“You must be crazy”, yelled the manager on hearing that we practise celibacy and live in a monastery. I was presenting spiritual literature in the streets of Mumbai to a group of software professionals and their leader asked me about my life. I told him we get up early in the morning around 3.30 to 4.00 am and our day is packed with various services. He interrupted me and expressed shock at our schedules. I reasoned that we are happier now with this lifestyle than we were earlier. He wondered how someone could be happy getting up so early in the morning when that’s the time he and his colleagues go to bed on weekends after wild partying. He was also appalled that we abstain from sex. My gentle reasoning was ineffective; he and his colleagues looked upon me incredulously and dismissed me abruptly. Then they hurriedly left for their office, leaving me alone on the pavement, wondering if I am indeed a member of an abnormal species.
Celibate monks are indeed a rare and endangered species, but certainly not abnormal. For thousands of years many seekers of God have practised celibacy and led a contended life. Right from Jesus and St Francis and other celebrated celibates in the Christian order, to the thousands of unknown simple God seekers who have led a pure life in search of God, religious traditions are filled with innumerable examples of successful celibates. In our own tradition of the Vaishnava branch of Hindu customs, I recalled a large number of celibate monks like Haridas Thakur and Bhakti Siddhanta Saraswati who led a life of strong character and purpose. Even in our own little monastery there are over hundred and fifty monks and at least twenty of them have been around for over two decades. And they all are happy practising spiritual principles in the renounced order as celibates.
The reason for happiness is not in practising celibacy; it’s due to a strong and meaningful connection to God. The early morning collective prayer sessions give strong impetus to connect to God. Spiritual practitioners who attend the daily prayer sessions feel tangible connection to God; the drive for sex and other carnal pleasures then seem insignificant. For a sincere spiritual practitioner the benefits of spiritual practises are rich, and while the itch of sex desire remains in the heart for many years, it doesn’t distract one from his spiritual pursuits. Moreover sex isn’t a sought after pursuit anymore. It’s rather seen as an irritable impediment on the spiritual path; it occasionally raises its ugly head and then quietens down in the face of strong spiritual practises.
To the extent a celibate spiritual practitioner is absorbed in his devotional principles, lust is not a serious worry; whenever Cupid attacks, the itch is tolerable. However when the spiritual practises are a distracted performance, one finds material life including sex, more attractive.
My guru Radhanath Swami once responded to a challenging sceptic that if sex indeed is a source of joy why the prostitutes don’t dance in ecstasy on having sex many times. Sociological studies have repeatedly shown that the sex workers are the miserable lot in society. Sex doesn’t give lasting pleasure, and no way does it alleviate the miseries of life. On the contrary unregulated sex life can compound our tale of woe. Marriage is a sacred institution where dedicated spiritual practitioners in the company of a like minded spiritualist seek God. For some others who want to be exclusively focussed on God without any distractions, renounced order practise of celibacy is a bonafide method.
It’s a pity that the group I met weren’t interested to know this science. When I see people fail to appreciate our lifestyle I take comfort in a verse from the Bhagavad Gita
“What is night for all beings is the time of awakening for the self-controlled; and the time of awakening for all beings is night for the introspective sage” (Bhagavad Gita 2.69). This implies what most of the world sees as normal is known to be abnormal for a spiritualist and what the sincere seekers see as normal is perceived as bizarre by those obsessed with material pursuits.