by Swami Jagadishwarananda
The following is an extraction from the small book that was printed in 1941. The author was a disciple of Mahapurusha Swami Sivananda, a direct disciple of Sri Ramakrishna Paramhansa. Toward the end of his life he became the president of the worldwide Ramakrishna Math and Mission.
All great mystics and the majority of great idealists, the giants among the Creators of the Spirit, have clearly and instinctively realized what formidable power of concentrated soul, of accumulated creative energy, is generated by control of the organic and psychic expenditure of sexuality.
Mahatma Gandhi states in “Self-Control versus Self-Indulgence” that it is brahmacharya which has endowed him with mental strength and physical vigor. Gandhiji further testifies that politics is the evanescent and least part of his life, whereas brahmacharya is the real and permanent part of his life.
The physical advantage of brahmacharya
Doctor Malchow considers that the preservation of the internal secretion of sex-glands within the body has the greatest physiological value. He holds that the fluids emitted during an orgasm are not waste material, and that their retention would in themselves not be altogether a disadvantage. He is of the opinion that such preservation contributes largely towards the acquisition of a strong constitution, both physical and mental, through bio-chemical economy, as the emissions dissociate a large percentage of iron, phosphorus, and calcium from the blood. Malchow in his The Sexual Life (p. 34) remarks that it is a deep and discriminating knowledge of psychology of man which requires the elimination of sexuality in order to ensure greater enthusiasm, deeper devotion, and mental concentration for a spiritual cause. In Natural Therapeutics (Vol. II. p. 318) it is said that the sex-fluid is the carrier of the life-force. During abstinence the sex-fluid with its creative energy is absorbed through the inguinal glands into the organism and increases physical, moral and spiritual capacity and energy. It is upheld by Encyclopaedia of Physical Culture (Vol. V, p. 2450) that one part of semen is equal to many parts of pure blood, and that when absorbed again into the system this fluid is transformed into nerve energy. According to Hindu scriptures the natural age for a man is one hundred years. Milton Severen of the West remarks in this connection: “That one may attain to the age of one hundred years or more is no visionary statement. According to psychological and natural laws, the duration of human lives should be at least five times the period necessary to reach full growth. This is a prevailing law which is exemplified in the brute creation. The horse grows about four years and lives to about 12 to 14; the camel grows on for eight years and lives to about 40. Man grows from 20 to 25; if accidents could be excluded, his normal duration of life should not be less than one hundred years.” Continence is thus the true secret of longevity.
There are other western doctors who hold similar views like that of Malchow and advocate that celibacy does prolong life. Dr. Nichols writes; “It is a medical, a physiological fact that the best blood in the body goes to form the elements of reproduction in both sexes. In a pure and orderly life this matter is absorbed and goes back into circulation ready to form the finest brain, nerve, and muscular tissue. This matter carried back and diffused through his system makes him manly, strong, brave, and heroic. If wasted, it leaves him effeminate, weak and irresolute, intellectually and physically debilitated and a prey to sexual irritation, irregular function, morbid sensation, disordered muscular movement, a wretched nervous system, epilepsy, insanity and death.” Dr. Nichols further adds that the suspension of the use of the generative organ is attended with a notable increase of mental and bodily vigor and spiritual life. Medical authorities assert that energy wasted in one sexual act shatters the nervous system so much that it is tantamount to the expenditure of mental energy in mental work of 24 hours or to physical energy in physical work of 7 days.
Testimonies of medical authorities
That continence is not detrimental and impossible but absolutely necessary and perfectly possible is evident from the following medical testimonies of the eminent authorities on this subject:
“The sexual instinct,” says Oesterlen, Professor at Tubingen University, “is not so blindly all-powerful that it cannot be controlled, and even subjugated entirely, by moral strength and reason. The young man, like the young woman, should learn to control himself until the proper time. He must know that robust health and ever-renewed vigor will be the reward of this voluntary sacrifice. One cannot repeat too often that abstinence and the most absolute purity are perfectly compatible with the laws of physiology and morality, and that sexual indulgence is no more justified by physiology and psychology than by morality and religion.”
“The example of the best and noblest among men,” says Sir Lionel Beale, Professor at the Royal College in London, “has at all times proved that the most imperious of instincts can be effectively resisted by a strong and serious will, and by sufficient care as to manner of life and occupation. Sexual abstinence has never yet hurt any man when it has been observed, not only through exterior restrictive causes, but as a voluntary rule of conduct. Virginity, in fine, is not too hard to observe, provided that it is the physical expression of a certain state of mind. Chastity implies, not only continence, but also purity of sentiments, the energy which is the result of deep convictions.”
