Monday, December 29, 2014

The Concept of Swacchata in Hindu Dharma

Nithin Sridhar

(An edited version of the article was published in Swarajya Magazine on December 9th, 2014 under the title- "Is Swacchata part of our culture?")

With India’s Prime Minister Narendra Modi launching Swacch Bharat Abhiyan to clean up the streets of India on October 2nd, 2014, the concept of “Swacchata” or “Cleanliness” has taken a centre stage in the national discourse. As a result of this initiatives, many people are voluntarily coming forward and participating in efforts to clean up the surroundings. Many celebrities have also pledged their support for such initiatives. There is a large-scale awareness among the masses about the importance of keeping the surroundings clean.

But, this sudden enthusiasm among the people towards cleanliness should not be misconstrued to mean that the concept of “Swacchata” is alien to Indian culture and that the present enthusiasm is only due to modern day outside influences. The stereotype that India is a country of filth, garbage and pollution with no concept of cleanliness and hygiene has been propagated for long enough that people have come to associate uncleanliness with Indian-ness. Though it is true that, the streets of India indeed needs a thorough clean-up and the people should be made aware about the importance of cleanliness and hygiene. But, to even suggest that “Uncleanliness” is inherent among Indians and by implication it is rooted in Hindu Dharma is derogatory to say the least (1). In the face of such baseless criticisms, it becomes vital to understand the concept of cleanliness or “Shaucha” (as it is called in Sanskrit) that is propounded by Hindu Dharma.

Shaucha as a basic duty of all people:

“Shaucha” is considered as one of the vital elements in leading a Dharmic life. The Hindu scriptures time and again stress the importance of Shaucha. Daksha Smriti (2) states that a person should ever try maintain Shaucha in whatever work he engages in and without such an adherence to purity, all actions and works becomes fruitless. “Shaucha” literally means both cleanliness and purity. The Yoga-Sutras of Patanjali describe Shaucha as-

शौचात्स्वाङ्गजुगुप्सा परैरसंसर्गः || (2.41)
सत्त्वशुद्धिसौमनस्यैकाग्र्येन्द्रियजयात्मदर्शनयोग्यत्वानि च|| (2.41)
Shaucha is that from which there arises dislike i.e. dispassion towards one’s body and detachment towards contact with others. Shaucha gives rise to purity of mind, contentment, one-pointedness, conquest of the senses and competency to attain Atma-Darshana (Self-Realization).

Hence, Shaucha not only refers to the cleanliness of the surroundings but also to the purity of body and mind. In fact, Shaucha refers to those qualities (with respect to purity) that make an object or a person competent for a specific use or a specific task as the case may be. For example, Shaucha of a utensil may refer to whether its clean or dirty that will decide whether it is suitable or not for kitchen use. Similarly, Shaucha in context of a Brahmachari (a student learning Vedas etc.) refers to all those actions like bathing daily (3), abstaining from liquor, meat, sex etc. (4) that are prescribed for him. It is practice of these tenets of purity and cleanliness in thoughts, speech and action that will lead a person to purify his mind and attain Self-Realization. It is for this reason, the Yoga-Sutras prescribe Shaucha as one of the four Niyamas (5) or duties that is to be practiced every practitioner of Yoga. The same sentiment has been expressed in Manu Smriti that declares-

अहिंसा सत्यम् अस्तेयं शौचम् इन्द्रियनिग्रहः |
एतं सामासिकं धर्मं चातुर्वर्ण्ये अब्रवीन् मनुः || (10.63)
Non-Violence, Truth, Non-Stealing, Cleanliness/Purity and Sense-Control are the duties that are common for all four classes, so declares Manu.

Hence, Cleanliness or Purity- whether it is cleanliness of the surroundings or the hygiene of the body or the purity of speech and mind, they are all considered as an obligation, a basic duty of all human beings. And if any person is violating this tenet of Shaucha through his thoughts, speech or action, then he is violating Dharma (Righteousness and Obligatory Duty). Such an adharmic action is termed as Paapam-a sin that would result in sorrow for that individual.

