways.

Moore continues, “Sex with soul is always a form of communion with another level of existence, and that quality alone may be a major reason for its compelling attraction. (7)” This is why some religions condemn sex–it offers strong competition as a means to experience the divine.

Something deep in the human makeup needs and longs for a taste of eternity–at least a momentary release from the relentless pace of time. . . . For the monk, contemplation is one kind of deliverance from clock time and busyness, while for the average person sex can serve the same purpose. (8)

When a practitioner of natural devotion engages in sex conscious of their eternal relationship with Radha-Krishna, it becomes a potent spiritual practice as we experience Radha-Krishna in our lover and learn to please him or her. Love is always divine and leads to further realization.

In modern times the word eros has been corrupted to refer to plain physical sexual acts, and even to the lowest kinds of sex. The word is actually abhorrent to some people, a surprising development since in classical literature it was a highly spiritual, cosmic, and lofty kind of love. In Greek literature eros is nothing less than the magnetism that holds the entire universe together, and human love in its many forms is simply a participation in that greater eros. (11-12)

Radha-Krishna symbolize that cosmic eros. I seek to reclaim the terms “erotic” and “eroticism” from the lewd pornographic connotations they acquired. Radha-Krishna are the ideal personifications of erotic love with Krishna known as the transcendental Cupid. As Moore writes, “The tie between this greater notion of eros and ordinary sexuality is a key idea in our search for the soul of sex. (12)”

If we could recover a sense of the holiness of eros and its creative, divine place in the nature of things, we might see how absurdly small our view of sex has been, and we might reinstate it without moralism at the center of life, where it can offer vitality and intimacy of unrivaled power. . . .

In our society sex is wounded by a deep-seated masochism, which finds distorted satisfaction in the suppression of desire. This masochism is a symptomatic and destructive form of surrender. Instead of giving in to our passions, allowing emotion to course through our bodies and psyches, and generously offering ourselves to intimacy, we surrender our joy in life to any authority we can find, and we find many authorities willing to condemn us for our longings and pleasures.

At the very heart of sex lies a profound affirmation of life, giving us a reason for living, optimism, and energy. (16-17)

The way of natural Radha-Krishna devotion taps into the eternal, ideal erotic relationship shared by Radha-Krishna and their girlfriends to connect us to our deepest natures and awaken our innate eroticism at the highest level. Practitioners learn to draw upon their sexual energy and channel it to the divine as well as lovers in this life. Living as conscious sexual beings enriches this life as well as the next.

It is as if the body holds the secret to who we are and what we are to become. One wonders if the many religions and philosophies that have been repressive and dismissive of the body, seeing it as an obstacle and weight, are merely defending themselves against the vitality promised by the body’s eroticism. Spiritual worry about the body seems to come from an undervaluation of physical life that parallels an overvaluation of eternity. (22)

This unfortunately seems especially true of most Western devotees of Radha-Krishna. They venerate those among them who are most life denying and seek to follow their examples. Universalist Radha-Krishnaism breaks free of such unhealthy life denying ideas to embrace life as a valuable gift from God-dess. Life is good, and we say thank you by enjoying it fully.

One of the first achievements to be made in the reconciliation of body and spirit, which is a prerequisite for a deepened, soul-filled sexuality, is a rediscovery of the virtue and value of the body’s eroticism. We may have to realize in the starkest terms that the historical and psychological splitting of body and spirit, of transcendence and sensuousness, and of virtue and desire is a neurosis, a disturbance of the soul. It is not a philosophical choice, not a cultural emphasis, and not a spiritual necessity. It takes many forms both within religion and outside of it, both in explicit spiritual devotion of all kinds and in less obvious forms of dedication, as in business and politics. (23)

The emphasis upon celibacy and abstinence even in marriage by most Western Radha-Krishna devotees is sick. It does not lead one to Radha-Krishna, but rather hardens the heart and leads to problems like misogyny, abuse, adultery, and pedophilia. i offer Universalist Radha-Krishnaism as an alternative so seekers can avoid that life denying illness of the soul.

Perhaps the central goal in sex is to achieve this apotheosis in which the human lover calls forth a momentary perception of divine beauty, thereby turning the lovemaking into true ritual. . . .

D.H. Lawrence, who was acutely aware of this mystery of divine sexuality, wrote:

What’s the good of a man

unless there’s the glimpse of a god in him?

