Neuroscience and Karma ► 12. Loving and Attachment

Posted: 08.07.2015

0. Maithuna Saṁjña and Veda

The primordial drives are not only essential aids for the survival of the individual organism but also for the reproduction of the species. Next to the hunger drive, (āhāra saṁjñi) discussed in 8th chapter, is the maithuna saṁjñi, that is, the primal drive for sex and reproduction. Just as the former is the impetus for taking nourishment, the latter produces the drive mechanism for mating and reproduction and no living being is without it. In higher animals and humans, reproduction and sexual activity is also associated with attachment, loving and caring for the partners and progeny. Thus our discussion of sexuality includes loving, caring and attachment.

While the physical aspects of sexuality are determined by three aghāti karman - body-making (nāma), life-span-determining (āyuṣya) and feeling-producing (vedanīya) - the psychological aspects are determined by one of the ghātī karman - the deluding (mohanīya) karman, through its three subspecies called 'veda' (urge for sexual behavior).

These are:

  1. Puruṣa veda or desire for female.
  2. Strī veda or desire for male.
  3. Napuṁsaka veda or desire for both male and female.

It is this deluding karman which is again responsible for the production of attachments also. The powerful possessive instinct (parigraha saṁjñā) is intimately associated with maithuna saṁjñā and both are determined largely by the deluding karman. Transcendentally, each soul has to transmigrate through innumerable cycles of life and death and in each life it forms attachments with organisms of its species in that life. The attachment in the present life is, therefore, purely empirical and has no ultimate significance whatsoever. Its duration is only for one life-span. Thus, the ultimate truth is the solitariness of the soul. But the life-long attachments are important empirical facts of the worldly life. Stronger the intensity of fruition of the deluding karman, deeper is the attachment and vice versa.

1. Loving and Reproduction

The word love is used in many senses. In fact, the Oxford English Dictionary has no less than 24 columns of meanings for 'love'. Basically all love involves an element of self-love and we can safely emphasize that our actions are a curious confusion of selfishness and altruism. When we love someone, we feel happiness in their company and sadness,n separation. Pleasure and happiness are internal signs that our programs of action are working successfully. We have, however, to search for the connection between happiness of loving others and our inherent selfishness and this is not quite as easy as we might hope.

We have seen that sensations of pleasure are possible only with proper functioning of certain centres and circuits including the frontal cortex and hypothalamus. People in whom these regions are not working adequately are difficult to please. Indeed they may be full of displeasure and even apt to terminate their life altogether. It is, therefore no surprise that the activities that we characterize as loving, are also regulated by the actions of the hypothalamus. Electrical stimulation of these centers in conscious human subjects may produce feelings of general well-being and pleasure.

The hypothalamus insists upon the performance of self-preserving activities and makes sure that we eat and drink the right amounts and defend ourselves if attacked. Homeostasis conserves the whole program for a way of life, which is written in the genes and passed on by reproduction. The hypothalamus contains programs devoted to long-term conservation. It ensures that, in due course the individual comes to sexual maturity. In humans, sexual attracations, mating behavior and care of the young occupy a major part of our lives and energies It is proper for the conservation of our kind that such activities should be pleasurable and rewarding, and these are the pleasures of love.

The hypothalamus, thus, has a central part in directing behavior towels the goals both of self-preservation of the individual and the reproduction of his genetic program. But we can see now that this love is only a special part of the larger program for the conservation of life. Our self-preservative 'selfish' desires are as much a part of this as our altruistic wishes for others. Being directed by the same parts of the brain, the two sorts have naturally much in common. The very activities of sex, which may lead us to all the responsibilities of parenthood, are themselves perhaps the most rewarding of all experiences for the individual.

2. Programs for Attachment

We have seen earlier, how we learn physical and develop and intellectual skills, and now we are concerned with our emotional development. The child is born with programs that ensure that he receives attention, for example, crying, and the mother is also programmed to respond to them. Her brain and her hormones normally make sure that she responds to its cries just as they also ensure that she has the milk to feed it. There is an inherited program that promotes attachment to the mother which is most essential, at least, in the first year of life. This is preprogrammed response which shows the presence of neural mechanism ready to respond to certain stimuli by attachment. At the same time, mother is programmed to become emotionally attached and to remain attached to the child. Her face and her voice are prominent in the list of characteristics which elicit responses from the child. The evidence from childhood shows that humans are born with a propensity to pay special attention to the sights and sounds of each other[1].

