Some Reflections on "Theosophy and Sex Problems"

By Grace F. Knoche

A year ago Sunrise reprinted an article titled "Theosophy and Sex Problems" written by G. de Purucker in 1935 for the Encylopaedia Sexualis on the invitation of its editor, Victor Robinson, M.D. Because some of de Purucker's views run counter to current sexual mores, the article elicited a larger reader response than usual. Several objected to his statement that the proper use of the sexual function is for the perpetuation of the race, and that any other use is debilitating and against natural law. One subscriber asked:

Why did Sunrise publish this article, and just at this time? Was it because of the AIDS danger? Aren't there other ways, more realistic and spiritual, to be found that will cure or at least mitigate these threats to human life? And doesn't sex belong to mankind in our present stage of evolution? How is it that the author never used the word "love" in this article and ignores the value of attraction between a man and woman who love each other dearly?

Quite a few took exception to the "authoritative and near-dogmatic way in which principles, which may be basically correct, are pronounced without reservation or qualification." Others felt that the "thou shalt not" approach to sex was unsatisfying since no suggestions were given on how to handle the problem of sex, especially during one's younger years when the vital drives are strong:

We do not question that the goal as GdeP stated it is precisely and exactly true. Our need is for more information on how to get to that goal. We are all struggling with the question of how to live in consonance with theosophic principles. Most writings offer compassionate encouragement that though we fail to reach our ideals, there is merit in the trying, but I felt discouraged after reading this article.

Unfortunately there is so much more to the subject than the act itself. One wonders about provocative clothing, perfume, walking hand in hand, hugging, kissing, etc. Why, for instance, does orgasm feel like what mystics describe as a mystical experience? Why should it be so confusing? . . . There is a whole sense of looking for completion and devotion to an ideal that gets sex and religion and mysticism all mixed in together. Why? Please understand that I do not disagree with the idea that the ideal role of sex is for procreation only. The questions arise after accepting that ideal; the questions have to do with locating the path to that ideal.

Another reader wrote:

If sexual communion is meant only as a means of reproduction, what an enormous mistake we are making by the use of contraceptives. And how about those entities who find their return to earth blocked by a contraceptive? What path do they follow, and is it a good one? Then there are the many homosexual relationships; among these there must be many serious seekers. Isn't nature arranged in a strange way if people, in ignorance or blindness, make mistakes and then are punished by degenerative diseases, even insanity? Why should this be so? How is it that practically everyone today misuses the sexual faculty when men and women generally feel what is right and what is not right? In other words, how can the sexual act be in harmony with nature when used for procreation, but against nature when otherwise used?

Recently a correspondent wrote:

Your letter with its long and clear explanation certainly makes everything much more understandable. Of course GdeP was right in writing this for the medical Encyclopaedia, but for readers of Sunrise continence looks like a faraway ideal and might make them think they have misused an action they thus far considered as an expression of deepest love and care in a long and happy marriage.

Before commenting on these thoughtful observations, it is essential to state that the Theosophical Society has no creed and no dogma or belief system to which anyone is required to adhere. The philosophic truths and moral ideals of theosophy are open to all to examine for themselves and to accept, reject, or put on hold, in whole or in part, according to one's individual truth-sensor. As H. P. Blavatsky made clear at the outset, the "very root idea" of the modern theosophic effort is to inspire "free and fearless investigation" of all branches of thought. (The Theosophist (1:1), October 1879, Bombay, India, p. 6.) Each of us, therefore, is expected to do our own thinking, and to try to live according to our best lights.

Why, then, did Sunrise reprint this article? Primarily, to give our readers an expanded view of ourselves as evolving beings, incarnating again and again on earth as a learning process -- not to indulge our every whim (and I refer to our whole approach to life, and not merely to sex). Even the simplest advertisement for toothpaste is designed to cater to selfish and acquisitive instincts, while the entertainment industry profits by glorifying the worst elements in human nature. Only rarely is something created of pure inspiration, that dignifies the power of love, courage, and sacrifice to ennoble the life.

In rereading the article, certain impressions come into focus: one, that Dr. de Purucker's primary purpose was to delineate the broad evolutionary picture of who we are -- far nobler and greater than we dream, only a small part of us being physical. In tracing human evolutionary history through the early root-races -- asexual, androgynous, two-sexed -- he was placing the sexual faculty within this larger frame of reference. By lifting the thought of the reader above the ordinary he was emphasizing the almost forgotten truth, that we are not our body or even our mind with only a single life in which to express the powers of soul; that first and last and in the essence of our selfhood we are monads, gods in exile, with a vast experience of many lives on earth, and that the present division of the sexes is but a temporary evolutionary phase which one day we shall outgrow, a minor and not a major aspect of our totality.

Two, he was addressing a select audience of professionals -- medical doctors, psychologists, anthropologists, and the like -- and this would account for his rather clinical psychological approach. In this context there was no call for him to discourse upon love and the sacredness of marriage.

