4. Hindu and Buddhist Wet Dreams:

When semen is mind.

Within A History of Celibacy we find Indian wrestlers, pahalwans, who practice celibacy, brahamacharya, “the way to God”, because they need to store up semen and its other version, milk, in order to stay beautiful and strong. There is the notion in India that storing up semen increases one’s masculinity. Indian men also believed that semen-milk fills the male breasts and makes them look beautiful. Pahalwans are famous for drinking lots of milk and being the most beautiful men in India — which sucks because they were also celibate, and their radiant beauty would just attract more people to them, making it harder to remain celibate. Like everywhere else, the doctors in India believed that excessive ejaculation lead to various morbidities and premature death. By contrast, “the heroic ascetic and yogi who retains his seed is the most manly of men and enjoys robust health, tremendous physical energy, and mental alertness.” He also develops supernatural powers, called “siddhis.” Those who practice celibacy and can control their wet dreams accumulate a subtle form of semen, called shakti, and an energy called tapas, which literally means ‘heat’. The heat then helps the yogi burn away the heavier semen and sexual desires, while keeping a tiny drop spread out around the body.

In Play of Consciousness, Swami Muktananda, an incredibly accomplished and influential Yogi, compares this important body technique to saving money: “You should preserve your seminal fluid, which is your radiance, as you save money, watching every penny. Never forget that a radiant human being can be formed from that one drop. If you lose it, all the best powders and creams will not brighten your skin. The radiance of the sexual fluid is the vehicle of Shakti. Shakti is, as it were, bought with it. It is the means for activating the Kundalini and the highest means of making Samadhi stable. Look carefully and see the condition of the man who has wasted his sexual fluid” (1978: 145).

Even in esoteric Buddhism, semen is referred to as the “vital essence-drop” that is spread throughout the body “in numerous subtle channels as the support for life and consciousness.” Within Asian bodylore, then, female bodies are just simply out of luck. Women don’t get semen and they don’t get stable Samadhi, enlightenment, eternal life…

Much of Indian, Buddhist, and Taoist yogas are based on this sexist equation of semen with life, with prana, shakti, and chi. But as far as I know, seminal retention, or withholding semen, doesn’t actually benefit the body. The opposite might be the case, and the more orgasms and ejaculations you have, the better. According to classical Indian medical theory, though, one portion of semen requires 60 portions of blood to produce, so one portion lost is like loosing 60 portions of blood, and so it is considered extremely precious.

A rare sect of Japanese Buddhists, the Tachikawa-ryu, practiced ritual semen-eating. A student eats his master’s semen as a means for mind transmission (Faure: 126). Church Father Epiphanius reports that the early Christian Borborites also practiced eating semen as a Eucharistic ritual because it was, esoterically and biologically, the body-blood of Christ (Panarion, 4,3 p.85–86). Members of the modern St. Priapus Church still consume semen as a form of worship. Here we should be reminded of Raymond Kelly’s discussion of the Etoro people of Papua New Guinea, where the boys ingest the elder’s semen or “penis-oil” as a rite into adulthood and a way to receive the mind-lineage of the tribe (Kelly: 156; Stewart: 12).

I am also reminded of Gibert Herdt’s study of the Sambia boys of Papua New Guinea, and how they drink each other’s semen to replenish their stores: Sambian boys learn that semen is a kind of milk, and that the penis is a version of the breast. The move from childhood to adulthood is the move from sucking milk from the breast to sucking milk from the penis. They also will drink white tree sap. Men gather in the forest around a secret, sacred spot to drink the sap, and they say that this tree sap “replaces” ejaculated semen “lost” through heterosexual sex. Interestingly, most men do not replace semen lost through homosexual sex.

Within Indian body history, semen is the essence of all body substances as ghee is the essence of all food substances. Semen is also the material beginnings of the mythical honey-oil amrita, said to leak down into the yogi’s body via the pineal gland. This “nectar of the gods” is understood in relation to the sliding shakti which rises from the sacrem like a snake up the spine to be transformed into bliss upon entering the brain, like semen entering the vagina. Some vedic philosophers argue amrita is just a symbol for cerebral-spinal fluid (Michaels and Johnson 2006). Nevertheless, yogis report amrita is generated by retaining their semen during intercourse. This personal semen mythology manifests collectively in the most sacred, and expansive of all Hindu festivals, the Kumbh Mela, centered around the group obtaining amrita from the Heavenly Ocean of Milk. In Bengal, amrita is specifically understood as Shiva’s semen (Khare 1992), making the Kumbh Mela the world’s largest spiritual bukkake. The Jewish version may be the sticky white manna God feeds his chosen people in the desert. A jar of manna, the food of the angels (Ps 78:25), the bread of heaven (Ex 16:4), is supposedly kept within the Ark of the Covenant, right next to Aaron’s “budding rod.”

References

Amidon, Philip (trans). 1990. The Panarion of St. Epiphanius, Biship of Salamis. Oxford University Press, Oxford.

Faure, B. (1998). The Red Thread: Buddhist Approaches to Sexuality. Princeton University Press.

Hanegraaff, Wouter; Kripal, Jeffrey ed. 2008. Hidden Intercourse: Eros and Sexuality in the History of Western Esotericism. Koninklijke Brill NV, Leiden, The Netherlands.

Herbert, J. (2011). Shinto: At the Fountain-head of Japan. Routledge, New York.

Herdt, Gilbert 2003. Secrecy and Cultural Reality: Utopian Ideologies of the New Guinea Men’s House. University of Michigan Press. Ann Arbor.

Herdt, Gilbert H; Apple, Lawrence B.; Annin, Suzette H. 1981. Guardians of the Flutes: idioms of masculinity. McGraw-Hill.

Kelly, R. (1996) Constructing Inequality: The Fabrication of a Hierarchy of Virtue among the Etoro. University of Michigan Press.

Khare, R. (1992). The Eternal Food: Gastronomic Ideas and Experiences of Hindus and Buddhists. State University Press, Albany.

Muktananda (1978). Play of Consciousness. Harper and Row, San Francisco.

Mullin, G. (translator) (2006) The Dalai Lamas on Tantra. Snow Lion Publications: Ithaca.

Michaels, M., Johnson, P. (2006). The Essence of Tantric Sexuality. Llewellyn Publications: Wooddale.

Narayanananda, (1950). The Primal Power In Man or The Kundalini Shakti. Vigyan Press, Rishikish.

Nelson, James. 1988. The Intimate Connection: Male Sexuality, Masculine Spirituality. Philadelphia: Westminster Press.

Ohnnki-Tierney, E.(1993). Rice As Self: Japanese Identities Through Time. Princeton University Press, New Jersey.

Parry, J. Death and Digenstion: The Symbolism of Food and Eating in North Indian Moruary Rites. Man 20: 612–630.

Powers, J. (2009). A Bull of a Man: Images of Masculinity, Sex, and the Body in Indian Buddhism. Harvard University Press, Cambridge.

Powers, J. (2007) Introduction to Tibetan Buddhism. Snow Lion, Ithica.

White, D. (1996). The Alchemical Body: Siddha Traditions in Medieval India. University of Chicago Press, Chicago.

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