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Frances: My dearest James, I’ve waited to write about this, hoping to handle it on my own, but I give up. Trout Lake had a great impact on me and gave me the tools to deal with discrimination, but there is one vasana that keeps driving me crazy – the sex vasana. My husband doesn’t want to have sex or be physically close at all, which makes satisfying this vasana really difficult. It’s not even so much the act of sex but rather a desire to be touched and held, and if the sex comes along that’s a bonus. Because I’m married it’s hard to sin intelligently without lying. I have had numerous talks with him and even suggested that I take a lover, which of course didn’t go over well at all.
Sometimes I can discriminate this urge from the self and at other times it’s impossible; the vasana is just too strong. I really am stumped.
I also have another question about nature. Do vasanas/gunas determine one’s nature?
Thank you so much, James. I’ve been enjoying your webinars and DVDs. Much love to Sundari also.
~ Love you, Frances
Sundari: Hello, Frances. James asked me to reply to this, but he has read over my reply and concurs with it.
This is a really difficult situation, as there is no easy answer to it. The qualifications for moksa are clear in that they presuppose a discriminating and dispassionate mind dedicated to freedom, which you have. Seeking moksa means that you know that the joy is not in the object and you set out to make binding vasanas unbinding. In traditional Indian culture, people who come to Vedanta have been through the householder stage and they have already worked these issues out for themselves. They also have duty-based marriages. In our Western culture things are very different and marriage comes with a whole different set of rules and expectations that are built in to the system.
Vedanta is not suitable for giving an answer to this kind of issue other than to recommend karma yoga and triguna vibhava yoga, along with all the other yogas, which are essential and very helpful. However, this kind of vasana is not going to go away, as you already know, and it is pointless to deny or suppress it. It will not be ignored. So, what to do?
I can really sympathise because I was once married to a man who was terrified of intimacy and also refused any close contact, sex included. This was hard, but the lack of intimacy was the hardest to live without. I was in my early twenties then and still a long way away from understanding my true nature, but I knew I would have to leave that marriage, which I did. We tried counselling and therapy and talking, all to no avail. He was not homosexual and he did claim to love me; he was a good man and I probably would have left him anyway, as we had nothing in common. At the time though, this was a big issue. You are young and beautiful and vital, and it is perfectly normal to have these desires. Sex is great and marriage without intimacy can hardly be called marriage.
Vedanta says that there is nothing wrong with desire that is not opposed to dharma. You are married to this man and it is dharmic to want to give and receive intimacy; why is he not prepared to fulfil this part of your agreement? Marriage is a contract which needs to be honoured by both parties. If he does love you, is not homosexual or sexually impaired, why would he not want to be intimate? What is the real issue behind this? Have you asked him? Is he asexual and has no sexual desire? Is he angry with you because you have followed your own path and he does not agree with it? Is he trying to punish you for this and it is his way of controlling you? Is he afraid that he will lose control if he allows intimacy? Did something happen that changed things? Did this come about gradually or was this a problem from the outset? There must be some issue that is at the root of it, and from the sounds of it he will not communicate with you about it.
I don’t know what your karma is with this man, whether you have children or how deeply you are invested in the marriage. There are always many hidden factors in any dysfunctional relationship, and this is a common one; although it is usually the woman who withholds sex from the man, for control. This kind of issue is always complicated and it is hardly ever one-sided. It is up to you to decide if you want to continue in this way if he is not prepared to confront the issue with you. You cannot deny it or run away from it; that is like trying to deny that there is a pink elephant in your bedroom. I cannot advise you what to do here, you will have to decide what is dharmic for you in order to stay or leave this relationship. My feeling is that there are other, much bigger issues that this issue is merely a symptom of. If you do want to stay in the relationship and resolution cannot be found for either of you, then you will have to apply karma yoga.