External and Internal Shaucha:

The Hindu philosophy divides the concept of Shaucha into two types- External Cleanliness and Internal Purity. Veda Vyasa in his commentary on Yoga-Sutra (6) describes External Shaucha as removing the impurities of objects using clay and water and Internal Shaucha as removing the impurities of mind. Hence, External Shaucha refers to cleanliness with respect to a person’s body, various objects a person comes into contact with and cleanliness with respect to the surrounding environment. On the other hand, Internal Shaucha refers to the purity of actions, speech and thoughts of a person.

Shaucha regarding Environment:

The environment is given utmost importance in Hindu philosophy. This becomes clear if one goes through the Bhoomi Sukta of Atharva Veda that considers the Earth as a Mother, a Living force and praises her beauty and existence. It describes her as having many slopes and plains and bearing various plants with healing powers (7). It even calls the Earth as a Mistress of four quarters (8) who is all-sustaining, treasure bearing mother who is home to all moving life (9) The Sukta also expresses concern about over-digging of the earth when it says “Whatever I dig from thee, may that have quick growth again. Oh purifier, may we not injure thy vitals or thy heart” (10). This verse clearly speaks against indiscriminate mining and other such activities that are done with no regard for environmental consequences.

Hence, Hindu scriptures have always given utmost importance to the health and cleanliness of environment. The Yajnavalkya Smriti (11) says that the (unclean) ground can be cleaned by sweeping, by burning, by digging, by the lapse of time, by the walking of cow and by the sprinkling of water. Similarly, the flowing waters like a river gets purified by the current of its own flow and unclean objects can be cleaned by mud and water (12).

The Manu Smriti dictates that one should not throw filthy substances like urine, faeces, saliva, cloths defiled by impure substances, blood, poisonous things and any other impure substances into water (13). Such, unclean substances should not be thrown into fire as well (14). A person should not urinate on roads, on ashes, in a cow pan, on ploughed land, in water, in fire, in a ruined temple, in ant hill, in holes inhabited by living creatures or on a hill top (15). It further suggests that, one should void urine or faeces by covering the ground with sticks, grass, leaves, clod etc. (16). This is suggested because, faeces are organic matter and when covered by mud, grass etc. they naturally decompose without causing any pollution. And for this reason, the Manu-Smriti says that one must dispose of urine (and faeces as well), remnants of food and the water used for bathing far away from dwelling place (17). Another verse (18) advices the disposal of food made impure by birds, insects or hairs falling into it by putting mud over it. That is, such food must be buried in ground so as to allow for natural decomposition.

These assertions present in the Hindu scriptures makes it clear that, a person is obliged to keep his surroundings clean. And all such activities that cause pollution of water, air, earth or fire are considered as Adharma and hence must be avoided.

Shaucha regarding various Objects:

In everyday life we make use of various objects for various purposes. We use many utensils for cooking and eating, we use clothes to cover over body, we use house to live in etc. As people are in constant contact with various objects, it makes essential to keep the objects in a clean and hygienic condition. The Smriti’s suggest that unclean objects can be cleaned by water and mud (19). They give a long list of various objects and methods of their purification (20).

The golden and silver vessels can be cleaned with water. For the oil-vessels, the cleaning is effective with warm water. Silken or camlet clothes can be cleaned using salt-earth, water and cow-urine, whereas the sack-clothes can be cleaned using bilva-fruit. The linin cloth is cleaned using mustard seeds and an earthen vessel that is stained with liquor, blood, urine etc. can be purified by baking it again in fire. Similarly, various vegetables can be cleaned by washing them with water. By adopting these measures, a person can ensure the purity of the objects that he is using.

