header pic header text

Volume III - The Art of Personality

Part II - Rasa Shastra - The Science of Life's Creative Forces

Chapter XIV


In all ages celibacy has been a religious and mystical ideal, and for two principle reasons. The first is that although the soul born into the world is led further astray by every fresh experience in life, nevertheless it is sex passion that causes the greatest delusion of all. The myth of Adam and Eve illustrates this truth. For whether it was a means taken by God or by Satan, it was at the hands of Eve that Adam ate the forbidden fruit, and not through any direct command or prompting that he himself received. And since man's final goal is the attainment of spiritual life, his life here on earth having been all in vain if he fails to achieve it. Every effort has been made by religion to draw him away from that passion of sex towards which he is led by nature, and thus away from the greatest peril that his soul can encounter on its earthly journey.

And then again, whilst every expression of life, speech, laughter, tears, robs man of some part of his fund of energy, it is sex passion that makes the greatest demand of all. And therefore, the idea of celibacy was presented, so that man might the better preserve his energy to pursue with singleness of vision that final goal of spiritual attainment.

Losses such as dimness of reason, weakness of thought, loss of memory, despair, depression, result when the inner being of man is starved because energy has been expended, and because there is no knowledge or skill in strengthening and sustaining the inner existence. At every moment of life and with every breath, the human being gives out and takes in energy. And whenever he gives out more than he takes in, he draws death nearer. But if energy is denied an outlet, it can be raised and used to sustain the mind and the inner being. For this reason mystics have often practiced seclusion, silence, and other forms of abstinence, to preserve energy for the sustenance of the inner life. And they have found that celibacy was the most effectual means of all upon this path. 'It is the spirit that quickeneth; the flesh profiteth nothing.'

But man's life can never be complete without a woman, and this is the error that lies at the root of the ideal of celibacy. Man's life is incomplete without woman, whether one considers his social or his political life. And this is no less true if one considers his religious and his spiritual life. Without the sympathy of Christ for Mary Magdalene, and the closeness of the friendship of Christ with Martha and her sister, Mary, the beautiful picture of the Master's life would be incomplete. Among the prophets of the Semitic races, from Abraham down through the ages, there was always a woman to complete the course of their holy lives. And the great Hindu teachers from Brahma to Krishna are glorified together with their consorts.

Religious man, wherever found and whatever teacher he followed, has nevertheless been prone to look at contact with woman with contempt, with the thought of there being something unholy in the passionate love of woman. Indeed, it is a question whether the libertine has actually debased woman as much as the religious man, who believes that to hold himself aloof from any woman with contempt and to strangle his love within him, will be for his own spiritual benefit. And is it possible to debase woman and the position of woman in the scheme of life without debasing the whole of life?

In the evolution of the ego there is undoubtedly a development towards celibacy, but at the same time this development carries an increasing regard for woman, and the whole plan of life. Oriental philosophy, in discussing the ego, distinguishes between the Nafs-i Ammara and the Nafs-i Lawwama. The former is the individual whose whole existence is on the surface, engaged in the satisfaction of his senses in eating, drinking, in amusements, and in sexual indulgence and the Nafs-i Lawwama is the individual whose physical greed is controlled by intelligence, to the extent of making him discriminate between his pleasures. The Nafs-i Lawwama rejects those desires and enjoyments that fall below a certain standard of taste, which his intelligence sets for him.

The Nafs-i Mutmainna represents a third and higher stage of development, in which the senses are under the control of the mind. In this stage of evolution a man is absorbed in some ideal, or devoted to the achievement of some object in life, outside the self – art, invention, trade and so on – and directs his energies into one channel. In his sexual passion he may be compared with the deer that comes to drink from the pool of fresh water lying hidden in the depth of the forest pure and untroubled, to be frightened away by the least flutter of reflected shade that disturbs or distracts his attention. For him passion only exists when he loves. He cannot feel passionate when he does not love. Here at last, is found the admiration of woman, the beginning of love, and the real lover. What do the Nafs-i Ammara or Lawwama know, who think of love as a pleasure?

