Desire, creativity and power of Kama

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By Gurnam Singh | Opinion |

According to Sikh philosophy, one of the purposes of human birth or ਮਾਨੁਖੀ ਜਨਮ is to control or harness the ਪੰਜ ਵਿਕਾਰ or five basic human libidinal energies/vices of ਕਾਮ ਕ੍ਰੋਧ ਲੋਭ ਮੋਹ ਹੰਕਾਰ (kama, karodh, lobh, moh, hankar) or ‘lust, anger, greed, attachment and pride. Gurbani states that these five impulses, in their raw state, at best prevent one from developing a higher divine consciousness or purpose, and at worst they can instigate destructive emotions and behaviours.

The first in this list is termed ‘ਕਾਮ’ or ‘Kama’. In this short piece I would like to offer some thoughts on developing a balanced understanding of this concept. The origin of the concept of ‘Kama’ is from the Sanskrit language, first appearing in the ancient Hindu mythological texts, the Vedas. Most Sikh parcharaks (preachers), and many literary references, wrongly translate Kama as simply relating to ‘sexual desires’.

In reality, all the five raw internal energies/forces/vices have both positive and negative attributes. Accordingly, Kama represents a range of emotions such as, “Love,” “Desire,” “Pleasure” and “Creativity”. It is difficult to comprehend life devoid of these emotions. The problem is that we tend to associate the concept of ‘Kama’ only with its negative connotation, as sexual promiscuity, predatory sexual behaviour and/or ‘bad’ thoughts.

For sure there is a connection here, but such dysfunctional mindsets are the product of many complex mechanisms, not just ‘desire’. Sexual abuse and violence are the product of power, discourses, culture, language, stereotypes, representations and social systems.

Kama tends to be connected to sexual desire and promiscuity. The reason why is because of a narrow and literal reading of Hindu mythological text, as manifesting erotic love and pleasure. It is for this reason that Kama, within Indian society generally, is mostly projected in its negative form. The paradox is that in these very same societies, where the public conversation surrounding human sexuality is censored, sexual promiscuity is rampant!

Rather than eradicating sexual violence, by demonising all references to sex, which is a natural biological function without which we could not exist, all this does is to silence the many victims of sexual violence. A recent report by the Independent enquiry into Faith and Child Sexual Abuse in the U.K. government highlights the endemic denial of child sexual abuse within the different faith groups, including Sikhs.

For sure all forms of sexual abuse are completely wrong and need condemning and punishing. But we need to expose the misplaced doctrine of ‘say no evil, see no evil’, which is endemic within South Asian cultures. Keeping quiet about sex and sexuality is the best mechanism for allowing such abuse to go unchallenged.

So the challenge we face is how can we overcome the impact of bogus deployment of the concept of ‘izat‘ or ‘honour’ to silence conversations about human sexuality and abuse. This means we need to find a language to not feel shame to talk about Kama, as a basic human libidinal desire, which makes us human, who we are! Indeed, Gurbani is replete with such references, though perhaps not as explicit as some of the Vedic texts, most notably the Kama Sutra, which is completely dedicated to an exegesis of this basic human emotion.

Bhatt Keerath, in Guru Granth Sahib Ji (p1395), says:

ਗੁਰੁ ਗਿਆਨੁ ਅਰੁ ਧਿਆਨੁ ਤਤ ਸਿਉ ਤਤੁ ਮਿਲਾਵੈ ॥ ਸਚਿ ਸਚੁ ਜਾਣੀਐ ਇਕ ਚਿਤਹਿ ਲਿਵ ਲਾਵੈ ॥ ਕਾਮ ਕ੍ਰੋਧ ਵਸਿ ਕਰੈ ਪਵਣੁ ਉਡੰਤ ਨ ਧਾਵੈ ॥

“In deep meditation, and the spiritual wisdom of the Guru, one’s essence merges with the essence of reality. In truth, the True Lord is recognized and realized, when one is lovingly attuned to Him, with one-pointed consciousness. Lust and anger are brought under control, when the breath does not fly around, wandering restlessly”. (English translation: Sant Singh Khalsa)

One of the paradoxes of human existence is that we can perform immense deeds of kindness and piety. However, we are also capable of inflicting terrible pain and suffering on others. To be born as a human is in some sense to be born with the double-edged sword of ego. Deployed with knowledge, skill and a commitment to ethics, just like the surgeon’s scalpel, it can reduce suffering and promote wellbeing. But deployed without any thought, care or consideration for the other, the same emotion can be extremely destructive and cause much suffering.

To protect humans from this ‘curse’ of ego and the destructive blind pursuit of ‘desire’ we have been gifted by nature, evolution, and the potential for self-reflection, learning and comprehending a metaphysical divinity. For me, the only positive purpose of faith, dharma, belief or whatever other labels one wishes to use, is to enable us to realise our capacity for self-reflection and developing divine consciousness. Why, because it is through self-reflection, which can take many forms (meditation, education, research, participation, dialogue, artistic expression, writing or serving others etc), that we can nurture compassion, love and kindness for all.

Gurnam Singh is an academic activist dedicated to human rights, liberty, equality, social and environmental justice. He is an Associate Professor of Sociology at University of Warwick, UK. He can be contacted at Gurnam.singh.1@warwick.ac.uk

* This is the opinion of the writer and does not necessarily represent the views of Asia Samachar.

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