Let’s talk about sex…

20 04 2021
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While Pradyumna Miśra remained seated there, Rāmānanda Rāya took the two girls to a solitary place. With his own hand, Śrī Rāmānanda Rāya massaged their bodies with oil and bathed them with water. Indeed, Rāmānanda Rāya cleansed their entire bodies with his own hand. Although he dressed the two young girls and decorated their bodies with his own hand, he remained unchanged. Such is the mind of Śrīla Rāmānanda Rāya. While touching the young girls, he was like a person touching wood or stone, for his body and mind were unaffected. Śrīla Rāmānanda Rāya used to act in that way because he thought of himself in his original position as a maidservant of the gopīs. Thus although externally he appeared to be a man, internally, in his original spiritual position, he considered himself a maidservant and considered the two girls gopīs. The greatness of the devotees of Śrī Caitanya Mahāprabhu is exceedingly difficult to understand. Śrī Rāmānanda Rāya is unique among them all, for he showed how one can extend his ecstatic love to the extreme limit. (CC Antya 5: 16-21)

Now, I’ve seen a lot of things, read a lot of stories, and heard a lot of anecdotes, but the one above takes the cake for the weirdest one where carnal matters are concerned. The context is that Srila Ramananda Raya was teaching these girls how to perform a drama that he composed for the pleasure of Lord Jagannath. He didn’t just pick any girls, but the most beautiful ones he could find, talented devis dasis with the greatest amount of charm and natural beauty. The modern dirty mind, like mine honestly, would assume that maybe he simply didn’t like women in that way. But that’s not the implication here. Modern gender theorists would have a field day with the history of early Gaudiya Vaishnavism. Ramananda Raya didn’t just think himself a gopi, some state that he WAS a gopi in human male drag, specifically, the gopi Lalita, the chief assistant to Srimati Radharani in the celestial Vrindavan. And he wasn’t the only one: many of the Six Goswamis were really sakhis, or assistants to the gopis in the spiritual world who are themselves young girls. Visvanatha Cakravarti Thakura, a seventeenth century Gaudiya Vaishnava saint, is said to have transformed back into a nine year old girl in order to escape government troops who were chasing him, only to transform again into an adult male once the danger had passed.

Lord Chaitanya stated the following when Ramananda Raya’s activities were mentioned to Him:

“I am a sannyāsī,” He said, “and I certainly consider Myself renounced. But what to speak of seeing a woman, if I even hear the name of a woman, I feel changes in My mind and body. Therefore who could remain unmoved by the sight of a woman? It is very difficult…

“If a transcendentally situated person, following in the footsteps of Śrīla Rūpa Gosvāmī, hears and speaks about the rāsa-līlā dance of Kṛṣṇa and is always absorbed in thoughts of Kṛṣṇa while serving the Lord day and night within his mind, what shall I say about the result? It is so spiritually exalted that it cannot be expressed in words. Such a person is an eternally liberated associate of the Lord, and his body is completely spiritualized. Although he is visible to material eyes, he is spiritually situated, and all his activities are spiritual. By the will of Kṛṣṇa, such a devotee is understood to possess a spiritual body.

“Śrīla Rāmānanda Rāya is situated on the path of spontaneous love of Godhead. Therefore he is in his spiritual body, and his mind is not materially affected.

The instant objection that I have here is: But wait, isn’t He God?! Again, we see the weirdness of the Chaitanya Charitamrita: Lord Chaitanya is the Supreme Personality of Godhead, yet His body becomes agitated at even the mention of a woman. After taking vows in the renounced order, He commanded that a woman couldn’t even come within fifty feet of Him. Yet here is one of His devotees (though really a gopi in Vrindavan, perhaps) who doesn’t feel the slightest thing in touching the bodies of two naked young women. I can think about reasons why this is, but frankly I don’t have any good ones. That’s just how the Lord wanted it. Here one could cite that horrible film, The Last Temptation of Christ, but in this case, the Supreme Lord partook of married life only to renounce it, and was desperately afraid of lapsing back into carnal desire. Ramananda Raya, however, was above reproach. And so was Lord Nityananda who is also the Supreme Personality of Godhead, but also an avadhuta (equivalent of a “fool for Christ” in Eastern Orthodoxy) who Lord Chaitanya would have “given a pass” to even if found Him coming out of a drinking den with a woman on each arm (He basically admitted as much).