And what’s the good of a woman

unless she’s a glimpse of a goddess of some sort? (33)

What better way to learn how to love Radha-Krishna than to see them in our sexual partner and learn to love them in these earthly forms? Radha-Krishna enjoy human pastimes in which their divinity is hidden. I wonder if my wife is Radha testing me here in these flawed human forms before admitting me to Braj. If we can’t truly love here, how can we expect to in the next life?

Natural devotional practice entails entering into the mood of Radha’s girlfriends who are sexy young women. Practicing generous amorous love with deep conscious communion on the physical level prepares us to love Radha-Krishna on the spiritual level. Such a healthy spirituality nurtures this life and the next.

Still, the veneration of images in religion is widespread and often form the very core of religious life.

The image may be understood as a representation of the deity, a means of contemplation and worship, and so statues may be clothed, bathed, dressed, and even offered food. In many instances they are beautifully made, often according to ancient rubrics . . . Some devotees believe that when a statue or painting is made perfectly, the spirit of the deity enters into the statue, and the person who presents himself before the image receives the benefits of that spirit.

Sexual images seem to share some of these qualities of the religious image and the contemplative gaze. (86-7)

Bathing and dressing a deity of Radha led me to choose bathing and dressing Radha as my eternal service in Braj. As I say in Universalist Radha-Krishnaism:

Radha-Krishna, being infinite, pervade all things. When devotees install Radha-Krishna deities, it is not that the deity enters a lifeless statue. Rather, they learn to see Radha-Krishna who are already in the statue, and were already in the wood, stone, or metal used to make the statue.

Yet the statue must be a suitable vehicle to hold the presence of the deity–Radha, a beautiful young woman, and Krishna, a handsome young man. If we can do that with a statue or painting, why not with real, beautiful young women and handsome young men as Ramanand did?

In his spiritual identity as Bishaka (one of Radha’s closest girlfriends), Ramanand meditated on serving Radha by bathing, dressing, and intimately serving two temple dancing girls while perceiving them as Radha. This was a physical acting out of what has become an inner meditative practice. Ramanand was a playwright and employed dramatic techniques to create an alternate reality.

The highest spirituality is to live the myth. Devotees surrender to Radha-Krishna and allow them into their lives, hoping to be possessed by them. They become God-dess intoxicated mystics like Chaitanya, who constantly heard Radha-Krishna’s pastimes from Ramanand and praised his association with the dancers. (132-3)

Moore continues:

The splitting in our culture of body and spirit has repercussions so profound as to be almost unimaginable. Sex lies at the very base of our identity and at the core of our need to escape loneliness and discover joy. By so effectively secularizing it, we suffer an enormous chaos and emptiness at the very base of our existence. (94)

Universalist Radha-Krishnaism helps heal that split by recognizing sex’s sacramental nature, which symbolizes the union of Radha-Krishna and offers a glimpse of eternal life in Braj.

Sexual fantasy wakens, points, and motivates. It is a form of education that teaches us the direction in which our soul’s desire leads through the testimony of the pleasurable sensation occasioned by specific erotic images. (96)

Natural devotion practitioners seek to relate to Radha-Krishna in an erotic mood as Radha’s girlfriends. Therefore, they read and meditate on Radha-Krishna’s pastimes imagining themselves in their spiritual bodies assisting the Divine Couple in their love play. They allow their sexual fantasies full freedom as they visualize themselves increasing Radha-Krishna’s pleasure. Erotic images may be used as meditation aids since most of us are not able to hire a couple of dancing girls to come to our home daily for spiritual practices as Ramanand did and the mind’s ability to visualize is limited. The best images have a transcendent quality and provide a window to the divine.

Moore writes, “Love and the soul flourish in a deeply interior space, free of the ideas and judgements of the world, in a place of their own. (98)” Just as in scripture Krishna’s girlfriends disregarded the judgements of others to be with him, if we are to be Radha-Krishna’s girlfriends we must disregard the views of others and follow our heart’s desire.

Natural devotion is primarily an internal meditation and cultivation of the practitioner’s spiritual identity in the innermost Braj. It is best kept private and free of scrutiny by most people. It is an esoteric teaching that I make public because it is needed for the evolution of Radha-Krishna devotion in the West. However, it is not something to evangelize or convert skeptics. I make it available for interested seekers.

Around the world religion and sex have come together to create graphic images of sex that sublimate it creatively by granting it a spiritual context and purpose. (105)

Radha-Krishna literature and art fall into this category although there have been efforts to downplay that in India since Victorian times. Unswayed, Bhaktivinode Thakur taught his disciples like my teacher Lalita Prasad Thakur how to enter into Radha-Krishna’s amorous play. I simply pass on these teachings as they evolved in my practice and realization so that others may benefit from my experience.