“All causes of sexual disturbance,” says the Swiss psychologist Forel, “increase the intensity of desire. By avoiding these provocations it becomes less sensitive, and the desire gradually diminishes. The idea is current among young people that continence is something abnormal and impossible and yet the many who observe it prove that chastity can be practiced without prejudice to the health.”
“I know,” says Ribbing, “a number of men of 25, 30 and older than that, who have observed perfect continence, or who when they married had done so up to that time. Such cases are not rare; only they don’t advertise themselves.”
“Before marriage, absolute continence can and ought to be observed by young men,” says Dr. Acton. “Chastity no more injures the body than the soul,” declares Sir James Paget, physician to the English court, “and discipline is better than any other line of conduct.”
“It is a singularly false notion,” writes Dr. E. Perier, “and one which must be fought against, since it besets not only the children’s mind, but that of the fathers as well–the notion of imaginary dangers in absolute continence. Virginity is a physical, moral and intellectual safeguard to young men.”
“Continence,” says Sir Andrew Clarke, “does no harm, it does not hinder development, it increases energy and enlivens perception. Incontinence weakens self-control, creates habits of slackness, dulls and degrades the whole being, and lays it open to diseases which can be transmitted to several generations. To say that incontinence is necessary to the health of young men is not only an error but a cruelty if not a crime. It is at once false and hurtful.”
“The evils of incontinence are well-known and undisputed,” writes Dr. Surbled. “Those produced by continence are imaginary; what proves this is the fact of the many learned and voluminous works devoted to the explanation of the former while the latter still await their historian. As to these latter there are but vague assertions, which hide themselves, for very shame, in mere talk, but which will not endure the daylight.”
Dr. Dubois, the famous professor of Neuropathology at Berne, affirms that “there are more victims of neurasthenia among those who give free rein to their sensuality than among those who know how to escape from the yoke of mere animalism,” and his witness is fully confirmed by that of Dr. Fere, physician at the Bicertre Hospital, who testifies that those who are capable of psychic chastity can maintain their continence without any fear for their health, which does not depend on the satisfaction of the sexual instinct.
“There has been unfitting and light talk,” writes Professor Alfred Fourner, “about the dangers of continence for the young men. I can assure you that if these dangers exist I know nothing about them, and that as a physician I am still without proof of their existence, though I have had every opportunity in the way of subjects under my professional observation. Sexual precocity is merely artificial and is most often the result of ill-directed up-bringing.”
“I have never seen” writes Dr. Montegazza, “a disease produced by continence, but who is not aware of those frightful diseases of which moral indiscipline is the source. The body finds itself converted into an indescribable state of rottenness. Nor can we forget the worst defilement of imagination, heart and understanding. All men, and young men in particular, can experience the immediate benefit of chastity. The memory is quiet and tenacious, the brain lively and fertile, the will energetic, the whole character gains a strength of which libertines have no conception; no prism shows us our surroundings under such heavenly colors as that of chastity, which lights up with its rays the least objects in the universe, and transports us into the purest joys of an abiding happiness that knows neither shadow nor decline.” And the doctor adds: “The joy, the cordial merriment, the sunny confidence of vigorous young men who have remained chaste, are an eloquent contrast to the restless obsessions and feverish excitement of their companions who are slaves to the demands of sensuality.”
In the second General Congress of the International Conference of Sanitary and Moral Prophylaxis held at Brussels in 1902, a resolution was unanimously passed by the hundred and two most competent authorities on the subject throughout the world, assembled in the Congress, that young men must above all be taught that chastity and continence are not only not harmful, but also that these virtues are among those to be most earnestly recommended from the purely medical and hygienic stand-point.
A few years ago the professors of the Medical Faculty of Christiania University issued a unanimous declaration that “the assertion that a chaste life will be prejudicial to the health rests, according to our unanimous experience, on no foundation. We have no knowledge of any harm resulting from a pure and moral life.”