As I am a true believer, I fully believe that all of this happened as written, and for the reasons explained as far as I understand them. Look, the universe is weird. There are people who are naturally asexual. But I don’t want to resort to natural explanations. The more interesting topic is the role that this and similar anecdotes had in large sections of Lord Chaitanya’s movement degenerating into a vulgar sex cult, particularly after He disappeared. I have addressed this topic elsewhere, so I won’t dwell on it. Needless to say, far too many charlatans thought themselves to be on the same level as Ramananda Raya, or to be gopis in Vrindavan in male drag, or worse, Krishna Himself, and decided to exploit a lot of women in the following centuries. I am pretty sure this is still going on. These are the heretics we know today as sahajiyas.

There is an antinomian undercurrent in Gaudiya theology, in the sense that “good behavior” doesn’t necessarily get you krsna-prema. Right conduct in itself gets good karma, which can elevate you to the heavenly planets in the material world, but not the spiritual world itself. To get Krishna, you need pure love, not just good behavior. That said, behaving is a sign that you are detached from the material world and only use it to please Krishna’s senses, not your own. At best, the sahajiyas think that pleasing their own senses is neutral, so they eat whatever, they drink wine, they smoke joints, and they consort with women. At worse, they think that they and Krishna are one, so whatever they enjoy, Krishna enjoys. I don’t have to elaborate why this can degenerate into an excuse for libertine indulgence. For someone like Ramananda Raya, whose body has become spiritual, following regulative principles is easy: nothing takes his mind and heart off of Krishna. Those people, however, are exceptionally rare. Perhaps Lord Chaitanya feeling the shadow of carnal urges within Himself helps to illustrate to His devotees that one should always be vigilant against illicit carnal desire. By the same token, Ramananda Raya’s impassibility in devotion illustrates that transforming love into lust is indeed possible if you want it badly enough.

The issue with the sahajiya, as with the sex scandals in ISKCON and the Catholic Church, isn’t one of sex per se. The issue is hypocrisy, or using religion as a shield and even a license to illicitly enjoy, or worse to exploit. I have seen it all, and I am sure I will see more. I have walked in on clerics / monastics doing things they definitely shouldn’t be doing. Many clergy who I have known throughout my life are either no longer priests or were even defrocked by the Vatican. I have written about Fr. B who used to go on walks in the forest surrounded by groups of young girls like he was Krishna Himself, or ride off with them for the day in a van. That didn’t end well. I suppose when I was told in seminary that I didn’t have a vocation to be an ordinary priest, I was relieved. I knew priests who could seemingly negotiate a friendly distance from the female laity in particular, but many simply couldn’t. I thought being shut up in a monastery where you might not see a woman all week was probably for the best. The issue isn’t having urges, you have to fight those no matter what. But it’s worse when you promise to do something and you don’t do it. That is the essence of scandal.

Thinking about all that tempts me toward cynicism. In a way, that’s healthy. But in the end, I do believe there are people who have an iron clad resolve to love God and they can’t be deviated from their path even by carnal desire. I know that I am not one of them. I know that it’s not easy for me, and probably it never will be. I like to think that knowing this puts me in a better place than others, but who am I kidding? It’s going to take a lot of time and a lot more surrender for me to get over this. It’s discouraging at times, but the “mercy of the Lord endureth forever.” I believe this firmly.

Ultimately, it’s a belief that love exists, not just lust, even if it’s hard to see this here below. To paraphrase Oscar Wilde, almost all of us are lying in the gutter of lust, but some of us, through the mercy of guru and Gauranga, are looking up to the celestial Vrindavan.


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