Shaucha regarding the body:

The human body cannot be considered clean and pure as it not only becomes dirty due to dust etc. from the surroundings but also due to secretion of various impure substances like sweat, urine etc. The scriptures speak about twelve impure substances that are secreted by the human body (21). They are: Oily exudes, Semen, Blood, Bone marrow, Urine, Faeces, Nasal mucus secretions, Ear wax, Phlegm, Tears, Rheum of the eyes and Sweat. These secretions, if not cleaned may cause various infections and allergies. Hence, a person who wishes to keep his body clean must wash his body thoroughly with water and mud (22). The water that is used for bathing and drinking should be clean and pure. A water is considered pure if it possesses proper smell, colour, and taste and is free from any other impurities (23). It is for this reason, the scriptures advice people to bath daily in waters of rivers, ponds, lakes etc. (24)

Further, texts like Hatha-Yoga-Pradipika prescribes Shat-Kriyas or Six activities (25)- dhauti, basti, neti, nauli, trataka and kapalabhati that help one to purify one’s body especially for those who are fat and phlegmatic (26). These purification exercises will help in cleaning the throat, oesophagus, lungs, stomach and bowels and getting them rid of all their impure secretions.

Another aspect of bodily hygiene is the kind of food that is consumed. The scriptures suggest that the food that has been touched by feet, smelt by cow, touched by dog, in which hairs or insects are found, which has turned sour or has been kept over-night, which has been sneezed over by another person etc. should not be consumed as they have been contaminated (27). By implementing the above mentioned exercises and food habits, a person can maintain bodily purity and hygiene.

Shaucha regarding the mind, speech and actions:

Internal Purity refers to purity with respect to thoughts, speech and actions. A person may be clean externally, but if his thoughts and deeds are impure then he cannot be considered as adhering to Shaucha Dharma. Manu Smriti declares that among all the kinds of purity, the purity in the wealth attained is the highest (28). It further adds that, the cleanliness obtained from mud and water is not real purity at all. That is, only a person with clean character who earns wealth through honesty and hard-work can be considered as being “pure” because only the purity of mind is the real Shaucha. A person who is pure in his mind, will invariably be pure in his body, speech and actions.

But, it is not very easy to purify the mind. The mind is afflicted with various impurities. The scriptures classify these impurities into six types collectively referred as “Arishad-Vargas/Internal Passions” or “Shad Ripus/Six enemies”. They are kama (lust), krodha (anger), lobha (greed), moha (attachment), mada (pride) and matsarya (jealousy). In Bhagavad Gita, Lord Krishna describes Kama, Krodha and Lobha as three gates of hell (29). People who cave in for these mental passions commit various sins (paapam/adharma) through their thoughts, speech and actions.

The scriptures speak about three kinds of sins that a person who is in control of his passions commit through his mind. They are- desiring for wealth and objects that belongs to others, desiring to cause hurt or injury to others and adherence to falsehood (30). Similarly, the four kinds of sins committed through speech harshly and vulgarly, speaking falsehood, speaking ill about others and speaking incoherently and idly (31). The three kinds of sins that a person commits through his body are taking forcefully or stealthily the wealth and objects that belong to others, committing violence and having sexual intercourse with another person’s wife (32). A person can prevent himself from committing these sins, only by purifying his mind by getting rid of his internal passions. He can do so by practising Dharmic tenets in his thoughts, speech and action. For example, by speaking truth in a pleasant manner always, a person will be able to keep his mind and speech in a check. Similarly, by destroying any unpleasant thoughts (be it due to lust or due to anger) by a process of self-examination and discrimination (vivekna), one can prevent oneself from committing these sins. A practice of charity can likewise prevent one from lusting after others wealth.

On the other hand, a person becomes impure by committing various sins intentionally or unintentionally. Hence, in such a situation, the scriptures prescribes various methods of repentances/prayaschita, by which he can attain purity. A person who has done prohibited actions can become pure by Charity (33). A person who has committed some sin secretly (i.e. in his mind) can become pure by the practice of Japa (34). A learned person becomes purified by forgiveness (35), a knower of Vedas by austerities (36), women who have committed mental sins are purified by their menses (37) and a twice-born by taking renunciation (38). The scriptures further state that, the intellect is purified by knowledge, the mind is purified by Truth and the Atma is purified by Tapas/Austerity and Jnana/Self-Realization (39). Hence, it is only by the practice of Dharmic tenets like Satya, Asteya, Tapas etc. that a person is able overcome the lust and other internal passions and attain Chitta-Shuddhi (Purification of the mind) that is necessary to attain Self-Realization. And this Self-Realization is the ultimate goal of the practice of Shaucha.


