“The Celibacy Question”. Taken from an interview with Amir Mourad for Nonduality Magazine, January 18th 2014. Amir Mourad talks about sex, celibacy, the state of modern Advaita in the marketplace, the idea of transcendence, his own inner process while living as a hermit, and Samadhi (superconsciousness).
Brahmacharya comes from two words, Brahman and charya. Brahman is a word which points to the Supreme Reality. Charya means “one who moves”. One who moves and lives in a continuous communion with the Supreme Reality is a brahmachari. This means that you are capable of living through the body, mind, and five senses – yet also liberated from the body, mind, and five senses. For a brahmachari, one can become involved in the sexual act, and yet if one remains undisturbed and grounded in silence, still one remains a brahmachari ~ Shri Amir Mourad
NDM: Vedanta, Taoism, Buddhism, Judeo-Christian Gnosticism, Mystical Sufism, all laud sexual transcendence of duality and desire verified by transcendence of sex, from Buddha to Dalai Lama and millions of others in India over the millenniums. Has modern nondualism created something new where sex and desire are not transcended?When it comes to so called “transcendence” – one should be careful to combine all of the traditions together as though they all mean the same thing by that word. For example, by “transcendence” for the Judeo-Christian mystics, one does not mean the realization of shunya – emptiness, which is what Buddhists have been speaking of. The realization of emptiness, and the liberation possible through such realization, is something of a completely different nature. It is having direct insight into the nature of reality beyond all mental categories – including the idea of a Self, or some fixed nature of any kind which is separate from the whole. That is why, even the idea of Supreme Being amongst the Buddhists is another hallucination of the mind that is to be abandoned – it is still the result of a mind creating things in its own image. But by “transcendence” amongst the Judeo-Christian mystics, they mean Union with a Supreme Being. For the Sufi mystic,” transcendence” is interpreted in the framework of Islamic theology. It is called fana fi allah – Extinction In Allah. The transcendence of the Sufi cannot be separated from Islamic theology – even if it is flavored with mystical ideas. But here – even in Sufism, we are still talking about Allah, the Quran as the word of God, Muhammad as the messenger of God, the long line of prophets, the hierarchy of beings who are submissive to Allah -the angels and archangels, and so on. So you have probably heard that very popular statement that all paths lead towards the same Truth. That is not really the case. Many paths lead in totally different directions. It is also not true that all teachings are “fingers pointing to the moon”. We need to make a distinction between pointers and conclusions – and some of the traditions you have mentioned have very firm conclusions about what “transcendence” means. So we should be careful not to use the word “transcendence” as though all traditions have the same understanding of what that word means. One thing which is important for us to understand is that “Advaita” does not refer to any particular method or technique. It is simply a certain outlook on the world. The “Dvaita” traditions have said that there is a sharp, firm division between one’s own fundamental nature, and the fundamental nature of the whole existence – hence, the philosophy of dualism. The philosophy of dualism reflects something completely characteristic of buddhi, the intellect. Because that is the very nature of buddhi – to fragment, discriminate amongst the senses and create countless divisions – and all of the conceivable polar opposites that are possible through these divisions. This dualistic perception may be useful for survival in the body and practical purposes in the world, but it is completely useless when it comes to realization of the Unthinkable. So it was very natural for those who were too dependent on the ways intellect to project the idea of dualism. The Advaita traditions have a completely different understanding. They knew very well that all of these apparent divisions are just the projections of one’s own mind – it is maya, part of the entire structure of a dream world which has been misunderstood as the reality. There is in fact no sharp division at all between the Self (Atman) and the universal source (Brahman) – they are one and the same. Even in this outlook – many other attitudes had arisen in so called “Advaita” – some theistic, some atheistic, some agnostic. Some have practiced bhakti yoga (Union through devotion), Jnana yoga (Union through intelligence or knowledge),Raja Yoga (Union through meditation), Karma yoga (Union through action), Tantra Yoga (Union through transformation of life energies) – there have been so many different approaches to “Advaita”. It is just like – somebody can be a Christian and be a scientist. But one can be a Christian and yet have a very unscientific approach towards life. “Advaita” in itself does not refer to any particular method, it’s just a certain outlook on the world. But today in the West –what was once a vast ocean of exploration in the Advaita traditions has been forced into a small shoe-box – with popular slogans and overused catch phrases. There have even been schools in “Advaita” which have adopted left-handed techniques of tantra which put to use the energy of sex, not through celibacy, but through using the sexual experience as a method towards self-realization. In Tantra, there is a certain statement, “The very poison that kills becomes the elixir of life when used by the wise”. Any method is simply a neutral mechanism when standing alone. In certain hands, it may become poison. In