A spiritual perspective on the Tejpal scandal
by Caitanya Carana Dasa
The accusation of sexual abuse leveled against former Tehelka editor, Tarun Tejpal, highlights the dangerous riot of sexual energy in today’s culture.
It’s a tragic truth that sexual abuse, even if under-reported, is widespread in our society. But as long as such abuse happens to someone in a remote village, mainstream India tends to ascribe it to the backwardness of those people.
However, when similar abuse happens in the heart of mainstream society, in a bus on the streets of the national capital, and to someone who is very much a part of the forward-looking society, a medical student returning after watching a movie, that makes India sit up in alarm and take notice, in fact, march up in anger and demand action. The Nirbhaya gangrape case provoked national outrage and rightly so.
But how does one respond when the victim is a member of mainstream society and the victimizer is a popular leader of mainstream society, a person widely considered a shining success story by contemporary standards?
One response is typical of the paparazzi: flesh out every juicy tidbit, aggravate the pitch of the scandal and make a merry business out of the reader interest. Due to such sensationlization, the author of The Alchemy of Desire finds himself at the receiving end of a reverse alchemy. The person who had been treated like a golden boy, admired for uncovering sleaze among the high and the mighty, is now reviled as the sleaze on him is discovered and covered extensively in the media. Due to a few moments of indulgence during an elevator ride, the person who was in 2009 declared one of the 50 most powerful men of India may well have to endure a lifetime of disgrace. No doubt, justice must be done and whatever wrong has been done must be rectified. But the frenzied demand in the paparazzi for the head of one hero-devolved-to-villain isn’t going to resolve underlying issues.
More serious media pieces have addressed the issue of the sexual pressure that women face in the workplace and the inadequacy of the present safeguards. This is certainly an important issue with implications much bigger than the specific scandal.
Yet the problem runs deeper. It stems from the sexually volatile atmosphere that pervades today’s culture. Consequently, unfettered sexual energy can go on a riot at a moment’s notice whenever the provocation or the opportunity rears its seductive head. The word riot is frequently used in the media in apposition to the word ‘communal.’ But riots can be of different kinds. Anything that involves a dangerous force going on a destructive rampage can be considered a riot. When the sex drive impels people into deleterious deeds, those instances comprise sexual energy on the riot. The Bhagavad gita (03.36-37) cautions that sexual energy can act as a deadly enemy, impelling one to grievous misdeeds, and devouring one’s spirituality, morality and integrity in the process.
A history of depravity
Unmanaged sexual energy has always been a threat to humanity throughout the ages. History is filled with stories of world leaders whose uncontrolled sex lives ruined them and wrecked havoc around them. Many wars have had at their root unmanaged sexual energy – often in the form of a depraved craze to conquer the opposite sex or the deprived rage at failure in such a conquest. Cleopatra, Napoleon and Hitler – their lives contained festering sexual problems that became breeding grounds for violent conflicts which eventually blew up into full-scale wars. Even in post-monarchic times, several prominent elected leaders in democracies have been found guilty of sexual misdemeanor. The trial of a US head of state accused of sexual malpractice cost the American exchequer 50 million dollars.
Conventional religions have often taken the high moral ground, pontificating on the evils of promiscuity. But they too have not been immune to devastation by sexual energy. During the centuries before the European Renaissance, several popes led debauched lives, even fathering many illegitimate children. In protest against such misdeeds by those professing to be monks, vocal Protestant leaders rejected monkhood itself. Martin Luther renounced his monkhood, married a nun and penned a scathing diatribe against monkhood.
However, marriage hasn’t turned out to be a safe enclave against the onslaught of sexual energy. Several famous Christian evangelists such as Jim Bakker and Jimmy Swaggart who set the pulpit ablaze with their impassioned preaching for marital fidelity found themselves ablaze with mortification when their extra-marital affairs came to the public eye. Worse still, the Catholic Church has been rocked by child abuse charges, all the more so because of its attempts to cover up and delay or deny justice.
In India too, several spiritual teachers have been accused of or even convicted for sexual misconduct. Regrettably, ISKCON too has seen some of its leaders falling from the expected standards of sexual morality.
The point is that pedantic moralizing, whether from a secular podium or a religious pedestal, is no defense against the rampage of sexual energy. The Bhagavad-gita goes to the heart of the matter when it issues a call (18.66) to go beyond ritual religiosity to substantial spirituality. Such serious spirituality centers on training to harness sexual energy. As long as sexual energy remains un-integrated and unharnessed, it can impel anyone and everyone to grievous misdeeds.
