Sex, Money and Spirituality: Past and Present
Is “Sex a sin”? Were you told in subtle or not so subtle ways that “money is the root of all evil”? Can you be “sexual” and also “Spiritual”? Can you be wealthy and also Spiritual?
These messages, in various forms, have been a part of our culture for a long time. I have heard it suggested that these messages were intentional attempts by the Church to ensure that money would continue to come into the Churches. The concept of this argument is simple: convincing you that you are a “sinner” ensures that you will seek out the remedy which is the “church”, and attendance equals donations.
I tend to have a more optimistic view of these things. I do believe that the concept of needing to be saved from sin probably did improve church attendance. But, I also believe that the priests and religious leaders actually believed in the message and, for the most part, were simply serving the best they knew how. Sure, there has probably always been a little corruption here and there. But I think it may be more helpful to examine the concepts and understand why they came about to begin with.
It is easy to dismiss “sex is a sin” and “money is the root of all evil” as ridiculous statements. In their simplest essence, they are lies. And even as we know that, these concepts are so ingrained in our culture and our history, that they linger in the background of our collective subconscious minds creating inner conflicts.
And it can still be seen today, especially in Spiritual communities, that these types of debates continue. It doesn’t matter what religion, be it Christianity, Hinduism or any others. Even in spiritual communities connected to Yoga and Buddhism, you will find variations taught.
I know several yoga teachers and spiritual healers who are plagued by guilt, thinking that it is wrong to take money for what they see as a spiritual service. And I know plenty of Yoga teachers who will still tell you that the Yama of “Brahmacharya” declares that Yogis should be celibate.
These are modern examples of how these messages still interfere with our happiness and our pursuit of spiritual truth.
Rethinking the Past: A Shift in Perspective
If we are able to avoid the “knee-jerk reaction” of declaring these concepts “ridiculous” or accepting them at face value and look to what they are pointing to, then we can consider that the original intention of the advice was well meaning. That it actually points to principles of non-attachment. It reminds us that obsession with anything can send the mind into a downward spiral. We have all likely seen movies about the downfall of a greedy businessman, or the “bottoming out” of an alcoholic, or the destruction of marriage because of sex addiction.
And from the perspective of a Spiritual Path, becoming too obsessed or attached to wealth and pleasure will cause you to focus away from your Spiritual path. It’s kind of like a parent encouraging their child to focus on school studies and be responsible by asking them to be home by 10pm.
They were just warning us about these distractions from a deeper truth. They meant well. It’s just that over a period of time, people forgot WHY it was said, and began to take it as a “rule” that SHOULD be followed. The biggest problem is that these “rules” don’t match out own experiences of being human. Because most everyone will desire pleasure and enjoyment. Most everyone will have sexual desire. And we need money to provide for ourselves and our families.
And when we are being told that our very nature is wrong or that the thing that makes us happy is wrong, that creates a BIG problem. But I don’t think that is what was originally meant by these concepts. We SHOULD heed the warning of being aware of our attachments in general, but that doesn’t mean we can’t enjoy our lives, and our bodies and have some money too.
We really CAN have our cake, eat it too and wear a gold watch while eating it, and STILL be properly following a Spiritual Path. Its TRUE. I PROMISE! (Although, I don’t personally wear a watch.)
Clarity through The Four Goals of Life
Fortunately for us, there is a clear teaching around this in the Yogic Traditions. It is called the “4 Purusharthas”. This is a compound word combining “Purusha” and “Artha”. “Purusha” is a reference to the deeper Divine Spark which is your nature. Some would call it the “Soul”. And “Artha” is usually translated as “wealth”.
So the 4 Purusharthas are things that bring wealth and value to the Soul. In English, we commonly refer to this as “The Four Goals of Life”. They are the Four areas of life that are legitimate goals to pursue in order for the Individual Soul to find balance and happiness in life.
The Four Goal are as follows:
1. Dharma (Purpose, Truth)
2. Artha (Wealth, Material Possessions)
3. Kama (Pleasure, Enjoyment)
4. Moksha (Knowledge of Self, Spiritual Liberation)
You will notice that “Wealth” and “Pleasure” (including sex) are included within them. So, there is a clear Yogic teaching that says “It’s all good man…” But, don’t run off to the wild orgy on a money covered floor just yet! We still need to understand that context!
So how is it that there is this clear teaching telling us that wealth and pleasure of legitimate goals for the individual to pursuit, and yet what we have heard most is “Sex is a sin” and “money” is evil and opposed to authentic spirituality?
Well, as I said earlier. The warning was to find balance. And we must understand these Four Goals in balance also. So let’s examine each one separately.
Dharma is usually thought of in connection to “career” in this context. But at its deepest level, it means that the work and the actions that we take in life should be aligned with a deeper sense of purpose and meaning. The individual will feel greater peace and happiness if what he or she does in the world feels like it is benefiting others or humanity, or is at least serving some purpose beyond “getting up, going to work, and then going to bed”.