certain hands, it can become medicine. What creates the entire difference between the two is the same difference between consciousness and unconsciousness. So before we investigate into what has happened with modern Advaita’s approach towards sexual desire, we should first come to the understanding, not merely as an idea that – but as an actual fact, that if there is any problem with sexual desire, it does not lie in the presence of sexual desire itself. How can it? Sex is the very passageway through which man can be born in the world. If that becomes “impure”, then certainly everything else that stems from it must also become “impure”. Survival of the species also becomes “impure” – the whole field of life becomes “impure”. This way of thinking is simply the attitude of an escapist. “Transcendence” should not be equated with the destruction of a thing, or some otherworldly state of being. To transcend is simply to experience everything just as it is, completely ordinary, without entanglement. It is not something unique to sexual desire. The moment the mind becomes identified with any of the objects of one’s experience, pleasant or unpleasant, one’s clarity of vision has become blinded. Even qualities like love, joy, and compassion can become a hindrance if the mind becomes attached to them. A moment of either attraction or aversion –and the whole universe is split in two. Otherwise -lust in itself has never been a cause of suffering for any human being. It is only that – because man is so often ruled by his animal nature, it is very common in human experience that lust becomes a source of ignorance. If lust cannot be transformed into a meditative experience, then whenever you are possessed by lust – in those moments you have basically lost your sanity – nothing else in existence matters except indulgence in the pleasures of the senses. It is common sense. Out of thousands of years of evolution, man has evolved from the other animals. The animal nature that exists in man is in a way an ancient inheritance. The entire programming of the body only understands one thing – self preservation. And what does self-preservation understand? Survival – both individual and survival of the species. So it is not a coincidence that lust in particular has often been such a source of much suffering for man -again, not because of lust itself, but because it is far too easy for man to become hypnotized by its spell. Otherwise, if lust happens and you can simply remain as a witness without becoming identified, what’s the problem? Without transcending sexual desire, you have transcended it. But this will be very difficult in the beginning if one has not yet become well-established within oneself. So the traditional approach in the East has been physical brahmacharya – celibacy. Celibacy also can help to increase ojas – the vitality of the life energies of the body and mind – and provide an enormous supply of energy that is needed when you are involved in intensive practice. It can also assist in sharpening the energy of one’s concentration in sitting meditation. But, like any tool, celibacy can also become a cause of many physical and psychological problems if one uses it irresponsibly.
NDM: Has modern Advaita created a situation where “lust” is not to be transcended?In the East, all sorts of safety mechanisms were created to prevent certain dangers from happening to disciples along the path. This is why they always insisted on the guidance of a guru. The human system is such a complex mechanism, that if one is meddling around with it without the proper understanding, it can create much damage. All sorts of physical and psychological disorders can arise through improper understanding and practice in the spiritual process. That is why it is tremendously important that such teachings are transmitted only to those who are prepared to receive them. Now, what has happened in the West – is that they simply removed all of the safety mechanisms. Just about anybody with enough borrowed knowledge and charisma can become a “spiritual teacher”. No inner transformation is needed at all. And in order to make these teachings accessible to their audience, such teachers out of their own misunderstandings have taught a commercialized, distorted version of such teachings, not as a skillful means, but because it will generate more profit in the marketplace. The ego always wants a quick fix for all of its problems – either through the pill, alcohol, sex, money, or some other immediate pleasure. But when it comes discipline – discipline is something which requires much patience, trust, attention, commitment, concentration, receptivity, and not being discouraged by whatever obstacles one may experience along the path – all which are rare qualities in the world. So I do not find it a coincidence that the vast majority of Neo-Advaita teachers in the West do not provide any methods for inner transformation, because that would not be a quick fix. A quick fix is designed to provide comfort and security, not bring you closer to realization of the truth of your own being. And it is no secret that man is a creature of habit. As part of this “quick fix”culture that has infiltrated the spiritual marketplace, they dropped so many things which may not be accessible to the average person. But it is not that the ancient teachings do not need to be adapted. Unless they can be presented in a way which is relevant for the modern man, they have little value. But there is an enormous difference between a skillful means provided out of the guidance of a guru, and distortion of certain teachings out of certain greed and lust for power. With the way that the “spiritual process” is being transmitted in the West today – no, I cannot say that modern advaita leads to “transcendence” of any kind but only more suffering.
NDM: Is this a higher state than what Buddha and founder of advaita, Adi Shankara, taught to monks and lay people and lived personally?If one’s silence can become disturbed by a mere sexual thought that arises, then it must be so delicate and fragile. That is simply not the nature of silence. Gautama Buddha and Adi Shankara are just as human as any other human being – capable of the full spectrum of human experience. The only difference is quite simple – that because they have cut through the causes of suffering and broken through the illusory shell of egotism, they can remain “in the world yet not of the world”. To live in the body and the mind, and yet without becoming a slave to the processes of the body and the mind out of a deep communion and insight into your original nature – that is the very nature of Buddhahood. So being capable of experiencing sex without it becoming a disturbance for one’s enlightenment is not a “higher” state – without having sexual intercourse Gautama Buddha and Shankara were already living in that state.. If the flame of liberation burns within oneself – then it will continue burning regardless of time and place, with or without sexual intercourse. But one thing for one to keep in mind is that both Gautama Buddha and Adi-Shankara were gurus who were offering a systematic discipline towards self-realization. When you are offering a systematic discipline and guiding others along the path – you need to function as a living example. It is unwise to act in certain ways which break the precepts of the discipline, and yet encourage the same precepts amongst your disciples. This might create much unnecessary misunderstanding and confusion. Gautama Buddha prescribed celibacy for his disciples, not out of condemnation of sexual desire, but simply as an aid along the path. His approach is completely down to earth and practical. It reminds me of a certain story. There are fourteen different questions that Gautama Buddha refused to answer in his lifetime, and which came to be known as the fourteen unanswerable questions . Most of them were metaphysical in nature. Once, Gautama Buddha was approached by a disciple. The disciple said, “If you cannot provide answers to these questions, I will renounce your teachings and can no longer remain as a disciple”. Gautama told him, “These types of questions have very little to do with the spirit of my teaching. It’s just like a man who has been wounded with a poison arrow, and whose friends and companions simply seek to provide him with a surgeon. But, this man refuses – demanding that he knows whether the one who has wounded him is a priest, a merchant, a solider, or perhaps a farmer, whether he is tall or short, young or old, the name of his village, what is the shape of the bow, whether the string of the bow was made of hemp, fiber, or bark – whether the shaft of the bow is made of feathers – and if so, whether these feathers come from a vulture, an owl, or perhaps a peacock. Being so hypnotized by these types of questions, the man would eventually die while still all of those things would remain unknown to him.” When it comes to the possibilities of the inner territory, there is no “higher” or “lower” state, nothing superior or inferior. What we consider superior or inferior is simply what one values or does not value. There are simply different qualities and depths of the same inner universe. The ocean is vast in its depths, yet undivided. Never at any point does the ocean think to itself – “this depth is far greater than this depth”. And if everything in existence is a manifestation of one and the same divine energy – then what is the point of creating these prejudices as to what is “higher” or “lower”? Everywhere, it becomes impossible to escape from the inescapable – one will find nothing but silence in all directions. Regardless of all of the knowledge and experience one has gathered, no matter how profound it may be, whether a so called “master” or a “student”, one must always remain with a beginners mind. In Zen it is said, in a beginners mind – there are always so many possibilities to be explored. But in the mind if an expert – very few. It is rare that in a single human lifetime that the mind is struck with insight, but what is even more rare is not to create obstacles out of one’s own insights. So it is a delicate, striking balance – of being capable of carrying knowledge, of experiencing certain realms which rarely ever enter into human perception, yet at the same time you remain open, fresh, simple, and receptive. The moment the mind becomes attached to knowledge, one has become dogmatic. If one truly understands this – then these matters of whether certain states are “higher” or “lower”, “superior” or “inferior” – become completely irrelevant.
NDM: Where and why did you live as a hermit?:An apartment in the city of Montreal. It was far from any traditional way of living as a hermit, because I was not living in a cave, mountain, or some other environment which is isolated from the society. I was living isolated from the society while still living in the society. After I had left the university, I was fortunate enough to have enough funds to support me for several years where I could invest my energies into nothing else except exploration into the inner sciences. This process began, not out of the desire for wisdom or enlightenment, or anything of that kind. It was entirely a matter of escaping from suffering. I was living for several years with depression combined with an overwhelming fear of death. I began researching into various Western philosophers – Plato, Aristotle, Socrates, Schopenhauer, Nietzsche, Kierkegaard, and so on. I found that in spite of all of these various different philosophies which had come to various different types of conclusion – that the mere accumulation of knowledge is not enough for human well-being. The fundamental flaw that I had realized with Western philosophers was that their approach was almost entirely dependent on the intellect, which can only fragment, divide, produce countless different theories and interpretations, seeing things from so many different angles and perspectives. And with all of these man-created gods and goddesses of various religions, that too only reinforced this understanding – that all of our interpretations of reality are just projections of one’s own ego. The ego seems to be a master at creating things in its own image, and hanging onto those images desperately to provide itself with feelings of comfort and protection. Our theories and beliefs, rather than truly answering any questions only creates a downward spiral of a million more questions. Once I began researching into the biographies of several Western philosophers – I had noticed something else which was even more stunning to me, that there was a large difference between the theories of these philosophers and their immediate, living experience. Nietzsche was talking about human freedom, yet he himself had suffered a nervous breakdown towards the end of his life. I found the same pattern repeating itself everywhere. From this observation, it was clear to me that any belief system or philosophy is incapable of bringing liberation from suffering. That is when I decided to abandon Western philosophy – though the West had produced many intellectual giants and geniuses. Still, it was clear that something much more is needed for human well-being than mere philosophizing. That is when I started looking into Eastern teachings. What struck me about the East was an enormous contrast – because the emphasis was of a completely different kind. Though again, they were speaking of many different philosophical attitudes, it was always a matter of direct perception – of inner exploration, of deepening insight into one’s own very being through self-knowledge. Like modern science, they had many hypothesis’. But they also were offering methods to verify these hypothesis’, inviting you into an experiment, a vehicle to explore the territory and come to such discoveries through one’s own awareness. Even these discoveries were not so important in themselves if it did not bring well-being to man. So that is what struck me – the emphasis was on mukta, the liberation of a human being through inner transformation. I decided that if I was going to enter deeper into seeing what these methods can offer, it would need a dedicated and committed approach to exploring into these methods. That is why I decided to become a hermit. But still, the beginning of the experiment was only out of desperation and fear. I just wanted to find some escape from the sufferings that I was experiencing. That is natural for a mind which is still driven by egotism and self-preservation, and it is extremely rare for anybody to become involved in this process without it first being out of much egotism. Much later on, it evolved into something else completely.
NDM: During this period of time (6 years) were you also a strict celibate?Not in the beginning. Only after perhaps the second year did I remain celibate for most of the time. Even then, as various transformations were happening, this need to remain physically celibate also became less and less. It came to a point where I knew whether there was indulgence in sexual desire or not, it made very little difference to the silence that I had discovered. Just as it is difficult for one who has remained unaware of his true nature to remain silent, it just as difficult for somebody who has discovered it not to remain silent. It is like a well known Zen story of two disciples who were walking and had reached a river where they met a young, attractive woman. Afraid of the strong current of the water, she asked the disciples if they could carry her across. The first disciple became nervous and hesitated, while the second very quickly picked her up and carried her across the water to the river bank. Settling her down, the woman thanked him and left. As the disciples continued on their journey, the first disciple was constantly thinking about what had just happened. He couldn’t get that woman out of his mind. Not able to contain himself, he expressed himself to the other disciple and said, “Our discipline is not supposed to involve any contact with women. Yet you carried that woman across the river!” The second disciple said, “I set her down on the river bank long ago, while till now you are still carrying her.” Until one has discovered some depth of silence, it may be useful temporarily to avoid putting yourself in situations where the mind can become easily disturbed. That is one of the reasons why several traditions have recommended renunciation of the world. Unfortunately, too many were unable to understand that it is not really the world that needs to be renounced, but the veils of one’s own egotism and ignorance. If you are very easily becoming entangled in your responses to certain stimuli, just reduce the stimuli triggering the entanglement. That was the intention of certain traditions in recommending being a hermit or ascetic, but I do not find that this approach is compatible with the way of life of the modern man. If “spirituality” is to have any social relevance, it needs to be integrated with man’s involvement in the world. The revolution of Tantra in the East was just this – you don’t have to live as an ascetic or a hermit. An ordinary householder can also come to his liberation – because this is entirely about entering deeper into your own being. Even things which are usually a hindrance can become a stepping stone if approached with awareness. If you have severed yourself from the chains of ignorance, what is the point of renouncing the world? You can be “in the world but not of the world”. All of the obstacles for enlightenment are inner obstacles, they exist nowhere else except at the level of the mind. When I tried to remain celibate in the beginning, I quickly discovered how many problems were attached to it. First, it requires enormous strengthening of the will and discipline – both of which are rare qualities in the beginning. Second, even if you manage to gather a certain discipline that still does not mean that celibacy cannot be used in ways which can be damaging. I had to discover this through much trial and error. Because even if you remain celibate and have enormous will in controlling the body, that still does not mean you have cut through your attachment to sexual desire. Physical celibacy is often misunderstood as what has been called brahmacharya. But in fact celibacy has little to do with it. If you noticed in one of your earlier questions when I was speaking briefly of brahmacharya – I spoke of “physical brahmacharya”. Brahmacharya comes from two words, Brahman and charya. Brahman is a word which points to the Supreme Reality. Charya means “one who moves”. One who moves and lives in a continuous communion with the Supreme Reality is a brahmachari. This means that you are capable of living through the body, mind, and five senses – yet also liberated from the body, mind, and five senses. For a brahmachari, one can become involved in the sexual act, and yet if one remains undisturbed and grounded in silence, still one remains a brahmachari. So I quickly discovered in the beginning that even if one remains celibate – now you have an enormous storehouse of sexual energy available to you. But even if you continue gathering this sexual energy, without channeling it consciously in a certain direction, the mind will become sexually repressed. An element of mindfulness is also completely essential. That is why it is very dangerous to try and remain celibate without channeling this energy, and not just channeling it, but also as a conscious process. So that popular idea is true that celibacy can lead to sexual repression. What is little known and not often explored is that it is also possible to remain celibate without becoming sexually repressed.
NDM: What kind of yoga did you practice by the way?Tantra Yoga (union through transformation of life energies) as preparation for Raja Yoga (union through sitting meditation).