Puppets of sexual energy
Vedic wisdom is candid in acknowledging the power of sexual energy. The Vedic literatures depict even exalted gods and renounced sages falling prey to the libido. The stories of Saubhari Muni, the monk who married fifty princesses, and Indra, whose extra-martial dallying with a sage’s wife earned him a curse that covered his body with his unmentionables, would have been feasts for today’s paparazzi. In sobering contrast, the Vedic literatures don’t gorge on the lurid details of such moral depredations. Instead, they focus on the fearsome power of misdirected sexual energy that can not only bring to the knees but also bury under the ground the high and mighty.
In addition to describing how even the virtuous can fall, those literature also depict villainous characters who were habitually given to vice. For example, Ravana who abducted Sita, and Dushasana who dishonored Draupadi. And the Vedic literatures explain in detail how the virtuous leaders of those times like Rama or the Pandavas took great pains to ensure that such incorrigible wrongdoers were justly punished, even to the point of capital punishment where warranted.
Yet even while describing the depravities of such villainous characters, Vedic wisdom doesn’t miss the bigger picture. It always remind us of the larger power at work, making these individuals dance as if puppets. That larger power is unregulated sexual energy. Therefore it focuses on delineating purificatory methods of yoga that check the destructive flow of sexual energy and redirect it along more constructive channels.
Left: Ravana , a powerful ruler was almost ruled himself by sexual lust.
This purification centers on living more in harm ony with our complete being. We are at our core spiritual beings: our present existence is two-dimensional: spiritual and material. Sexual energy, when imbalanced, causes people to obsess compulsively on just one dimension – the physical, wherein fantasies of sexual gratification, consensual and forcible, are played and replayed in an endless automode. This compulsive obsession with the physical gives people a distorted view of others as merely bodies who exist only for one’s own gratification at one’s own whim.
We have an eternal loving relationship with the all-attractive Supreme Being known by various names in different traditions and known as Krishna in the Vedic tradition. In our pure state, the spiritual energy that flows in this divine relationship surcharges our heart with the ecstasy of love – the supreme happiness. When we forget our relationship with Krishna and seek pleasure in matter, that spiritual energy becomes misdirected as sexual energy. The Vedic texts offer a systematic program of bhakti-yoga that helps us harness sexual energy and gradually revert it to its sublime spiritual state.
Imbalanced sexual energy threatens not only our spiritual recovery but also our material well-being, as the earlier historical and contemporary analysis demonstrates. While this threat has always been present, today’s culture has aggravated it and made it dominant. Never before in world history has there been such a pervasive sexualization of the entire culture. Today vested commercial interests have made sex their central tool for capturing people’s minds. With magazines and movies depicting tons of sexually provocative material, with ads featuring sexual double-entendres, with the ubiquity of sexually explicit or suggestive images, we are practically inviting the riot of sexual energy.
By no means is this analysis meant to absolve the guilty of responsibility. We are all accountable for our individual actions and whoever does wrong must be punished. But a sustainable social corrective requires much more than that. The fact is that with sexual energy on the riot everyone is vulnerable – everyone is a potential victim.
Certainly women who are the targets of sexual abuse deserve protection. We need stronger laws, sharper vigilance and stricter enforcement. But along with that we also need to collectively combat the onslaught of sexual energy by devising appropriate socio-cultural strategies that restore a balance between the material and the spiritual.
Today’s liberals like to bash India’s traditional culture as sexually prohibitive, but it was in many ways pre-emptive – pre-emptive in recognizing the danger of unrestrained sexual energy and equipping people to keep that power at bay.
Today, the time for pre-emptive measures is long past. But thankfully the time for redemptive measures isn’t.
Each of us can re-spiritualize our own consciousness and thereby contribute towards the balancing of the broader culture. If we choose to take up the challenge of re-spiritualization, Vedic wisdom stands ready to illumine and empower. It can equip us with time-honored insights and techniques: philosophical insights that help us perceive the spiritual underlying the material and devotional yogic techniques of meditation that help us relish that spiritual. The more we delight in higher inner happiness, the more we gain the strength to curb the riot of sexual energy, and channelize it for individual and social well-being.
The courts in due time will give the verdict in the Tejpal case. But we don’t have to wait till then to do our part in harnessing sexual energy constructively. And even if we wait, that verdict won’t make much lasting difference unless we take individual initiative. The verdict that will make the ultimate difference rests with each one of us: will we continue to be the puppet of sexual energy or will we rise to the challenge of becoming its master?
Caitanya Carana Dasa is the associate-editor of Back to Godhead (US and Indian editions). To subscribe for his daily Bhagavadgita reflections, please subscribe for Gitadaily on his website, thespiritualscientist.com.