Therefore, a thorough reading of Hindu scriptures will not only make it clear that Shaucha or Swacchata constitutes an important tenet of Dharma, but it also expands the concept of cleanliness from being just limited to defecation practices of people to a broadened concept of purity that addresses purity at all levels of human existence- ecological, physical, verbal, psychological and spiritual.

  1. “Poor Sanitation in India May Afflict Well-Fed Children With Malnutrition” by Gardiner Harris, The New York Times (Jul 13, 2014) -
The final frontier, The Economist (Jul 19, 2014) -
  1. Daksha Smriti 5.2
  2. Manu Smriti 2.176
  3. Manu Smriti 2.177
  4. Yoga-Sutras of Patanjali 2.32
  5. Vyasa Commentary on verse 2.32 of Patanjali Yoga-Sutra, also refer Vadhula Smriti Verse 19, Daksha Smriti 5.3 “Purification is of two types- external and internal. External purification is achieved through water and clay. Internal purification results from cleansing of ones inner thoughts (and emotions)”
  6. Atharva Veda 12.1.2
  7. Atharva Veda 12.1.4
  8. Atharva Veda 12.1.6
  9. Atharva Veda 12.1.35
  10. Yajnavalkya Smriti 1.188
  11. Yajnavalkya Smriti 3.32
  12. Manu Smriti 4.56
  13. Manu Smriti 4.53
  14. Manu Smriti 4.45-48
  15. Manu Smriti 4.49
  16. Manu Smriti 4.151
  17. Manu Smriti 5.124
  18. Manu Smrti 5.108 Yajnavalkya Smriti 3.32
  19. For details regarding the cleaning of various objects refer- Manu Smriti 5.110-125, Yajnavalkya Smriti 1.182-188
  20. Manu Smriti 5.135
  21. Manu Smriti 5.134
  22. Manu Smriti 5.128
  23. Manu Smriti 4.203
  24. Hatha Yoga Pradipika 2.22
  25. Hatha Yoga Pradipika 2.21
  26. Manu Smriti 4.207.209,211
  27. Manu Smriti 5.106
  28. Bhagavad Gita 16.21
  29. Manu Smriti 12.5
  30. Manu Smriti 12.6
  31. Manu Smriti 12.7
  32. Yajnavalkya Smriti 3.32, Manu Smriti 5.107
  33. Yajnavalkya Smriti 3.33, Manu Smriti 5.107
  34. Yajnavalkya Smriti 3.33, Manu Smriti 5.107
  35. Manu Smriti 5.107
  36. Manu Smriti 5.108
  37. Manu Smriti 5.108
  38. Yajnavalkya Smriti 3.34, Manu Smriti 5.109

Sunday, June 29, 2014

Society & One-Legged Dharma-Part 6- How Spiritually Right is Discontentment in Politics?

Nithin Sridhar

I will pen-down my comments and opinions on various social issues under the title "Society & One-Legged Dharma" pointing out how most of the ills of the society has been caused due to forsaking of Dharma by people. In Hindu scriptures, the Dharma represented by a Bull is said to stand on four legs in Satya Yuga, when most people practiced and lived life by Dharma. "Four-Legs" denotes that Dharma was firmly established in society. On the other hand, it is said that,in Kali Yuga, Dharma stands only on One-Leg. We have been witnessing this in our society, where qualities like truth, non-violence, compassion, honesty have lost their value and replaced by untruth, deviousness, corruption, violence etc.

The series of writings under this title is my humble attempt to revive Dharma by making people become aware of them.
-Nithin Sridhar

How Spiritually Right is Discontentment in Politics?

The ugly face of discontentment and opportunistic tendencies among the politicians gets exposed every time there is elections. The same was the case in the recently held Lok-Sabha elections as well. One Sunil Choudhary of Aam Aadmi Party reportedly shaved one half of his moustache and beard and toured around Allahabad on a mule to express his anger and displeasure against the party for denying ticket to him. Another example is ex-BJP leader Jaswant Singh, who filed his nominations from Barmer, Rajasthan as an Independent candidate after he was denied ticket from BJP. He had criticized the BJP leadership saying that one must differentiate between real and fake BJP (2).After his subsequent expulsion from BJP he went on record to state that he never supported Ram Janmabhoomi movement (3).

This phenomenon of discontentment is not localized to a specific party or a specific region. This phenomenon is not even unique to this election. After the announcement of every elections, one can witness the ugly battle of words, allegations and theatrics coming from those people who were denied tickets, or who were sidelined in the decision making process. The same people, who would be praising the party and the leadership till one day earlier, would start making noises and allegations the moment they are denied tickets. The allegations can range from frivolous charges of personal rivalry to serious charges of corruption and lack of internal democracy. Even if one were to assume that those allegations are true, it raises serious questions about the integrity of the candidates as such sudden U-turns clearly expose greed and opportunism. If a politician is really genuine and selfless and has service to people as his only goal, then why would such a person be discontent at being denied to fight an election? Lord Krishna in Gita (4) clearly instructs Arjuna, that one has only a right to perform his duties but never over the fruits of his action. Hence, a genuine and selfless politician whose only intention is to serve nation and its people will never become discontent. He would find other ways for serving people.

On the other hand, the very act of discontentment on the eve of elections exposes the presence of anger, frustration and jealousy. Manu Smriti clearly states that, a ruler should practice “Indriya-Nigraha (control of mind and the senses)” 24X7 (5). It further advices the rulers to avoid vices that arise from lust and anger (6). It states that the vices that arise from anger are eight in number- Tale-bearing, violence, treachery, envy, slandering, (unjust) seizure of property, reviling, and assault (7). One can easily witness few of these vices as being present in discontent politicians.

The root cause of this entire political discontentment, frustration and opportunism is the presence of Greed. This greed makes one to act against his own better judgment. It clouds the mind and hampers the faculty of discrimination (viveka) that differentiates between rights and wrongs. Hence, such actions that arise from greed are not only harmful to that particular Individual but also to society as a whole. It is for this reason Lord Krishna (8) describes Lust, Anger and Greed as the three gates to hell. Similar sentiments have been expressed in Manu Smriti that makes a comparison between choosing vices and choosing death. It declare that death is a better option as a person who lives a Dharmic life, upon death attains Heaven and enjoys peace whereas a person who lives through vices attains hell and suffers even after death (9). Hence, a person who is weak, ignorant, greedy, without discrimination of right and wrong and attached to sensual desires is declared to be unfit to govern (10). And if a nation is governed by such a person who is afflicted with lust, anger and greed, then it would only lead to destruction (11). This phenomenon is very much evident from the current state of affairs in India. The nation is afflicted with social problems be it rape, corruption or poverty. The political atmosphere is no better. The financial systems have been completely dismantled. The very word “culture” has been made an untouchable. At the very root of this crisis is the presence of Incompetent political class that has neither the vision of a statesman nor competencies of a good administrator. Much of the political class is filled with self-serving people who always put their own political ambitions and self-serving goals before growth and development of the nation and its people. They are devoid of any Intellectual and Spiritual competency that are necessary to effectively govern this country and take it on the path of progress and prosperity. And this section of political class becomes exposed every time they are denied tickets in the elections. 

  4. Bhagavad Gita 2.47
  5. Manu Smriti 7.44
  6. Manu Smriti 7.45
  7. Manu Smriti 7.48
  8. Bhagavad Gita 16.21
  9. Manu Smriti 7.53
  10. Manu Smriti 7.30
  11. Manu Smriti 7.27

Monday, March 17, 2014

Sex and Hinduism Revisited

Nithin Sridhar

(This is a revised and enlarged version of 2008 article titled "Between Ears, Not Legs")

Her lap is a sacrificial altar; her hairs, the sacrificial grass; her skin, the soma-press. The two labia*(lips) of the vulva are the fire in the middle [Brhad-Âranyaka Upanisad, 6.4.3] (1)

This man (ama) am I; that woman (sâ), thou!
That woman, thou; this man am I!
I am the Sâman; thou, the Rig!
I am the heaven; thou, the earth!
Come, let us two together clasp!
Together let us semen mix,
A male, a son for to procure!
[Brhad-Âranyaka Upanisad, 6.4.20]

Whenever the issue of love, nudity, sex and Hinduism comes into picture, we usually get to see one of the following reactionaries: (a) The West in general and its scholars studying South Asia [for example RISA(2)] in particular, and their Indian counterparts who consider Hinduism to be a mix of voodoo and pornography; or (b) The Hindu orthodoxy which thinks sex is taboo.

