There have been many attempts to understand human motivation, to define the psychological system in man which makes him think, feel, act, and react as he does. Religion was always ready with an answer. Judaism and Christianity were clear about this. Innate sinfulness is what characterizes unregenerate man. It is craving that is the motivator, proclaimed Buddhism. Ego, ignorance of his true nature, said the Hindu. Philosophers have put forward their theories — thrust for freedom, will to dominate, aggressivity. Nowadays it is the psychotherapist and the psychiatrist who offer conceptions trying to account for the primary drives: personal expression, progeny, appreciation, love. Sri Ramakrishna's definition was concise: Lust and Greed. That is to say, it is sensual motives and motives of personal aggrandizement which, in his ordinary state, drive the ordinary man and mask the true Ground of his being.
In 1966 before leaving Southern California for France I made an appointment with a Santa Barbara doctor to have a complete physical examination. I was getting older; I had heard about the male menopause and the troubles aging men sometimes experience with the prostate gland. It seemed a good idea to have a checkup. I did not come right out and tell the doctor my reason; I supposed that he would, on his own, make the necessary assumption and proceed with whatever investigation he might believe to be indicated. He began with ears, eyes, mouth, and throat, and continued with heart, lungs, stomach, and intestines. All carefully tapped, listened to, or probed. Then he broadjumped to my knees, legs, and feet, and found everything in good order. The examination was over.
It seems to me that religious people who write about themselves do pretty much what Dr. U. did. They discourse about everything except what applies to the vital zone. Or if they do discuss the subject it will be swathed in generalities. We learn everything superficial about the biographer s situation at the rational level. He may reveal factors concerning the second part of Ramakrishna's formula, greed or self-aggrandizement. But he will tell very little about his erotic nature and how he dealt with it, which must have been all his life a throbbing reality and unsettling problem.
Consider the people in a subway car. Sitting quietly, reading, knitting, looking about vacantly. All so innocuous. But where are their minds? Dear Reader, where is yours rather oftener than you care to admit? Caught up in sensual daydreaming. Just below the surface, ever ready to assert itself, squats the erotic impulse. Many researchers have confirmed this. Lately we have seen the statistics concerning priests and why so many of them wish to give up their calling. Loneliness is the reason they give; that is to say, they find it impossible to handle, as celibates, their sensual urges. A self-examined person, if he be frank, will admit the strength of the erotic drive. I speak thus because it has been so with me. I do not confess this with embarrassment or shame. I face the fact as a member of the human race. Who built lust into us, anyway? How is a person who wishes to devote himself to spiritual life to deal with this powerful aspect of his nature?
So I cannot, in this attempt to examine in depth the making of a devotee, do as Dr. U. did. I cannot ignore that aspect of my psycho-physical being which has had such an important effect on my struggle to attain to a high ideal.
I follow the example of several Indian scriptures, which face the fact of lust without pussyfooting, and of Sri Ramakrishna who dealt with the problem of the erotic impulse boldly. Of course I shall treat the subject circumspectly. In earlier versions of this chapter I was openly confessional — almost as much so as was St. Augustine in his world-renowned autobiography! This I decided would never do if I were to hope to see The Making of a Devotee published with the blessing of our Order. Swamis are supposed to have nothing at all between the stomach and the knees. Or at least not to admit too openly that they do!
Once Swami Prabhavananda and I were sitting in the living room of the convent at Santa Barbara when a new probationer, a beautiful young woman, passed through the room. We both looked intently at her. My guru turned to me and said: "That is the real maya, Prema." And I realized with a start that this holy man, my ideal and my spiritual master, must have had to struggle against the flesh, and was perhaps obliged to struggle still, as I was struggling.
