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The Kama Sutra of Vatsayana

Category: Books sutras and myths


Vātsyāyana is the name of the Hindu philosopher who is the author of the Kama Sutra.

In Sanskrit a Sutra is a scripture and Kama means in this context ‘love, pleasure  and sensual delights’.  Thus the Kama sutra is a scripture to be used for love, making love, and sex magick.  But in saying this we lose a great deal of the contents of the Kama Sutra and also the context. 

Kama sutra – Chapter 1 Salutation to Dharma, Artha and Kama

IN the beginning, the Lord of Beings created men and women, and in the form of commandments in one hundred thousand chapters laid down rules for regulating their existence with regard to Dharma, Artha, and Kama.  Some of these commandments, namely those which treated of Dharma, were separately written by Swayambhu Manu; those that related to Artha were compiled by Brihaspati; and those that referred to Kama were expounded by Nandi, the follower of Mahadeva, in one thousand chapters.


In other words LOVE in all its forms, not just sexual, takes an equal place in Hindu life with Dharma, which correctly interpreted means the spiritual path; and Artha, which again correctly interpreted means co-creation [Artha has taken on the meaning of wealth and prosperity, but this is not correct, these may or may not be the side effects of co-creation].

Thus the Kama Sutra is a religious/spiritual treatise on how one LOVEs.  In Hindu life, sex is just an expression of love, one makes love, one does not ‘have sex’.  In fact ‘having sex’ is a complete anathema to any self respecting Hindu.

A Brief History of the Kama Sutra - Dr. Anne Hardgrove [Associate Professor of History at the University of Texas at San Antonio].

The basic tenet of the Kama Sutra is that in order for marriages to be happy, both man and woman should be well-versed in the arts of pleasure, both carnal and cerebral. ….. What is especially unique about the Kama Sutra is that it maintains a special focus on creating pleasure for the woman. A man who fails to provide and bring about those pleasures is subject to a woman's recourse, that is, to seek pleasure elsewhere where she may find it.


The observations we have provided cover only a small part of the overall work, thus we have listed the contents so that it is clear this is not a sex manual but a LOVE manual.    In fact there is a whole chapter devoted to ‘wooing’.  It is also somewhat ambitious in its scope, the section 'Examination of the State of a Woman's mind' made me smile [and I am a woman].

Part I: Introductory

  • Observations on the three worldly attainments of Virtue, Wealth, and Love
    On the study of the Sixty-four Arts
  • On the Arrangements of a House, and Household Furniture; and about the Daily Life of a Citizen, his Companions, Amusements, etc.
  • About classes of Women fit and unfit for Congress with the Citizen, and of Friends, and Messengers

Part II: On Sexual Union

  • Kinds of Union according to Dimensions, Force of Desire, and Time; and on the different kinds of Love
  • Of the Embrace
  • On Kissing
  • On Pressing or Marking with the Nails
  • On Biting, and the ways of Love to be employed with regard to Women of different countries
  • On the various ways of Lying down, and the different kinds of Congress
  • On the various ways of Striking, and of the Sounds appropriate to them
  • About females acting the part of Males
  • On holding the Lingam in the Mouth
  • How to begin and how to end the Congress. Different kinds of Congress, and Love Quarrels

Part III: About The Acquisition Of A Wife

  • Observations on Betrothal and Marriage
  • About creating Confidence in the Girl
  • Courtship, and the manifestation of the feelings by outward signs and deeds
  • On things to be done only by the Man, and the acquisition of the Girl thereby. Also what is to be done by a Girl to gain over a Man and subject him to her
  • On the different Forms of Marriage

Part IV: About A Wife On the manner of living of a virtuous Woman, and of her behaviour during the absence of her Husband

  • On the conduct of the eldest Wife towards the other Wives of her Husband, and of the younger Wife towards the elder ones. Also on the conduct of a Virgin Widow remarried; of a Wife disliked by her Husband; of the Women in the King's Harem; and of a Husband who has more than one Wife

Part V: About The Wives Of Other People

  • On the Characteristics of Men and Women, and the reason why Women reject the Addresses of Men.
  • About Men who have Success with Women, and about Women who are easily gained over
  • About making Acquaintance with the Woman, and of the efforts to gain her over
  • Examination of the State of a Woman's mind
  • The Business of a Go-Between
  • On the Love of Persons in authority with the Wives of other People
    About the Women of the Royal Harem, and of the keeping of one's own Wife