Moore writes:

For many years I have had a painting in my bedroom depicting the great Hindu god Krishna. His face is blue, and he is surrounded by the women cowherds, the gopi, who are his playmates. His right hand is on the breast of one of them, who I assume is Radha, his favorite. Playfully and enticingly he attracts the young women to him, as divinity draws human souls to itself. Yet he remains elusive, unpossessable, passionately desired but ever out of reach, as divinity can never be contained in the human realm. (110)

* * *

Sometimes the search for soul amounts to a quest for the ordinary life–taking pleasure in daily tasks, good neighbors, children, satisfying work, and ordinary sex with someone you love. (134)

I find living an ordinary life most satisfying and conducive to Radha-Krishna devotion. Living simply in nature, doing meaningful work, engaging with the community, and sharing love with my wife nurtures me and my spiritual progress.

The angel’s clothing is coming undone and St. Theresa is in a passionate state. Hersey quotes William James, who said of the saint, “Her idea of religion seems to have been that of an endless amatory flirtation–if one may say so without irreverence–between the devotee and the deity.” (137)

This is certainly true of the way of natural devotion to Radha-Krishna. Getting in the mood of a beautiful, vivacious young woman in our inner perfect spiritual body and flirting with Radha-Krishna is our eternal relationship with God-dess. Getting in the mood of Radha-Krishna’s lovers and strongly desiring to be one of them is the essence of natural devotion.

In India the relationship between the devotee and the god is represented as a sexual one, and in other religions as well, including Christianity, union with the divine finds expression in sexual imagery. . . . We have been led to imagine sex as purely physical and therefore beneath our higher aspirations, but the Tantric sacred texts, Sufi poetry, and Christian mystical writings convey a religious insight that sex is also implicated in our purest spiritual efforts. (140)

I’ve been influenced by all these wellsprings and incorporate them in Universalist Radha-Krishnaism to present a life-affirming spiritual path with a positive attitude toward sex. Experiencing sex with a holistic body-mind-spirit awareness transforms it into a vehicle for self-realization of our eternal play with God-dess.

Spirituality is both immanent, meaning not separate from everyday life and the natural and fabricated world, and transcendent, moving ever farther away from ordinary experience toward the perimeters of our individual lives. (149)

Universalist Radha-Krishnaism embraces both the immanent and transcendent aspects of God-dess and spiritual realization. Practitioners live on the threshold between ordinary life and the transcendent Braj, which tend to overlap with one nurturing the other.

The task is to recognize that the spiritual life is rooted in love, not merely in understanding, and then to cultivate affection and sensuality as part of our spiritual practice. . . . Neoplatonic philosophy suggests that spiritual love is inseparable from human love with all its affection and sexuality. (156)

Universalist Radha-Krishnaism agrees with this position. Radha-Krishna’s love, pastimes, and abode are idealized versions of human life. Indeed, they are the universal archetypes upon which human life is formed. We are attracted to them because we see our highest nature in them and aspire to be loving like them and their friends. This is more a matter of the heart than the head, but it is not without intellectual grounding.

I became aware of the complete interweaving of body and spirit and the ancient and holy reconciliation of mysticism and sensuality. The healing of these divisions in modern life would go far to resolve many of our social and political problems, because the body and its beauty keep us humble and humane. (158)

I offer Universalist Radha-Krishnaism as a healing vehicle to help bring about a new paradigm that will make life whole again. The world is in such a mess its problems can’t be solved individually on their own level. Humanity needs to embrace a new higher paradigm to free us from the sick dysfunctional ones that are killing us and the planet.

In the deepest sense morality is simply the confluence of interests of our own nature with destiny, nature itself, and community. When this kind of morality is in place, sex prospers. (174)

To properly exercise the freedom given by natural devotion, practitioners must be people of high integrity with a strong moral conscience and way of life. The freer we are the more we embrace the responsibility of self control in joyous life affirming ways guided by our conscience. Sexual desires and fantasies need not all be acted upon concretely. The idea is to channel our sexual desire and fantasy to Radha-Krishna thus increasing our longing to be with them, which is the way to attain life in Braj. Practitioners satisfy their material desires in healthy ways and see everything they do in a non-dual spiritual light as part of their devotional practice.