Swami Prabhavananda used to tell the story of how — or so he suspected — the Catholics, who opposed and perhaps feared him, had tried to discredit him when he first began his work in Hollywood. They employed one of the oldest of tactics, the wiles of a temptress. In the first years at Ivar Avenue (later Vedanta Place), when there were few friends and no other monastic members, Prabhavananda performed the puja every morning. This meant that he was often alone for an hour every day in the shrineroom, although devotees were permitted to come to meditate at that time if they wished to. An attractive young woman began coming regularly to attend the ritual. One day when no one else was present she seated herself in the shrineroom in plain sight of the pujari (Swami Prabhavananda) in a position that could only be called provocative. Sensing danger, Swami quit the worship seat and walked out of the temple. After that he arranged for some other person to be present when he did the ritual. The mysterious meditator soon stopped attending.
The young, of course, assume that sexuality is the concern only of the young, and that with age it will gradually disappear. This is not true, as research has shown (see, for example, Dr. Sherman J. Silber's The Male ), as close observation of others will testify, and as I, now aged, can state from experience. Swami Atulananda (Gurudas Maharaj) mentioned his own situation in a conversation published in Atman Alone Abides . Then in his seventies, the Swami spoke of the occasional occurrence of lust, as a kind of itch, which he had learned to disregard. The erotic element must be dealt with all one's life. Whereas the human body ages, the erotic impulse remains vigorous. In old age power to perform sexual acts no doubt diminishes, but in many individuals the desire for them remains fresh and green. No matter how old one becomes in years, one is potentially the ardent adolescent, in phantasy. "Lust hides the Atman in its hungry flames," declares the Bhagavad-Gita, "the wise man's faithful foe."
Once, troubled by lust, I asked my guru when that so bothersome impulse would abate. In reply he made a gesture of smoke rising from a funeral pyre and sighed: "When the body is reduced to ashes, and not before." Then he added, "Of course realization will accomplish it too." Death or samadhi — take your choice!
A feeling that I must somehow deal with my sensual nature was a major factor in the crisis which arose in me at age thirty. I had begun to see that despite its attractions, sexuality was generally a bad bargain. Its expression seemed always to demand more in terms of anxiety and botheration than it was worth.
It was at this point that I met Dr. Alfred C. Kinsey, the great zoologist. Remember, this was in the mid-1940's before his first volume "Sexual Behavior in the Human Male" (1948) had been published, and before the revelations which it contained — so supportive of Ramakrishna's contention as to the pervasiveness of the sex impulse — had become the part of common knowledge which they are today. Lyle Spencer, President of Science Research Associates, was enthusiastic about Kinsey's work and hoped to publish his books. It is astonishing to remember that forty years ago Kinsey's efforts were considered dubious. He was poorly financed, and when published there was in many quarters disbelief concerning and repudiation of his findings. But it is widely agreed now that Alfred Kinsey should be classed as the same kind of pioneer in his field as were Galileo and Darwin in theirs; he shone a scientific light on one of the most important aspects of human behavior — which had been up until his time an area mostly of speculation, half-secrecy, and hypocrisy.
Dr. Kinsey was committed to rigorous statistical techniques for arriving at his theories and supporting his conclusions. He obtained data as to the sexual preferences and activities of men — his first book was confined to the male — by interviewing a large and representative cross section of the American male population. It was an extremely searching (and confidential, since the identity of the subject and all responses were registered in code) inquiry into all aspects of one's sexual life. On the basis of these inquiries Kinsey established and published his findings as to the behavior patterns in the human male.
Dr. Kinsey and his associates preferred to interview all members of any group with which they worked. They felt that this insured representativeness, as sexual behavior was believed to vary according to social and educational levels. Subjects were not easy to recruit, and Lyle felt he was doing science a service and Dr. Kinsey a favor in inviting the Indiana University team to interview all the members of our organization, from the janitor to the president. Our employees were given an afternoon or morning off with no reduction in salary in order to go to the team's hotel suite for their interviews.