Three, philosophically he had a vision to share as all his lectures and writings testify. Because of this he may have painted a picture larger than lifesize. Of course he was aware that some of his statements would be unacceptable and unrealistic to most people today. But when has that stopped any reformer from daring to go against established practice? In his published works there are frequent references to the life of the aspirant who seeks to tread the "still, small path" that leads to mystical union with the god within and to the time, in the pursuit of discipleship, when one must offer the full current of his being in the service of his higher self. When this "moment" comes, one gives up the personal life, including marriage and sex.

Most of us clearly have not reached that fork in the road, yet undoubtedly there are a great many individuals in and outside of the accepted faiths, who are sincerely trying to channel their energies into higher forms of creative expression. Where is the bridge between the ordinary outlook on sex and the ideal that GdeP's article portrayed?

Have we forgotten that every ethical code provides the stepping stones leading to the supreme vow of the bodhisattva, the christos, "to live to benefit mankind"? Those steps are memorialized in the Sermon on the Mount attributed to the Christ; the paramitas or transcendental virtues of Buddha; the injunctions of Krishna (our higher self) to Arjuna (the aspirant) to become as a muni, a sage, unattached to the fruits of his thinking and actions, unaffected by the impact of pain/pleasure. These are not unattainable and therefore impractical rules of conduct meant only for chelas or avowed disciples; they are eminently pertinent to us all. It is not only reaching the goal that counts; it is the setting of the heart on the noblest ideal and living up to it as far as humanly possible that is the triumph.

Today's civilization is proud of its progress, of having advanced beyond the ethical codes of former eras; we are liberated from the hypocrisies of the past, we think. But are we so certain of our destination? Where are we heading? Challenging voices are being heard all over the globe, calling for a revolution of thinking and attitude, for a new way of addressing humanity's basic ills, sexual and other. They are beginning openly to state that the grave social problems of the day will never be solved by working on effects alone. We must eradicate the causes of human misery and disease because all ills of body and mind have their seeding in the mind and psyche, and any distortion or imbalance therein inevitably will have debilitating and sometimes disastrous effects on the body of man -- and of our planet. AIDS, for example, is only one of many such diseases presently afflicting humanity; it hasn't reached its peak and the predictions are sobering. We are all involved: we are one humanity. Can any one of us honestly say that we have not contributed to the overall confusion of soul and of ideals that characterizes our times? We cannot divorce ourselves from the great human need and the pain and sorrow that weigh down the lives of millions. Their unspoken longing -- for love and understanding in coping with their often tragic circumstances -- is our longing.

But if we are ignorant of nature's laws why should we suffer disease or other adverse effects? Where is the justice? May we not also ask why an infant is burned when he puts his hand on a hot stove? The laws of nature act impersonally, regardless of human ignorance; they act on animals too, and on atoms and molecules. There is nothing intrinsically cruel or unfair in this. Actually, it may well be nature's most compassionate way of teaching her children what it means to work with and not against her laws. How often we suffer a painful reaction when we act contrary to what we intuitively know to be in our best interests. When we finally tire of being hurt or thwarted, we change our ways. We know that physical pain is a godsend -- if we didn't experience pain when something is wrong with us, we would do nothing to correct the problem. Wrong use or overuse of any faculty is bound to result in some form of imbalance. Unless we can reap the consequences of our thoughts and feelings, both constructive and destructive, it might take us ever so much longer to evolve.

Theosophical ideals do have a direct bearing on the problems and practices of today, and our challenge is to discover their relevance and applicability to our individual lives. Take the case of contraceptives: the problems arising from overpopulation are becoming increasingly severe, but from the long-range view we cannot help but wonder what type of karma we are building for the future by our rather casual way of attracting returning souls and then preventing their incarnation. (Surely a strong magnetic pull is energized before actual physical conception occurs.) From the short-range view, however, some type of preventive program seems to be the only practical, humanitarian solution, both for the potential parents and for the children seeking birth. When an incoming soul or ego is foiled in its attempt to be born, it may have to try more than once before it finds a family where it can continue to develop its potential. We cannot say its path is either "good" or "bad," for whatever the environment or circumstances in any life, it will attract to itself the experiences it needs, according to its stored-up karma from the past.

Turning to the issue of homosexuality: apparently, as far as history records, there have always been those in every race and era who have pursued this line of sexual activity. This is a difficult subject for we have no right to make value judgments on individuals, heterosexual or homosexual, who are caught up in behavioral patterns that divert sexual energy into unnatural avenues. On the other hand, we are required to judge whether or not any act or event is in accord with nature and for the benefit of the greater number. The only real protection for any one of us against becoming enslaved by our body and psychomental and emotional nature is to guard against overindulgence of any faculty or appetite. By forgetting ourselves and channeling our energies into service-oriented fields, we build constructive habits of thinking and emotion that keep the nature in health and in balance.