Marriage is not only the appropriate venue for physical pleasure, it is also an intense scene of soul-making, where sex is both the catalyst and the container. (201)

Single people are free to engage in the sexual dalliances of their choice–preferably engaging in safe sex, being considerate of their partner, avoiding disease and unwanted pregnancies at a minimum. One may learn and grow by broad experience with various partners especially when young. However, if one wants a deep loving relationship with Radha-Krishna, it makes sense to establish a deep loving relationship with another human as a laboratory in which to learn love.

Sex doesn’t have to be perfect or done in any particular way. As long as it lies at the heart of the marriage, it does the soul task of mediating between worlds, between the daily concerns of living and the eternal concerns of meaning and the heart. (203)

Having a good lasting marriage takes work and commitment by both partners along with a certain amount of grace. A good healthy sex life goes a long way toward establishing and maintaining a common bond and seeing one’s happiness lies in the happiness of the other. It allows the couple to experience a foretaste of life in Braj and the love of Radha-Krishna.

Sex is the religion of marriage. It is its contemplation, its ritual, its prayer, and its communion. As we work out our sexual difficulties and find our way to bliss, we are doing the alchemical work of the soul, transforming old and raw frustrations and emotional blocks into the golden art of erotic pleasuring. (204)

Learning the art of erotic pleasuring is an integral part of natural devotion since it is the eternal role amorous devotees fulfill to please Radha-Krishna. A loving, sexual marriage is an ideal container in which to develop a loving, sexual spiritual identity as one of Radha’s girlfriends. Learning to love fully is the process and the goal.

Marital sex has a level of meaning that far transcends the sexuality of individuals in their search for love and experience. Marital sex is indeed a kind of ecology–a way of being in the world responsibly, helping to shape and to ground community, and sowing the seeds of love for a world in need of union. (206)

Love is the answer. If two people can learn to love each other, perhaps they can learn to love others too. Being in a committed, satisfying sexual relationship allows them to reach out and form relationships with others in nonsexual loving ways as friends and community members. When we feel loved, its easier to be loving to others and see everyone as part of our extended family living on this fragile planet.

Like the Kama Sutra, which places discussion of the sexual arts within the context of an ethical and abundant life, we might do more for marital sex by living fully and meaningfully than by trying to be sexually correct and healthy. In marriage good sex goes along with a full life, because sex gives to the emotions and to the sense of coupling a sensation of fullness. (215-16)

As a life coach, my motto was, “Realize your full potential, live life abundantly, and love extravagantly.” This is good advice for practicing natural devotion. Not only sex, but all aspects of life are to be relished fully as abundant gifts from God-dess for us to enjoy. We combine a passionate zest for life with deep spiritual longing and practice.

Sex can lift our attention upward and offer a visionary experience of life based in love and passion that is the equal of any abstract philosophy or highly spiritual form of contemplation. Sex is not only earthy, it is also sublime. (265)

Radha-Krishna’s play is the ultimate archetypal “life based in love and passion.” When practitioners combine sex with Radha-Krishna devotional consciousness, it truly is a “highly spiritual form of contemplation” that leads to a sublime vision of the Divine Couple.

Jung sees sublimation as part of the overall process of transforming the literal details of our daily lives into the stuff of the soul. Sublimation is that part of the work of soul-making where our dense emotions and unreflected thoughts rise to a more refined level. (268)

Practitioners of natural devotion follow Rupa Goswami’s advice and engage both body and mind in their devotion. There is an overlap between Braj and this life that raises this life to a spiritual level. Externally, I am a married man living in the jungle of Hawaii. Internally, I am a girlfriend of Radha living in the forest of Braj. Both are mutually enriching.

The Epicurean life, rooted in a profound appreciation of the roles of desire and pleasure, offers a rich and fertile ground for soul filled sexuality. By definition it is a philosophy of life in which sexual longing and pleasure have a home. . . . The pleasures he recommended are those deep-seated satisfactions that arise from friendship, family, and creative work and that lead to tranquility–not passivity, but to a calming of anxiety and craving. (296)

I follow an Epicurean lifestyle and recommend it to other practitioners as the basis for their devotion.

I’d rather speak of soul-acceptance, an acknowledgement of your own and life’s limitations, an acceptance of fate and destiny, in particular an acceptance of the friends, lovers, and family members that fate has chosen for you. (298)

God-dess gave us this life, and right now it’s the only one we have. Accepting and wanting the things and people we have in our life is the best way to happiness and tranquility. A peaceful mind is conducive to natural devotion.

I cannot go into more detail in this essay so I highly recommend reading Thomas Moore’s The Soul of Sex to gain clearer insight into spiritual sexuality.

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