I had several conversations with Dr. Kinsey, and I found him one of the kindest, most understanding persons I had ever met. He knew everything about the so-called darker side of human tendencies and accepted people as they were. He was like a saint in his capacity to witness and not judge. When I decided to leave Science Research Associates to seek a way of life more compatible with my ideals, I wrote Dr. Kinsey to tell him so. I guard among my keepsakes the letter of encouragement which he sent in response.
When I went for my rendezvous it was Dr. Wendell B. Pomeroy who interviewed me, or, according to the terminology used by Dr. Kinsey's staff, recorded my history. Dr. Pomeroy proceeded in a professional fashion, evincing no reaction to the answers I gave him. Such was not the case with me. Verbalizing my sexual history with compete honesty was agonizing because it all seemed so tawdry. By the time the hour was over I had had a good look at myself and felt positively ill. It was clear that I had become caught up in "all that" in the very way, long before, I had cried out to my mother my hope that I should not be.
I agonized with St. Paul: "For the good that I would I do not; but the evil which I would not, that I do. . . . I see another law in my members, warring against the law of my mind. . . . O wretched man that I am! who shall deliver me from the body of this death?" It was then that the idea of monastic life reasserted itself. Since I was sure that there could be no satisfactory accommodation with the erotic impulse, I must abjure it altogether. Was I willing? Could I? To cut off anticipation of imagined delights seemed unthinkable, but was there any alternative? In due course, motivated by the hope that I might begin a life of purity, I made the momentous shift from Chicago to Southern California and eventually to the little Taj on Ivar Hill.
Human beings express their sexual impulses in a far greater diversity of fashions than had previously been recognized. This is one of Dr. Kinsey's fundamental findings. So-called deviant sexual preference is far more common than had been supposed — hence, if one uses the statistical yardstick — not strictly deviant at all. One may suppose that this discovery has released numerous individuals from lives of guilt and furtiveness. Sri Ramakrishna stressed candor, openness, as requisites for growth. The liberalization of attitudes concerning so-called deviant preferences, resulting from Dr. Kinsey's revelations, will have allowed many to join the company of aspirants who might not have felt sufficiently worthy to do so under the old dispensation.
In any case, the Vedantist will see "normal" or "deviant" preferences as determined by karmic forces built up in previous lives. Questions of normality or abnormality, rightness or wrongness, do not apply. It becomes interesting thus to speculate on, to advance theories about, the causes of sexual preference from a Vedantic point of view. The cause of sexual preference has remained a problem about which western psychological research has not been able to come to any clear conclusion. The most frequently stated theory is that of influences in childhood. The attitudes of the parents to each other and to the child, their training methods, and the atmosphere of the home — these, it has been claimed, will point the young child toward a future as a heterosexual, or as a homosexual, or as an individual, of whom there are probably more than is commonly recognized, having preferences pointing in the two directions. Western authorities on the subject have identified the formative factors as pertaining to earlier and earlier phases of the young child's life. Dr. Silber, in his book on the male, states that future sexual preference is fixed within the first eighteen months of the child's life, and thinks that the birth experience itself and even prebirth thoughts on the mother's part may contribute to the child's eventual erotic disposition. This, more or less, is the prevalent attitude of psychologists and psychiatrists today.
But a recently published book from the Alfred C. Kinsey Institute for Sex Research, Sexual Preference, disputes all early-influence theories in finding that, statistically, the early influences in the lives of future homosexuals do not vary significantly from those in the lives of future heterosexuals. An extensive Institute study revealed that there is no valid correlation between early family influence and adult sexual preference, and therefore that sexual preference must result from, as the report phrases it, "some early, presumably biological, propensity". The researchers hint that some up-to-now unidentified biological "choice" may be involved.