The fact is we know very little about sexuality, how it will manifest in future ages. GdeP points to the theosophic teaching that just as the human stock was androgynous (both male and female functioning in one form) before the separation of the sexes, just so the time will come millions of years hence when humanity will again be androgynous, able to produce offspring by the power of thought and will. (Such changes are not effected instantly but over long periods of time, with many transition stages.) Later still, we will have bodies of light, rather than of physical matter. The point is that as we evolve spiritually, ethically, and intellectually, the sexual aspect of our lives takes on less and less importance.

Far more knowledge and understanding are needed with respect to the role and destiny of human beings as a whole. Above all, we need a credible philosophy of living that nourishes both heart and mind, a philosophy of cosmic proportion that will help us see ourselves as vital elements in an organic whole, self-conscious participants in a divine enterprise spanning many world cycles. Such a vision lifts us above the forbidding "curse" of "original sin" and the equally untenable mechanistic view that would reduce the fire of spirituality to a blob of protoplasm. Neither of these provides a satisfying perspective on human problems, much less on the mystery of sex.

In her Secret Doctrine, H. P. Blavatsky slips in this gem:

The separation of the sexes was in the programme of nature and of natural evolution; and the creative faculty in male and female was a gift of Divine wisdom. -- II, 217

Could anyone say it more succinctly? We have to ask ourselves, What have we done and what are we doing today with this creative faculty, this "gift of Divine wisdom"? ((In the same volume is a masterly passage in the section titled "The 'Curse' from a Philosophical Point of View" (page 410 et seq.) Creativity is not limited to the physical/astral, it is the source of our grandest inspirations. Every moment in time the miracle of creation is being enacted throughout space, the primal rhythm urging suns and planets and human souls to issue forth again and again out of the darkness of the Unknown into the light. In his contribution to the Encyclopedia GdeP was casting into the thought consciousness of trained and dedicated minds seed-ideas that will eventually germinate.

Every one whose voice is heard above the crowd, however, runs the risk of having zealous followers overemphasize one or another aspect of his message. This occurred with the beautiful ideal of chelaship which GdeP made much of in his meetings with students. But if this sacred theme is misunderstood and misapplied, it can have unfortunate consequences. Certain natures being fired with the ideal begin to imagine that they are ready for discipleship when they have scarcely taken the first steps in self-mastery. Often they go to extremes of asceticism and unless their own pure goodness comes to their rescue and they wake from their fantasies, they may, like Icarus on his flight to the sun, take a fearful tumble.

Hold to our ideals we must, but if we would aspire sunward, our wings must be self-grown and not held on by wax. Hopefully, the discovery that we are human after all will help us recognize that to live a normal, natural life may do more for humanity -- and, incidentally, for our own and others' progress -- than to seek to climb the Everest of the spirit totally unprepared. The rigors of sustained aspiration must be fortified by inner discipline over many lives.

G. de Purucker's dynamic evolutionary vision represents convictions drawn from years of reflection on the wisdom-teachings of H. P. Blavatsky and the philosophies and lore of many peoples. Nonetheless, we are expected to test all things for ourselves and not simply blot up without thought every word that is written or said. To do so would deny the very platform of free and independent spiritual inquiry which HPB labored so valiantly to uphold.

Having said all this, where do we stand today? We are touching on man's and woman's basic urge to unite as one in loving communion. Ideally, as has been stated, this should occur only when children are desired. But we do not live in an ideal world, and it is scarcely to be expected that most people would choose a life of continence, especially when the act is an "expression of deepest love and care."

It took us centuries to unburden ourselves of "guilt" with respect to sex. To be told that sexual contact should be limited to purposes of procreation seems little better than resurrecting the "original sin" dogma. To saddle us with guilt was never GdeP's intent. His life's purpose was to encourage us to drop our fears and aspire to live a more spiritual life. To accomplish this we must first change the direction of our thinking, from self-interest to genuine concern for others. Are we implying, then, that if continence were universally observed, humanity's ills would vanish? Not necessarily. But just as we live in a world where water, air, and food are becoming ever more polluted -- due largely to human ignorance and greed -- just so are we living in an era when our sexual mores are distinctly out of balance.

GdeP's article does make us think about and question our own attitudes about every aspect of our lives. To him marriage was a sacred commitment, as was the responsibility of parenthood: "The whole thing could be so beautiful and holy, and should be." (Cf. Studies in Occult Philosophy, p. 109.) Nor are marital duties a bar to spirituality. On the contrary, marriage and parenting are probably one of the finest training schools, for where are patience, self-sacrifice, discipline and, above all, love in greater demand than in reexperiencing the growing pains of childhood and adolescence?

So let us take a balanced view on sex and all matters, remembering that motive is all, and makes the life tawdry or luminous, as we will.

(From Sunrise magazine, August/September 1988. Copyright © 1988 by Theosophical University Press)

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