In all ages celibacy has been a religious and mystical ideal, and for two principal reasons. The first is that although the soul, born into the world, is led further astray by every fresh experience that it meets with in life, nevertheless it is sex-passion that causes the greatest delusion of all. The myth of Adam and Eve illustrates this truth; for whether it was a means taken by God or by Satan, it was at the hands of Eve that Adam ate the forbidden fruit, and not through any direct command or prompting that he himself received. And since man's final goal is the attainment of spiritual life, - his life here on earth having been all in vain if he fails to achieve it, - every effort has been made by religion to draw him away from that passion of sex towards which he is led by nature, and thus away from the greatest peril that his soul can encounter on its earthly journey.
And then again, whilst every expression of life, speech, laughter, tears, robs man of some part of his fund of energy, it is sex-passion that makes the greatest demand of all; and therefore the idea of celibacy was presented, so that man might the better preserve his energy to pursue with singleness of view that final goal of spiritual attainment.
Losses such as dimness of reason, weakness of thought, loss of memory, despair, depression, result when the inner being of man is starved, because energy has been expended, and because there is no knowledge or skill in strengthening and sustaining the inner existence. At every moment of life, and with every breath, the human being gives out and takes in energy; and whenever he gives out more than he takes in, he draws death nearer. But if energy is denied an outlet, it can be raised and used to sustain the mind and the inner being. For this reason mystics have often practised seclusion, silence, and other forms of abstinence, to preserve energy for the sustenance of the inner life; and they have found that celibacy was the most effectual means of all upon this path. "It is the spirit that quickeneth; the flesh profiteth nothing".
But man's life can never be complete without woman, and this is the error that lies at the root of the ideal of celibacy. Man's life is incomplete without woman, whether one considers his social or his political life; and no less true is this, if one considers his religious and his spiritual life. Without the sympathy of Christ for Mary Magdalene, and the nearness of the friendship of Christ to Martha and her sister Mary, the beautiful picture of the Master's life would be incomplete. Among the Prophets of the Semitic races, from Abraham down through the ages, there was always a woman to complete the course of their holy lives; and the great Hindu teachers from Brahma to Krishna are glorified together with their consorts.
Religious man, wherever found and whatever teacher he followed, has nevertheless been prone to look at contact with woman with contempt; with the thought of there being something unholy in the passionate love of woman. Indeed it is a question whether the libertine has actually debased woman as much as the religious man, who with contempt believes that to hold himself aloof from any woman and to strangle his love within him, will be for his own spiritual benefit. And is it possible to debase woman and the position of woman in the scheme of life without debasing man, and the whole of life?
In the evolution of the ego, there is undoubtedly a development towards celibacy, but this same development undoubtedly carries an increasing regard for woman, and the whole plan of life. Oriental philosophy, in discussing the ego, distinguishes between the nufs amara and the nufs lawama. The former is the individual whose whole existence is on the surface, engaged in the satisfaction of his senses, in eating, drinking, in amusements, and in sexual indulgence; and the nufs lawama is the individual whose physical greed is controlled by intelligence, to the extent of making him discriminate between his pleasures. The nufs lawama rejects those desires and enjoyments that fall below the certain standard of taste which his intelligence sets for him.
The nufs mutmaina represents a third and higher stage of development, in which the senses are under the control of mind. In this stage of evolution a man is absorbed in some ideal, or devoted to the achievement of some object in life, outside of self, - art, invention, trade, and so on, -- and directs his energies into one channel. In his sexual passion he may be compared to the deer that comes to drink from the pool of fresh water, lying hidden in the depth of the forest, pure and untroubled; to be frightened away, by the least flutter of reflected shade, that distracts or disturbs his attention. For him, passion only exists when he loves; he cannot feel passionate when he does not love. Here at last is found the admiration of woman, the beginning of love, and the real lover. What do the nufs amara or lawama know, who think of love as a pleasure?
The furthest stage in development is the nufs salima, in which man's consciousness is removed to an abstract planIn the heart of a man at this point of evolution, love is raised from admiration to worship; his love is part of his being, and his passion, which is never expressed except in the intensity of love, may be compared to the alighting of a bird on earth to pick up a grain of corn.
This man lives on a higher plane of life, judging by different standards; though his inspiration springs from the common life of existence. Thinker, visionary, or man of action, he becomes absorbed in the contemplation of the essence of things. He alone becomes unable to regard anything as common or unclean; although in his contemplation of the mystery of life, and in his devotion to the pursuit of truth, and his self-sacrifice to the cause of humanity, he may become gradually etherealised above every material object. Having reached this point, he is truly justified, if he should strike the path of celibacy.