Swami Sivananda defends a Morality-Based Worldview with Arguments Derived from Advaita Vedanta and the Tradition of the Rishi Sages in India
I would like to comment on the teaching of the Indian yogi Swami Sivananda that is for me a quintessential vintage of a teaching that fosters sadism in all its forms and that is truly dangerous for young people.
The teaching is to be found in a condensed form in his text Practice of Brahmacharya that is published on the Internet by its publisher, the Divine Life Society.
—Practice of Brahmacharya, by Sri Swami Sivananda, Uttar Pradesh (India): Divine Life Trust Society.
I know that with my comments I may shatter and disturb the minds and hearts of many Indians, but I cannot care about that here; to consider such ideas as conducive to fostering public health is for me a sign of a total perversion of values that is by the way all-to-typical for India, which is, after all, by far the most violent country in the world. And this text, and the tradition behind it, Advaita Vedanta, is at the root of this domestic, social and structural violence that has torn India apart several times in history and that is very virulent again, at this point in time and history.
It has no special reason why I have chosen that treatise on the practice of Brahmacharya, by Swami Sivananda; I just stumbled over it when searching something with Google. It is for me a good example, not more and not less, for spiritual and sexual fundamentalism of its worst.
And that there is so much of this kind today to be found everywhere has a reason! But it is not singular of its kind, and that is why I am using it. It is just more explicit but on the same line as Christian or Islamic fundamentalism when it goes to making down the nicest game of the world: sex.
Let me first elucidate that fundamentalism, in any form it appears on the stage of life, is not functional thinking, but the very contrary of it. What I call functional thinking is today in modern science theory called systems thinking. These terms are synonymous. The present text is interesting because it gives the appearance of a functional approach to sexuality, and that is why it may attract some youngsters who believe it was in any way scientific and not just moralistic, while in fact it turns sexuality upside down. Succinctly speaking, it demonizes sex at the very starting point of the paper, in the Prayer for Purity. It puts up not a question or inquiry, but puts an assumption or dogma, namely that being sexual means to be impure. It could as well say that god is an idiot. Yes, I think it is blasphemic to state that nature is wrong, because it equals to saying god is an idiot.
This may not be a scientific statement, but I say it nonetheless here. There are more assumptions in Swami’s pamphlet that you need to be aware of so that you do not get wrapped up in the scarce yet absolutely violent logic of this philosophy.
There is a very important one in the Publisher’s Note when he says ‘our forefathers followed the do’s and don’ts of the Dharma Sastras in meticulous detail’, forgetting to mention that there were well fathers before those forefathers, who namely did not follow the life-denying doctrine of Vedanta, but the pro-life doctrine of Tantra that was highly pleasure-affirming. He also forgot mentioning that Tantra lived much longer than Vedanta. For you have to see that it appears obvious in this text that both the publisher and Swami clearly imply that today true Vedanta is dead in India. So ask yourself how long has Vedanta reigned? Not long, after all, compared to Tantra, and for good reason. Nothing that rules against life can endure, because it is not pro-life (pro-god), but anti-life (anti-god).
And with this in mind, to speak of Swami as a ‘holy man’ whose love to mankind knew no bounds, as the publisher writes, may be meant as a nice compliment and valid as such, but as an affirmation of truth it is invalid. He who shuns human nature and demonizes it is not a lover of humankind, but a hater of humankind, and he has not advanced us as a human race, but probably himself, against the human race! I know that there are in the West today not many people who can see through the veil of the pseudo-logical and pseudo-scientific assumptions in this text.
Indeed, Vedanta, etymologically means ‘knowledge’, and to a certain extent Vedanta is scientific, and much more scientific than Christianity or Islam have ever been. So far so good. I have always admired Hinduism, and you can be sure that my remarks here are not targeting Hinduism in any way. The purpose of my contradiction to this teaching has to do with hygiene, mental, physical, psychic, emotional, sexual and spiritual hygiene. I simply say that the attitude and practice purported by Swami’s teaching is not fostering hygiene but emotional and sexual chaos. The single best solution for getting more children lust-murdered, more women raped and more conflict sown in the relationship between the sexes in general is to put up sex as impure and to try to regulate our emotions through strict discipline, behavior rules, and asceticism. It’s really a demonic doctrine!
