Celibacy and Spirituality

1. Introduction – ‘celibacy’ versus ‘having sex’ in relation to spiritual progress

The topic of sex is shrouded in social norms and moral taboos. Many religions articulate various restrictions on their followers when it comes to sex, sometimes equating sexual acts with sin. Yet does having sex and Spirituality have any relationship especially in relation to spiritual progress? Can sex or masturbation undermine spiritual progress? There are differing viewpoints with regards to this topic.

There are many articles focused on topics like spiritual growth through tāntrik sex. Some people view tāntrik sex as that magical elixir that will bestow upon them spiritual growth despite revelling in sexual pleasures. On the other hand, some spiritual paths advocate celibacy as a basic requirement for spiritual progress. Some major religions in the world require their priests to be celibate, yet does this restriction help priests in their spiritual growth? Many people ask us questions through SSRF’s ‘ask a question’ functionality about sex and masturbation. They complain of excessive sexual thoughts and impulses and enquire whether it will be an impediment in their spiritual path. In this article, we explore the topic of sex and Spirituality from the perspective of spiritual progress.

2. Basic spiritual concepts to understand the relationship between celibacy and spiritual progress

The purpose of life is 2-fold,

  1. To complete the destiny and give-and-take account one is born with and,
  2. To grow spiritually towards God-realisation

For most people, life is a series of ups and downs, which are dictated by the destiny that they are born with. For the average person activities and thoughts are centred mostly around worldly life. The vast majority of society strives to attain happiness through various means such as their job, talents, money, power, relationships, etc. Among the various worldly activities, sexual activity is the one that is known to usually give the maximum amount of worldly happiness. It completely immerses a person in the experience, both physically and emotionally. Unfortunately, with worldly experiences, whatever gives one happiness also has the potential to give one pain and sorrow once it is taken away or lost. Accordingly, the happiness obtained through a highly gratifying sexual encounter too is short-lived once the act is over.

On the other hand, there is a small percentage of the world’s population known as seekers. Such people (seekers) seek something more than what the material world has to offer.  In spiritual terms, they pursue the ultimate experience which is God-realisation or being one with God or the Universal Consciousness. On achieving this spiritual state, a seeker experiences Bliss and Serenity perpetually, which is a vastly superlative form of happiness and which is not dependant on any outside stimulus. At first in a seeker’s spiritual journey, the experience of God-realisation is merely an idea. He or she has not experienced it and it is just a concept. However, a seeker practises Spirituality with the promise that such an experience awaits him or her at the end of one’s spiritual journey. In the initial stages when a seeker practises Spirituality, he or she often gets positive spiritual experiences that are disproportionately greater than the efforts he or she is putting in. God gives the seeker such experiences to encourage him or her in their spiritual journey. The seeker thus puts in even more efforts to continue having such positive experiences and a stable state of mind. As seekers put in efforts in spiritual practice, they begin to increasingly feel the Divine in their spiritual journeys. As they get superlative and longer lasting positive experiences by practising Spirituality, the pull of worldly life (and the attachment to their 5 senses, mind and intellect) and all that it has to offer (including sexual experiences) gradually begins to dwindle in its hold over the seekers.

To better understand this article, we suggest familiarising yourself with the the following articles and spiritual concepts.

With this background let us look at a few common questions people have about sex, abstinence from having sex or celibacy and spiritual growth.

3. Can a person progress through tāntrik sex?

Tāntrik sex is a term that has become very popular in the west. However, people’s interest in it is mainly for enhancing their sex life. Actually, in tāntrik sex, practitioners learn to engage in sex for the purpose of cultivating/channelising/harnessing sexual energy for spiritual healing and/or spiritual growth. It is best done under the guidance of a spiritual guide at the level of a Guru. Unfortunately, in current times the so-called Gurus who teach these kinds of practices are not true Gurus. Through spiritual research, it was uncovered that very few people, that is 1/1000 people can make spiritual progress using these techniques. The majority of people go downhill as such techniques have the tendency to increase attachment to the 5 senses, mind and intellect and to worldly life. This is why such practices are mostly not followed by those who are genuinely seeking spiritual growth.

4. Should a seeker abstain from sexual activity and be celibate?

At the outset, please note that abstinence from sex or celibacy is not a prerequisite for starting spiritual practice. However, in a seekers spiritual journey there are a few aspects to consider when answering this question.

  1. Attachment to sexual activity
  2. Energy that is released during sex
  3. Spiritual path

1.  Attachment to sexual activity 

Spiritual growth essentially means transcending one’s 5 senses, mind and intellect and experiencing/identifying with the Soul or the God principle in one. This means detaching from one’s lower self (i.e., the physical body, psychological emotions and intellect) and identifying with one’s higher self, which is the Soul and whose qualities are Absolute Truth, Absolute Consciousness and Bliss.  Even if one has a desire for spiritual progress, continuously stoking and not letting go of one’s attachment to worldly desires can create an impediment in one’s spiritual journey. Being engrossed in sexual activity too can create attachments that bind one to worldly desires and hence create obstacles in one’s spiritual growth.