M. Ruyssen is of the opinion that it is a physiological truth that the sexual appetite does not need, like the requirements of aliment and exercise, a minimum of necessary satisfaction. “It is a fact,” he adds “that man or woman can lead a chaste life without experiencing, except in the case of a few abnormal subjects, serious disturbance or even painful inconvenience. It has been said–and cannot be too often repeated, since such an elementary truth cannot be so widely disregarded–that no disease ever comes through continence to normal subjects, who form the immense majority, while many diseases, very well known and very serious, are the results of incontinence. Nature has provided in the most simple and infallible way for the excess of nutrition which is represented by the seminal fluid and the menstrual flux. While continence is a virtue full of repose, incontinence opens the door to an unknown guest who may become formidable. The revelation of passion which is troublesome at any age may become in youth the signal of a radical perversion, we would say, of an irreparable disturbance of the balance of the will and the senses.”
Sexual appetite is neither a true instinct nor a real need. “Every one knows,” Dr. Viry observes, “what it would cost him not to satisfy the need of nourishment or to suppress respiration but no one quotes any pathological consequences, either acute or chronic, as having followed either temporary or absolute continence. In normal life we see the example of chaste men who are neither less virile in character nor less energetic in will, nor less robust than other, nor less fitted to become fathers, if they marry. A need which can be the subject of such variations, an instinct which accommodates itself so well to lack of satisfaction is neither a need nor an instinct. Sexual relationship is far from answering to any physiological need of the growing boy; quite the contrary, it is perfect chastity which is sternly required by the exigencies of his normal growth and development and those who violate it cause irreparable injury to their health.”
The great British physiologist, John G. M. Kendrick, Professor of Physiology at Glasgow University, says: “The illicit satisfaction of nascent passion is not only a moral fault but a terrible injury to the body. The new need becomes a tyrant if yielded to; a guilty complacency will listen to it and make it more imperious; every fresh act will forge a new link in the chain of habit. Many have no longer strength to break it and helplessly end in physical and intellectual ruin, slaves of a habit contacted often through ignorance rather than perversity. The safeguard consists in cultivating within oneself purity of thought and discipline of one’s whole being.”
In the same strain Dr. Franke Escande observes: “As to sexual desire we assert the intelligence and the will have absolute control over it. It is necessary to employ the term sexual desire, not need, for there is no question of a function the non-accomplishment of which is incompatible with existence. Really it is not a need at all; but many men are persuaded that it is. The interpretation they give to the desire makes them look on cohabitation as absolutely necessary. Now we cannot look on the sexual act as resulting from senile and passive obedience to natural laws. We are, on the contrary, concerned with a voluntary act, following a determination or acquiescence, often premeditated and prepared for.”
What history tells us
It will be interesting to analyze methodically the practice of accepted or voluntary celibacy in France and England previous to the nineteenth century. For noble families there were institutions that involved celibacy; the order of Malta and various Benifices for the boys; the Noble Chapter for the girls. “Nunra was said to have instituted the order of Vestal Virgins. They remained unmarried for thirty years. Burial alive was the penalty for breaking the vow of chastity. The vestal virgins were distinguished by extraordinary influence and personal dignity. They were treated with marks of respect usually accorded to royalty; thus on the streets they were preceded by a lictor, and the highest magistrates made way for them. They enjoyed sometimes the exceptional privilege of riding in a carriage; at public games a place of honor was assigned to them and after death they, like the Imperators, were allowed to be buried within the city, because they were above the laws. They enjoyed the royal privilege of mercy; for if they met a criminal on the way to execution, his life was spared” (From Practice of Brahmacharya by Swami Sivananda of Rishikesh. p. 93). The Peruvian priests known as “virgins of the sun” were punished with living burial if detected in immoral conduct. The Buddhist order enforced very stringent discipline of continence on the monks. For violation of the rules they were disrobed and expelled from the order. In the Tibetan order of Buddhist monks, the delinquent is denounced and if caught red-handed, is subject to corporeal chastisement in public and expulsion from the order.