Part VI: About Courtesans

  • Introductory Remarks
  • Of the Causes of a Courtesan resorting to Men; of the means of Attaching to herself the Man desired, and the kind of Man that it is desirable to be acquainted with
  • Of a Courtesan living with a Man as his Wife
  • Of the Means of getting Money; of the Signs of a Lover who is beginning to be Weary, and of the way to get rid of him
  • About a Reunion with a former Lover
  • Of different kinds of Gain
  • Of Gains and Losses, attendant Gains and Losses, and Doubts; and lastly, the different kinds of Courtesans

Part VII: On The Means Of Attracting Others To One's Self

  • On Personal Adornment, subjugating the hearts of others, and of tonic medicines
  • Of the means of exciting Desire, and of the ways of enlarging the Lingam.
  • Miscellaneous Experiments

Some background to the English translation

The Kama sutra was first published in England in 1883, by Forster Fitzgerald Arbuthnot, a retired Indian civil servant born in India in 1833.  Arbuthnot had lived and worked his entire life in India.  Described as a gentle, kindly man with ‘liberal views on marriage’, and a love of music and painting, he was its prime sponsor.  He saw it through the press, paid for its printing and supervised its distribution.  Without him this classic of Indian literature would never have reached the western world.

At the time it was released in Victorian England, it is clear that many who bought it simply did so believing it had no spiritual or religious content at all.  For most Victorians it was a form of titillation, at a time when titillation was somewhat difficult to come by.

H S Ashbee, the bibliophile, sent it to a reviewer – a Mr J Knight – who said “naturally I have read it through, the task being equally pleasant and profitable …. The book is more charged with suggestion than any work I have read”, which says a great deal about Victorian society and nothing about the Kama Sutra.  Not long after it was released it was pirated in India and translated to French in 1885.

The role of the Ananga Ranga

In about 1869, Arbuthnot had decided to translate a well known Indian treatise on the art of love the Ananga Ranga, written by poet Kalyan Mall.  Arbuthnot – described as ‘consistently humane’ had come to deplore the treatment of women and was looking for something which emphasised the need for satisfying and pleasing the woman as the route to happiness and fulfilment in marriage.  In translating the work, however, he found there was a  good deal more to the work than he had realised.  The early verses include these statements:

 “The man who knoweth the Art of Love and who understandeth the thorough and varied enjoyment of the woman;
As advancing age cooleth his passions, he learneth to think of the Creator, to study religious subjects and to acquire divine knowledge
Hence he is freed from further transmigration of souls; and when the tale of his days is duly told, he goeth direct with his wife to the Svarga [heaven]”


In effect spiritual progress is only possible through knowing the Art of Love. 

Only if you have followed the spiritual path and practised the Art of Love - Kama - can you avoid being reincarnated

Since you can be reincarnated as anything - thus a laboratory researcher who uses rats as his experimental animal could easily be reincarnated as a laboratory rat - this is quite a serious subject.  It also says:

And thus all you who read this book shall know how delicious an instrument is woman, when artfully played upon; how capable she is of producing the  most exquisite harmony; of executing the most complicated variations and of giving the divinest pleasures

Arbuthnot worked with an Indian pundit – a scholar - and discussed in great deal what each passage meant.  It gave him a good grounding for what happened next, - the publication of the Ananga Ranga stalled, but Arbuthnot’s interest had been roused.

Kama Sutra


In working with his pundits Arbuthnot had been intrigued by references in the Ananga Ranga to a work called the Kama Sutra.  He decided to find out what this work was and set about trying to find out more:

Arbuthnot – Preface to Kama sutra 1883
While translating with the pundits the Anunga Runga or the stage of love, reference was frequently made to one Vatsya.  The sage Vatsya was of this opinion, or of that opinion.  The sage Vatsya said this and so on.  Naturally questions were asked  who the sage was and the pundits replied that Vatsya was the author of the standard work on love in Sanskrit literature, that no Sanskrit library was complete without his work; and that it was now most difficult to obtain in its entire state.

Arbuthnot managed to piece together – with the help of his pundits - one single version of the Kama sutra by using a defective copy from Bombay and better copies from Benares, Calcutta and Jaipur and a commentary called the Jayamangla

A revised copy of the entire manuscript in Sanskrit was then made, which was then translated into English – again with help from pundits.  Arbuthnot later named his principle helper as Bhugwuntlal Indraji who did most of the Sanskit copy.  Another helper Shivaram Parshuram Bhide who was acquainted with both Sanskrit and English then helped with the translation.  Arbuthnot noted that the original work was written in ‘very old and difficult Sanskrit’ and that without the aid of the commentary his helpers would have found some of it unintelligible.