"Propensity" is a very loose word. "Choice" is nearer the point. Why, then, do we not turn to the individual himself? Why load the blame for so-called deviant preferences in their offspring on the parents of such children, who are certainly on the whole as conscientious and generally as well or poorly adjusted as the parents of so-called normal individuals? The Vedantic theories of reincarnation and karma give a plausible explanation for sexual preference. An individual returns to this world granted the opportunity to fulfill previously unrealized desires and to make recompense for faults previously committed. Many rewards and punishments, and opportunities for try-out experiences, will pertain to the sexual realm. Taking birth, for example, as a homosexual affords the jiva, the individual soul, so-called fulfillments (which he or she may have craved) not generally accessible to him or her as a heterosexual. And particular frustrations also. Every disposition involves appropriate compensations — and concomitant drawbacks. For example, marriage may be felt to be enslaving and excessively boring; but promiscuity may be found to be dehumanizing. With a bit of ingenuity one could imagine which unexpressed cravings in the past, which sexual frustrations, may have created which predispositions in the present.
The sexual preferences which a person manifests are thus his own "choice", his own "fault", to be used by him, or not, for his eventual maturation and spiritual growth. "We have," my guru often repeated, "all gone through many things." The fact of so-called deviant tendencies, it may be said, is one proof that there exists, available to all, universal justice and freedom.
We are here indeed very much in the realm of speculation. I know of no satisfying scientific evidence, or even scriptural authority, relating to sexual orientation as coming from karmic causes. But some concurrence might be gained from a passage in the Bhagavad-Gita stating that the body we now have was formed by desire; and Buddhist tradition quotes the Master as having said: 'All that one is is the result of what one has thought'. Swami Vivekananda in his Inspired Talks says: "Past lives have molded our tendencies. . . . Each tendency shows the life-work of the past, the line or radius along which that man must move." The logic of the Vedantic idea is attractive, even in the absence of objective data. As I have said, it would be possible to speculate as to which karmic causes produce which preferential consequences. But since presuming such cause-and-effect relationships must remain in the realm of pure supposing, I shall refrain.
The principle behind it all, as the Upanishads proclaim, is the law of justice and freedom. "You pays your money," as the old and ungrammatical saying goes, "and you takes your choice!" Or better to say, "You takes your choice and you pays your money." The theme of existence as the Vedantist sees it is that the jiva is given the "right" to try everything, run through the maze of sexual and other expression in every conceivable fashion, in order to learn the futility of seeking lasting joy in the senses, in order to reject the maze. He is offered an unlimited number of lives for this research, and unlimited psycho-physical vehicles with which to test out all the combinations and permutations. Physical attributes, such as great beauty for example, or conversely, defects and abnormalities, can be accounted for in this light. Till at last the time-traveler heeds the ancient offer: "Give up vain strivings and come to me." Which is to say, "Come unto me, all ye that labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest".
This is why self-knowledge and self-acceptance are so important. Admit to oneself, and indeed admit openly if one wishes to, that this is what I am; this is the persona I myself have created. I am thus and so, and I accept responsibility for what I am; but by becoming a devotee I can grasp a chance to remake myself according to a preferable model.
Having been and done everything, we should, consequently, accept everything. Tolerance, acceptance — this is what belief in the theory of karma and reincarnation fosters. Having been a woman, many different types of woman, is part of our destiny; as is having been a man, many different dispositions of man. Having been "normal", having been "deviant" — all this so that one shall one day choose to become neither woman nor man, neither so-called normal nor so-called deviant, but That which one truly is.
As I have persisted in the quest for purity since entrance into religious life, I have reached, quite naturally, several conclusions concerning the subject of sexual continence.
Considering the strength of the erotic element and its persistence, and considering the fact that it is so inextricably bound up with the appeal of beauty — which is surely an attribute of the Divine — what is so undesirable about giving the senses all the expression they crave? I could never accept puritanical objections to human pleasure as sinful. I recognize the fact that erotic fulfilllent is overwhelmingly important to most people and to do without it nearly impossible. As I have come to see the matter, it is simply that there are preferable alternatives.