Now let's examine how valid these perspectives are.

Hindu Purusharthas:

Human life is considered to be the most advanced of all organisms. The importance of human life has been highlighted repeatedly by our various Acharyas. The difference between Humans and all other animals, birds or plants is the fact that humans have faculty of thinking, faculty of decision and discrimination (viveka), whereas the other animals live life according to their instinct inherent from birth. Hence, it is the ability to discriminate between merit and demerit, good and bad or right and wrong and to exert “Free-Will” to act accordingly is what makes a human life unique and precious. It is because of this ability a person is able to work himself to fulfill his desires and attain goals. These goals or “objectives of human life” are categorized under four headings and collectively termed as Purushartha. They are the canonical ends or aims that serve as pointers in life. The four Purusharthas from the lowest to the highest are: kama - pleasure or desire (3), artha - wealth, dharma - righteousness or morality and moksha - liberation from the cycle of rebirth, with dharma being placed first in the order and Moksha at the last signifying the fact that Dharma is the common element, a general frame-work, a medium through which one must attain kama, artha and moksha.

According to the Kamasutra, "In the beginning, the Lord of beings created men and women and, in the form of commandments in one hundred thousand chapters, laid down rules for regulating their existence with regard to dharma, artha, and kama."(4) Further, it says, "Man, the period of whose life is one hundred years, should practise dharma, artha and kama at different times and in such a manner that they may harmonise together and not clash in any way. He should acquire learning in his childhood, in his youth and middle age he should attend to artha and kama, and in his old age he should perform (Nivritti) dharma, and thus seek to gain moksha, i.e. release from further transmigration."(5)

Hence, in the Hindu scheme of things, even though enlightment is the ultimate goal of life, it encourages people to enjoy everything and fulfill all material desires but through rightful means. This it does because, Moksha is a long process and every person is not immediately qualified for it. Only a person who has become dispassionate and has overcome the internal enemies like desire, jealousy, anger, delusion, pride and greed is qualified to practice Moksha-Sadhana and attain Moksha. This is the path of renunciation. But, for those who still have desires for wealth and enjoyment, the path of householders is advised. This is the path in which kama and artha are fulfilled in a dharmic way such that there is neither suppression of desires nor reckless-gratification. A person who indulges only in gratification of his desires be it for wealth or for sex without caring for its righteousness or consequences will end of committing heinous actions like corruption or rape. Instead, the path of householders is a path by which, two people come together to practice dharma, kama and artha together.

It is this harmony of dharma, kama, artha and moksha that is also the foundation of less traversed but more maligned path- the path of the tantras. The tantras does not reject anything as taboo, but it seeks to accept the human desires and passions including the bestial tendencies for what they are and then use them to rise above them. This it does in variety of ways that are suitable for people with different temperaments and competencies.

Hence, a person who wants to overcome his sexual desires can do so by practicing the duties of householder with restraint of his senses. Through this practice of restraining senses called as “Indriya Nigraha”, he would slowly become detached and dispassionate. Or such a person may instead use sex as a tool, as a medium of worship, which would result in satiation of his sexual desires and at the same time making way for spiritual upliftment.

Sex as Yajna:
Yajna or sacrifice is derived from the root, yaj. It means "worship" or "the offering of oblation". Max Müller defines yajna as "an act by which we surrender something for the sake of gods"(6). Sex is worship, a sacrifice. It is an act by which the partners involved surrender their ego in order to gain pleasure, progeny and, eventually, even enlightment.