Procreation hastens death
William Loftus Hare, writing in “The Open Court” (Chicago) in March, 1926 on ‘‘Generation and Regeneration,” gave convincing arguments regarding the biological necessity of continence. He pointed out that the undifferentiated germ-cells of the body are performing two functions simultaneously; namely, the internal reproduction or regeneration for the building up of the body and external reproduction or generation for the continuation of the species. He proves with biological facts and figures that the regenerative process is fundamental for the individual and therefore necessary and primary, whereas the generative process is due to the superfluity of cells and is therefore secondary. Both are closely dependent on nourishment and if this be low there is deficiency of both the processes. Mr. W. L. Hare then adds, “The law of life at this level is to feed the germ-cells firstly for regeneration and secondly for generation. In case of deficiency which is a very common feature in modern men and women, regeneration must take the first place and generation be suspended. Thus we may learn the origin of the suspension of reproduction and follow it to its later phases of human continence and asceticism generally. Inner reproduction can never be suspended even at the cost of disease and death. Every moment of growth from conception onwards exhibits this increasing power of regeneration. If regeneration ceases or is imperfectly performed, disease or death will supervene. The nemesis of reproduction is death and the sexual act is essentially katabolic in the male and in the parturition of the offspring it is katabolic for the female.” Hence the insightful writer contends that virility and vitality and immunity from disease are the normal lot of quite continent persons. Patrick Geddes writes in his The Evolution of Sex that the association of reproduction and death is indeed patent enough but the connection in popular language is usually misstated. The true statement, as far as history furnishes an answer, is not that animals reproduce because they have to die but that they die because they have to reproduce. In support of this view Goethe, the great German thinker, says that it is not death that makes reproduction necessary but reproduction has death as its inevitable consequence. From the physiological point of view, when physical creation is stopped, the way to intellectual creation is open and when intellectual creation is suspended, spiritual creation or religious experience is possible.
Religion and continence
All the great religions have always set before believers an ideal of asceticism and the conquest of lower nature and it is just so far as they have taught men to rise above lower nature to self-liberation that they have arrested their minds, influenced their wills and filled their hearts with generous enthusiasm.
So long as Roman paganism was a living religion, it surrounded with a mystical reverence the Vestals whose immaculate chastity pleased the gods. The Catholic Church from her first days has asserted the pre-eminence of religious celibacy, and has taught her votaries to esteem the social value of virginity and perpetual celibacy.
That sexual abstinence is absolutely necessary for religious progress is the verdict of the spiritual giants of humanity, because the nervous system and brain which are impaired by incontinence are too weak to engage in the spiritual practice which produces transformation of the physical, mental and spiritual condition of the ascetic. The perceptions of higher phases of spiritual verities require the activity of very sensitive and subtle nerves. Without continence those nerves degenerate, die and become inoperative. Higher spiritual experiences are impossible for people who are incontinent. That is why continence, in some form or other, has been looked upon as the basis of spiritual life by all spiritual systems of the world without exception.
Physiology and psychology of continence
According to medical science healthy sexual glands ensure physical vigor and long life. When these glands function properly, they give out an internal secretion which stimulates and strengthens the organic tissues, specially the brain cells and spinal cord. Celibate life demonstrates that continence can keep these glands most healthy and active. Mahatma Gandhi rightly says: ‘“Sexual act for the purpose of carnal satisfaction is reversion to animality and it should be therefore man’s endeavor to rise above it. Man is superior to the brute inasmuch as he is capable of self-restraint of which the brute is incapable. Self-indulgence cannot be the law of life as some hold, except to the idiots and imbeciles. Passions are never extinguished by satiation.” Mr. C. E. M. Joad rightly says: ‘‘If you make sense-pleasure the ideal of your life, a time will come when nothing will any more please you.” In the Adi Parva (73rd chapter) of the Mahabharata it is stated: “Lust is never gratified by enjoyment. Enjoyment increases the passion as ghee (clarified butter) poured upon fire increases the latter by leaps and bounds.” Give up therefore desires which are quenched not by enjoyment but by elimination. “Most cases of irritability and hysteria and even insanity,” observes Gandhiji, “which are wrongly ascribed to attempts at continence will, in truth, be found traceable to the incontinence of the other senses.”
There are, at least, a handful of people who are evidently fit for total abstinence and it is they who experience its creative power. The real point at issue in the case of continence is, in the language of psycho-analysis, sublimation. Thousands of other ways of successfully tackling the problem of sublimation have been invented by the religionists of all countries. All, except a queer and quixotic minority, admit that the more we practice continence the better is our physical and mental health. The more we yield to sexual impulses, the more we ruin our life and health. Rishi Patanjali says: “Brahmacharya (continence) literally means Virya-dharana or conservation of sexual energy and retention of semen.” Sri Yajnavalkya says: “Brahmacharya or continence means abstaining from sexual enjoyment in thought, word and deed in all conditions, in all places, in all times.” In the opinion of Dr. Dio Louis, all eminent physiologists agree that the most precious atoms of the blood enter into the composition of semen. He further adds that the conservation of this element is essential to strength of body, vigor of mind and keenness of intellect.
Dr. E. P. