Transmutation of Sexual Energy
In this excerpt from Kishor Gandhi’s book Light on life-problems, Sri Aurobindo elucidates on Transmutation of Sexual Energies. Kindly note that this exchange occurred in the early twentieth century and therefore contains references to some personalities who were prominent at that time.
Question: Balzac, the famous French novelist, was of the opinion that indulgence in sex greatly hampers the high type of mental activity. According to him, “The man of genius is frigid. When he tries to lead both lives, the intellectual life and the love life, the man of genius dies, as Raphael died (it seems he died at 37 after a night of excessive sex) and Lord Byron.” So also Havelock Ellis, recognized as the world’s greatest authority on sex, maintains that to increase artistic and mental capacity and force it is necessary to restrain sexual activity. “The brain and the sexual organs,” he says, “are yet the great rivals in using up bodily energy, and there is an antagonism between extreme brain vigour and extreme sexual vigour, even though they may sometimes both appear at different periods in the same individual”. We find this evidenced in the life of some great masters of art like Beethoven and Mozart, in whose life sexual indulgence played a much smaller part than in the life of an average man. This would seem to imply that it is necessary to conserve sexual energy for the energisation and intensification of higher intellectual and aesthetic life. How far is this view justifiable ?
Answer: That is correct. The sex-energy can be controlled and diverted from the sex-purpose and used for aesthetic and artistic or other creation and productiveness or preserved for heightening of the intellectual or other energies. Entirely controlled, it can be turned into a force of spiritual energy also. This was well known in ancient India and was described as the conversion of retas into ojas by Brahmacharya. Retas, the sex-fluid, consists of two elements, one meant for sex-purposes, the other as a basis of general energy, and if the sex-action is not indulged and the sex-fluid is prevented from being spent away, it turns into ojas. The whole theory of Brahmacharya is based upon that by the Yogis.
This is a list of Sanskrit terms to help understand the next question:
- Retas = sexual fluid.
- Tapas = spiritual heat felt in the body during meditation.
- Ojas = spiritual vigor which is felt after union with and immersion into cosmic energies.
- Tejas = spiritual light observed within.
- Vidyut = electrical power which courses through the body during Yoga.
Question: What is the process by which ‘retas‘ (sex fluid) is transformed into ‘ojas‘ (vigor)?
Answer: The fundamental physical unit is the retas, in which the tejas, the heat and light and electricity in a man, is involved and hidden. All energy is thus latent in the retas. This energy may be either expended physically or conserved. All passion, lust, desire wastes the energy by pouring it, either in the gross form or a sublimated subtle form, out of the body. On the other hand, all self-control conserves the energies in the retas, and conservation always brings with it increase. But the needs of the physical body are limited and the excess of energy must create a surplus which has to turn itself to some use other than the physical. According to the ancient theory, retas is jala(fluid), full of light and heat and electricity, in one word, of tejas.
- The excess of the retas turns first into heat or tapas which stimulates the whole system, and it is for this reason that all forms of self-control and austerity are called tapas or tapasya, because they generate the heat or stimulus which is a source of powerful action and success.
- Secondly, it turns to tejas or light, the energy which is at the source of all knowledge.
- Thirdly, it turns to vidyut or electricity, which is at the basis of all forceful action whether intellectual or physical.
In the vidyut again is involved the ojas, or pranashakti, the primal energy which proceeds from ether. The retas, refining from jala to tapas, tejas and vidyut and from vidyut to ojas, fills the system with physical strength, energy and brain-power and in its last form of ojas rises to the brain and informs it with that primal energy which is the most refined form of matter and nearest to spirit. It is ojas that creates a spiritual force or virya, by which a man attains to spiritual knowledge, spiritual love and faith, spiritual strength. It follows that the more we can by Brahmacharya increase the store of tapas(heat), tejas(light), vidyut(electric) and ojas(vigor), the more we shall fill ourselves with utter energy for the works of the body, heart, mind and spirit.
Question: Many eminent psychologists, doctors and thinkers believe that complete sexual abstinence is dangerous and may lead to serious nervous trouble and even mental derangement. They maintain that the new form of energy produced from the sublimation of sexual energy may be harmful and may lead to perversities and morbidities. Rene Guyon, for example, points out: “When the libido is repressed, when its impetus is crushed back, it is forced to find an outlet by some other route …. But this compensation is not necessarily useful, superior and worthy of admiration. It can just as well be harmful and destructive.” How far is this true ?
Answer: It is a fact that sex suppressed in outward action but indulged in other ways may lead to disorders of the system and brain troubles. That is the root of the medical theory which discourages sexual abstinence. But these things happen only when there is either secret indulgence of a perverse kind replacing the normal sexual activity or else an indulgence of it in a kind of subtle vital way by imagination or by an invisible vital interchange of an occult kind; harm never occurs when there is a true effort at mastery and abstinence.