We have quite a few people who are on the way to being realised or already self-realised, in relationship with people who are samsaris. It is not easy for them, although some of them do very well with karma yoga. When there is such a fundamental need unmet in a marriage, albeit it that Vedanta is about negating binding vasanas, it is unlikely to survive unless addressed. There is a verse in the Bhagavad Gita talking about the power of rajas (desire), in this case the desire for love. It says that the love that you are is hidden by desire and it gives three examples:
Just as fire is hidden by smoke, a mirror is covered by dust and a fœtus is hidden in the womb. Some desires are like smoke, they blow away with the first winds of clarity (sattva). Others are more difficult to remove, like dust on a mirror. One needs to get out some cleanser and a rag and apply elbow grease before they yield. This is “repeated practice and objectivity.” We call it the practice of self-knowledge. The third kind is so deep within that it needs to work out naturally in the course of your life, just as a fœtus needs to come out naturally on its own. You cannot reach inside the womb and pull it out before the right time or it will not survive. You will have to live out this karma.
You ask about vasanas/gunas determining one’s nature, and of course they do. The gunas govern the creation of all the vasanas, and it is the vasana load that apparently belongs to Frances that is “her” character or nature. Frances did not make herself like that, Isvara did – and she is not responsible; she cannot help it. Not identifying with and understanding that the gunas and the vasanas do not belong to Frances is half the battle won. The other half is managing them. Sexual desire and the desire for intimacy are built in to creation; unless there is some psychological damage, everyone has this desire. There is no point denying it and no need to, as it does not contravene dharma, especially at your age and stage in life. The problems come when this desire gets out of control or controls you. If you were not married to this man or if he was married to someone else and you coveted him or if you believed that without him you were incomplete and inadequate, then yes, you have a dharma problem. Frances would not be following dharma, because she would believe that the joy is in the object and would do anything to obtain what she wants. But you are married, it is normal and healthy to want to give and receive love to and from someone you love.
I suggest you get him to talk about and address why he does not want to be intimate; get professional help to do this if possible. The thing is to address the problem as being one you both share, not to make him wrong. For marriage to be successful there has to be a “court of higher appeal,” so to speak. It has to be something other than “his” side and “your” side. It has to be higher ground, the relationship itself. That is where you take the issue and where you sort it out. If this is out of reach for both of you, you will have to decide if you can accept things as they are or, failing that, if you have the courage to leave and let each other go your separate ways and part with love.
I hope this helps you and wish you well in confronting this issue. The thing to understand is that although moksa is freedom from dependence on objects, which requires discriminating the self from the not-self, nonetheless the jiva lives in mithya and the apparent reality will not be denied. Even though it is only apparently real, there are natural laws and rules that operate and need to be honoured. Realising the self is the easy part. Self-actualisation is working out what it means to be the self in the apparent reality. You, the self, does not care one way or the other about this issue, as it has no needs. Frances as the self experiencing the world has to live with “her” nature and work from there.
Frances: Thank you so much for taking the time to write such a complete answer to my question. You have given me a lot to think about. I’ve tried the route of professional help, but he’s not interested. This lack of intimacy and sex actually started as soon as we married 13 years ago. We had both sex and intimacy before the marriage. This is my second marriage. I left my first marriage for the same reasons – no sex, no intimacy. I thought life with my current husband would be different, as he is totally different from my first husband.
Sometimes I think Isvara is making sure that I don’t get sidetracked by the sex and lose my focus on moksa. I can’t think of any other reason why I would get two non-intimate husbands in a row. With my first husband it was like this from the beginning, so I knew what I was getting into and wrongly thought I could change him. I was young and naive back then. But my current husband presented completely differently – full of wanting to be intimate and have sex. Then right after we got married (on our honeymoon) the sex stopped! I’ve been asking for 13 years why he doesn’t want to have sex, and he says that he doesn’t know. He says he loves me and tries to express this love by cooking for me. However, I could care less about food, which is a big focus for him. I think this makes him angry also. Since my husbands were complete opposites and I am the only common denominator, I imagine the buck stops here.
I think I have a stronger sex drive than most women and perhaps if it were to be indulged regularly, I would never have the self-discipline to stay on the path. Who knows? Perhaps Isvara is playing a giant joke on me.
Like the relationship with your first husband, my husband and I have little in common. We have no children together (he has children from another marriage). We did have a session with a therapist, which was very powerful for both of us and I really felt connected to him, but he was so wigged out by the encounter that he didn’t want to go back.
I need to think about this more and work with karma yoga. All I really want to do is my duty at work, come home and watch James’ DVDs. This is when I’m happiest.
Thank you again for your response.