NDM: When you said previously :
“To live in the body and the mind, and yet without becoming a slave to the processes of the body and the mind out of a deep communion and insight into your original nature – that is the very nature of Buddhahood.”What lives in the mind and body and what is this nature you speak of exactly? Not a self, soul, God, or “pure consciousness” – but the living presence of the whole existence. When I say the whole existence, I mean precisely that. The human being, like the whole universe, is one undivided, holistic whole. One cannot cling to the so called “absolute” while remaining blind to the so called “relative”. Neither can one cling to the relative while remaining blind to the absolute. Even our ideas about “Absolute” and “relative” are again, more dualisms created by the intellect. That is how the intellect functions – it needs to create polar opposites in order to compare one thing to another. By necessity, if the relative exists, the Absolute exists. If the relative disappears, the Absolute disappears in the same breath. Even these distinctions between the “relative” and the “Absolute” are more projections of the mind. It can perhaps be a useful distinction for the sake of intellectual convenience, but making things easier for logic to digest is one thing, and the Truth is something else completely. Everything in existence is one continuity, in the same way that if you put your hand under a sink of warm running water and gradually change the temperature until it becomes cold, you will be unable to find where the “hot” begins and the “cold” ends. The greatest delusion of the intellect is to believe in dividing lines in existence when there are none. When I spoke of living in the body and the mind without becoming enslaved to their processes, I was speaking of a certain way of being where the experience of life is no longer revolving around egotism. It was not to suggest that there is some fixed “thing” which is living through the body and mind. But it is difficult to communicate without dragging the imperfections of our language into the situation, and I am not neurotic enough to avoid using pronouns. If you were to try and reduce reality to some fixed “nature” that you can grasp in your fist, whatever your perspectives are about it, it is destined to be short-sighted. What is said here is no exception. If one is to come into communion with Truth, the mind must drop its attachment to knowledge and allow something else to function. If the mind is attached to knowledge, that is what is called dogmatism. It cannot really be called “knowing”. But it would also be inaccurate to say that it is “not-knowing” either. I call it “illuminated ignorance”. A disciple once asked the master, “What is the first principle?” The master said,” If I were to tell you, it would become the second.”
NDM: How do you have sex without becoming attached to having it? Is it possible to take drugs like heroin, or crack cocaine and not become a drug addict if you do this every day?”Being involved in the sexual experience without being blinded by attachment is possible through a consciousness which is capable of action, yet without desperately craving after the fruits of one’s actions. It is simply means being able to remain as a witness without becoming identified with what enters one’s perception, in this case, instinct. The intelligence of instinct is basically about self-preservation, whether it is survival of the body, or the survival of the species. The sexual experience may offer some pleasure, but the fundamental reason why nature has put sexual desire into the system is for procreation. The fact is that the world needs the sexual relationship between the man and the woman, otherwise humanity will become extinct. So does that mean that there is no other way to experience sex except by becoming a slave? To be more specific, is it possible to experience instinct without becoming identified with instinct? Yes, through a meditative consciousness it is very much possible. But if one has not become somewhat grounded in being meditative, then in most cases indulgence in sexual desire will definitely disturb one’s clarity of vision. This is one of the reasons why in the left-handed tantric traditions which have used sex as a method for the expansion of consciousness, these methods were never transmitted to just about anybody. They were always transmitted secretly from master to disciple to ensure that those who are involved in the sexual techniques of tantra would be grounded, responsible, and centered enough to handle them. Otherwise, these techniques simply become an excuse for hedonism, which will only strengthen one’s delusions, and many times these techniques had fallen into the wrong hands and did precisely that. So left-handed tantric techniques over time began to build a reputation as being “immoral” and “demonic”, when the original spirit of the science was totally different. The fact is that if one is established in meditation, it will become very difficult to be involved in any kind of compulsive behavior in the first place.
NDM:But how do you put this flame permanently , so it doesn’t burn anymore?It is true that one must not give too much importance to impermanent, passing experience. But that also does not mean that impermanent experience is irrelevant. Every experience that enters into one’s perception does not simply disappear the moment it passes. It shifts down into one’s unconscious and gathers force there as a memory. Every memory that one has gathered also has certain tendencies attached to it which continue to have an influence. So depending on the nature of the memories that one has gathered and their tendencies, the human system will re-organize itself in various different ways. If they are stressful, ego-centered, without much awareness or insight, then the human system over time organizes itself in such a way that it becomes programmed for suffering. In the same way, by inducing insight and other dimensions of experience in human consciousness – it is possible that over time the human system will re-organize itself so that everything becomes a support for remaining in a continuous state of liberation while still living in the body. So the process has much to do, not really with attaining any particular state, but in cutting through the obstacles which are preventing you from discovering your own inner wisdom. Even a glimpse into silence is a rare happening in a single human lifetime. Before the silence of enlightenment can become as spontaneous as one’s own blood stream, it is not possible first without a temporary glimpse. When the activity of the mind comes to a silence, and the essential nature of one’s being shines forth, this is the state of nirvikalpa Samadhi. Nirvikalpa Samadhi is not the end, but simply a stepping stone towards Sahaja Samadhi, spontaneous enlightenment.