The Kama Sutra
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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. One of the most important of the ideas espoused in the Upanishads is the categorization of human goals, purusharthas. There are four such:
- Kama or physical desire, particularly sexual desire
- Artha, or the desire for economic well being
- Dharma or spiritual desires involving "the harmonization of social and cosmic orders"
- Moksha, a desire for liberation, for transcendence
Kama Sutra 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, "Manshould 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 following "worldly" goals:
- Kama is subordinate to Artha and Dharma
- Dharma is superior to artha
- Artha is superior to kama
- Moksha, 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, or a stage, through which human beings pass.
The word "stage" is very important and, once again, understanding can be gained by comparing Hindu beliefs with Christian beliefs. Both systems see the good and valid life as being a soteriological journey. Hindus see the goal of this journey as being moksha. Christians, like Dante, see it as a mystical union with God. The two are more deal alike than different in terms of the nature of the ultimate goal. But how you get there, the nature of the soteriological journey, differs somewhat between the two faiths. We cannot imagine Bunyan's Christian, the hero of Pilgrim's Progress, making a sensual romp part of his journey to salvation. But to a Hindu such a romp would be seen as altogether fitting and proper. In fact, it would be seen as necessary. Speaking to this point Zaehner states, "in human life there are three legitimate pursuits-the pursuit of pleasure, the pursuit of wealth, and the pursuit of righteousness or dharma-and the three of them culminate in and are negated by the goal of all life, moksha".There is not the absolute denial of the sensual here that we see in Christian belief. Early Christian theology was heavily influenced by Platonism and Neo-Platonism, belief systems which proposed the existence of an antithesis between the spiritual and the material. The material was seen to be of a lower nature than the spiritual, less ontologically real. Sensuality, in this scheme of things was to be denied, overcome. Hence there is no book in the entire canon of Christianity that remotely resembles the Kama Sutra. For the Kama Sutra holds that not only is sensuality not inimical to spiritual progress, but that it is a necessary propaedeutic to spiritual progress. Raju notes that the attitude of the Bhagavad Gita is that human desires are not things to be killed, but instead, they are things to be channeled. And that is what the Kama Sutra is about, the channeling of kama.