Question: In Srimad Bhagavatam 5.17.12, Srila Prabhupada explains that people have sex in the spiritual world and there is no possibility of conception there. How is sex possible between different persons in the spiritual world and how can they be Krishna conscious at the same time?
The term sex is in reference to the sanskrit concept of rasa, the original spiritual relationships. In the material world this rasa is best reflected as mundane sex. But even in this there are many gradations according to the degrees of covering by the three modes. The Taittiriya Upanishad describes the degrees of enjoyment among the different human species, from the common man, to the gandharva, apsara, siddha, deva, devadeva, devendra, brahma, etc. Each being one hundred times greater or more complete than the previous.
As you go from lower species to higher species, what we refer to as sex exists in many different ways. It is the same for all the sensory activities. For example, our system of digestion is very gross. After we eat, the food is digested, and the waste is passed out. In the higher species such as gandharvas, the waste products are evaporated into the air automatically. There is no passing of waste. So the entire system of digestion is much more subtle, which is in tune with their own subtle existence. The activity of sex is similar. As you move up through the species it becomes more and more subtle, and less physical. For the gandharvas it involves mostly singing, for apsaras it involves mostly dancing. For higher devatas it involves mainly sight. When you come to the level of Lord Brahma, sex involves mainly the intellectual process. When you compare it to some of the lower species such as insects, they appear as completely different activities. For example after the praying mantis mates, the female eats off the head of the male. This is the same activity the gandharvas are performing by singing. The only difference is that the coverings of the the modes are so thick and heavy that it comes out in such a low aspect. Now if there is such a huge contrast even between material sex, then what to speak of the difference between material and spiritual sex. Ultimately sex is the transmission of a relationship. When we are covered by the modes, this relationship takes a lower physical nature. As you go through to higher species, the relationship becomes less and less physical, and more subtle. When you come to the spiritual platform, it no longer is a physical or mental activity, but a spiritual exchange of a relationship. This exchange of relationship on the spiritual platform is called rasa. Thus when Srila Prabhupada refers to sex between different living entities in the spiritual world, he is referring to an exchange of a spiritual relationship.
Srila Prabhupada mentions this in his purport to Srimad Bhagavatam 5.17.12:
“Another point in this verse is that in all eight of these heavenly varsas, although men and women enjoy sex pleasure, there is no pregnancy. Pregnancy takes place only in lower-grade life. For example, animals like dogs and hogs become pregnant twice a year, and each time they beget at least half a dozen offspring. Even lower species of life such as snakes give birth to hundreds of young at one time. This verse informs us that in grades of life higher than ours, pregnancy occurs once in a lifetime. People still have sex life, but there is no pregnancy. In the spiritual world, people are not very attracted to sex life, due to their exalted devotional attitude. Practically speaking, there is no sex life in the spiritual world, but even if sometimes it does occur, there is no pregnancy at all. On the planet earth, however, human beings do become pregnant, although the tendency is to avoid having children. In this sinful age of Kali, people have even taken to the process of killing the child in the womb. This is the most degraded practice; it can only perpetuate the miserable material conditions of those who perform it.”
In the higher planetary systems conception occurs only once in the life, just prior to death. It is actually a great benefit for the female denizens of heaven, as they know when they are going to die. For the males on the other hand it is quite sudden and shocking. Of course, due to their absorption in sense gratificatory activities, even the females may be taken by surprise. The descriptions of the death of the higher beings is described in detail in the scriptures. The heavenly dwellers will be enjoying with their consort, drinking the soma rasa (a heavenly intoxicant), without any idea what is about to occur. At the point when their punya (accumulated pious results) is finished they will suddenly fall from the heavenly realm (kshine punye martya-lokam vishanti). There will be nothing supporting them below their feet. As they fall through the ethereal space, they can still see the heavenly abode, and they see their consort has immediately taken another partner for enjoyment, as though they had never existed. As he falls through the space, he comes to an area which is frequented by many lower beings. These beings know the area where the celestial beings fall through, thus they wait there to eat them as they fall from their heavenly abodes. These lower beings begin to devour the living entities heavenly body as he falls towards the earthly abode. While being eaten alive, the heavenly being observes his previous realm, and sees his previous consort continuing to enjoy with other men. At this time, due to the intense pain in his heart, he begins to cry, and his soul leaves his body through his eyes within a tear drop. The tear drop falls to earth and mixes with the rain clouds. When the rain falls, the soul of the heavenly being lands on the earth and enters into a seed of grain. The grain grows and is latter eaten by a human. The soul of the heavenly being (along with his subtle covering) thus enters into the semen of a human and is latter born within the earthly abode.
In the Gita Krishna briefly describes this process:
te tam bhuktva svarga lokam vishalam
kshine punye martya-lokam vishanti
“After enjoying in the heavenly abode (svarga-loka), when their pious results are exhausted, they again enter the abode of death .”
Krishna’s use of the word vishalam is significant, they do not just enjoy, as we enjoy. But their enjoyment is extremely vast. Their sense perception is hundreds of times greater than ours. When they smell a flower, or when they taste something, they are experiencing something completely different than what we are experiencing through our senses. It is like someone having a cold and a stuffy nose trying to smell a flower. They will not experience the flower. We are similar when compared to the higher heavenly beings. We are not actually experiencing matter in its true state. We have no idea of how something smells, tastes, or feels. This is what is described in the Taittiriya Upanishad. And as you go up to even higher beings, the case is the same for them, until you finally come to Lord Brahma, the engineer of the material universe. Only Lord Brahma can experience matter in its true fullness. Only he knows what a flower actually smells like, or what taste, touch and sight actually are. What then to speak of sense perception beyond matter. Spiritual sense enjoyment, cannot be understood by anyone within this material world. Even material sense enjoyment cannot be understood, it is practically limitless, yet higher, much higher, is the spiritual sense perception. Thus Krishna describes it as su-sukham kartum avyayam. By using the prefix “su” Krishna is stating that it belongs to an entirely different category from the ordinary happiness of this world.
In the purport Srila Prabhupada mentions the various grades of enjoyment, from the snake up to the demigods. When you compare the enjoyment of the demigod with that of the snake, they have very few similarities, what to speak of the spiritual enjoyment in Vaikuntha. We can not compare it even to the highest activities within this world, even though it may be described in similar words. As far as pregnancy not occurring within the spiritual realm, this is an obvious fact, as there is no birth nor death. Pregnancy is a process of the cycle of birth and death. In the Gita Krishna explains that whatever has a beginning in time will also have an end. Thus whatever is born is sure to die. I would not put too much importance on this statement in trying to understand what is this spiritual sex being referred to, as it is just a general fact, and not a particular description. The “sex” that occurs between two living entities within the spiritual realm is simply an exchange of a direct loving relationship between the two due to each others appreciation for the others service to Krishna. It has no connection with the concept of sex as found within the mundane realm.