Arbuthnot then corrected and simplified the translation without altering its meaning.  In effect the translation of the Kama Sutra now widely attributed to Sir Richard Burton, was actually the work of two Indian scholars - Bhugwuntlal Indraji and Shivaram Parshuram Bhide, with input [and support] from Arbuthnot.

Sir Richard Burton

In many of the present copies of the Kama sutra the translator is said to be Sir Richard Burton.  As such it is valid to ask why?

Arbuthnot met Richard Burton in India in 1853.  Burton was essentially a poet and adventurer and he had proved to Arbuthnot that life in India could be greatly enhanced by understanding India and becoming ‘immersed’ in its culture and way of life. So it was his influence that started Arbuthnot, a very unassuming man, onto the path of discovery.

Burton visited India in 1876 and stayed at Bandora, Arbuthnot’s country house outside Bombay.  By then the translation was far advanced or already finished.  Burton had had input to the Ananga Ranga translation and they had worked together, and there is now the general consensus that ‘after checking sense and meaning, Burton gave the Kama sutra literary form’.  Using Arbuthnot’s plain and simple language he added poetry to it, made it poetical.  ‘Without Burton’s aid Arbuthnot’s version would have lacked brilliance.  By intervening Burton gave it style’.


I'm not sure what 'style' means in this context.  Given that the Kama sutra is as spiritually important in its aims as the Ananga Ranga, we have only to hope that the result stayed true. 

Burton and Arbuthnot’s translation of the Kama sutra, and Arbuthnot’s discovery that such a text existed, revolutionised the Western approach to Indian culture.  It showed how central and natural to Indian thought and life was love and its expression sex.  Indian art, poetry, music and religion all reflected this basic fact.  From this classic translation in 1883, at least some of the modern understanding of Indian culture evolved. 

But the central and pivotal role sex plays in gaining spiritual experience and propelling one along the spiritual path has only recently been understood by the west and in some cases it is still not appreciated.


So now we come to the most important figure in this tale – the author of the Kama sutra.  The author states at the end of the work:

After reading and considering the works of Babhravya and other ancient authors, and thinking over the meaning of the rules given by them, this treatise was composed, according to the precepts of the Holy Writ, for the benefit of the world, by Vatsyayana, while leading the life of a religious student at Benares, and wholly engaged in the contemplation of the Deity. This work is not to be used merely as an instrument for satisfying our desires. A person acquainted with the true principles of this science, who preserves his Dharma, his Artha and his Kama, and who has regard to the customs of the people, is sure to obtain the mastery over his senses. In short, an intelligent and knowing person attending to Dharma and Artha and also to Kama, without becoming the slave of his passions, will obtain success in everything that he may do.


Follow the spiritual path, and co-create and LOVE and you will be guaranteed success.

Vatsyayana was always referred to in India as Vatsyayana Maharshi – the Great Seer – a man of wisdom and an enlightened person.  In effect he himself was likely to have attained this state using the same three processes.

K M Panikkar – Introduction to the Kama sutra
The author, whose personal name was Mallanaga, belonged the Vatsyayana gotra or sept and is thus known by that name.  The Kama sutra seems to have been composed between the first and fourth centuries AD.  The upper limit for this date is fixed by Vatsyayana’s allusion to an incident relating to the king Kuntala Satakarni who reigned in the first years of the Christian era.  The lower limit is provided by the fact that Kalidasa who lived in any case not later than the 5th century has in his work numerous allusions which indicate his detailed knowledge of the text of the Kama sutra.  Again in Subandhu’s Vasavadatta [5th century AD] there is a passage which mentions the Kama sutra by name:
‘It was filled with elephants and was fragrant with the perfume of the jungles just as the Kama sutra written by Mallanaga contains the delight and enjoyment of mistresses’.

In a work of the third century, Kama is enumerated along with grammar, Dharma and Artha as essential subjects of study.

It is worth adding that not only are Dharma, Artha and Karma given equal status in the Hindu religion, but Kama was said to derive from Nandi – an attendant to Shiva.  Svetaketu appears in the Upanishads and in the Kama sutra as a further teacher in an unbroken line of instruction in the Art of Love.

In effect the Art of Love is a very fundamental part of the entire Hindu culture from its earliest beginnings to [we hope] the present day.



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