The furthest stage in development is the Nafs-i Salima, in which man's consciousness is removed to an abstract plane. In the heart of a man, at this point of evolution, love is raised from admiration to worship. His love is part of his being, and his passion, which is never expressed except in the intensity of love, may be compared to the alighting of a bird on earth to pick up a grain of corn. This man lives on a higher plane of life, judging by different standards, though his inspiration springs from the common life of existence.

Thinker, visionary, or man of action, he becomes absorbed in the contemplation of the essence of things. He alone becomes unable to regard anything as common or unclean; although in his contemplation of the mystery of life, his devotion to the pursuit of truth, and his self-sacrifice to the cause of humanity, he may become gradually etherealized above every material object. Having reached this point he is truly justified if he should strike a path of celibacy.


The story of Princess Mira Bai is the story of a Nafs-i Salima united to a Nafs-i Ammara. Mira Bai was married to the Rana of Udaipur, but soon her tastes in life developed very differently from his. He, always given up to the pleasures of hunting and shooting, to giving of great entertainments, to shows of dancing an acting, began shortly after his marriage to be irritated and vexed by the attitude of Mira Bai towards his amusements. For she was not really interested in any of these things and gradually ceased to show any delight in them. And her mind began to be attracted to quite other aspects of life, to considering the lot of her servants and of the poor in the kingdom, and to philosophy and poetry.

At last the Rana, in unreasonable anger at her growing absorption in thoughts and questions that were foreign to his nature, refused to see her or to treat her with the dignity due to her in his court. Mira Bai took these insults calmly and patiently, with her accustomed sweetness and gentleness, and withdrew to a temple where she began to devote herself entirely to the study of philosophy and religion, and to the care of the poor and unfortunate.

The beauty of her hymns of praise, the music of the poetry that she composed and sang in her worship of the Divine became gradually famed throughout the kingdom of Udaipur. And on account of her great piety and learning many were drawn to the temple where she dwelt. At length her fame reached the court of the Emperor Akbar. And he, entirely won by the thoughts and the sweet verses of her songs that were repeated to him, decided that he himself would make a pilgrimage to see her. And so, in the guise of beggars, he set out with Tansen, the divinely inspired musician, learned in the mystery of sound, as was Orpheus among the Greeks.

After they had entered the temple unknown to anyone and had heard Mira Bai, so moved were they by her music and poetry that Akbar with gratitude and veneration presented to her a most precious necklace; and this necklace Mira Bai took and hung around the neck of the idol of Krishna in the temple, regarded by her as the symbol of the Most Divine.

After that the precious necklace was seen by everyone in the temple. And gradually it became clear that it was Akbar himself who had given it. When the Rana of Udaipur heard of this visit and this gift he felt deeply insulted, and in great anger ordered Mira Bai to leave his kingdom. So she left the temple and his kingdom and went to Dwarka, where she spent the remainder of her life in seclusion. And from there her fame spread to the boundaries of the empire, and her hymns became loved and were sung not only by her own people but also by all the peoples of India.

It is difficult to translate the lyric sweetness of her verse. And the following version of one of her songs does not attempt to do more than give its substance:

My Beloved is One alone;
Everywhere my eyes see Him only.

In search of love, I came to this world,
But after seeing the world I wept,
For I felt coldness on all sides,
And I cried out in despair, 'Must I too
Become cold?

And with tears, tears, tears,
I nurtured that plant of tenderness
Which I had almost lost within my heart.
Putting reason in the churn of love,
I churned and churned.
Then I took the butter for myself;
Now, let him who likes take that milk.
For I have attained what I so desired,
I have found my hope.

No longer do I need your philosophies and faiths;
Nothing to me your theories and creeds;
For I have my Beloved.
He, upon whose head the crown of the universe is set,
Is my Beloved.

Krishna is my Lord;
To him I am faithful,
Let happen what happens!

My Beloved is One alone;
Save Him I know none.


checked 18-Oct-2005