Kāmabandha, Bound to Love

With Valentine’s Day on the horizon, most of us here in the West will be reminded of Cupid, whose name comes from the Latin cupido, “desire, love.” One dictionary suggests this word is “perhaps” cognate with the Sanskrit kupyati, “bubbles up, becomes agitated,” which I suspect some of us have experienced once or twice in our lives under certain circumstances with certain people. Another dictionary traces this word even farther back, to the Indo-European root kwep, a not especially poetic sounding word—all you need is kwep? Can’t buy me kwep? Kwep me tender?—that means “to smoke, cook, be agitated emotionally,” once again relational conditions at least a few of us may be able to identify with.

Cupid carries two different kinds of arrows, one very sharp and gold-tipped, the other made of lead and blunt. When struck with the first, we bid adieu to sanity and devote every hour of our waking lives to making the biggest fool in the world—think Jim Carey in Dumb and Dumber—look perfectly rational and intelligent. When struck with the other we react completely oppositely and inexplicably, at least to the other person, turn tail and run.

Since this is a yoga newsletter, we’ll turn our attention to India, which has its own version of Cupid, a randy young fellow by the name of Kāma. As with so many Sanskrit words, we have to be careful with the spelling: with a long second, kam (pronounced kuh-MA), it means “beauty, radiance;” with a long first (pronounced KA-muh), it means “desire, longing, wish.” As we might expect there are lots of words that are compounded of kāma: if I’m bound to love, I’m kāmabandha; if I’m lustful, I’m kāmabhik ma; and if I’m following my own desires unreservedly, I’m kāmacara.

Kāma himself is said to be the first creation of the Absolute at the dawning of the world. In the famous Vedic song of creation (10.129), we read that at the outset “all that existed then was void and formless,” after which “rose Desire (kāma) … the primal seed and germ of Spirit.” This seems to indicate that within each of us then at the very essence of our being is Desire, but not the everyday worldly desire to, just to pull an example out of my hat, date Kate Upton (or whoever you’d like to fill in here), but the original intent of Desire with a capital D, which is to know ourselves as we truly are and so be truly happy.

Kāma of course has a family. His wife’s name is Rati, “pleasure,” his younger brother is Krodha, “anger,” and his daughter is Trisha, “thirst.” Sounds like that might be an interesting Thanksgiving dinner get-together. We might expect him nowadays to drive a very flashy, expensive car, but traditionally his ride is a parrot, said to be the wisest of birds—Polly want a kwep-er?—or a peacock, which represents impatient desire. Like Cupid, K ma has a bow, his is made of sugar cane, its string a line of buzzing bees, his arrows are made of lust-inspiring flowers. Oddly enough, for we might expect just the reverse, K ma is worshiped by the yogis, because it’s only he who can free the mind of desire. I guess it’s good to know, as Alain Danielou writes in the Gods of India, that it’s not “pleasure but desire” that binds us all to suffering and blocks our way to liberation. He quotes from an obscure Upanishad: “He (and let’s add “she”) who hankers after pleasure with a view of enjoying it becomes addicted to desire. The sage partakes of sensual pleasures as they occur, with a detached mind, and does not become addicted to desire.”

Like most Indian deities, Kāma has a host of names; just a few are: Ishma, “spring,” Mada, “passion,” Smara, “remembering love.” He’s also known as Abhirupa, the “beautiful,” Dipaka, the “inflamer,” Kantu, the “happy,” and naturally Samantaka, the “destroyer of peace.” His special celebration, which we might compare with Valentine’s Day, is called Madanasava, the Festival of the God of Love, which is described as a pretty raucous affair, in which the castes mingle freely, kings and beggars alike, singing and dancing and engaging in behavior we’ll not describe in a family newsletter.

A few month ago, while researching another article, I had occasion to look up the word prana, familiar enough to most yogis, meaning “breath of life, respiration, spirit, vitality.” As I plowed my way through the complicated definition I ran across this beautiful phrase which I give to you to share with someone special on Valentine’s Day: tvam me pranah (pronounced, more or less: twam me pra-nuh-hah), which means, “To me you are as dear as life.”

And a poem that I penned especially for Rod and Colleen:

Will you be my Valentine?
If you will my Heart will shine
If you will my Brain will glow
I’ll light up from head to toe.
And oh my Lungs will sing and shout
My Liver angel wings will sprout
My Kidneys too will celebrate
Say you will, don’t make me wait.
My Stomach out its joy will pour
Oh how would it just you adore
You my wildest dreams surpass
Right down into my Pancreas.
When other lovers get the sack
Only Hearts in pieces crack.
But if you me won’t make your bloke
All my insides will be broke.
My Thyroids they will turn to gruel
However could you be so cruel?!
My Pituitary will be crushed
And look, poor Spleen, all chopped and mushed.
So once again, please don’t decline:
Will you be my Valentine?
Oh so happy would I be
In every vein and artery.

We are excited to announce that Richard Rosen will be teaching two workshops at Yoga Shanti this February: Asana as a Preparation for Pranayama in Sag Harbor on Valentines Day, February 14th, and Forgotten Hatha in New York City on Sunday, February 15th.