In this contemplation we will set out to bring the Hindu concepts of bhakti and jñāna in relation to romance and sex. To do this we first need to elucidate the forementioned two concepts. Now these concepts have the potencies to be discussed in very large treatises, and this is of course not possible in a short contemplation like this. Here shall thus only a brief sketch be given of those main lines that will enable us to follow the preconceived line of contemplation.
‘Bhakti’ is a Sanskrit term, and has as such a place in Hinduism and Buddhism. In the present contemplation the focus will be on bhakti with regards to its place in Hinduism. Etymologically two root-words may be connected to ‘bhakti’. The first concerns ‘bhañj’, which refers to a breaking or a split.1 And the second and more widely accepted word as standing at the root of ‘bhakti’ concerns ‘bhaj’. This root-word may refer to granting, bestowing, receiving and partaking, but also to notions like devoting, serving, honoring, revering, worshiping, adoring and love.2 All the forementioned notions, and more, are present in the term ‘bhakti’. Thus the word bears within itself a great richness of meaning. This makes a generally used English translation like ‘devotion’ somewhat inadequate, just as so many Germanic translations for Sanskrit terms lack to transfer the richness of meaning of the latter. And then on top of the aforementioned richness ‘bhakti’ may also be used synonymous for ‘bhaktimārga’ or ‘bhaktiyoga’. With ‘mārga’ in the present context referring to a path or a way to mokṣa (liberation from the cycle of rebirth),3 does ‘bhaktimārga’ refer to liberation from the cycle of rebirth by means of devotion. And with ‘yoga’ carrying the meaning of ‘uniting’,4 does ‘bhaktiyoga’ refer to a union (with the godhead, which is in Hinduism equal to liberation from rebirth) by means of devotion. So to recapitulate: ‘Bhakti’ refers to the path to liberation and union by means of devotion, but refers to devotion taken on itself as well. Within this notion of devotion two main thoughts are present, namely the thought of a split and the thought of love and worship.
The findings in this concise etymological analysis are clearly recognizable in the practices of the devoted Hindu. The split for instance is unmistakably present in the way how the bhakta (one who practices bhakti)5 relates to the transcendent or metaphysical given. This he does by envisioning a personal god with (supreme) qualities,6 who is separate from him.7 This separation between him and the godhead is however not just a clinical notion for the bhakta. The godhead embodies for the bhakta the highest and the most desirable qualities, and the bhakta’s separation from this supreme godhead is deeply felt and experienced as a great pain. This anguish which is present in the felt absence of the godhead is the prime motivation for the worship and the devotion of the true bhakta. This worship may take different forms. Some of the better known forms are japa (repeating the godhead’s name), kīrtana (singing about his glories), pūjā (ritualistic offering) and sevā (unselfish work). What all the different types of worship however have in common is that they are undertaken as an offering to the godhead so that he will always be close in remembrance.8 Every act is offered in remembrance. Bhakti may thus be considered as equal to a total surrender to the godhead. And in this total surrender of the bhakta the painful separation with the godhead may be bridged by becoming one with him.9 This is however not a happening that can be forced by the actions of the bhakta himself. Whether the gap is bridged or not is dependent on the grace of the godhead.10 The only thing that the bhakta can do is to make himself receptive for that grace. And this he does by following the path of bhakti as described above.
From what has been elucidated so far, it can be deduced that bhakti is a way of relating to the transcendent by means of feelings.11 These feelings concern the pain that is felt in the separation with the godhead and the loving devotion by which the bhakta reaches out to a union with the latter.
As with bhakti we shall here only focus on the place that jñāna has within Hinduism, leaving its place in Buddhism uncontemplated. The word ‘jñāna’ stems from the root-word ‘jñā’ which may refer to knowing, understanding, experiencing, recognizing, and to other acts which are related to the aforementioned ones.12 The general English translation for ‘jñāna’ is ‘knowledge’,13 and this translation fails to transfer the richness of the original meaning perhaps even more than does the English translation for ‘bhakti’. For jñāna is not just any kind of knowledge, and it is not ordinary knowledge. Ordinary knowledge, as it is understood in general, concerns the knowledge of particular things that have their place in the world among other particular things. Jñāna however concerns the knowledge of that which is beyond our world. Jñāna is knowledge of the transcendent and metaphysical given.14 One who has attained this knowledge is called a jñāni.15 At the same time, just as is the case with bhakti, is ‘jñāna’ used synonymous for ‘jñānamārga’ or ‘jñānayoga’. With ‘mārga’ here again referring to a path or a way to liberation from the cycle of rebirth, does ‘jñānamārga’ refer to liberation from the cycle of rebirth by means of knowledge. And with ‘yoga’ carrying again the meaning of ‘uniting’, does ‘jñānayoga’ refer to a union with the transcendent by means of knowledge. However the notion of this transcendent given is in jñāna different from that in bhakti. Where bhakti envisions the metaphysical given as a personal godhead with supreme qualities, there does jñāna envision this given as formless and without qualities, simply because it is beyond form and quality.16 Further does jñāna not just envision the metaphysical given as only transcendent; it is ultimately also immanent. Ātman, the immanent metaphysical, is identical with Brahman, the transcendent metaphysical.17 This vision has of course consequences for the way in which one seeks to attain liberation by means of jñāna. Where the bhakta starts from the deeply felt notion of a separation between him and the godhead, there does the striver for absolute knowledge start from the notion (still theoretical, and not yet experiential) of a primal unity with the metaphysical given. The metaphysical is not transcendent separate, but it is one with man’s immanence at its deepest level. Thus the practices of the striver for absolute knowledge will not be focused on a devotional worship of a transcendent and separate godhead, but he will be inclined to an inquiry into his own deepest self. This he does by discriminating between his relative self and his absolute self, by discriminating between the unreal and the real. ‘Not this, not this’ is his approach, referring to the relative self. Eventually this will lead him to identification with his ātman (or more precise; he will lose all identifications) and this will lead him to a unification with the absolute transcendence or Brahman (because ātman and Brahman are one).18 This is not a way of relating to the metaphysical by means of feelings, but rather by means of the mind.