For one thing, the sexual impulse, if permitted expression, keeps one locked inside the prison-house of maya. There is nothing more karma-producing than sex. Reflect on the humiliating, dangerous, enslaving, and extravagant lengths to which the pursuit of "love" forces individuals to go. The involvements, the dissimulation, the hypocrisy, the betrayals — and the expense! All consequences of "love" and all components of maya — maya which produces karma, which produces more maya, and ad infinitum. Since the devotee is trying to break out of maya, he must tackle maya at maya's fountainhead.
In a remarkable statement anticipating Sigmund Freud, Sri Ramakrishna said: "If a person possessed by an evil spirit becomes conscious that he is so possessed, the evil spirit at once leaves him. Similarly the jiva which is possessed by the evil spirit of maya, on realizing that he is so possessed, becomes at once free from it." It is not an unrewarded struggle. In course of time the taste of the spiritual aspirant begins to change. A refinement sets in, so that gross physical expression begins to appear unaesthetic. Lust may draw him toward expression, but a sense of nicety, of abstemiousness, will warn him off. The clamor of the senses and what they promise but do not deliver strike him increasingly as a swindle.
There is, furthermore, the theory of ojas. Writers and teachers concerned with yoga often refer to such a force which is said to develop as sexual expression is curbed. It is said that the practice of continence causes a "nerve" to form which communicates with the mind, giving the mind an extraordinary power to progress in its pursuit of enlightenment. It is said that if one maintains complete continence over a period of twelve years one will achieve illumination.
If taken literally this theory raises several problems. What it seems to say is that mere abstinence from the expenditure of semen leads to the formation of ojas. (Everyone knows that athletes and other performers often choose to remain continent in advance of important trials of strength or skill.) But suppose one were to submit to a vasectomy — which would result in the semen produced by the gonads being absorbed in the system; or one were to be castrated. Would that aid in bringing about the desired result; would that produce ojas? What did Paul mean by the phrase that one must become a eunuch for the glory of God? And this theory of ojas, if it refers specifically to the retention of semen, is clearly male-centered. What would be the counterpart for women? A hysterectomy?
I do not know of any clear explanation of the theory of ojas in terms acceptable to anyone not choosing to believe in it. One of Dr. Kinsey's findings was that frequent sexual activity appeared to have no deleterious effect on individuals' physical or mental health, and we know that some of the world's most creative individuals were extremely active sexually. The explanations in Hindu literature are vague and moralistic in tone. And as far as I know no rigorous research on the subject in modern terms has been reported. My first tendency is to feel that the main advantage of continence is karmic and aesthetic.
On the other hand, there must be something to the theory of ojas, since Hindu thinkers of great perception have long supported it. Swami Muktananda, a modern holy man of recognized eminence, in his In the Company of a Siddha expresses strong support for the theory of ojas. I suspect that the problem of acceptance for critical minds stems from the fact that ojas seems always to be explained in physiological terms, which makes one think of physical causes and effects. Perhaps if the theory of ojas were expressed instead in psychological terms it would seem more logical. The famous German sex therapist, Dr. Ruth Westheimer says, "Sex takes place in the brain, not between the waist and the knees."
Swami Vivekananda attempts to deal with the subject of ojas in his book Raja Yoga. He takes up the matter in the chapter on "The Control of Psychic Prana". He says:
. . . The yogis claim that of all the energies that are in the human body the highest is what they call "Ojas". Now this Ojas is stored up in the brain, and the more Ojas is in a man's head, the more powerful he is, the more intellectual, the more spiritually strong . . . . Now in every man there is more or less of this Ojas stored up. All the forces that are working in the body in their highest become Ojas. You must remember that it is only a question of transformation. . . . The Yogis say that that part of the human energy which is expressed as sex energy, in sexual thought, when checked and controlled, easily becomes changed into Ojas. . . . He [a yogi] tries to take up all his sexual energy and convert it into Ojas. It is only the chaste man or woman who can make Ojas rise and store it in the brain. . . . That is why in all religious orders in the world which have produced spiritual giants you will always find absolute chastity insisted upon.
