Have a question about Hinduism? E-mail Swami Tripurari.

Q: I'm confused by one of your replies. You wrote: "When Guru and sastra ...speak againstintoxication, this does not include the application of otherwiseintoxicating drugs when used for medicinal purposes. Coffee and green tea are notgood for the body or mind in the long run, but their occasional use at timesfor practical purposes will not affect one's bhakti."

What do you mean by "practical"? The person writing says he/she drinks coffee inorder to work 24 hours straight. Is such use of coffee OK? Is working for 24hours straight desirable? One could justify so much intoxicant use on thepretext of "practicality." Would you kindly elaborate?

The devotee who asked me this question is a good friend of mine. He works as aparamedic, and four days a week he has to work 24 hour shifts. I think weneed paramedics in this society, and I have no problem with devoteesbeing employed in this field. Indeed, it has brought him many realizationsabout the fleeting nature of life in this world. If he needs to drinkcoffee on these days to remain alert, it will not adversely affect hisbhakti.

If the soul is, as you say,"asleep" [when in illusion], then who or what is doing thethinking, willing, and feeling, and making the conscious choices?

The soul in its sleep is not fully aware ofthe extent to which it exists nor of the other aspects of its ownnature. Under the influence of material nature (illusion), it makes choices it would not make were it not under this influence. Just as someone intoxicated is said to be someone other than himself, so theillusioned soul is not the true self, the awakened self.

If one in a same-sex karmic relationship choseto sublimate his or her love, and in the context of that relationshippursue spiritual life, this would be progressive. However, if you read AestheticVedanta, you will see that it is not advocating even same-sex sexualrelationships in this world, but rather the erotic life of the Absolute itself. It is thelove life of Radha-Krsna that becomes the preoccupation of the spiritualaspirant on this path, leaving material passion--whether same-sex or otherwise--far behind. The beauty of Aesthetic Vedanta is that it recognizes thatthe erotic urge has its origins in the Absolute, thus making for a transcendentalreality that is all-consuming and intimate, taking the practitioner beyondreverential love of Godhead.

I was wondering about the eroticism in muchof Krsna art. Much of this was painted by non-practitioners. Doyou think that this art, being influenced by the non-spiritual thinking, issometimes misleading and inappropriate? With art, as opposed to the written word, thereis no explanation, and one's mundane imagination can easily take over.

I worked with some artists from Rajashtanwho were not initiated spiritual practitioners, but whose appreciationof the spiritual nature of Krsna lila was apparent. As for the Mogul period,those who painted for the Mogul rulers, as well as the rulers themselves,certainly had higher moral standards than our society does today. Thus, what mightappear distasteful and potentially misleading to us may not have brought the samethoughts to their minds. The problem may lie more with ourselves than theartists. There are three doers and simultaneous nondoersin the equation of our material life: God, material nature, and thesoul. God is a doer, for nothing moves without God's sanction. Yet God is notthe doer in the sense that God is not responsible for that which takes place;being a self-satisfied doer, he moves not out of need and thus without karmicimplication. Material nature is a doer, for all the workings of nature and ourbodies are but her movements. Yet material nature is a nondoer as well, formaterial nature is inert and unconscious. The soul is a doer by the force ofdesire. When it desires something material under the illusion that itis in need, God sanctions material nature to move in relation to that desire forits fulfillment. Yet the soul is a nondoer as well, because when it desires inrelation to material nature, it is material nature that acts.

I read somewhere that Hinduism is silent on homosexuality/bisexuality, and therefore istolerant of it (but that it condemns abortion). The religion presupposes that all relationships are karmic, and that since God is in all, and God is in love, shouldit matter who you choose to love? Could it be that a soul (which has nogender of its own), which was born in a series of female incarnations, but then isborn into a male body, still retains its past physical desires of attractionto men? And if that soul chose to find a loyal, "passionate/sacred" same-sex union (without doubt, carrying on from a previous karmicrelationship) and then sublimate the erotic sexual feelings into spiritual love,just as is advised for the heterosexual spiritual aspirant, would therebe anything wrong with it?