And before we go in some detail, let me affirm that I am by no means the only one who says that. You may not want to listen to what somewhat liberal psychiatrists or psychologists say, but rather what other spiritual teachers say, so let me mention here two very reputed spiritual teachers, equally from India, who through the whole of their teachings have implicitly rendered Swami’s doctrine invalid, or to put it more mildly, have shown the pitfalls of such a fundamentalist approach to human sexuality, and to spirituality. These spiritual teachers are Sri Ramana Maharshi and J. Krishnamurti. Both Maharshi and Krishnamurti have clearly affirmed in their teachings that the repression of emotions is the wrong way to spiritual enlightenment – or to state it more simply, that it is no way at all to get there, that is represents a pitfall, a trap, and a delusion. It is a delusion because it disregards and shuns the human nature: we do not become more human by trying to be inhuman! We become more human by being fully human, human with all our senses, by accepting all our desires and longings. And by the way, by suppressing our sexual longings, very clearly so you are going to repress your spiritual longings, because sexuality is the forefront of the longing for god. In shunning sex, Swami has shunned god, it is for me as simple as that. This man was not a saint in my eyes, but a demagogue. And the truth is that India is pervaded today by this kind of doctrine that is utterly moralistic and anti-life, authoritarian to the utmost and very little enlightened, and this is the single one reason of that country’s being trapped for so long in domestic, structural, ethnic and political violence.
While officially India may distance itself from extremist religious teachings, simply because that doesn’t fit well in the business-attitude of modern consumerism, ultimately this is of no importance, because it is all just a façade. The modern state presents itself smiling, but it’s a false smile. India is the most moralistic of all nations on earth, and it’s exactly for this reason and for no other reason that it’s the most violent country on earth.
To begin with, Swami comes up with the following statements at the very beginning of his text, three sentences actually, that I will enumerate, in order to better reply to each of them:
(1) There is a great illusion in front of man. It troubles him in the form of woman. There is a great illusion in front of woman. It troubles her in the form of man.
(2) Go wherever you like—Amsterdam, London or New York. Analyze this world of phenomenal experience. You will find only two things—sex and ego.
(3) The sex instinct is the greatest urge in human life. Sex energy or lust is the most deep-rooted instinct in man. Sex energy entirely fills the mind, intellect, Prana, senses and the whole body. It is the oldest of the factors that have gone into the constitution of the human being.
There is so much already in these three sentences that I will need a considerable amount of time, energy and words to unveil the false assumptions, lies and hateful and destructive emotions contained in these simple statements, that for the non-initiated may seem harmless and innocuous.
Ad (1) The first statement implies that the yin-yang dualism that presents itself on earth to incarnated souls, through the eternal opposites of male-female, positive-negative, high-low, young-old, white-black, and so on, was an ‘illusion of the senses’. And here we are inmidst of Vedanta, indeed. What Swami says here is not singular and exceptional, but a regular and representative description of the doctrine of Vedanta, which considers life on earth as an illusion, a pitfall, a divine mistake, and an impediment to true enlightenment and spiritual progress. I think it is important to see the imbeddedness of Swami’s teaching in the whole of Vedanta doctrine because it will unveil a greater relevance of this text. One may reject a Swami as an extremist exception from the rule but doing so would be a misunderstanding. The whole of Vedanta is extremism and, if I may say so, moral terror. Swami is not in disagreement with Vedanta, in any of his statements; he is not even original. He has virtually copied for himself, and in his writings, the doctrine of Vedanta, and gave to it a somewhat personal stress and access. But I think for a Westerner to read this, it is important to realize that so far Swami is not an original thinker, but a strict follower of a strict tradition, which means he was an avatar of an ideology.
Ad (2) The second statement says not much about the world, but it indeed says much about how Swami sees the world. His worldview is what I call reductionist. He simply reduces the whole of living, at least with regard to modern life, to two terms, that are not even etymologically related: sex and ego. Frankly, for me this is a clear projection. When I read this I get a clear hint that for Swami, the most problematic things in his own life were sex and his ego. So in order to better cope with his precarious balance of mind, he needed to project these two problems upon ‘modern world’ or ‘modern life’ so that he could safely abstain from looking deeper into himself and inquiring why in the first place he himself had a problem with both sex and ego?
Now I think it would be infantile to come up with arguments that try to enumerate what else could be present in Amsterdam, London or New York, or in the whole of human phenomenal experience?! Because it is obvious that life is much more than that. And if that was not obvious to Swami Sivananda, then, by all means, the one who got a problem here was the beholder, not the world, not modern life, not modern cities, and not human phenomenal experience.
Ad(3) In this passage of four sentences there are so many lies and misconstructions, that I have to go slowly, and bit by bit.
a) Sex is not instinct. That is the first important thing. If Swami had possessed real knowledge of sexuality, and was not repeating the misnomers of both religious ignorance and the ignorance of modern sexology, he would never have stated this in the first place. Sexuality is a result of our emotions, and it is as such a consequence of choice, or what I call emotional predilection. Humans have no instincts, period. The human being is not programmed into the mere imitation of ontogenetic or phylogenetic patterns, but is free to create new patterns.
That means sexuality is only a conditioned response in a society that thinks it has to condition sexual behavior, but not as an inherent and primal biological programming.
