Generally speaking, people don’t think of me as a romantic. I will not close my eyes to the worst things the world has to offer, and while I work in subtle ways, I do not rest. I’ve dedicated my life above all other things to making a difference for the very poorest, and while it’s drawn me into strange relationships with the military-intellectual complex, that’s based on a very long bet indeed that the same kind of thinking that gave us the Internet will also give the poor much of the essential technological support they need to escape poverty. SSTR (security, stability, transition, reconstruction) has been a defense priority for a while, and when they get good at it, we’ll have the tool kit we need to really address poverty for the billions. It is a matter of time until military R&D produces the tools we need to fix poverty, although other approaches may yet get there first. A little of an enormous pie vs. a lot of the tiny charity pie: both approaches may bear fruit.
You might think that kind of mind that can make a devil’s bargain like that would not love deeply or foolishly. Nothing would be further from the truth.
So let me point out a little something. When you ask people about how they met their partners, particularly the people they had children with, how often do they bring up absurd synchronicities? I know one man who wound up sitting facing the same woman on two completely different flights in a two week period, and married her. Another pair of friends crossed path when one bought a sword made by the other, and later were drawn together in impossible ways. These stories are so routine they have generated their own genre: the romcom (“romantic comedy”) which always glides over the surface of this deep, strange question: why does falling in love seem to change not just how we feel, but how the world itself works?
I was trained as a tantric. Over years I examined every facet of myself that I could find, and held each in the fire until there was nothing left to burn. I did not complete the training – 9/11 was the end of my education – but I got about half way. As a result I do not teach, except the very basics, and I will never be a guru in this lifetime unless things take a very unusual turn. That’s fine – there are plenty of gurus, and right now what the world needs is a hutwallah, not one more dodgy spiritual teacher. From the tantric perspective, love is a decision. Two people decide – choose – to see each other in particular roles, and from there a dance of creation unfolds, affording (ideally) another generation the privilege of existence. While much is made in the literature about non-reproductive recreational tantric sexuality, the tantras of the householders are rooted in a deeply conventional life pattern, and a single, simple question: how do you love one person completely for your entire lifetime, through every phase of life after childhood? And this turns out to be a difficult question, requiring substantial transformation of our instinctual character, with its tendency to reproduce difficult mammalian reproductive behavior patterns, to achieve. Without a substantial mastery of the sex instinct, true love is extremely difficult – the best possible children in the best possible circumstances is our reproductive goal, and (alas) a perfect alignment between that drive and the urges of the heart does not exist under most circumstances. To choose love requires guiding sex. This is all hinted at in the conventional structures of marriage. Fully explicating it requires much the same psychological transformations as monastics go through, but with the goal of sealing the sex instinct within a relationship, rather than sealing it within the self. The simple truth is that to be human beings fully under our own control the base biological programs of the body have to be integrated into a life-script which works for us as spirits in the material world.
Real tantrics breed.
The kama sutra was the playboy’s guide to Calcutta. Out in the villages, a different way of life existed, with sexuality integrated into a largely disciplined arranged marriage culture. The precise details vary over time and between castes and cultures, but the same logic applied in India as in Europe: two virgins married and faithful produces a child-rearing environment free of incurable sexually transmitted diseases and paternity questions. If enough of the culture plays by these rules in each generation, herd immunity to disease and social breakdown through uncontrolled reproduction and resulting property rights disputes can be generated. What passed in the village lineages, the little gurus of small family lines, was the know-how to live in the material world of a medieval peasant as if the world was a spiritual pure land, and they took their transcendence where they could find it.
Does this sound like it has anything to do with love? Certainly not as the lightning bolt, the uncontrolled force, of Krishna and Radha (she’s somebody else’s wife, by the way – the Hare Krishnas don’t talk about that bit so much now do they?)
This is where the two paths diverge. Biologically-driven relationships endure cycles which drive efficient production of the best possible children in the best possible environment, which includes all kinds of competitive grinding between the parents and their extended families as the genes jockey for transmission. People replicate family patterns because it is known to work well enough to produce another generation and evolution proceeds a generation at a time.
Spiritually-driven relationships start at the point where people have controlled the sex instinct to the point where a monastic life is an option. If you can’t see the world without a partner as an option then, at some level, there is a vestige of the reproductive or family-producing instinct remaining. That thread can pull the fabric of a relationship in all kinds of strange directions which may be out of harmony with our surface personas and desires. Complex spiritual practices unravel ever-deeper levels of this blending of our individual, personal desire, and the species-and-wider level instinctual base known as kundalini – the lizard brain and the will of our ancestral programming to reproduce itself is nigh-on unstoppable, as indeed it must be to have gotten our forebears through some billion years of life. It is not purified until it hits home in transcendent eternity. And this is not even the teaching level, this is the simple householder practice of the tantrics who expect to have families.
What then of love?
Conventional romantic love is the negotiated and uneasy balance point between mammalian reproductive instinct, culture, and individuality. Tantric love is simply individuality, with reproductive instinct and culture sandblasted out by main force. All of this Californian self-indulgent tantra is bhoga – enjoyment of the ride – rather than yoga – enjoyment of the act of being. One of these paths has a future, the other smashes your dreams against the wall of old age. The uncompromising force of love as a spiritual contract between two people who are free to do as they will, unconditioned, is the apex of the tantric spiritual path, and is said to have the very regeneration of the world potential within it.
Three times in my life I have loved. In each case, for a while, the world behaved quite differently, abandoned its old linear-random habits for a complex orchestration of causes and effects as my lovers and I carved our way into the future. On two of those occasions, the wake we left was felt by millions in ways directly related to the choices we made together about what to do with our lives, heroic deeds performed on the path to home and family. Things no individual would ever comprehend as doable become quite manageable as a couple.
The broken road claims all wagons.
So I am alone. I’m writing this to say that love is hard not because we are broken and crazy, but because it is the reactor who’s fire, like the fusion of the particles which make up the sun, propels life forwards, generation by generation, into infinity. When you understand what the stakes are – the very fabric of life itself rewoven in each generation by those single moments when we decide to eat and drink, or wait and think – somehow the hardships of the path of the heart seem easier to understand.
Love is the loom on which we weave the future.