In another contemplation romance and sex are thematized as types of attraction.19 Attraction there is held as manifesting always between different poles of the same type. In that contemplation sex is defined as the type of attraction that may exist between physical bodies, and romance as the attraction that may exist between personalities. What is not thematized there is that the characteristics of the personality are partly related to the characteristics of the physical body. This is a statement that cannot be elucidated here, and must thus be taken as a presumption. Perhaps in another contemplation more light can be shed on this subject. Now when presuming that the characteristics of the personality are partly related to the characteristics of the physical body, it should also be presumed that the masculinity and the femininity of bodies are also reflected in the personalities of men and women. These presumptions seem to be acknowledged by the overall accepted notion that women are more emotional in their personality than men, and that men are more rational in their personality than women. Such a thought is here of course taken in general and not in particulars, for the particulars may deviate from the general. However in general it can be asserted that women are predominantly centered in feeling, and that men are predominantly centered in thought.
Now when this idea is brought in relation to what has been contemplated in the previous paragraphs, it becomes plausible to consider that women will be more prone to engage with the path of bhakti, and that men will be more prone to engage with the path of jñāna. Bhakti is for women the path of the least resistance because of the emotional way in which the seeker relates to the transcendent. As we have seen does the seeker in bhakti surrender himself completely with loving devotion to a supreme personal godhead, by who’s grace a unification may take place. Jñāna is for men the path of the least resistance because of the rational way in which the seeker relates to the transcendent. This seeker in jñāna inquires into himself, discriminating between his relative and his absolute self, and in this way loses himself in a unification with the absolute.
Now these two different ways of relating to the transcendent is interestingly analogous to the two different ways of how men and women relate to each other in the fields of romance and sex. When asserted that the traditional roles of men and women in their search for a suitable sexual partner nowadays do not hold anymore one is not totally right. Because even though roles in the present day are indeed not as sharply outlined as they were perhaps in the past, do the same attitudes of older times nevertheless still persist. And it are these attitudes that are analogous to the ways of bhakti and jñāna. For just as the seeker in bhakti takes a passive stand in which he opens up for the grace of the godhead, so does the female seeker for a sexual partner take a similar passive stand. She does show herself to be receptive to the man who embodies the qualities that she is looking for in a sexual relationship, but she will leave the initiative predominantly with the man. The man in turn, in analogy with the discriminating identification that the seeker applies in jñāna, will make active approaches towards the lady of his choice. ‘Not her, not her, but her’ is one of the predominant assertive orientations in his attitude. And as the woman opens up for and surrenders to all the best that the qualified man has to give, so does the man lose himself to win the love of the lady of his discriminative choice. Or to put it in another way: The seeker in bhakti and the female seeker let themselves being conquered, and the seeker in jñāna and the male seeker set out to conquer themselves.
And this analogy stretches itself even as far as sexual intercourse itself. Analogous to the way how the seeker in bhakti opens himself to the godhead to receive his grace, so does the woman in sexual intercourse open herself to her male partner to receive his semen. The highest attainable for the woman regarding sex is to experience the man whom she idolizes and worships penetrating her, and gracing her with his semen. Her climax is directed at the taking in of the semen of her hero. The man in sexual intercourse is basically not the passive but the active party.20 He desires to penetrate deeply into the woman, with his ultimate sexual climax when at the moment of ejaculation he loses himself fully into her. His climax is directed at losing himself in his true love.
Thus we see how the attitudes of men and women in sexual intercourse are analogous to those in romance, and how those are even recognizable in approaches to the transcendental. The attitudes of men and women in sex and romance are to be recognized in the paths of bhakti and jñāna.