Sexuality is not a conditioned response when childhood was free, and when emotions flow freely. In this case namely, sexuality is clearly going along with emotional predilection and is directed by our greater spiritual wisdom, not an animal-like automatism.
Sex energy fills the mind, prana and senses? Wait a moment! What a gigantic distortion of truth! The sexual energy is prana, pure prana, nothing else, not a different energy as there is only one life energy, not different ones. Then he says that sex has since long been in the constitution of the human being. But are we in Kindergarten? Sex is life, and life comes about through sex, no? Through what else?
From the next paragraph The World is all Sexy I pick out this passage to comment upon:
Passion reigns supreme in all parts of the world. The minds of people are filled with sexual thoughts. The world is all sexy. The whole world is under a tremendous sexual intoxication. All are deluded and move in the world with perverted intellects. No thought of God. No talk of God. It is all fashion, restaurants, hotels, dinners, dances, races and cinema. Their life ends in eating, drinking and procreating. That is all.
How can Mr. Swami Sivananda possibly know what the minds of people are filled with? The world is all sexy, well, that is for me a nice statement, and I think if it is, we are all happy, and all is setup in the right way. But fact is that the world is not all sexy. If it was, we wouldn’t have wars and genocide everywhere in the world, and rampant child abuse because people would be busy with the nicest game of all. But they are busy with making money, and fabricating bombs, still better bombs, still more effective weapons that kill still more people in the next war.
The world is under sexual intoxication? Well, I think the author talks about himself here and projects this thought upon the world. There may be people who are in fact deluded and move with perverted intellects, I agree. But not all of them, no Sir, this is again a generalization. It is all fashion? They do not think of god? Of which god, of your god, Mr. Swami? Of your mental image of a punitive and life-denying divinity? Well, I am actually glad about the fact that most people do not share the perverted Puritanism of a Swami Sivananda, because otherwise I am sure we would have had the overkill already long ago.
Fortunately people engage in nicer things than making life down and calling the creator an idiot, fortunately they are focused upon beauty, upon fashion and positive things, upon good lifestyle, nice food, art and theater, cinema and photography, music and performance. Fortunately people enjoy eating, drinking and procreating. And fortunately, to be honest, insane individuals like Swami Sivananda are a rather rare vintage on the globe. I am really thankful that this is so, as it shows that most people are able to live a decent, and balanced life, and not the life of a spiritual terrorist.
Let me take out another passage for commenting upon, while for the scientific reader I may apologize in advance that here we are entering the world of humor.
Man, with his boasted intellect, has to learn lessons from birds and animals Even animals have more self-control than men It is only the so-called man who has degraded himself much by indulgence. At the heat of sexual excitement, he repeats the same ignoble act again and again. He has not a bit of self-control. He is an absolute slave to passion. He is a puppet in the hands of passion. Like rabbits he procreates and brings forth countless children to swell up the numbers of beggars in the world. Lions, elephants, bulls and other powerful animals have better self-control than men. Lions cohabit only once in a year. After conception, the female animals will never allow the male animals to approach them till the young ones are weaned and they themselves become healthy and strong. Man only violates the laws of nature and consequently suffers from innumerable diseases. He has degenerated to a level far lower than that of animals in this respect.
We are entering the world of holy animals who exhibit astonishing levels of self-control! Ever thought there is a bioenergetic reason why lions copulate lesser than humans?
I could as well say that plants do not talk which is the proof they are stupid and non-communicative, while every shaman will tell me the contrary, namely that they are very communicative telepathically. To argue in the way Swami does here only betrays a completely infantile mind.
And then, what means self-control in the sense Swami uses it here?
When I extrapolate this idea, it means everybody of value must eat only a slice of dry bread per day. I think I can safely skip the rest here, except the passage when he talks about violating nature. The comment I would like to make is that Swami has given an excellent example with this text, and perhaps with his whole life, what it means to violate the laws of nature. Further, about the practice itself, the author writes:
The attraction for objects will gradually vanish if one begins to think seriously of the unreal nature of the world. People are burnt by the fire of lust. All measures that are calculated to eradicate this dire disease should be initiated and put through. All people should be made fully conversant with the different methods that will help them to root out the dire enemy lust. If they fail in one method, they can take recourse to another. Lust is a brutal instinct in unregenerated men. One should be ashamed to repeat again and again the sensual acts when one is fully aware that the goal of life is Self-realization through the attainment of purity and the practice of constant meditation.
An objector may say that these topics should not be dealt with openly, but should rather be talked about secretly. This is wrong. What is the use of hiding things? Hiding a thing is a sin.
Yes, the attraction for objects will gradually vanish if one begins to think seriously of the unreal nature of the world. And I tell you what, more than that even, the attraction to life will vanish in its entirety, and you will be close to suicide. That is what this practice will bring about, a suicidal attitude, and therefore I think it is criminal and should be prohibited.
