“Sexual relations are a regrettable necessity, even when children are desired” - stated the Episcopal Bishops at the Lambeth Conference.
Many associate sex with shame and guilt and impurity. Something to be tolerated. And if possible eradicated. This often is the orthodox religious stand. The modern view often takes the scientific position, sex is a physical function like sneezing. It is a rather crude instinct that gains beauty when set in the context of a higher emotional interaction.
There is another stream of belief where sex is neither impure, nor merely a physical function. But sacred. A way to touch God. A way to feel the animal joy ringing the universe. A way to unleash the cosmic, to feel the wild laughter of the serpent.
One encounters sacred sex in the ancient cults of Ishtar of Babylon. The rites of Isis . The Dionysian revels of Greece . The Adamites of medieval Europe . However, the most magnificent flowering of such belief is in Tantric and Taoist teachings of India , China and Tibet .
Consider the profoundly beautiful way in which the Shiva Purana describes it. “ Shiva's love-play transforms the universe. The sexual activity of Shiva and Shakti makes the moon wax and wane.”
Or look at the magic of the Ahnika Stava “What else are the glittering stars, but pearls of sweat flung off their love combat?”
Or again the wondrous stanzas of the Nag Hammadi Papyrus -“I am the whore and the holy one. I am the wife and the virgin”.
Most Indians exposure to the idea of sacred sex is from the Kamasutra , the Koksastra and the Ananga Ranga . There are however problems that a lay person would encounter in exploring such thought.
The Kamasutra, for example, reads almost like a manual of technique. Thank you for the novel positions, but where is the joyous spontaneity? Ancient Tantric texts on the other hand, may seem obscure - what is the lay reader to make sense of an injunction to have sex with one's mother, sister and daughter?
Sacred sex teachings truly belong to an oral or rather physical tradition. The books are practical workbooks of transcendence, aids to process. Most often they have to be explained. They are both literal and metaphoric, real and symbolic. They are meaning couched in meaning.
More importantly, there is not just one tradition, but many. Some are sacred. Some what we would consider debased and misguided.
Sacred sexuality recognises the magical nature of our being and those we love, it intensifies the joyous intensity of sex to such a point that the orgasmic becomes cosmic. Simply, this process can be described in three steps.
(A) Realising the body is a temple. The first step has the ultimate aim of preparing the person for the immense psychic and cosmic forces that would be unleashed.
“Here in this body are the sacred rivers ; here are the sun and moon…I have not encountered another temple as blissful as my own body”-Saraha Doha
Practically it involves strengthening the body through diet, yoga, exercise. Strengthening the mind, through meditation, hatha yoga, mantras, yantras, breath control, visualisation. Strengthening the understanding of one's subtle body and its cosmic forms. Strengthening one's sexuality through synchronising it with the universe; astrology; setting, mood, aids.
This is the essential role of books like Kamasutra and Ananga Ranga. The positions seek to ignite a spark and turn it into a wild fire. Pushing one beyond the quickie to an explosive consummation. They unleash, sustain and contain energies - taking one beyond the little death to the endless ecstasy. The positions and mantras are designed to turn lovers into living yantras, cosmic glyphs, pure bliss.
In practice there are essentially two vastly different extremes by which the temple of the body is prepared. One gently pushes the celebrant towards the ecstatic, the other tears down inhibitions, habits and the personality. The danger of the first is that it may turn into guilt- ridden orthodoxy. The danger of the second is that it can destroy the person.
“The Goddess resides in all women and the Lord abides in all men”-Jvalavali Tantra.
Or consider the earthy mysticism of the poet - “It is the first altar before the stone in the cave. It is the first altar before the flower at the roots of the tree. It is the first altar where the God's kneel. The incense of your thighs rises heady and strong.”
Sacred sex demands that one understand, in flesh and blood, that each human being is the crucible of God. Because one seeks God, one starts with God in flesh. Because one longs for the unmanifest, one does not degrade the manifest. Because one seeks ecstasy, one begins with pleasure The yogi and the yogini are both the whole manifested as fragments. Alone one is a broken splinter, together one reaches towards God.
Is sacred sex an orgiastic revelry with many partners, or should it revolve around one partner?
Two extremes emerge, on the one hand, a Dionysiac revelry where “Men and women mingle, known or unknown, just as the longing comes on them”. Or as Kabir says “You cannot drink the nectar of God's love and keep your pride. Two swords in one scabbard have never yet been espied”.
On the other hand, sacred sex is seen as something of a profound marriage between two who have chosen each other in this lifetime. As the Mahanirvana Tantra states – “A man who looks at another's wife should fast for a day to purify himself”.
The danger in the first approach is the psychological damage that can come to the unprepared celebrant. Also it could too easily degenerate into prostitution or excess without pleasure. The danger of the second is that it could become merely conventional strictures imprisoning the spirit in a fearful hell.
(C) Cosmic Transcendence. The cosmic experience is essentially indescribable - wild lightning laughter dancing from chakra to chakra. Described also as the melting of the moon or the full moon rising - it is illuminating, torrential explosive. For even as we hold each other on earth, so it is on the bed of stars. For even as we make love, so does the manifest and the unmanifest unite. Even as we moan. So is the universe a love cry given form, a bead of sweat on your thighs and breasts.
As the Kulanarva Tantra says – “The touch of bodies becomes the praise of God.”
Or as the poet puts it – “Which Goddesses' eyes have you stolen? Which Goddesses' breasts have you stolen? I enter your wetness as the lord of the universe. You and I go where there is neither you and I”.
The goal of sacred sex is the cosmic, yet to enter the bedroom of endless ecstasy, one has to cross the moat of shame, go beyond the gate of dominance and violence, climb above the steps of hedonism, one has to take off the shoes of limited conventional ideas, one has to fuse the broken pieces of the cosmos in the furnace of the body.
There are few temples as wondrous as the temple of the body, and none so cunningly wrought.
There are few incenses as pleasing as the scent of sex, and none so heady.
There are few hymns as glorious as the orgasmic cry, and none so joyous.
There are few ways to God as sacred as sex, and none as primordial.