Brhad-Âranyaka Upanisad  says “Her lap is a sacrificial altar; her hair the sacrificial grass; her skin the soma-press. The two labia of the vulva are the fire in the middle. Verily, indeed, as great as is the world of him who sacrifices with the Vâjapeya ["Strength-libation", libation is an act of pouring a liquid as a sacrifice (as to a deity)] sacrifice, so great is the world of him who practices sexual intercourse"

These verses clearly show that sex is to be treated as a form of worship, an act to not only to gain pleasure, but also as a sacred act for obtaining progeny (a householder’s duty prescribed by scripture) and spiritual upliftment.

Sex as Meditation:
In Vijnana Bhairava Tantra, during a conversation between Shiva and Shakti, Devi asks: "O Shiva, what is your reality?/ What is this wonder-filled universe?/ What constitutes seed?/ Who center’s the universal wheel?/ What is this life beyond the form pervading forms?/ How may we enter it fully,/ above space and time,/ names and descriptions?/ Let my doubts be cleared!"

Shiva explains her 112 methods of meditation to attain enlightment which includes few sexual meditations. He says: "At the start of sexual union/ Keep attentive on the fire in the beginning,/ And so continuing,/ Avoid the embers in the end./ When in such embrace your senses are shaken as leaves,/ Enter this shaking./ Even remembering union,/ Without the embrace."

These verses clearly indicate how the sexual act can be utilized for achieving enlightment. There are certain tantric sadhanas called as “Lata Sadhanas”, wherein partners identify themselves with Bhairava-Bhairavi and use sexual union to attain Samadhi. Samadhi is a state where the ego vanishes. In a sexual act, too, when the two partners unite together, when their passions reach their peak, for very brief moments, they both will experience a state of non-ego. If, this state can be harnessed and lengthened, then it can lead one to Samadhi.

But, this does not mean that every person who indulges in sex is a yogi. Kularnava Tantra clearly says- “Beguiled by false knowledge as propagated, certain persons, deprived of the guru-shishya tradition, imagine the nature of the Kuladharma according to their own intellect. If merely by drinking wine, men were to attain fulfillment, all addicted to liquor would reach perfection. If mere partaking of flesh were to lead to the high state, all the carnivores in the world would become eligible to immense merit. If liberation were to be ensured by sexual intercourse with a Shakti, all creatures would become liberated by female companionship (7)”.  Hence, every sexual encounter does not lead to Samadhi. Sexual recklessness does not lead to Spiritual progress. But, when a Sexual act is treated as worship, as a meditation and the act is used to still the mind and withdraw the senses, one attains dynamic equilibrium. This dynamic stillness when harnessed will in turn lead to Samadhi. A normal sexual encounter ends when the partners climax and the male ejaculates. But, in a Lata-Sadhana, there is no ejaculation. When, the partners reach the state of highest passion, they instead enter into a state of Samadhi. This is in fact very difficult to achieve for most people. Only a few have competency to practice them. It is the ignorance of such nuances that has led to misunderstanding of tantras.

It is the study of 64 arts(8) like singing, playing musical instruments, dancing, union of dancing, singing, and playing instrumental music, writing and drawing, tattooing, etc. The "art of lovemaking" is only a part of this shastra (discipline). Hence, the attempt of modern scholarship to reduce the whole discipline of Kama that deals with love, sex, marriage, arts and music to only a manual of sexual gymnastics speaks volume about the state of scholarship present in India and the West. This also strengthens the speculations that the scholars who study Hinduism selectively highlight some aspects that suit their agenda and ignore the rest.

Sex education:
This branch of education has been featured throughout the Hindu history. Vatsyayana says, both men and women should learn the Kamashastra(9).

Pre-marital sex and love marriages:
In Hindu society sex was always considered a matter of individual choice. There are many such instances in our history. Scriptures too depict pre-marital sex and love marriages. So, complaining that they are "anti-Hindu" is ill-informed. The Manusmriti recognizes eight kinds of marriages of which "gandharva marriage" is one. It is a voluntary union of a maiden and her lover, which arises from desire and sexual intercourse for its purpose (10). A caveat needs to be added here. The support of scriptures for Love marriages or by extension for pre-marital sex between lovers who eventually marry should not be considered as a support for recent practices of sexual recklessness like one-night stands that has no element of love. The practices of dating multiple people for sex, or visiting prostitutes or one night stands are indeed considered as sexual recklessness and hence are against the basic tenet of Dharma- the Indriya Nigraha. Such actions are considered as transgressions of Dharma. The same is the case of extra-marital affair. It is considered as a sin (11), an adharma because it involves cheating.

