Porn and Information-age – Sainthood


It all started so innocently.

In our final school year, we decided to gift a friend a pornographic DVD for his birthday. Visiting a shop in the oldest market in town, we secured the gift, a deluxe-quality product imported straight from palm-lined sunny southern California.

This was urban India in the 1990s, when teenagers couldn’t go hunting for entertainment on the back of the mighty beast known as “broadband.” Indian teenage salvation, at the time, lay squarely in the hands of the American adult entertainment industry.

The industry didn’t disappoint. It’s not a hard job making a petty, genital-worshipping world appear attractive when your clientele is afflicted with a deadly combination of curiosity and lust, the job is made much easier.

A New Threat to Virility

Pornographic material shows up in human cultures throughout recorded history. But the quality and quantity of pornography in twenty-first century human culture puts us in unprecedented territory. And this is what unprecedented looks like:

  • Every second, there are approximately 28,258 internet users viewing pornography.
  • Every day, there are approximately 116,000 online searches for child pornography.
  • Americans rent more than 800 million pornographic videos and DVDs every year (about one in five of all rented movies is porn), and the 11,000 porn films shot annually far outpaces Hollywood’s yearly slate of 400.
  • This porn inundation has bequeathed a social legacy. A legacy that celebrates humiliating women and children, and normalising sexual aggression. The Social Costs of Pornography: A Statement of Findings and Recommendations, a multidisciplinary, academic report sponsored by the Princeton University-based Witherspoon Institute, explores the devastating social impact of this legacy. The American Psychiatric Association has also released diagnostic guidelines that identify pornography addiction as a form of “hypersexual disorder” deserving serious study and treatment.

    But an entirely unexpected enemy has launched the latest attack on porn: the very group the porn industry has so diligently served. In a delicate twist of irony, large numbers of internet-age men who grew up with free and unlimited access to online pornography are sexually dysfunctional, and they are blaming the porn industry for their woe.

    “Porn and the Threat to Virility,” a feature article in the April 2016 issue of Time magazine, discusses this latest addition to the list of human crises. Technically called porn-induced erectile dysfunction (PIED), it is supposed that regular users of porn have their brains moulded in such a way that they can no longer be stimulated by real persons but only by pornographic fantasies.

    Just when you think that the world can’t get any madder, it always does.

    Sex Education: The Kind You Won’t Get in School

    Having begun with porn, we inevitably end up with sex.

    The secular West, via popular media, champions the idea that in a world stripped of cultural idiosyncrasies and religious zealots, sexual expression can, and should, be freed from all restraints save one: all parties involved should consent to the joyride.

    All things considered, I should have swallowed this idea. But events dictated otherwise. At an age when my brain was still outgrowing its adolescent synapses, I stumbled upon some timeless spiritual wisdom.

    The body, genuine spiritualists assert, delivers a ton of pain. If you can’t yet validate this fact through your own experience, then visit your local hospital.

    True, the body does deliver some good times. But compared to the ton of pain it can dish out, it gives only a pinch of pleasure. It would be one thing if the body’s ratio of pleasure to pain remained constant. But it doesn’t.

    We inhabit a world where everyone and everything bows down to the rule of kala-chakra (the wheel of time). As the kala-chakra revolves, and our bodies dwindle and deteriorate, the pinch of pleasure we derive from our body grows smaller. Meanwhile, ulcers grow, joints stiffen, heart beats falter, kidneys fail, and cancers ravage.

    Calmly accepting that the revolving wheel of time sabotages our pleasure-pursuit, do we renounce the hunt for sensual gratification? Of course not. The power of conditioning doesn’t allow us to. Through his experiments with dogs, Russian physiologist Ivan Pavlov has alerted moderns about this power. Whenever he gave food to his dogs, he also rang a bell. After repeating this a number of times, he rang the bell on its own. The bell, on its own, now caused the dogs to salivate.

    Just as Pavlov conditioned his dogs to associate food with the sound of a bell, decades of trying to seek pleasure through the body conditions us to associate the pleasure-pursuit with the body. This conditioning locks us into chewing what has already been thoroughly chewed. Injected with Botox, invigorated by Viagra, and instigated by sex shops, we continue the struggle to squeeze out precious drops of gratification from the body.

    The struggle ends both badly and bitterly. Our bodies, broken by the mighty assault of time, and wrenched from our objects of desire, face death – uncertain, exhausted, and torn by the regret that only if we had played the game differently, that prized jewel of satisfaction would have been ours.

    The Logic of Abstinence

    In my early twenties, inspired by spiritual wisdom, I intuited that abstinence was the key to freedom from suffering. A few years later, while studying the spiritual classic Srimad Bhagavatam, I discovered the argument that confirmed my intuition.

