|Fr. Francis Xavier Clooney, S.J.|
Let me say a bit more about the Kama Sutra, of which you can find here the old (Victorian) Burton-Arbuthnot translation (now very much superseded by recent Wendy Doniger-Sudhir Kakar translation). The Sutra is one of a series of instructive Sanskrit texts, summaries and condensations, that appeared in medieval India. Some such texts covered the law and society’s rules, or commerce and the best practices of kings; others condensed the true meaning of the scriptures, be it the ritual texts of the Vedic hymns or the more theological meditations of the Upanisads. Some, like the Yoga Sutras, distilled the practical and intellectual insights required for a true discipline of the bodily, psychological, and spiritual reality of human being. The Kama Sutras distill the overall meaning, physical practices, and social conventions of love, sexual and social, in premodern India. Farley is correct in pointing out, in her elegant few pages on the framing insights of the text, that it puts love and pleasure in the context of human life as a whole, and makes kama – desire, pleasure, yearning, delight – available to learned readers. (It notes that even if women, barred from learning Sanskrit, cannot pick up and study the text, they do nevertheless relate to the same human realities of which the Sutras speak.) She made a good case, albeit very briefly, for learning from India’s tradition of erotic love.
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