I recently stumbled across this image on the internet.
I recalled the last year I was living in India there was a big hoopla in the news media about some socio-political group or another who were protesting the celebration of Valentine’s Day in India as both corporate imperialism and a subversion of traditional Indian cultural values.
A few Hallmark card shops were vandalized and some young couples who dared to walk hand in hand or arm in arm in public were harassed by some hired hands of these groups. Each year Valentine’s Day in India comes and goes without major incident as card sales skyrocket and the same groups of people protest while the same groups of lovers and Hallmark mass consumers continue to defy and frustrate them.
As aspiring yogis and other sundry dharmic followers, the topic of love and romance takes on a different meaning to us.
We are neither for nor against, because romance is peripheral to our ultimate goal of liberation from samsara, the cycle of birth and death. Rather we seek to channel and sublimate all of our temporary worldly relationships and pursuits into this one goal, and we tend to accept or reject them contingent upon whether or not they are compatible with that goal.
A yogi or a dharmi also tries to keep her or his life as simple as possible, so as to free up time, energy and emotional space for the daily practice of sadhana (regular spiritual practice such as meditation).
Keeping things simple will look different to each of us.
For the polyamorous rotating a harem of 5 or 6 partners, simplifying might look like cutting down to just 2 or 3. On the other hand for the person in a (childless) relationship with just one other partner who is nevertheless averse to one’s goal of liberation, simplifying might look like saying your final salam to him/her and living a single life or finding a dharmically inclined partner.
On yet another hand, for couples with children who are going through (non-violent) difficulty in their partnership and are considering separation, simplifying might look like staying together and amicably working things out for the sake of the children, so that one’s children can grow up in a simple family environment.
Unencumbered by divorce court, custody battles, having to choose between mom or dad, and being exposed to and confused by the almost inevitable rotation of mom and/or dad’s new post-divorce boyfriends/girlfriends.
Although it is true that in both the traditional yogic and bhakti schools of the Dharma traditions, sexual attraction and its ensuing attachment between human beings is considered one of the foremost binding agents to samsara (the repeating cycle of birth and death), if not the foremost binding agent, it largely depends on how it is approached that will determine if it binds you, helps to liberate you, or acts as a neutral factor effecting neither your liberation nor your continued bondage.
Once a man came to the bhakti-yoga guru B.P. Keshava Maharaja several decades ago in India and asked why he only sees the educated middle class of Bengali society in his ashram and not the poor beggars from the streets. B.P. Keshava Maharaja immediately called in a poor beggar from the street and asked him, “Do you have a wife?” The beggar answered, “No.” He asked him, “Do you have children?” The beggar answered, “No.” He asked him, “Do you have a job, home or any responsibility that you have to attend to?” The beggar answered, “No sir, I am a lonely beggar with nobody and nothing in this world to call my own.”
At that point B.P. Keshava Maharaja extended his invitation, “Then please come and live here in this ashram. You will get food, clothing, shelter and all your basic needs will be met without having to beg. The only thing you have to do is daily kirtan (sacred chanting).” All of a sudden and to the surprise of the man who made the initial inquiry, the beggar stood up and exclaimed, “Oh please excuse me, I must go now. There is something important that I must attend to,” and scurried quickly away!
B.P. Keshava Maharaja turned to the man and said:
“Just see! Those with no attachment to anyone or anything in this world are unable to become attached to Divinity because the emotion of attachment is unknown to them. On the other hand those with too much attachment in this world are also unable to become attached to Divinity because they are immersed in samsarik pursuits and relationships. The ideal condition is to not be too attached and not too detached, but to have a healthy balance of both attachment and detachment and then you can very easily transfer that healthy attachment to the divine life.”
So this Valentine’s Day, as we contemplate the meaning of life and love and whether or not our relationships are serving our higher purpose, this apropos sutra from pop culture contains within its formula the wisdom of the ages:
KISS: Keep It Simple Stupid!
Edited by Hayley Samuelson.
Toongi is a third culture person who has lived most of her adult life in India studying the literature and lore of Bengali Vaishnavism under the guidance of her guru. She currently resides in the United States where she teaches meditation techniques and dishes out unsolicited advice to the lovelorn in the tradition of Vatsyayana, the celibate sex guru of Kama Sutra fame. She can be reached on email here.