Western views of celibacy

celibacyWhile reading ‘Clerical Celibacy: The Heritage’ by William E. Phillips, I noted with interest that the Vedic culture had influenced Western thought in more ways than one. And especially on the celibacy front it was fascinating to know that many thinkers of the Greco Roman civilization, even before the beginning of the Christian era, were influenced to a large extent by the Indian thought.

A devout Christian archaeologist, Flinders Petrie renowned for his findings on Egyptian history is emphatic that prior to Indian influence there is no encouragement of celibacy in Egypt. Petrie says, “There is no difficulty in regarding India as the source of the entirely new ideal of asceticism in the West”. William Phillips gives a long list of Western thinkers and priests who inspired by the Vedic culture emphasized on celibacy and restriction of sexual life. The ancient Greek philosopher Epicurus said, “sexual intercourse has never done a man good, and he is lucky if it has not harmed him.” Lucretius, a Roman poet and thinker who championed Epicurus’ philosophy in the Latin culture wrote that sexual craving cannot be cured by intercourse. “When sexual desires are released there is a short pause in the burning passion; then returns the same frenzy; then comes back the old madness” noted Lucretius.

Reading these accounts led me to think of the logic behind celibacy, that so many serious thinkers since millennia are advocating it. I found the reasons in the classic Indian text of Srimad Bhagavatam. The seventh canto of this revered scripture states, “Sex life is compared to the rubbing of two hands to relieve an itch. Those who have no spiritual knowledge, think that this itching is the greatest platform of happiness, although actually it is a source of distress. The fools, who are just the opposite of wise men, are not satisfied by repeated sensuous enjoyment. Those who are sober and tolerate this itching are not subjected to the sufferings of fools.” (Srimad Bhagavatam 7.9.45)

All modern yoga is founded on the teachings of Patanjali who gave his teachings in the second century BC. He asserted that the vital force of our consciousness is established through sexual abstinence. Ironically many modern teachers and students look at yoga as an aid to increase their sexual appetite and increase their prowess for unabated sensual pursuits.

Personally it’s heartening and hope giving for me to know that celibacy is not an abnormal phenomenon as many moderns would like us to believe. There are many takers, and rich texts and literature is available to explain this science to any open minded seeker.

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