Do you ever have thoughts or desires which make you feel uncomfortable with yourself? This is guilt, and we have all experienced it at some time or other. Guilt is a sense of having done something wrong, of having broken some moral or social law. Whether or not our action is really wrong, if we think it is then we will suffer guilt. We tell ourselves that we are bad, or morally weak. We feel that we have let ourselves down. We are ashamed, unhappy.
Guilt is the outcome of conflict between what we want to do and what we think we are allowed to do. It results from the difference between how we think we should act and the way we really do act. Guilt arises when we have two opposing ideas in our mind. We think 'I want to do this, it brings me pleasure' and at the same time 'this is wrong, only bad people or weak people do these things'. We are divided within ourselves, so we experience a psychic conflict.
Guilt can arise in connection with almost any incident, but we are most confused, and therefore most guilty, about our sexual feelings. Doctors, psychologists and marriage guidance counsellors provide evidence that millions of men and women are suffering and worrying about the moral correctness of their sexual behaviour. This is causing great human suffering, mental and physical.
Why is it we feel so guilty about sex? After all, sexual energy is man's primal energy. Just as it is the nature of water to be wet and fire to be hot, so it is the nature of human beings to be sexually active. This is natural and necessary for the preservation of the species and for the emotional well-being of the individual. The demand for this kind of expression is as normal, natural and healthy as the body's appetite for food, so why is there confusion and conflict? Where did the idea come from that this natural desire is improper? It is not easy to trace the origins of sexual guilt, but it is clear that most of the 'shoulds' and 'should nots' are laid down by the society in which we live and the religion we follow.
Man is a social being and, as social units formed, it became necessary to place some restriction on individual sexual freedom so as to maintain order and solidarity amongst the group as a whole. Thus, every society has its taboos, although their exact nature varies from culture to culture. The moral code of any society is simply an agreement made by its members to enable that society to function smoothly. What is allowed and what is not is based on the needs and interests of the group, and reflects convenient living arrangements more than the true nature of sexuality itself.
For instance, when man developed the concept of private ownership of property, rather than sharing things in common, there came a corresponding change in the sexual mores. The transfer of property from generation to generation depends on accurate knowledge of who one's parents are, and the different methods of confirming this produce different sexual codes.
Many of the earliest great civilisations were matriarchal, that is, the line of descent was traced through the mother. Evidence suggests that in these societies there was an emphasis on sex as natural and enjoyable, and that there was considerable freedom for men and women both. Pregnancy is obvious and there is no mistaking or denying the connection between mother and child, regardless of which man was the father.
On the other hand, it is not so easy to determine paternity. In patriarchal societies importance is placed on the father rather than the mother and property and status are handed down from father to son. In order for each man to be absolutely certain of his paternity, the wife must be forbidden to have relations with anyone except him. Consequently the sexual codes of such societies are much more restrictive. Marriage itself becomes not only a private bond between two people, but also a social and legal bond. Much more importance is placed on marriage as opposed to other forms of emotional bonding, and many more severe limitations are set on physical relations outside marriage.
The more restrictions there are, the more potential for conflict between individual desire and social prohibitions, and hence the greater potential for guilt. Social conventions of any kind, especially sexual conventions, are not natural regulations but ones agreed upon by society. When people overstep the socially approved limits they feel excessively guilty because they forget this.
Perhaps more influential on our sexual attitudes than social convention is religious doctrine. A living religion cannot exist in isolation from the culture in which it is practised, and where religious and social codes overlap religion turns a social agreement into moral law.
Religion gives many human laws the force of divine decrees, with a corresponding increase in guilt for anyone who flaunts them. The religious concepts of 'sin' and 'evil' add an extra dimension of seriousness to considerations of sexual behaviour. They greatly magnify the impact of conflicts and multiply the associated burden of guilt.
Unfortunately, religious instructions are often very harsh, looking only to what human nature should be or might become, and failing to take into account man's life energies as they actually are. One law is set down for all, and no allowance is made for devotees at different stages of spiritual evolution.
When personal experience coincides with the tenets of one's religion, there is no problem. However, difficulties develop where a devotee has not had the direct personal experience that reveals to him the relevance of religious restrictions. Therefore they have no real meaning for him. He is unable to integrate the teachings of his religion with the realities of his desires and need at this present stage of spiritual development.
If a devotee manages to live up to the standards of his religion without the support of genuine insight, then he does so only by suppressing his instinctive drives. These drives will inevitably seek some other form of expression, frequently causing physical and mental illness. If the devotee does not obey the commands of his religion, then he is constantly haunted by a sense of failure and is tormented by guilt. As the saying goes, "You burn if you do, and you burn if you don't."
Another source of sexual guilt finds its way into the light of the modern world from the shadowy recesses of mankind's collective unconscious. This deepest region of the mind is the storehouse of the whole experience of the human race, and represents in symbol and myth understandings too complex for logical comprehension.
From this subterranean aspect of our being comes the belief that loss of semen results in physical weakness and loss of spiritual potency. It is obvious how such an idea can act, unconsciously or consciously, to make us anxious, disturbed and guilty about our sexual impulses. Actually, it is our constant worry and preoccupation with these ideas that weakens us more than the act itself.
Superstition, religion, social convention- these are some of the main sources of our confusion and uncertain feelings about our sexual impulses. Yet even when these are explained and clarified, we are not relieved of our guilt. Why not? The feeling of guilt can arise in connection with almost any incident or event. Psychologists tell us that this guilt can then be repressed, that is, pushed deep into the unconscious mind so that we are not even aware of it. When this happens, the sense of guilt can attach itself to another event that is totally unrelated to the original wrong action. On the other hand, it might become 'free floating', filling us with a vague, generalised unease that makes us feel everything we do is wrong.
Because it is already such a sensitive topic, sexual desire tends to become the focal point of all guilt. It becomes a convenient symbol for any and all guilt feelings that may have come up in a totally different context. Sex becomes symbolic of all the negative feelings we have about ourselves, all the feelings of remorse and shame. It is the focus for a whole series of reproaches, most of them unknown to conscious awareness because they are even more painful to face than our self-recriminations about sexual indulgence. The association of primary energy and guilt becomes so fixed that we feel guilty not only about our actual conduct, but also about our fantasies. We even feel guilty that we have any sexual impulses at all. What happens is that sex becomes the symbol of any and every conflict between our instinctive drives and the controls required in everyday life. Primal energy becomes the very essence of everything that is forbidden and sinful.
Sin and guilt are the indications that the mind is at war with itself. Yoga shows us how to end the war and enjoy peace; it is a means of becoming friends with the mind. Yoga recognises that different people are at different stages of spiritual growth, and that this is reflected in their actions. Instead of making people feel guilty, yoga provides aspirants with different practices to resolve their conflicts and meet their various needs.
Meditation techniques enable us to dive deep into the mind and unearth the original source of our guilt feelings. We discover and decipher the unconscious symbols that influence the negative view we have of ourselves and our behaviour. We begin to see through socially imposed conventions and discover for ourselves the true nature of our instinctive energies. This immediate personal perception establishes harmony between the deeper layers of our being and the conscious personality so that we no longer suffer anguish over guilt, or stagnation through suppression. Yoga brings us expanded awareness that is both the means and the result of continuous spiritual growth.