What's Kama Got to Do With It?

kama love pleasure puruṣārthas sensuality


Today is February 14th and in much of the world, people are celebrating St. Valentine's Day, and more specifically love in all its many romanticized forms.

 Everywhere you look there are hearts, arrows, cupids, chocolates, roses, and poetic cards expressing one's love.  It's a lovely day to enjoy the things we love with the people we love.  

In the Vedic tradition chocolates, flowers, and poetry are considered pleasures and are worthy of pursuit.  Kama, the pursuit of pleasure, is one of the four aims of Yoga referred to collectively as puruṣārthas. The other three include Dharma, living on the path of your unique purpose, and pursuing the right actions that align with your values. Artha, is the embodiment of wealth and prosperity, taking responsibility for the care of one's sustenance and self-care, while not necessarily monetary, Artha is the pursuit of quality of life.  The fourth aim is Moksha, which is spiritual liberation and freedom, it is about discovering your cosmology through Self-realization.

I think some might be surprised to consider Kama as one of the four aims of Yoga, where so many religious traditions throughout history have denied the flesh, in Yoga there is a recognition that the body is an effect of the Absolute consciousness, it is the natural outcome of the One creative mind.  And in being 'the body of God' we should pursue that which is an embodiment of love, joy, beauty, prosperity, and freedom.  Carefully and in a sacred context, which would mean in consideration of Dharma, Artha, and Moksha.  The Westernized brain might read sensual pleasure as sex, which, as intimacy, is within the expression of Kama, yet Kama can be much more nuanced.

The root origin of the word Kama comes from Vedic stories of the god Kamadeva, the god of love.  Kama was a beautiful soft green color, his mount was a parrot, and he carried arrows of sugarcane and a bow with a string made of honey bees.  Kama was the OG of figures like Cupid, Eros, and St. Valentines that would follow later.

Although there are many tales of Kama, in the Shiva Puranas we find the story of Shiva sitting quietly and deeply in meditation.  Parvati, in love with Shiva, is leaving flowers at his feet, singing sweetly, and playing the veena.  All of her efforts to attract Shiva's attention have fallen flat so she seeks the help of Kama and asks him to shoot an arrow into Shiva's heart to awaken him.  In preparation, Parvati sits deep in meditation becoming more and more radiant with her love of Shiva.  Kama takes aim and shoots Shiva right in the center of his heart, Shiva is suddenly awakened and is furious to be stirred from his meditation.  He sends a torch of fire out of his third eye and burns poor Kama to a crisp. Don't worry too much about Kama, as in most myths of Vedic origin, Kama will shapeshift again and be transformed. With Kama out of the way, Shiva's eyes meet Parvati's and he is smitten with her radiant beauty and captivating expression of love.  He's hooked.  And they of course marry in divine union.

The deeper meaning of the myth is that Shiva is pure consciousness, and he is deep in formless thought, his eyes are closed to Parvati, the goddess, or the world in manifest form.  It's not until an arrow pierces Shiva's heart, and awakens awareness, that he can see and love the world around him.

There is a union of love between our consciousness and the world.  When they meet at the center of the heart, the unstruck place where love resides, we can experience, invite, and cultivate pleasure as Kama.

"In the city of Brahman is a secret dwelling, the lotus of the heart. Within this dwelling is a space, and within that space is the fulfillment of our desires. What is within that space should be longed for and realized."  

- Chandoyoga Upanishad

On this day and every day, we should open our eyes after meditation and drink in the sensual pleasures of the world around us, appreciating the fragrance of flowers, the feel of our feet on the earth, the sound of music, and the poignancy of art.  We should look for love in varied forms all around us.  And we should look into the eyes of those we love and see ourselves as a reflection of love.


Om & Blessings, Kate

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