The gift of a lifetime? The human body is the gift of 8,400,000 lifetimes. The Tantra Shastras tell us that it takes 8,400,000 cycles of death and rebirth for individual consciousness to evolve to the stage where it is fit to inhabit a human body. The Bible tells us that the body is the 'temple of the Holy Ghost'. Certain great souls, no longer incarnate, materialise a body in times of need, but a body they must wear in order to carry out certain works. Failing this, the powers-that-be must act through a living human medium. The flesh and blood of Christ are the essential elements of Holy Communion, and habitation of a human frame is a functional necessity for the achievement of reunion with the divine. Birth in a human body is the golden opportunity exploited by tantra to attain cosmic communion, Yet somehow the misunderstanding flourishes that spiritual life has something to do with denial of the body, with separation from vital and physical life. This is not the case at all, for the body is an intrinsic part of human existence.
The human or social sciences - biology, anthropology and the like- have established that the basic life processes are self-preservation and sexual activity. These processes, or instincts, are normal and natural; they are part of our essential human nature. Unfortunately, many religions and ethical systems do not give due consideration to these basic expressions of human vitality, and we are forced to suppress them or to express them in defiance of the prevalent moral code. Either way we are crippled by frustration and guilt. This particularly applies to the sexual drive.
There is no blame or shame attached to eating whatever is necessary to maintain good health. It is regarded as every man's right to have at least enough food to maintain life, and there is no guilt in taking more if it is available. Hunger is a natural demand of the body and it is taken for granted that any sane man will satisfy this demand at least often enough to stay alive. Taking food is not just an automatic response to a natural, acceptable bodily demand - we are also expected to enjoy eating. Most people take considerable pleasure in eating and those who do not are usually pitied. Eating for pleasure, even to excess, is not only socially acceptable, but is taken for granted in all but the poorest societies. The ritual sharing of food is a basic form of sociability enacted at almost every human gathering.
Similarly, it is seen as every man's right, even duty, to have a roof over his head and a minimum of cloth to protect his nakedness. Satisfaction of these natural demands is regarded as an implicit condition of human existence. In today's world, failure to provide oneself with the basic necessities is regarded as a vice, while the acquisition of disproportionate material wealth is held to be a virtue.
The sex urge is also a natural imperative, yet it is excluded from all this. Sexual activity, even for reproduction, is barely tolerated. Sexual relations simply for pleasure is regarded almost as a perversion. In stark contrast to the other physical instincts, there is an excessive and irrational guilt attached to sexuality and its fulfillment. Far from being sexually liberated, people today are totally ignorant and confused about their sexual being. The sex relationship is one of the chief sources of fascination, preoccupation, frustration, fear, guilt and dis-ease in life.
Most people do not yet recognise what western psychology has rediscovered and tantra has known all along - that sexual energy is the universal emotional substance. The whole of creation is materialised energy. The atom is a dynamic balance of positive and negative energies; the heavenly bodies are held in place by the balance of their surrounding force-fields. Energy is polarised; it can attract or repel, it is positive or negative. We can see this most readily in relation to magnets with their north and south poles, or electricity with its positive and negative terminals. This is the pattern of existence, the spontaneous play of Shiva and Shakti, consciousness and energy. As sexual beings we are also polarised to our opposites; men and women live this relationship as the sex relationship. We also have the play of male and female in various personal and social roles, the natural and generalised relations that are the interplay of complementary energies - the human counterpart to the universal eroticism of Shiva/Shakti.
Freud, who had a profound effect on western psychology, saw sexual energy (libido) as the primary motivating force of all human emotions and activities. Intimately linked with the body, this energy is stored in the unconscious mind and seeks conscious expression' in the form of instinctual desires. Freud called these instinctive impulses drives, encompassing both their dynamic and motivating aspects. Our emotions, the feelings we have about our drives, are dependent on their satisfaction or frustration.
The demands of survival and social coexistence mean that we cannot give free rein to our desires, but sexual energy is imperious, it does not readily tolerate frustration. If a desire is denied expression for any reason, the energy behind it is deflected back into the unconscious mind where it is re-channeled for expression in a different way. For example, it may be positively redirected into work and creative or spiritual activity. It may also find negative emotional expression as aggression, anxiety or some form of inner tension.
If the frustration of desire is accompanied by a particularly painful experience, both the desire and the memory of the experience are pushed deep into the unconscious where a great deal of energy is spent in keeping them beyond remembrance. This repression is never total, for such experiences still make themselves felt as fears and obsessions. Sexual energy cannot just be dammed up. If it does not find immediate outlet in erotic play it must be appropriately re-channeled, for incomplete or impoverished forms of sexual discharge are the basis of neurosis and other forms of mental illness.
Since it is neither possible nor desirable to inhibit bio-emotional drives just because they cannot be given immediate and direct expression, many aspects of life become sexualised. The primal sexual energy is diverted to add impetus to some alternative impulse. Freud maintained that it is diversification of the libido that leads to the development of a richly articulated mental life, to creative activity and all other manifestations of 'civilisation'.
Freud also pointed out that man's sexual position tends to influence everything else in his life, because of the way in which sexuality can serve as an exemplar for all other feelings and thoughts. For instance, indecision or uncertainty in sexual matters induces indecision elsewhere, and leads to a skeptical colouring of the mind. 'A man who doubts his own love may, rather must, doubt every lesser thing.' Freudian theory is therefore in accord with the tantric insight that sexual energy informs the full gamut of human emotions and cannot be denied without impairing the natural life processes and depleting our vitality.