Question: The Freudian system of psycho-analysis has attributed a large number of physical and mental disorders to suppressed sexual desire. To what extent are the assertions of this system true?
Answer: The psycho-analysis of Freud takes up a certain part, the darkest, the most perilous, the unhealthiest part of the nature, the lower vital subconscious layer, isolates some of its most morbid phenomena and attributes to it and them an action out of all proportion to its true role in the nature. Modern psychology is an infant science, at once rash, fumbling and crude. As in all infant sciences, the universal habit of the human mind to take a partial or local truth, generalise it unduly and try to explain a whole field of Nature in its narrow terms runs riot here. Moreover, the exaggeration of the importance of suppressed sexual complexes is a dangerous falsehood and it can have a nasty influence and tend to make the mind and vital more and not less fundamentally impure than before.
Further Remarks on Sexuality
These are some general observations by Sri Aurobindo and the Mother Mirra Alfassa on topics related to Sexuality: Sex Education; Touching; Whether indulgence, starving the flesh or mixing freely can alleviate sexual difficulties encountered in spiritual practice.
On mixing freely
Nagin Doshi (1917-1998) joined the Sri Aurobindo Ashram in 1931 as a fourteen year old boy. As he recalls in the preface of his book Guidance from Sri Aurobindo, he had to rely on his Gurus for guidance in every minute aspect of life:
I came to Pondicherry in 1931 when I was about fourteen years old. In those days the Mother did not admit youngsters into the Ashram. It was only out of her kindness that she made an exception in the case of four children: Bala, Romen, Shanti and myself. We did not have a school here at that time, nor were there regular study classes. Before coming, my mind was occupied with only two things – study and cricket: they were my life and my world. I had almost decided to go to Europe and become a “big” doctor. I first visited the Ashram during my school vacation just for the sake of making a nice long journey, certainly not for taking up Yoga. I stayed for a month and returned in time for the reopening of my school. During that stay, what the Mother did within my being I could hardly fathom. But the result was that I returned home to stay for only two days. I hurried back here with the full realisation that I could not possibly live, either happily or unhappily, without the Mother and Sri Aurobindo. Till 1933 I did not know what this strange thing called Yoga was. Hence the Mother and Sri Aurobindo were to me just like my own human mother and father. When the correspondence with Sri Aurobindo started, he had to teach me everything, not only what was meant by Yoga but also what culture, religion, philosophy and morality were. He used to correct my English, too, for quite a long time. Whatever I have gained in any way is a growth from the seeds he and the Mother sowed in me during those boyhood days .
The following exchange of letters between Nagin and Sri Aurobindo occurred in 1936-37 when the former was a nineteen year old teenager.
Nagin: Dr. R says that I get sex-imaginations because I do not mix freely with women.
Sri Aurobindo: Men mix freely with women in Europe – it doesn’t prevent them from having sex impulses, thoughts or imaginations.
Nagin: He says Europeans don’t get so many sexual thoughts, impulses etc. like shy Indians.
Sri Aurobindo: That is not true – they have quite as many and they indulge them more freely.
Europe and America are full of free sex indulgence – they do not nowadays consider it a thing to be avoided but rather welcomed. But this is an Ashram and people are supposed to be doing a sadhana(practice) in which sex has to be surmounted. In the Ashram there are many who mix freely with all the sadhikas(women disciples) – they are certainly not free from sex. Avoiding also is not a panacea. One can avoid and have sex imaginations and desires. But it is absurd to say that avoiding is the cause of sex-imaginations and impulses or that mixing is a panacea for it.
It may be true that ordinarily mixing with women removes shyness etc., – though it is not always so, for many people are sex-timid by nature – but that is a means for ordinary life, not Yoga, and in ordinary life marriage is the direct means for getting rid of sex-uneasiness; marriage or else having love-affairs with women and satisfying the sex. But that is not the proper means for an Ashram and Yoga. In Yoga the proper means is to train the mind and vital to meet women without thought of sex, to look on them as sadhaks(i.e. practitioners) and human beings only, not as objects of sexual possession and enjoyment.
What is best for everyone is to be able to meet women without seeking out their company, to meet without being preoccupied with the sex. Shyness and uneasiness are usually signs of the sex-preoccupation unless they are constitutional, when they will be there for other things also, not for women only .
Can indulgence eliminate sexual desire?
Sri Aurobindo: The Mother has already told you the truth about this idea. The idea that by fully indulging the sex-hunger it will be finished and disappear forever is a deceptive pretence held out by the vital to the mind in order to get a sanction for its desire; it has no other raison d’être or truth or justification. If an occasional indulgence keeps the sex-desire simmering, a full indulgence would only sink you in its mire. This hunger like other hungers does not cease by temporary satiation; it revives itself after a temporary abeyance and wants again indulgence. Neither sops nor gorging are the right treatment for it. It can only go by a radical psychic rejection or a full spiritual opening with the increasing descent of a consciousness that does not want it and has the truer Ananda(bliss) .