Unfortunately (in my eyes), even Swamiji uses physiological terms, such as "head", "brain", "storing up". A useful talk with an eminent Bengali physician and student of yoga (and disciple of Swami Abhedananda) confirmed my own reservations. He is Dr. Shyamal Sen, formerly director of Medicine of the Institute of Postgraduate Education and Research, Calcutta. Dr. Sen confessed to mystification as to the meaning of the theory of ojas as usually expressed and objected to the idea that the mere retention of semen is an essential be-all and end-all of spiritual advancement.
Dr. Sen explained that in laboratory researches stimulation by electrical pulsations of the pleasure center in the brain will cause a laboratory animal to reject sex and food. What the yogi is doing in observing chastity is learning to stimulate a 'pleasure center" of his organism by alternate means and so obtain a different species of pleasure. Spiritual experience — ecstasy, samadhi — must result from stimulation of some so-called pleasure center. But there are pleasures and pleasures. To obtain mystical experience it is clearly seen that the yogi has to learn to develop reaction patterns (or "nerve" channels) other than those relating to erotic sensations.
Let us speculate, hence, from a psychological point of view, what really may be meant by ojas. It is well understood that every human being possesses "instinctive energy". In common speech this is called drive. When this drive is associated with sexual thrust it may be called libido. What is perceived with the senses or thought of in the mind produces pleasurable emotional and indeed physiological reactions. Seeing a possible sex object or thinking of one may well cause the psychic energy to run in a sexual direction and convert itself into libido. The subject experiences what is called arousal; to use a common expression, it is said that he is "turned on". Generally arousal terminates in some sort of sexual expression.
But this chain of events which results in expenditure of psychic energy on a sexual level can be diverted at its inception. Thus the idea of "storing up"; that is to say, instinctive energy may be forestalled from turning into libido and used otherwise. To effect this consciously and habitually is what is meant by the often used term: "conquering the senses". What this involves in practice is that possible identification with erotic sights or thoughts will be habitually sidetracked at the outset.
One's instinctive energy is thus available to be applied elsewhere. That "elsewhere" of course is the search for God, the discovery of the Atman, the development of an identification with the Highest — call it what you will. Obviously there must exist a surpassingly high objective; no one can hope to perform the manipulation I describe, no one would subvert sensation from the lower pleasure center, were he not to feel an overwhelming motivation to do so. That motivation has been called a passionate longing for God.
The process is easy to comprehend, albeit difficult to accomplish. The devotee constructs a sort of psychological roadblock to stop energy from transforming itself into libido. That roadblock is constructed of spiritual disciplines — of "constant remembrance", of thoughts of God, aided and abetted by japam and meditation. Instinctive energy thus remains available to be transformed into something else, and that something else we may deduce is what has been called ojas. It is this ojas which is capable of reconstituting one's subconscious, that is to say, one's mind. A case history of one such modification of mind appears in Section 1 of Chapter Eight in which describe the discipline of purascharana. The process has many counterparts, on a different level, with what is said to occur in successful psychotherapy. Something happens to make the patient "better". Psychiatrists are just as much at a loss to explain precisely how and why psychological transformations occur as is the spiritual therapist.
Ojas may thus be understood not as a physical substance or a "nerve" but as a force triggering a process. The characteristic of the rebuilt subconscious — or better to call it mind — will be its spiritual dimension. Its contents and motivations will be such as to conduct its possessor to realization. This is what Sri Ramakrishna was referring to when he said: "The mind is all."
I realize that this explanation is crude, leaving much to be desired in terms of precision. But I can accept it as psychologically tenable. I would hope that the subject of ojas might be investigated by trained psychologists and stated eventually in respectable psychological terms. I should think that a scientific study of this subject would attract some intrepid researcher.
Whether they explain it in terms or ojas or otherwise, those who practice abstinence report beneficial psychological and spiritual effects. The celibate feels that he is attempting something which should merit a response from his own higher faculties — he is offering a sacrifice to idealism. His conscience becomes clear and he feels that he has a right to, as it were, lay claim to grace.
