My childhood in south India imprinted me with a hatred for suffering. I once saw a man—who had doused himself with kerosene and set himself on fire—walk right past the gate of our suburban home. I still don’t know why he did what he did; servants were buzzing about it for weeks afterward, but I could not bear to hear the details. What could be so terrible that a man would set his own precious body ablaze?
That Burning Man never left my consciousness; what still baffles me is that the flames scorching his body did not seem to affect him—he had staggered past our home defiantly, this blazing human torch, and I swear I don’t recall hearing him scream.
Pain, as we all discover sooner or later, comes in a range of gross and subtle flavors. Some are cursed with having to endure physical pain. My own suffering has always been emotional; to escape from the sometimes relentless inner torment of my earlier days, I confess I would do almost anything.
Unfortunately, no gentle sage manifested in a blaze of light to warn me that no one succeeds in escaping pain; like an ominous shadow, the pain demon haunts you, growing obese as it squeezes all the joy out of existence; the only true remedy is to turn around and confront the bully head-on—and keep watching until it slinks away in shame.
Today I have come to accept that all fear is essentially an illusion. In fact, folks in the Twelve Step program have an acronym for fear–False Evidence Appearing Real. And indeed, that is what our fears are—insubstantial and petty tyrants who drain us of the one thing they do not have—prana, or vital energy.
While my threshold for both physical and emotional pain continues to be abysmally low, I now have a variety of constructive tools to dissolve it—mainly, yoga, meditation and the wisdom of the ancients. The Wild God continues to whip me, because I have set my personal goal high. The difference is that now I know why I, and all beings, must suffer—before gold can shine, it must go through the trial of fire.
Now to get to the reasons why I felt compelled to write about a subject more or less taboo in my community of origin—I mean, sex. You see, I grew up with a mother who flushed at the mere mention of the “s” word. Any talk of bodily functions evoked in her an intense discomfort. Her own father had died when she was five, and she’d been brought up by a pretty and well-off, though distraught mother—a young widow who, by the customs of our people, was neither allowed to remarry, nor work outside of home. While my little mother was given the best of material things, I suspect she lacked a close bond with her own grieving mother.
And so she reached out to the nuns at her school—nuns who warned her that men in general spelled trouble. Beautiful and melancholy, my mother was married off as a teenager, against her will; she proceeded to bear many children, and not by choice. And though she did an astounding job of nurturing us, I could always glimpse in her the bewildered little girl whose life had drastically changed the day she lost her handsome father.
Most likely as a result of never being properly mothered herself, my mother did not know how to deal with her own daughters as we grew into young women; we were forbidden to speak of natural things, and censored in almost every way.
One day at school a friend mentioned to me that, over the past weekend, she’d asked her Oxford-educated mother how babies were made. Her mother had instantly picked up a sketch pad and deftly sketched the male and female organs. She had then used her drawings to explain the nature of conception and birth to her nine-year old daughter. I had grown rigid with envy as I listened; my own mother’s prudishness, I felt sure, had installed shame and embarrassment in all her children about this most natural of functions.
I wrote Whip to remedy this great flaw in my own psyche—and hopefully to shed some light on the blocks and neuroses of others. As I continued to research Tantric and eastern philosophy in general, I began to see just how exalted are its teachings on sacred union. How wrong the world had gone in cheapening and trivializing this most important root energy!
Among the spiritually educated in the west today—I speak of yogis, shamans and other seekers—the balance appears to have been redressed. Sexual energy is often acknowledged as critical to spiritual growth—whether one is celibate or not. And while Tantra is still often regarded as a hedonistic and licentious practice, the truth is that many celebrated Tantrics—such as the Dalai Lama—are highly disciplined, ethical, and life-long celibates.
Sadly enough, in India, where energy teachings once flourished—I speak of Kundalini, or the serpent fire, which sages claim lies coiled three-and-a-half times at the base of the human spine—investigating primal energy as a tool for spiritual transformation is still not something you can speak frankly about. Tantra urges man and woman to view each other as divine and equal;by fusing their energies, they experience godhead. Where, I ask you, is the sin in this?
I am not talking about the tawdry manner in which sex is extolled, say, in Bollywood; nor the plethora of dirty jokes “sophisticated” Indian men and women feel free to bandy about; nor do I speak of the millions of modern Indians who, forced into arranged marriages in which they find themselves unfulfilled, seek various forms of external consolation. I address instead the honor and respect one can give to one’s own true nature.
In the ancient teachings, it is said that when Shiva set his seal on the world, he cleaved it into male and female; so when male and female re-unite in the most sacred of ways, they re-experience the state of Shiva, which is sat-chit-ananda, absolute existence-consciousness and bliss, or organic cosmic wholeness.
To my critical eye, both Indian men and women—from the illiterate poor to the wealthy western-educated lot—have long lost their connection to this sacred wisdom. As a result, the balance between the sexes has gone radically awry. Sadly the old stereotype of either the sainted virgin or the painted whore persists. In general, there appears to be little room for pure friendship and respect between the sexes, the kind that can grow into a healthy, harmonious and holistic relationship, where there are no bars to intimacy.
Perhaps this stream of consciousness ramble might explain why I nurtured this book through many incarnations and personal ups and downs for close to twenty years. In the end, after going through hell and back, my protagonist finally awakens her own indwelling divinity; and that is what we all must do, at some point or the other in our infinite lives—for it is our birthright and our dharma.