Freud was not the only psychologist to stress the universality of our sexual energy. Jung also used the term libido to mean human motivating energy, although he later extended it beyond the sexual. In more recent times, Marcuse and Norman O. Brown have emphasised the significant role of a healthy sexuality in all human endeavour. Even behavioural scientists, with their stimulus-response theories of emotional functioning make frequent use of erotic images as 'potent 'rewards' in their experiments. However, it is revived interest in the work of Wilhelm Reich that is having an important influence on current psychology.
Between the first and second world wars Reich discovered orgone, a kind of energy universally present in living organisms. Reich identified this with primordial cosmic power (shakti) and what parapsychologists have come to call bioenergy' or bioplasma. (Reich's descriptions of orgone in the human body correspond closely with the radiations revealed by Kirlian photography.) Orgone permeates the whole body and it is intrinsically bound up with sexual energy. Reich maintained that this energy, like Freud's libido, is the basic motivating force of the human organism. Orgone is the very stuff of the emotions, its positive flow or expansion being experienced as pleasure, its contraction or negative flow being experienced as unpleasure. Reich also pointed out the connection between orgone and the autonomic nervous system which governs the physical aspects of emotional response. He makes clear the interdependence of body, mind and emotions when he says:
"On the psychic level, biological expansion is experienced as pleasure, contraction as un-pleasure. On the instinctual level, expansion and contraction are sexual excitation and anxiety, respectively. In a deeper physiological sense, expansion and contraction correspond to the function of the parasympathetic and sympathetic (nervous systems) respectively."
Function of the Orgasm, p.281
For Reich, healthy sexual functioning is of such manifest, primary importance that he defined emotional health as the capacity for ecstatic sexual surrender based on love. He attributed mental illness to a disturbance in the normal capacity for love which impedes the flow of bio-energy, which is then deviated into all kinds of irrational behaviour.
Reich calls this energy orgone, Freud calls it libido, parapsychologists call it bioplasma and yogis call it kundalini. Kundalini is the primal energy vitalising the human organism. In its most subtle form it is the manifestation of highest consciousness, in its gross form it manifests as sexual energy. Kundalini is that aspect of universal life-force, prana, which specifically animates human beings. It operates from the pranic body, the subtle energy dimension which vitalises the physical body. Under ordinary circumstances we do not see this subtle body, but it is visible to clairvoyants and produces a coloured aura-like effect on photographs taken in high-voltage electric fields. These Kirlian photographs have enabled all of us to validate the perception of yogic seers.
The pranic body powers the essential life processes at the physical level and links body and mind through the emotions. There is a highly specialised form of pranic energy, called apana, which governs sexual response and the reproductive organs. Other forms of prana power emotional response through their effects on the glands, and on the sympathetic and parasympathetic nervous systems, all of which are physical mediators of emotion: Reich established the connection between the expansion and contraction of sexual/biological energy and the emotional experience of pleasure or pain. This is supported by Kirlian photographs which clearly show that the pranic body contracts and dims in response to emotional pain; it expands and brightens during the experience of pleasure.
There is no doubt that our emotions are a manifestation of pranic energy, in the human body called kundalini, which is at once spiritual and sexual energy.
To deny our sexuality, then, is to distort a great deal of what most people feel is their essential humanness - their emotional sensitivity. Since emotion is firmly grounded in the body, it is futile destruction to attempt to suppress the natural demand for sexual fulfillment. The body is the garment of our humanity, the tool and vehicle of consciousness, and if we are to realise consciousness, we must begin at the level of the body, the level in which we're living, the simplest level of existence.
Tantra is not the narrow path of the ascetic, it is the royal highway of heightened experience - the joyful, intensified awareness which comes from intelligent understanding and acceptance of our human nature. It is firmly based in everyday realities and the harmony of the vital life functions which express themselves through the senses.
In tantra, the basic life instincts are called artha and kama. Artha is the primary instinct to individual survival lying behind our efforts to maintain physical life by obtaining food, clothing and shelter. These days artha also takes on social connotations because these material necessities are dependent on the barter of work commitment (energy and creativity) for money. Our next strongest impulse is the urge to sexual activity, both to reproduce the species and to sustain emotional life through a meaningful and pleasurable relationship with another. This is kama which is sensual pleasure in general and sexual pleasure in particular.
Tantra also recognises two other primary processes - dharma (the establishment of harmonious self-regulation in respect of artha and kama) and moksha, the impulse to freedom which underlies them all. The chronic tension, anxiety and mental illness presently rampant in the world indicate that people have strayed a long way from the harmony of dharma, while the average man and woman dare not even aspire to the great liberation of the sages and scriptures. At most they look only to freedom from their complexes, conflicts and guilts, the majority of which are concerned with material possessions and sexuality.
Tantra is the path to this elementary freedom (and beyond) through the establishment of sane, healthy and natural ways of expressing the life instincts. Tantra does not ask us to renounce the body and its functions, but to renounce the associated conflicts and guilts which stand between us and our spontaneous enjoyment of life. What is necessary is that we make appropriate use of our vitality, that we conduct the life-force, allow it to flow through us productively. We are not to waste our energies in trying to abandon the body.
"Pleasures, being as necessary for the existence and well-being of the body as food, are consequently equally required. They are moreover the results of dharma and artha. Sexual pleasures are, therefore, to be followed with moderation. No one refrains from cooking food because there are beggars to ask for it, or from sowing seed because there are deer to destroy the corn when it has grown up. Thus a man practicing dharma, artha and kama enjoys happiness both in this world and the world to come."
Maharishi Vatsyayana, Kama Sutra 1:1