Please note, that “dharma” doesn’t tell us WHAT we should be doing. There is no insistence that we all become monks, or that we all operate a charity, or anything like that. Because these rules understand that the diversity of Karma will create a wide variety of different “dharmas” for different people. It is perfectly fine if your dharma is to be an artist, run a business, serve the elderly, become a chef or anything else in the world. So long as what you are doing feels satisfying and provides YOU with a sense of purpose that truly feels good to you, then you are golden, no matter what anyone else thinks about it.
Having the Material resources that we need to feel safe, comfortable and happy is a worthwhile goal for the individual. But again, because of Karma, we can’t assume this means that everyone is supposed to be Millionaires. What it means instead, is that it is ok to have more than enough. For some that will be a small house, food and clothing. For others it will be a large house, a nice car and the latest iPhone. And for others, it will be millions or billions of dollars and a truly opulent lifestyle.
The larger point is that it is fine to have money and material resources so that your needs are met. It acknowledges that the individual soul will feel more at peace if it feels materially and financially supported.
This Goal of life declares that the individual Soul will find greater peace if it is allowed to enjoy the pleasures of life. That enjoying the pleasures of the body, food, entertainment, time with friends and other experiences will actually bring greater happiness to the individual. And because of this, it is worth pursuing.
Again, it doesn’t define what the pleasure should be. There is no rule that says “in order to be happy, one must eat at least one dessert per day, and engage in sexual activity a minimum of 3 times per week”. It doesn’t state these rules, because again, it knows that the Karma of each individual is different. Instead it says “It’s ok to enjoy life and find pleasure in the world around you”. How each individual experiences that will be unique.
Now we come to the Goal that is most commonly associated with Traditional Yoga. Moksha is the pursuit of Spiritual Liberation. The most valued form of this would be “Enlightenment”. But we could also say that Moksha is the seeking of greater knowledge and wisdom. And that seeking will eventually evolve into the search for Enlightenment.
But at the very least, the individual Soul thrives when it is evolving. When it is learning more about its nature and its relationship to life so that it can refine the choices that it makes and develop a more enlightened perspective on the whole experience.
While the final stage of Spiritual Enlightenment is fairly well defined, the goal of Moksha is still understood to be a different path for each individual because each Soul has different Karma, and therefore needs different lessons and experiences to evolve.
Are All 4 Goals of Life Equal?
According to the teachings on the Four Goals of life, it is made clear that the highest and most important goal is Moksha. And because of this, some people have dismissed the other goals and focused only on Moksha. That approach may work for an individual who is already very evolved. But it isn’t likely to help most people.
But the teaching still emphasizes that Moksha is the most important of these goals in the end, and encourages us to pursuit the first Three Goals with the intention of supporting the Soul’s pursuit of Moksha. This is a very Tantric approach to Spiritual evolution, in that we learn to embrace and enjoy life in the world and use it as a part of our spiritual practice.
There is a quote that is attributed to Buddha that states “You cannot teach a starving man to meditate.” The implication is that if the basic needs of life are not met, that the mind will be so restless and focused on meeting those needs, that it will be unable to find the focus and peace needed to attain a meditative state. In essence, it points to the need to create balance in our outer life first, before we can pursue Spirituality in a more balanced way.
The First Three Goals point to the remedy for this. By embracing that a sense of purpose, material resources and pleasure are needs of the Soul, we can remove the restlessness from the individual by ensuring that these needs are met. If you are doing something purposeful, that is aligned with the Soul’s desires, then you feel more content and happy with your pursuits in the world. You feel fulfilled with what you are doing, creating and/or contributing to your business or to the world.
From that deeper sense of fulfillment in your work, you are then invited to receive the financial rewards. This money, if respected and managed properly, will allow you to have a safe, comfortable place to live, to provide food and clothing for yourself and your family, and also to have enough money in savings so that when the unexpected happens you are able to handle that without worrying about where the money will come from.
With contentment of purpose, and adequate financial resources, you are then free to enjoy life. You are free to buy things that are enjoyable, and also give yourself pleasure through various activities.
When these three goals are embraced and brought into the experience of the Individual soul, then it is able to relax. Its needs are met. It isn’t worrying about where its next meal will come from, or how it is going to pay the bills. Instead, it is happy, peaceful, safe and supported. This removes much restlessness from the mind and from life, and allows a supportive and safe environment for the Individual to be able to pursuit a Spiritual Path.
So, in this way, the pursuit of Purpose (Dharma), Wealth (Artha) and Pleasure (Kama) are understood to be secondary goals which actually support the pursuit of the Primary Goal of Spiritual Liberation (Moksha).
And the original “warnings” that have continued in our culture out of context serve to remind us to not become attached to Status, Money or Pleasure as a primary goal. They serve our evolution, but they are not the most important goals. And therefore they should be approached with a balanced perspective, keeping the Final Goal of Moksha in mind.
Tantra teaches us that everything in life can be used as a Spiritual Practice when properly understood. And we start by embracing the abundance and pleasures that life has to offer as we seek to align with our Soul’s purpose in the world. And from that place of joy, we can bridge our awareness into the deeper Joy of our Liberated Self.
Let me know your thoughts and questions below!
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