    The Bhagavatam tells us that we are eternal spiritual beings. But influenced by ignorance, we identify with our ever-changing mortal body instead. The consequence: we think that by experiencing pleasurable bodily sensations we will be happy. Consequently, we dive headlong into carnal delights.

    The more we enjoy carnal delights, the more we become locked into pursuing fleeting pleasurable bodily sensations. The more we pursue fleeting bodily sensations, the more we reinforce the illusion that our body is a source of pleasure.

    And the more we reinforce the illusion that our body is a source of pleasure, the more we are unwilling to face reality: the body delivers much more pain than pleasure. Consequently, when old age and death comes knocking on our door, we are not just unprepared—we are terrified. Totally unaware of our eternal spiritual identity, all we are aware of is our dying, decaying, and deteriorating body.

    This leads the Bhagavatam to deliver some sobering advice:

    Restrict indulgence in sex. Invest your time in rediscovering your eternal spiritual identity instead.

    In a society predominated by calm, contemplative logic, this advice is well received. In a society obsessed with stormy, irrational carnality, it isn’t.

    No, Abstinence is Not Equal to Repression

    Knowing why we should restrict our indulgence in sex is one thing. Knowing how to restrict our indulgence in sex is another.

    Is stoic and strenuous effort sufficient to transcend the storm of sexual desire? Throughout my late teens, it certainly wasn’t. History shows that hormonally driven teenagers are not the only ones who are tossed about by the waves of sexual desire. Even ascetics are often overcome by the storm of irrational passions.

    Seeing no way to prevent myself from becoming a victim of irrational carnality, I became increasingly despondent and desperate. I began to pray for some guidance, some light, some wisdom.

    The universe responded by offering a benediction: I received the books of the celebrated spiritual visionary A.C. Bhaktivedanta Swami Prabhupada. In his Bhagavad Gita As It Is (3.37), Srila Prabhupada offers this unique insight into the origin of lust:

    When a living entity comes in contact with the material creation, his eternal love for Krishna is transformed into lust.

    Echoing a distinguished lineage of exemplary bhakti-yogis, Srila Prabhupada tells us that it is futile to try to negate the energy of lust because it is integral to whom we are. We are eternal spiritual beings who have an irrevocable loving relationship with Krishna, the Supreme Spiritual Being. But the nature of love is that it is freely given. Thus, the rebellious living entities who desire to seek pleasure outside of their eternal loving relationship with the Supreme are allowed to do so. They are placed in a state of spiritual amnesia (maya), in temporary material machines (bodies), in the material reality.

    Maya erases our memory of our eternal spiritual identity and influences us to identify with our temporary material bodies. The consequence: our original love for the Supreme distortedly manifests through the screen of the material body as lust—the desire to control and enjoy matter.

    Seeking to fulfil our lust, we continue to transmigrate from one body to another, rotating in samsara—the cycle of repeated birth and death. We can break free from this cycle not by denying lust, but by renovating the pure form of lust. Therefore, instead of trying to repress the energy of lust, bhakti-yoga offers the education and the technology to transform lust back into the real thing: the love Supreme.

    Humans Rising

    In the human body, which is like a junction, we get an unprecedented opportunity to enter the bhakti university. A junction is where two or more things meet or join. The human body is like a junction because its desire for mindless sensual gratification co-exists with our desire for enlightenment.

    This unique status of the human body results in a battle between irrational carnality and rational wisdom, and this battle is recorded in every human culture. Saints in the bhakti tradition say that this battle is in fact the battle to transform lust into love of God. They claim that human energy finds its intended purpose when we enter this battlefield. In the premier bhakti text, Srimad Bhagavatam (1.5.19), the spiritual luminary Narada reveals why:

    “Even though a bhakti-yogi sometimes falls under the sway of lust, she certainly does not undergo material existence like others, because a person who has once tasted the unsurpassable happiness of Krishna consciousness can do nothing but remember that ecstasy again and again.”

    Even the undergraduates in bhakti-yoga, Narada tells us, can access the most rarefied form of nonmaterial happiness: the happiness of reviving our relationship with Krishna. Experiencing an iota of this happiness forever alters our vision of the happiness menu. We begin to see gratification derived from the material body and mind for what it is: stale and sterile.

    Protected by the guardians of secular society, the porn merchants of the world are working hard to ensure that we remain stuck firmly in the zone of the stale and the sterile; to ensure that we continue worshipping dying, decaying material bodies as the fount of pleasure. This global porn assault has obscured the light of reason and has sabotaged the great human quest to access nonmaterial happiness.

    Sheltered and transformed by bhakti knowledge and practice, a global community of spiritual warriors have recovered from this assault, and regained their existential right to experience spiritual pleasure— pleasure immune to the ravages of time. They are inviting us to join their party.

    For the sake of happiness, I hope you will.

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