The practice of continence brings many rewards, but it surely is not easy to enforce. Not quite like, for example, quitting smoking "cold turkey". The desire for erotic satisfaction cannot be got rid of once and for all; it has to be eschewed continually.
Several techniques exist which have been found helpful in subverting the natural thrust of the libido.
Clearly an essential means of reinforcing continence is the avoidance of the consideration of erotic possibilities. Saint Anthony's celebrated bout with "every temptation the Devil could devise" has inspired a good deal of western art and, among other literary exegeses, a famous novel by Gustave Flaubert. Buddha's struggle with Mara is equally well known. Here we witness the conspiracy of the samskaras attempting to force the renunciate to consider — or perhaps the brutal fight he had to wage after he had considered. Fantasizing — and continence is a powerfully inventive fantasy-producer — must be given a blow before it can begin unreeling its images of preferred delights. Anyone who has learned to watch his own mind marvels at the mind's capacity to change direction from due north to due south with utmost facility, to make dizzying 180-degree turns of direction without warning.
Or one may try to work up on aesthetic grounds an acute distaste for sensual expression. Sri Ramakrishna's technique useful in dealing with the erotic impulse was radical. Ah, what an outspoken realist he was! Here was his formula for provoking dispassion, spoken to the compiler of the Gospel, M.: "Don't you hate yourself for dallying with a body which contains only blood, phlegm, filth, and excreta? He who contemplates the Lotus Feet of God looks on even the most beautiful woman as mere ash from the cremation ground. To enjoy a body which will not last and which consists of such impure ingredients as intestines, bile, flesh, and bone! Aren't you ashamed of yourself?"
In addition, age does help, in a certain way. One of the advantages of being old is that it reduces the danger of risk of failure by misadventure. Knowing ahead of time that any advances the aged and the ugly might make would probably be rebuffed is cooling to any accidental flurry of ardor. One's unattractiveness becomes one s shield and buckler. Still, as my guru often said, "You are never safe as long as you are in the body." I have often prayed: "Dear Lord, be gracious and don't tempt me. Don't put an easy possibility at my disposal, for who knows what I might do?" And since the beginning of my sadhana he has complied — much on one or two occasions — I confess it — to my momentary disappointment. After the occasion had passed, I of course thanked him. Sri Ramakrishna said, "He is a genuine hero who, encountering a willing woman in a lonely place, casts his eyes down and addresses her as mother."
Finally, a classic technique is to make the Lord himself and only the Lord one's lover. The story of Sri Krishna and the Gopis at Brindaban and the Biblical Song of Solomon are celebrations of this attitude. ("Oh," the church people explained, in response to my red-faced question after having read for the first time the explicit love lines in the Song of Solomon, "that book is a lyrical evocation of God's love for his Church.") Pooh! But is it so easy to transmute the beauty which attracts us at every turn — beauty which is at once a trap and an agent for springing the trap — into divine beauty? Beauty is, as a sage such as Socrates marveled, so godlike in its aspect that the adorer cannot conceive of anything but spiritual goods resulting from concourse with it. Beauty is maya's cleverest secret agent, adept at penetrating the sadhak's carefully built defenses. For the spiritual aspirant it is wise not to look upon beauty too long or too intensely, delicious and seemingly innocent as that form of pleasure may seem. Plato, one remembers, severely condemned the aesthetic, as an enemy of the spiritual.
Beauty is indeed an aspect of the Divine, but how to separate the Principle of Beauty from the physical vehicle and tender trap in which it presents itself — so capable, if touched, of adding new and unwanted chapters to one's karma? The object the aspirant embraces with his eyes — or arms — is not at all that which he would embrace. What he is attempting to embrace is hidden somewhere else, out of reach.
For beauty transforms itself so seductively, accommodating itself so marvelously well to the wishes of the seeker. In effect, the seeker, or the seeker's craving, or to call a spade a spade, plain lust — magician-like invents the very beauty that justifies the lust. What an entrapper thou art, O maya!