If, it be said that, the issue of sex and affair are personal issues and it is wrong for religion to interfere in it, the answer is that Hinduism is not interfering in anybody’s life. It only teaches people to discriminate between Dharma and Adharma, the actions that are right and bring happiness and those actions that are wrong and results in sorrow. But, every person has a free-will to act, to take decisions, to make choices. This freedom to exert free-will was always present in Hindu society and is the very core of human life.

Is Hinduism pornography and tantra a sex manual?
 The straight answer is a simple "no".

The word "Tantra" actually refers to a vast body of literature called the "Agamas" which are practical manuals for meditation. There are many Shaiva, Shakta, Pancharatra Agamas. Using sex for meditation is prescribed in only a few of the many different paths described in the Agamas. The aim here was to turn a sexual union into a meditation, a spiritual union that would ultimately result in Samadhi and not sexual gratification. It is Victorian puritanical authoritarianism which condemns any mention or depiction of sex. 

Hinduism on the other hand, recognizes the role of sexual desires in human lives. The sexual depictions in some of the temples were meant to not only educate the people about role sex in householder’s life, but also to help those who were involved in sexual sadhanas (penance) for enlightment. Such, depictions has great value not only for their artistic beauty but also for spiritual significance. There is a difference between nudity, expression of beauty and pornography. What appears in the Hindu Puranas and Itihasas are expressions of genuine beauty and deep philosophy and not pornography as imagined by modern academics.

Hence, sex is neither a taboo nor pornography in Hinduism. Instead it is recognized as a very basic block of life, which must be harnessed in a proper way so that it would lead to both sensual happiness and spiritual fulfillment.

References & Notes:

1 The verses are taken from chapter titled "Incantations and ceremonies for procreation"

2 Religions In South Asia (RISA), a department under the American Academy of Religion (AAR), has been sponsoring studies for years now to deride Hinduism. The Gods and Goddess like Ganesha, KaLi, and saints like Ramakrishna etc. have come under much distasteful sexual connotation and nauseating voyeurism that one begins to wonder if it can at all be called academics. Also read RISA LILA by Rajiv Malhotra-

3 Kama in general means material desires and pleasures: physical, emotional, sexual and psychological. According to the Kama Sutra of Vatsyayana: "Kama is the enjoyment of appropriate objects by the five senses of hearing, feeling, seeing, tasting and smelling, assisted by the mind together with the soul. The ingredient in this is a peculiar contact between the organ of sense and its object, and the consciousness of pleasure which arises from that contact is called Kama." Part 1, Chapter 2: On the acquisitions of Dharma, Artha and Kama. The Kama Sutra of Vatsyayana, Translated by Sir Richard Burton,

4 Part 1,Chapter 1:Preface, The Kama Sutra of Vatsayayana, Translated by Sir Richard Burton.

5 Part 1, Chapter 2: On the acquisitions of Dharma, Artha and Kama. The Kama Sutra of Vatsyayana, Translated by Sir Richard Burton,

6 Max Müller's Sacred Books of East series (SBE 30), p 315.-

7 Kularnava Tantra 2.116-118

8 Part 1, Chapter 3: On the Study of the Sixty-Four Arts, The Kama Sutra of Vatsayayana, Translated by Sir Richard Burton

9 MAN should study the Kama Sutra and the arts and sciences subordinate thereto, in addition to the study of the arts and sciences contained in Dharma and Artha. Even young maids should study this Kama Sutra along with its arts and sciences before marriage, and after it they should continue to do so with the consent of their husbands. Part 1, Chapter 3: On the Study of the Sixty-Four Arts, The Kama Sutra of Vatsayayana, Translated by Sir Richard Burton.

10 Manu Smriti 3.32

11 Manu Smriti 12.7