The important point is that with genuine efforts in spiritual practice along with the correct spiritual practice, this attachment to worldly life automatically reduces and no extra efforts need to be made to reduce attachments. If the attachment to sex is excessive then for solutions refer to Section 8 – If a seeker has a sex addiction or has excessive sexual thoughts what should he/she do?

2. Energy that is released during sex 

There is a view that engaging in sex reduces one’s vital energy considerably which could be used for spiritual growth. Actually, this is not so. Vital energy is used in various movements, voluntary and involuntary.  More than any physical activity, the mind is the biggest user of vital energy of a person. In the case of a seeker, after engaging in sex, a seeker can move on and continue with his or her spiritual practice. There is no significant reduction in vital energy that prevents a seeker from continuing with his or her spiritual practice.

Sometimes people try to control the ejaculation as per the guidance of yogis from some specific spiritual paths. However, the suppression of sexual urges in this manner is not recommended for the average seeker as it can leave the person unsatisfied with even more sexual thoughts. If a person were to allow themselves to ejaculate or reach orgasm, then his/her sexual thoughts usually would subside and he/she would be able to continue with his/her spiritual practice with renewed enthusiasm.

3. Spiritual path of the seeker

The spiritual path that a seeker follows can also be a determining factor in the importance of celibacy in their lives. For spiritual paths such as Hatha Yoga (Path of Deliberate Rigour) practising celibacy may be more important as it is the nature of the path.

However, practicing celibacy is not important in the case of a seeker practicing other paths such as the Path of Devotion (Bhaktiyoga), the Path of Knowledge (Dnyānyoga) or the Path of the Guru’s Grace (Gurukrupāyoga).

In summary, to answer this question, seekers practicing Spirituality do not need to control or force themselves to abstain from sex or masturbation.  With spiritual practice, one goes beyond worldly interests as one gains something that is Divine and far more fulfilling than what worldly pleasures have to offer.

5. Can suppression of sexual activities in a seeker lead to ill-effects?

Suppression of sexual urges in an ordinary person can lead to various ill-effects as it can then manifest in some other way which can lead to issues such as anxiety, depression, insomnia, etc. However, this is not how it happens in the case of a seeker. In a seeker, the sexual urge gradually gets sublimated (channelised) with/into spiritual practice. This is because when a seeker starts spiritual practice which is appropriate (i.e., any practice that adheres to the 6 basic principles of spiritual practice), then he or she starts experiencing the benefits. Some of the benefits of spiritual practice are stability of the mind, reduction in desires and a feeling of inner peace irrespective of life situations. These benefits go a long way in supporting a seeker to transcend his or her worldly desires, sexual urges being one of them.

If a person does not have a strong foundation in spiritual practice, even if he is a priest, suppressing sexual urges can lead to negative feelings and ill-effects.

6. At what stage in a seeker’s journey should he/she practise restraint in sexual activity ?

A seeker does not need to practise restraint from sexual activity at any time in his or her spiritual journey. If one is regular and sincere with their spiritual practice one’s spiritual level increases. With advancement in spiritual level sexual urges begin to reduce automatically and hence do not affect a seeker’s spiritual progress.

7. Can masturbation obstruct spiritual growth?

Masturbation is a healthy outlet for satisfying sexual desire especially for those who are unmarried. It does not obstruct spiritual growth in any way. The frequency of the sexual need can vary from person to person and is also influenced by age and by spiritual level. At a more advanced spiritual level, the need is automatically reduced.

Actually, there are some benefits to masturbation. The act of masturbation is less engaging than having sex with a partner. Hence one is less involved at the physical and mental level. Also, one can masturbate at any time and continue with spiritual practice; one does not have to wait for someone as compared to when one has sex with a partner. Hence the mind is not preoccupied with waiting for a partner.

8. If a seeker has a sex addiction or has excessive sexual thoughts what should he/she do?

Regardless of the spiritual path one follows, practising the Personality Defect Removal (PDR) process is an important step to reduce the defects in one’s personality. It helps to hasten one’s spiritual growth. Using this process, taking auto-suggestions is a simple yet powerful tool to overcome personality defects such as addictive behaviour.

Being regular with one’s spiritual practice automatically reduces one’s desires over time. Please note for spiritual practice to be effective, it should conform to the 6 basic principles of spiritual practice. The more the mind is engrossed in sāttvik activities, the faster it is able to come out of such addictions (including sex addictions and excessive sexual thoughts).

Quite often addictions can be caused due to unsatisfied desires of departed ancestral spirits. In order to gain insulation from problems caused due to departed ancestors, we recommend chanting the protective chant of ‘Shrī Gurudev Datta’.

9. In summary – is celibacy required for spiritual progress?

Neither is celibacy required for spiritual progress and nor is controlling one’s sexual urges. Practising Spirituality regularly and with a lot of desire helps a seeker to advance spiritually and experience the Divine. This automatically reduces the need for worldly desires, sex included.  In fact, worldly experiences pale in significance when compared to experiencing the Divine.

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