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
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.