Question: For a Krishna conscious devotee, can sex be an expression of love?
Here are a few points:
1. Material things are morally neutral. They become good or bad as they are used to produce true happiness or suffering. Prabhupada gave the example of a scalpel in the hands of a qualified surgeon, or in the hands of a violent criminal.
2. Sex is of course one of the ‘natural’ human activities, and Krishna says in the Gita 7.11, “I am sexual love (kama) that does not oppose dharma.”
3. In his teachings, Prabhupada often defined ‘illicit sex’ as ‘sex outside of marriage,’ and he also gave a stricter definition, ‘sex not for procreation.’ So we have both standards. Many grhasthas follow the easier standard, which is still admirable in this day and age.
4. Regarding sex as an expression of love, I believe it is fair to say that the manner in which one expresses affection, caring, etc., varies as we advance in Krishna consciousness. We have the excellent example of butter and ghee. In the market, we find ‘pure butter.’ If we slice the butter, we find it is nothing but butter. It is only when we put ‘pure’ butter on fire that it begins to separate into two components: pure butter oil, ‘ghee,’ and the ‘impurities’ which are removed and occasionally used for other purposes.
Here is the analogy: in the beginning stages of Krishna consciousness, almost all of us experience simple, apparently unitary emotions, such as love, devotion, enthusiasm, etc. As we progress through life, in the fire of spiritual practice which is often challenging, we learn more and more about ourselves and begin to see that our ‘simple’ feelings, such as enthusiasm, love, devotion, etc. have components: pure, spiritual feeling, and less pure emotions and desires tinged by subtle attachments. This is true not only in personal relationships, but also in such ‘pure’ service roles as book distributor, temple leader, preacher, etc etc. Prabhupada taught that Krishna consciousness is a gradual process, and thus by patient practice we gradually know ourselves better and better.
An advanced devotee who clearly sees himself or herself as a pure soul beyond the body, and who sees how bodily attachment obstructs pure consciousness, becomes less inclined to express love and affection through acts that intensely stimulate and gratify the body. Of course, even pure souls express affection through non-sexual bodily acts such as a loving embrace. We find such bodily expressions of love even in the Lord’s own pastimes.
Prabhupada recognized that devotees gradually come to the advanced stage and, therefore, he gave the two definitions of proper and illicit sex for spiritual practitioners, as mentioned above.
Question: I really appreciate what you said about the two standards for illicit sex and also that the path of Krishna consciousness is a gradual process of maturity and growth. That is one thing that I want to be especially careful of. I have seen many devotees, including myself, attempt to artificially hold a certain standard and then quickly drop it. While I think this can be beneficial in the long run, I don’t think it is the right process for me. I would rather advance slowly and gradually, in a way that will hopefully be more stable.
While I still can’t completely see the impure “non-ghee” part of a loving sexual relationship, I can imagine what you mean and can see how, at some point, I may be at that level. A similar experience happened for me with alcohol while I was in college. I was never a big drinker, but did participate a bit at parties and such in college, using alcohol as a way to loosen up and help me be more outgoing in social situations. But after taking up a spiritual practice, I started to notice how alcohol was no longer serving me. Instead of relaxing me, I found myself in more anxiety when drinking. I soon stopped drinking entirely, not as some major gesture of purity, but more out of lack of interest. I can imagine that at some point in my life, I could come to the realization that sex is also no longer serving me. But, I do appreciate your willingness to not artificially push that on me now.
Here are a few more points:
1. Your policy of slow, steady progress is wise and Krishna conscious. Prabhupada would applaud you.
2. You gave an excellent example of your ephemeral drinking dalliance! I too have often experienced that at certain stages of life, I was strongly convinced of, or attached to, certain conceptions and ways of doing things, only to outgrow them and grow into a far deeper and more satisfying understanding of life.
3. Krishna explains in the Gita 2.59 that we cannot artificially renounce attachments. Rather as we grow spiritually and actually see something higher, we naturally outgrow previous ways of life, like a child that outgrows even favorite toys.
4. Consider this: you are an eternal, beautiful, spiritual being who has always existed and always will exist. Ultimately, you will regain your eternal life with Krishna. At that point, you will not have a material body, and yet you will express and receive unlimited love in your relations with Krishna and other souls. Even in the spiritual world, there are couples with a special loving affinity. With Krishna at the center, they exchange ever growing oceanic love, yet they have no material bodies, no lust, no physical needs.
5. As long as we have a material body, the body inevitably demands some level of attention and gratification. And Krishna says that in a balanced way, we must attend to our human needs. At the same time, we keep our spiritual vision fixed on our real home, our real future, our real love. And by steady practice, our most cherished spiritual dreams come true.