Is love, then nothing else but attachment? There is nothing altruistic about the child's devotion (to its mother); it is purely selfish and for long remains so. The little tyrant develops various skills - attractive devices - to fascinate, capture and control her, sometimes by crying and at other times by smiling. Throughout the long period of childhood, he is learning to get on with people by building the model set which must serve him in all his later human relations.

Adult attachment is very much different from the reaction of the child to his mother but it may be the same neural mechanism that is responsible for some characteristic features of adult life. Outside the family, adults, very often, become attached to groups or institutions as well as to stars of stage, sports stars and religious leaders. Indeed, it seems to have a common basis in all mankind, for most humans respond to leaders.

We have to search for the steps by which selfishness is transformed into mutual pleasure and self-sacrifice for others.

3. Development of Sexuality

With the development of sexuality come new needs. There is much conflict in the evidence about the conditions conducive to sexual development in humans. Certainly the conditions differ greatly with culture. The basic impetus to sex comes from deluding karman, heredity and hormones, but its manifestations are profoundly influenced by experience. Very often, grown men and women may enter into matrimony without the slightest idea of how to go abaout sexual intercourse and proper sexual behaviour is developed after a period of experiment and learning. Inspite of a spate of publicity about sex, it remains a very private phenomenon among humans and this very privacy leads to much anxiety and ignorance and to quite unfounded fears of being abnormal.

The conditions of permanent attachment and marriage of course also differ enormously between different societies and cultures. The whole question of sexual attractions between permanent partners seems still to need study. Western theory that we become attached to each other by a biological bond seems to be as likely to be right as any other.

In a primative society, where death was much prevalent, full reproductive power was essential and the satisfactions to produce children had to be strong. But, today population dilemma has made the question of sexual relations very peculiar. Although we, no longer, need to produce so many, the programs remain with us and sexual desires grow more powerful, aided by cinema, TV and literature.

Though individual sexual attachments are related in some way to those formed in childhood, we are still without certain knowledge of the foundations of adult sexuality because we still lack adequate studies of the development of brain. The overlaps between attachment behavior, parental behavior and sexual behavior are commonplace and quite often one treats a sexual partner as a parent and the reverse.

4. The Gonads (Sex Glands) and Sex Hormones

To appreicate the basis for sexual urges, it is useful to have knowledge of the genetic and hormonal factors that influence it. The genetic difference between the sexes lies in the chromosomes. Out of the 46 Chromosomes, only two are responsible for determining the sex. Thus, while a male will have X and Y, the female will have X and X. This difference will result in anatomical distinction between their respective reproductive systems.

The term gonads literally means 'seed' and the male and the female sex organs (the gonads) produce the 'seed' of the new generation. The gonads of the female are the ovaries and in the male they are testes. Their principal function is to produce germ cells, ova and sperm, respectively that can fuse together to produce a new life. They also double as potent endocrine glands, secreting hormones that condition the functional state and influence the psychic biological phenomena involved in the sexual act.

The major female hormones estrogen and progesterone are produced by the ovaries. Similarly the main male hormone testosterone is produced by the testes. However, adrenal glands produce both male and female hormones and both are present in every individual but in different amounts. Thus the difference between the sexes are quantitative rather than absolute. Every individual is a human first and a male or female as it was, only secondarily. Thus, if the resultant sex is a balance of maleness and femaleness, though it will be tipped more or less strongly in different individuals, it is natural for every one to show some characteristics of the opposite sex, both physically and emotionally. This is why the woman may like to be dominated but also want sometimes to dominate and the man can find that he also wants it this way.

The relationship between the hormonal factors and the programs of so called higher parts of the brain is still very obscure. There is no doubt that it is a two-way relationship. Hormones influence thinking and vice versa.

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