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Research Papers on the Philosophy of the Kama Sutra

A philosophy of the Kama Sutra research paper attempts to discuss the system of philosophy that underlies, and appears in, the Kama Sutra. A We may begin with a remark concerning etymology.  A philosophy of the Kama Sutra research paper notes that the word “sutra” is a  term that has cognates in most of the languages of the Indo-European group.

  • English cognates include “suture” and “sew”. 
  • A Hindu sutra is an aphoristic literary production based on the model of a “thread” or “string of rules”.
  • The term “handbook” is often used to describe a sutra.  There are many such handbooks, some of which are monuments of human spirituality.

A philosophy of the Kama Sutra term paper notes that the  sutras, religious manuals written in a concise, lapidary style, were used by the founding authors of all six of the major schools of Hindu philosophy. The Kama Sutra is obviously a typical representative of this literary form: it is, in Zimmer’s words, “…a textbook for lovers and courtesans…”.

Philosophy of the Kama Sutra

What of the term kama?  This has two interrelated meanings, one mythological and the other philosophical. Salomon discusses the mythological aspect: Kama is a personage, the embodiment of the spirit of unbridled lust.  As such he is man’s worst enemy.  Kama is something that cannot be denied, but which must be controlled.

Kama Sutra, then, is a manual involving the first of the four goals.  It is a “how to” manual of eroticism. Chapter two of the introduction gives a precise definition of kama; it is the “…consciousness of pleasure…” that arises from the “…enjoyment of appropriate objects by the five senses of hearing, feeling, seeing, tasting, and smelling, assisted by the mind together with the soul…”.  This enjoyment has a specific ingredient, “…a peculiar contact between the organ of sense and its object…”.

The way in which the four human goals relate to one another is fairly complex.  Chapter two of the introduction of the Kama Sutra states, “Man…should practice Dharma, Artha, and Kama at different times and in such a manner that they harmonize together and not clash in any way…”.  The phrase “different times” is of importance.  Artha and kama, according to the Kama Sutra should be practiced in one’s youth and in one’s middle age. Old age is reserved for the practice of dharma for it is through dharma that one is enabled to achieve moksha.

Several things are important about this system of human goals.  First, it is a hierarchical system.  Chapter two of the introduction makes clear that of the three “worldly” goals, kama is subordinate to the other two.  Dharma is superior to artha, and artha is superior to kama. Moksha, of course, being transcendent, trumps them all.  The importance of this hierarchical system can be appreciated if we compare the Hindu attitude towards sensuality to the Christian.  The Hindu attitude seems to accept sensuality as a phase through which human beings pass. The Christian attitude has been, historically, highly suspicious of all sensual pleasure.  The Medieval ascetics would like to have done without it altogether. Chennakesavan makes the point that the Hindu ethical code views kama as being an essential component of a good and full life. It is a lower desire than artha and dharma, but it is nonetheless real and valid. It is not to be denied and suppressed, but rather, it is to be enjoyed as a stage in one’s progress through life.

The author of the Kama Sutra, Vatsyayana, is believed to have written it around 400 AD.  Between 700 and 400 BC the Upanishads, a set of Vedic and Hindu metaphysical writings, were produced.  These writings proved to have an immense and enduring influence upon nearly all subsequent forms of Indian philosophy.

The Kama Sutra then is a work of sensual instruction.  But it fits in a well-approved, thoroughly orthodox, spiritual context. Kama is a necessary and valid pursuit at a given stage of life.  It is something that will supposedly be left behind; it is a mere stage in one’s soteriological travels.  It is part of the good life, part of a life excellently lived.  That being so, one should pursue it efficiently.  Hence the need for a manual, a sutra.

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