Karuna is the Tantric term for the basic quality of mother-love, directly experienced in infancy and ramified in adulthood to embrace all forms of love: touching, tenderness, compassion, sensual enjoyment, and eroticism.
Many centuries before Freudian psychology recognized "infantile sexuality," Tantric sages called karuna the essence of religion: a gut feeling of loving-kindness, as opposed to the often cruel or useless verbalizing of theological principles. It was understood that karuna must be learned through physical and sexual contact comfort, by adults and children alike. Thus the identity of infantile, sexual, warmly loving, and religious behavior patterns was perceived long ago and is just now being rediscovered by western civilization.
The ancients well knew the experience of being in love recapitulates the mother-child relationship in its intimate physical attachment, trust, and dependence. Recognition of one particular other as a love object surely evolved from the instinctive mechanism that binds together individual mothers and offspring. It has been shown even in the animal realm that adequate sexual functioning in adulthood depends on satisfactory relations with the mother in infancy.
Pagan Rome gave the Great Goddess the title of Mater Cara, "Mother Beloved." She combined all the qualities of sexuality, motherhood, marital bliss, friendship, generosity and mercy, or caritas, which the Christian church later purged of its sensual implications and transformed into "charity," the giving of money to earn points in the after-life.
The Greek version of karuna was embodied in the Charites or Graces, the naked Triple Goddess, whose quality of "grace" was also altered in the Christian context.
Motherhood, sensual satisfactions, and kindly feelings were associated with the spirit of the Goddess under all her names, and especially with women as her earthly representatives. The integrated idea of karuna with all its ramifications has virtually disappeared from modern western society, where it is even difficult to explain its older meanings.
Yet those modes of perceiving the world and organizing behavior which are more distinctly 'female' can't be thought of as having sprung into being in the context of the world we now inhabit. ... We must think in terms of patterns of behaving that developed over untold centuries, and which were keyed to survival of the human group in the primitive environment.
Such a way of being would have been predicated upon powerful social bonds, bonds of love,' which would serve to keep otherwise more vulnerable individuals in close proximity to protectors. Every individual was to some extent in need of protectors: It may be that we feel loneliness to be so potentially annihilating because, to the lone human-and above all, the lone human infant or child-being alone was death.
Western culture began to lose sight of the close relationship between sensuality and loving-kindness when its theology followed St. Augustine to his conclusion that every child is born tainted with sin because of its necessarily sexual conception. Nearly all manifestations of love fell under theological suspicion because nearly all involved the feminine principle in some way.
It was women whose lust was said to be insatiable.... Viewing woman as seductress and temptress is still evident, as can be seen by the fact that prostitutes, but seldom their customers, are arraigned, and the fact that the rape victim is often seen as having asked for her attack by dressing or behaving seductively.
In a society that lacks any coherent articulation of the concept of karuna, women as mothers, lovers, and caretakers learn early that they should be ashamed of the very set of qualities which are particularly theirs. Ironically, at the same time, they are constantly threatened by the prospect that if they are not affectionate enough and as close and loving to others as they ought to be, they will have failed in their own and others' eyes.
The result is a noxious social climate which fosters too little feeling in men and too much in women.
Loss of this all-important concept create social evils of the most pervasive sort. Male public culture gets caught up with machines and puts emphasis on things that are not alive. The decision making of males in power tends to happen in a vacuum with little reference to the needs of life.
Paradoxically, the public leaders who are supposed to help us deny death become increasingly oblivious to life and show increasing contempt for it.
We have a civilization in which males in high places imitate a male god in heaven-both think themselves above the petty concerns of simple nurture and delight in generative life.
The Woman's Encyclopedia, Barbara G. Walker