Sundari: This is a tough one, and I feel for you. It is good that you know that there is no one to blame here, even though you are the common denominator. What I had to learn from my situation many years ago was that love and intimacy cannot come from another person; I had to negate the objects through many attempts at getting samsara to give me what I thought had to be gained. When the realisation was hard and fast that it is a zero-sum game, the need for the “other” left and the joy of the self, which was there all the time, could be known to be me. I did not have a sex vasana, but I had a love vasana, which amounts to the same thing. I was looking for love of course. That is what everyone is looking for, not knowing that they are looking for what they already are.
What you need to ask yourself is: “How would I be different if my husband suddenly did a 180 and gave me the intimacy I seem to so desperately need?” Have you done inquiry on what is really behind this desire? The result of any action cannot fulfil you, including the result of sexual satiety.
The truth is you would be no different and have gained nothing. As the verse I quoted from the Bhagavad Gita says, rajoguna – which drives all desire – is always the desire for love from another, which is really looking for the love you are as the self. This rajas which drives the sex vasana seems to have a life of its own and drives the senses independently of the mind. The consensus reality out there is full of indoctrinational literature, speaking of sex as a normal function of life, a natural need – the same as taking your vitamins and eating good food is important for health. And they insist it is everyone’s right to fulfil this need! Well, in a way that is true, if you take yourself to be the body. But as you know, the body and senses are just objects in you; they are inert and have no innate drive of their own.
So where does this rajas come from? As the Bhagavad Gita says: “About the topic of karma, even the sages are perplexed!” It is pointless trying to figure out where this vasana comes from; understanding whether it is past or present influences or results of actions makes no difference, because that will not solve the problem. Frances is not wrong for having this rajas and this desire; she did not make herself that way. The origin of this vasana is ignorance, and sex and intimacy will not remove the ignorance of your true nature. You have to discriminate you, the self, from the non-self and know that although it seems to be a problem for Frances, the purpose of the desire for sex and intimacy is to reveal the desire for you, the self. Intimacy with you is what you seek, not sex. You need to understand the real message of this vasana. In this way you no longer have to beat Frances up for having the desire or berate your husband for not giving Frances what she wants. Instead of trying to rid yourself of this vasana, listen to what it is telling you about you.
Once you know this to be true, you are free to decide if you need to take action with regard to either staying in or leaving your marriage. It does not matter much either way, as you will no longer need your husband or sex to fulfil you. You will know yourself to be full, purnaha. I know this is easier said than done, this kind of vasana is a deep one and most likely linked to a very deep samskara. Whatever its origin, you are the knower of the vasana and the rajas that drives it. Adjust your lifestyle to counterbalance this rajas; find a practice that helps you sublimate this desire when it seems to have control of you. Keep up the yogas and start a devotional practice if you do not have one already. Pray for guidance and consecrate these thoughts to Isvara when they arise. Just keep reminding yourself that this desire is an object in you, known to you and not you. It will take work, but you will get through it because your mumuksutva is very strong.
Frances: You hit it on the nose. When I was in therapy years ago, trying to get control of this, I came to the realization that it was my way of searching for God. Everything you say rings so true. I’ve been sublimating the desire by doing Bikram Yoga, and for years have taken this energy and put it to good use through many creative activities. I think what happens is that I’m so hypnotized by the desire that I forget everything that is real and that I know. Thank you for this reminder.
Sundari: Yes, as with all things, the resolution is always internal. Remember that the desire is rajoguna and its function is to project, so it is Frances who gets “hypnotised” by desire/rajas and “forgets”; you, the self, never get influenced by the gunas, because they have nothing to do with you. So ask yourself – if you know Frances gets hypnotised and forgets, do you get hypnotised and forget? Rajas is a very destructive force unchecked, but it can also be used with great effect in your quest for liberation. Desire is desire, whether it is sexual or otherwise, and people with strong desire achieve great things if they learn how to harness that energy without the collateral damage it can cause. The truth is, the self under the spell of ignorance wants to know itself and although it may not appear to be so, looking at the average samsari, everything samsaris do is an attempt to heal the wound of separation and duality. Everyone is seeking God, whether they know it or not.
Well done to you for seeing this and for being willing to confront it; this is the “work” of self-actualisation. We wish you continued forbearance and dispassion.