The word ‘Brahmacharya’ is derived from Sanskrit and is composed of two words, ‘Brahman’ and ‘Charyathey iti’. The word ‘Brahman’ refers to the Almighty and ‘Charyathey iti’ means to surrender and perform actions according to the wishes of the Lord, with the ultimate goal of self-realization. A person who practices this is called a ‘Brahmachari’, regardless of their marital status.
The concept of abstaining from sexual activity in thoughts, words, and deeds is a byproduct of Brahmacharya that leads to this surrender, but it is not the definition of Brahmacharya itself. In a practical sense, Brahmacharya refers to a state of the body, mind, and consciousness where a person is free from sexual thoughts, actions, and attitudes, not necessarily just for recreation, but to reach a state of ‘Ananda’ or bliss.
For married individuals, sexual activity is considered appropriate when it serves the following purposes:
- To produce desired offspring.
- To build a strong and healthy marital bond during the initial period of marriage.
In essence, Brahmacharya is a state of being that promotes inner peace and spiritual growth, leading to a life of happiness and fulfillment.
As married couples progress through their union, they are naturally programmed to rely less on sexual activity and shift towards more meaningful connections, such as kindness, love, understanding, companionship, and togetherness. Meanwhile, single Brahmacharis are expected to abstain from all forms of sexuality, while householders or Grihastas are only allowed sexual contact with their spouse for the purpose of procreation, not recreation. A householder who wishes to embrace the path of Brahmacharya should strive to cultivate this state of mind and behavior in their marriage, thereby reaping the same benefits as a single Brahmachari in their journey towards self-realization.
Brahmacharya, or spiritual continence, is a critical component of Yama. It entails surrendering one’s ego and following the will of the Almighty. Simply put, Brahmacharya means celibacy. In broader terms, it involves acting on a spiritual plane. The practice of Brahmacharya has been known to increase longevity, luster, strength, vigor, knowledge, beauty, fame, piety, and devotion to truth.
The practice of Brahmacharya brings numerous benefits, including good health, inner strength, peace of mind, fortitude, and a longer lifespan. It helps conserve physical and mental energy and enhances memory, willpower, clear thinking, concentration, and the ability to grasp philosophical subjects. It also bestows physical strength, vigor, vitality, courage, boldness, and character. For those who practice Brahmacharya, divine knowledge comes effortlessly, and their words carry meaning and authority, leaving a lasting impact on those who hear them.
Conversely, those who do not practice Brahmacharya remain trapped in illusion. Brahmacharya is crucial in spiritual growth. When one becomes disenchanted with their sexual life, it marks the start of their spiritual journey. Without embracing Brahmacharya, it is impossible to understand the spiritual realm.
The vow of Brahmacharya, as described in the Yajnavalkya Smriti, requires one to abstain from all forms of sexual indulgence in their thoughts, words, and actions at all times, in all places, and under all circumstances.
According to Sridhara Swami’s commentary on Srimad-Bhagavatam, there are eight aspects of Brahmacharya to be followed:
- Refrain from lustful thoughts about women.
- Avoid discussing sexual matters.
- Avoid spending time with women.
- Refrain from looking at women with lust.
- Avoid intimate conversations with women.
- Refrain from deciding to engage in sexual intercourse.
- Avoid participating in any sexual activities.
- Avoid thoughts of sexual pleasure with women.
With sex being so prevalent in the material world, the importance of following these principles becomes evident.
The origin of sexual desire can be traced back to God. In the spiritual realm, Krishna and his consorts engage in love pastimes with each other spontaneously, this is referred to as adirasa, the original and pure form of sexual attraction. This adirasa is untainted by material contamination and is as different from worldly sexual attraction as gold is from iron.
The principles of Brahmacharya involve understanding that sexual desire and pleasure are divine creations that bring life when used properly. Celibacy is not an accurate term for Brahmacharya, as it implies repression of sex, while Brahmacharya is a transcendence of sex, one has grown beyond the toys of the past.
Lord Vyasa describes Brahmacharya in his commentary on the Yoga Sutra, stating that Brahmacharya involves the process of Samyama (binding, integration) on the secret sexual organ through dharana (fixed attention), dhyana, and samadhi. This practice is known as niskama karma yoga and is the true meaning of Brahmacharya.
This divine knowledge is considered the mother of all knowledge and is considered a mystery. After solving this mystery, there is no other knowledge left to be revealed. Many practitioners try hard to practice Brahmacharya, but it is unattainable for ordinary people and is considered the ultimate form of austerity. One who has mastered Brahmacharya is not considered human but rather a deity.
At puberty, one is consumed by the fire of the senses, but with the guidance of Saktipata, the downward path can open up. This path must be closed and the divine energy must be made ascendant, a task as difficult as making the river Ganges ascend to heaven. Total renunciation is necessary for the yogi to traverse this difficult path.
Brahmacharya has two forms, the primary form is for celibate students, hermits, and renunciants, while the secondary form is for householders (married individuals).
According to the teachings of ancient wisdom, the husband and wife should engage in sexual activity for procreation sixteen days after the start of menstruation, excluding holy days. This practice is known as Brahmacharya for householders.
Maharshi Patanjali highlights the significance of Brahmacharya in his Yoga Sutra, stating that “on being firmly established in Brahmacharya, vigor is gained” (Yoga Sutra, Sadhanapada, Sutra 38). The mastery of sexual energy leads to an increase in power and the ability to achieve ultimate truth. Fame, money, and material goods are said to come automatically to the individual who becomes steadfast in celibacy.
Lord Krishna also emphasizes the importance of sexual energy in the Srimad Bhagavadgita, declaring that “Know me to be the primeval seed of all existence, O Partha” (Bhagavadgita, 7:10). Lord Shiva states that he is the bindu (ovum), and the Durga Saptasati states that the goddess of power, Durga, resides in all beings as divine energy.
The great saints observed celibacy as a means of attaining God, and as the Bhagavad Gita states, “One who desires to reach his goal observes Brahmacharya” (Bhagavadgita, 8:11). Yogi Raja Goraksanatha also highlights the importance of sexual fluids, stating that the loss of sexual energy leads to death, but the sublimation of sexual energy rejuvenates.
Therefore, it can be concluded that an understanding of the importance of Brahmacharya is crucial for personal development and spiritual growth. As Maharshi Patanjali says, “If one does not understand the importance of Brahmacharya, he is a fool, even though he may be a learned man