Starving the flesh as a remedy?
Sri Aurobindo: Hurting the flesh is no remedy for the sex-impulse, though it may be a temporary diversion. It is the vital and mostly the vital-physical that takes the sense-perception as pleasure or otherwise.
Reduction of diet has not usually a permanent effect. It may give a greater sense of physical or vital-physical purity, lighten the system and reduce certain kinds of tamas. But the sex-impulse can very well accommodate itself to a reduced diet. It is not by physical means but by a change in the consciousness that these things can be surmounted .
Touching and personal space
Sri Aurobindo: In ordinary society people touch each other more or less freely according to the manners of the society. That is quite a different matter because there the sex-impulse is allowed within certain more or less wide or narrow limits and even the secret indulgence is common, although people try to avoid discovery. In Bengal when there is purdah(curtain), touching between men and women is confined to the family, in Europe there is not such restriction so long as there is no excessive familiarity or indecency; but in Europe sex is now practically free. Here all sex-indulgence inner or outer is considered undesirable as an obstacle to the sadhana (spiritual practice)— as it very evidently is. For that reason any excessive familiarity of touch between men and women has to be avoided, anything also in the nature of caressing, as it creates or tends to create sex-tendency or even the strong sex-impulse. Casual touching has to be avoided also if it actually creates the sex-impulse. These are commonsense rules if the premiss is granted that sex has not to have any indulgence .
On Sex Education
The question of sex education came up because the Sri Aurobindo Ashram had a school where boys and girls were educated together. This conversation was recorded on 1st February, 1972 and is even more relevant today given the over-sexualization evident in society as a result of globalization.
Question: Sweet Mother, Nowadays in schools elsewhere, especially in the West, much importance is given to “sex-education”.
Mother Mirra Alfassa: What is “sex-education”? What do they teach?
For myself, I don’t like people to be preoccupied with these things. In my time we were never preoccupied with these things. Now children talk about them all the time—it is in their minds, in their feelings. It is disgusting. It is difficult, very difficult.
But if they talk about it elsewhere, we have to talk about it here too. They should be told the consequences of these things. Especially the girls ought to be told that the consequences can be disastrous. When I was young, in those days, people never spoke about all that, they never paid attention to these things. In those days, people did not talk about all that. Here, I did not want this subject to be discussed. That is why we do physical culture. In that way the energies are used to develop strength, beauty, skill and all that; and one is more capable of control. You will see, the ones who do a lot of physical culture, they are much more capable of mastering their impulse.
(After meditation ) The energies that human beings use for reproduction, which take such a predominant place in their lives, should instead be sublimated and used for progress and higher development, to prepare the advent of the new race. But first the vital and the physical must be freed from all desire; otherwise there is a great risk of disaster .
This was another conversation recorded on 16 February, 1966.
Question: A complete lack of knowledge about sex can produce serious trouble. I want to give some information to children whom I know.
Mother: A simple notion of medical knowledge may be useful in taking away this silly old harmful feeling of shame which brings perversion .
The following statement was issued by the Mother on 16 August, 1960 regarding the school children:
As girls and boys are educated together here we have always insisted on the relations between them to be those of simple comradeship without any mixture of sex feeling and sensuality; and to avoid all temptation they are forbidden to go in one another’s room and to meet anywhere privately. This has been made clear to everybody. And if these rules are strictly followed, nothing unpleasant can happen .
- Nagin Doshi. Guidance from Sri Aurobindo, vol. 3 (Pondicherry: SABDA, 1987), p 124
- Sri Aurobindo. Letters on Yoga, SABCL vol. 24, Physical Transformation.
- Tara Jauhar. Growing up with the Mother, (New Delhi: Sri Aurobindo Ashram — Delhi Branch Trust, 1999), p 75.
- The Mother. Collected Works of the Mother, vol. 12. (Pondicherry: Sri Aurobindo Ashram Trust, 1979), pp. 157-158.
- Napoleon Hill in his book How to think and grow rich illustrates how the men of greatest achievement are also those who have mastered sex transmutation. See Chapter 11 : Mystery of Sex Transmutation. Another copy of the chapter is available @ Google books: Mystery of Sex Transmutation
- Sri Aurobindo and the Mother on the “Sex urge in Nature”
- Sri Aurobindo and the Mother on “Yoga and the conquest of sex”
- Swami Vivekananda in his Lessons on Raja Yoga expatiates on the transmutation of sexual energy into ojas (spiritual force)
- Kamasutra: Sex Matters – Devansh Mittal
- Integral Yoga of Sri Aurobindo & The Mother: The transmutation of sexual energy , Further remarks on sexuality – Sandeep