The lover, as Shakespeare said, "sees Helen's beauty in a brow of Egypt". "Beauty is a terrible and awful thing," wrote Dostoevski in The Brothers Karamazov ". . . I cannot bear the thought that a man of noble heart and lofty mind sets out with the ideal of the Madonna and ends with the ideal of Sodom. What's still more awful is that the man with the ideal of Sodom in his soul does not renounce the ideal of the Madonna and in the bottom of his heart he may still be on fire, sincerely on fire for the beautiful ideal, just as in the days of his youthful innocence. Yes, man's heart is wide, too wide indeed . . . what the intellect regards as shameful often appears splendidly beautiful to the heart."
Nevertheless Pure Beauty remains supreme, untouched by craving and the debasing which they would make — remains the sort of ultimate come-on man would labor toward. The way of Bhakti Yoga is offered as a technique for making one's own the One whom one really passionately desires. Listen to Swami Vivekananda:
. . . Even in the lowest kinds of attraction there is the germ of divine love. One of the names of the Lord in Sanskrit is Hari, and this means that He attracts all things to himself. He is in fact the only attraction worthy of human hearts. Who can attract a soul really? Only He! Do you think dead matter can truly attract the soul? It never did and never will. When you see a man going after a beautiful face, do you think that it is the handful of arranged material molecules which really attracts the man? Not at all. Behind those material particles there must be and is the play of divine influence and divine love. The ignorant man does not know it, but yet, consciously or unconsciously, he is attracted by it and it alone. So even the lowest forms of attraction derive their power from God himself. . . . The Lord is the real magnet, and we are all like iron filings; we are being constantly attracted by Him, and all of us are struggling to reach Him. All this struggling of ours in this world is surely not intended for selfish ends. Fools do not know what they are doing; the work of their life is, after all, to approach the great magnet. All the tremendous struggling and fighting in life is intended to make us Qo to Him ultimately and be one with Him.
Thus of various techniques, a most useful one is the development of the habit of transmuting every observed beauty into divine beauty. The heart which leaps, perhaps, in observing some excellent orderliness in architecture, or rejoices at the sound of some favorite music, or is stirred by the loveliness of a flowery field in summer, may learn to extrapolate automatically the Principle from these material evidences. "There is a sadhu in Hrishikesh," Ramakrishna told M., "who gets up early in the morning and stands near a great waterfall. He looks at it the whole day and says to God: 'Ah, you have done well! Well done! How amazing!' He doesn't practice any other form of japa or austerity. At night he returns to his hut." One may learn, when swept off one's feet by the breathtaking contour of an exquisite face, automatically to bow in praise before the Sculptor who has structured bone and flesh so artfully. Don't fall for the evidence, but for what's behind it. This is turning lust into ojas, drive into constant remembrance, love into Love, and beauty into Beauty. The trick is to do this habitually, automatically.
As evidence that something is happening, that a renewal of his mind is taking place, the devotee discovers that his preference for particular loves is being replaced by a kind of free-floating non-particularized affection. The word "tapas" means "austerity"; it also means "warmth". The devotee experiences an inner warming in relation to others, to his Ideal, and — not least — toward that very unlovable entity which has caused him so much difficulty, himself. And suddenly he understands that this is what happiness is.
Did the shift to Ivar Hill pay off? How well have I succeeded in escaping "all that"? Well enough to feel eternally grateful that I made the effort, not well enough to have perfectly satisfied my ideal. And so the struggle goes on, till the problem is definitively solved in the cremation oven! And after that? Rebirth, as a result of what one has wished for this time, as one of those pure children who so delighted Ramakrishna? Perhaps. A future existence as spirit only, in some non-earthly sphere, unassaulted by that itch which Spinoza called "nothing but a species of madness". Perhaps. In any case, as for the here and now, I would not have missed what Maharaj called "the fun of the struggle" for anything.