Inspired by Joseph Dispenza’s reinterpretation of the Christian monastic vows, we continue our discussion by exploring chastity from a tantric perspective. Chastity. The very word conjures up images of Medieval metal pelvic belts and modern day purity rings. In a culture bombarded by sexual imagery and language, the notion seems rather quaint. And given the misappropriation of sex by Neo-Tantra, it is rare to see the words “chastity” and “Tantra” in the same sentence.
Indeed, it seems rather odd to even discuss chastity in connection with Tantra as chastity, as traditionally defined, is sexual abstinence. Abstinence based on the belief that the physical body and its normal processes are “dirty,” “sinful,” and “shameful.” Even in orthodox, vedic-based Hinduism, sexual abstinence as brahmacharya serves to keep the yogi’s mind concentrated on “loftier” spiritual pursuits. As Swami Subodhananda stated in 1897: “Nothing should be sensed or done by the aspirant that might directly or otherwise tend to arouse the animal in him or her.”
In contrast, the body in Tantra is honored as a necessary component of physical incarnation and is a means to experience and re-connect with our Original Self. Tantra takes brahmacharya and disassociates it from sexual morality and re-focuses it on the the idea of “containment.” Perhaps the best articulation of this re-focusing is from Ravi Ravindra in his translation of the Yoga Sutras:
…the real meaning of brahmarcharya [is] to dwell in Brahman, the Vastness, All practice of yoga is intended to assist us in relating us more and more with the subtler and vaster realities, in which we live and move, and have our true being. In this effort, a repeated practice of containment of all our energies – of sex, of mind, of speech as well as of feeling – is required, always searching for the
right balance between indulgence and deprivation. (The Wisdom of Patanjali’s Yoga Sutras, pg. 91)
There is another level of chastity within Tantra and it begins with a very brief story. A few weeks ago, Chandra was telling a couple fellow initiates about the work that she and I are doing in the Matrika Circle. She said (and I greatly paraphrase here) that the work we do requires one to be pure of heart. I panicked: “Pure of heart? Me? Has she met me? Doesn’t she know about the foolish choices that I have consciously made and continue to make?” Upon reflection, I realized that I am pure of heart. The work that I do I do because I love Maa and want nothing in return except for Her love. I’m not interested in fame, money, followers, or siddhis. Nor am I, as my wife pointed out, trying to make amends for my mistakes. Love is my motivation and being of service to Her is my intention.
Perhaps this what Dispenza meant when he stated that chastity is “innocence of mind and heart.” Chastity is not technical sexual purity; it is purity of heart and of intention. This purity of intention arises from a heart that knows its Self.
Now, am I in a continual state of pure intention? No, of course not. I strive for it ritual and in meditation. I’m working on extending this state more and more into my everyday life since I believe that chastity, like detachment, can be cultivated and refined, but, also like detachment, you have to work at it. Perhaps a good place to begin is by setting an intention, a sankalpa, first thing in the morning. Then during your sadhana that evening (or the following morning) assess how well you were able to live and act from your intention. This exercise is not meant to be punitive or shame-inducing; it serves only to increase our awareness of how we lived our intention.
A daily spiritual practice is perhaps the most important thing that we can do to gain both the clarity to formulate our intention and the spiritual strength to act upon it. We would benefit greatly by checking the blindspots in our hearts and by realizing that our sankalpas are not always about us. This notion harkens back to last month’s discussion on detachment; examine how your intentions might feed that loop of self-interest. If you are unsure how to do this or need a refresher, always return to your daily practice and personal mantram. If you are really stuck, you can chant Kali’s Heart Mantram as a way of asking Maa to help you chip off the hardened clay of ego around your heart.
So I invite you, my sisters and brothers, to live a chaste life. That is, a life lived from a pure heart, a heart harmonized between your self and your Self. Try it for a few weeks or so, or at least until April’s update when we explore obedience.
As always, your thoughts, questions, and experiences are welcomed.
Offered by Balipriya