People are burnt by the fire of lust?
I think who is burnt here is Swami, not only by his lust but more so by his guilt of being lustful. This text is only apparently a philippic against lust; it really is a confession of deep-seated and obviously, in his case, incurable guilt mixed with pride.
Sexual attraction a dire disease?
Well, then, again, the author is blaming god for having created us as we are, or to put it in other terms, he shuns nature and thinks he can go beyond nature, and become superhuman. Sounds familiar? I have heard much of that stuff, when my parents were telling me about the Nazi doctrine of the superhuman. It is well known that Hitler has used a lot of Hindu literature to stuff into his perverted philosophy, and the Swastika, the very symbol of the holocaust, originally is a Hindu religious symbol.
Now, the next statement, while it is again very general, incites me to comment because it is an excellent example of demagogy, in the style Adolf Hitler used it. The strategy is to combine a true statement with a wrong conclusion. For example, Hitler argued the country was in a terrible condition because so many people were unemployed. This was a true statement. Then he concluded that, because of that, the country needed a strong leader like himself to bring good order and new solutions on the agenda. This statement was wrong because it projects a selfish desire for power; in reality, Germany could well have solved the problem of unemployment through an effective democratic government that was based on parliamentary values instead of single-man leadership. And here we go and hear what Swami has to say:
In these days of modern culture and new civilization, in this era of scientific advancement, these lines may not be relished by some people. They may remark that some of the terms are jarring, revolting, offending and indecent and will not suit the people of refined tastes. They are entirely mistaken. These lines will produce a very deep impression in the minds of thirsting aspirants who are longing for liberation. Their minds will be entirely changed. There is no real spiritual culture amongst the people of modern society. Etiquette is mere show. Everywhere you can see much show, hypocrisy, pretended politeness, meaningless formalities and conventions. Nothing emanates from the core of the heart. People lack sincerity and integrity.
He justifies harsh judgments in this text by saying that he is ultimately ‘spiritual and honest’ and that the whole world except him is ‘unspiritual and dishonest’. The first part of the statement, namely, is true to some extent, namely that modern life lacks a spiritual foundation. I agree, spirituality is not a value considered important enough by consumerist postmodern culture.
But the other statement, imbedded in it, is not true, when he says ‘These lines will produce a very deep impression in the minds of thirsting aspirants who are longing for liberation.’ Like Hitler, he makes a big promise here, that is, a promise to change the status quo through a magic stroke, by giving spiritual food and water to those who long for liberation. What he does in fact is to enchain those aspirants of truth, filling them with his half-truths and outright misperceptions about life and about the human nature, and that is why I consider his teaching as truly dangerous for our young people, and that is why I quote it here at length as an example of a truly demonic doctrine about life, love and human sexuality.
And as I said before, Swami is not an exception; Vedanta is in itself an organized form of life denial, and it is really opposed to the original doctrine reigning in India for millennia, which was Tantra, and which was centered upon understanding life instead of judging life, and else upon beauty, the arts, liberal sexuality, and permissive education that today has got almost completely lost everywhere in the world.
India could easily solve their inner and outer conflicts by effectively countering the plague of violence, but that is impossible if they continue to adhere to their sociopolitical neurosis, their judgmental mindset, their incapacity to put an end to the past and pardon their enemies, and their entirely life-denying views. Healthy sexuality naturally includes premarital sex, and an equality of women and children with men.
At this point in time, as I have seen it myself, and I have been in many countries, the situation of women and children in India is the most deplorable among all countries I have visited, and there is no way that under the present morality paradigm, women and children could even remotely have an equal status with men.
And besides, it is still the rule that men burn their wives by pouring gasoline over them and burning them alive as a violent way of repudiating them when they failed in her marital duties or committed adultery. It happens virtually every day in Delhi and other towns in India, and it is still the custom in the provinces in India to burn women who have been repudiated by their husbands.
Such forms of extreme violence do not exist elsewhere. So, please, ask yourself why and inquire for yourself. It is a fact that the root cause behind all this is morality, and here at the forefront, sex morality or, to put it in bioenergetic terms, a perversion of the natural flow of the sexual energies through a rigid social paradigm that considers sexuality as abject, violent, animal-like and contrary to spiritual development. That this view and the morality that it entails is against nature is obvious; that it is also inhuman and that it fosters debility, not intelligence, is not so obvious. Hitler was a sexual cripple, and his level of intelligence, as we know today, bordered congenital debility. Impotence, sexual aversion, extremist opinions and violence always go together!
I have no interest to say anything against specific countries or cultures. But it must be understood what the future of humanity will be like if we allow the old ghosts to reign our future. We will be defeated, and not just with another world war, but with destruction of the human race.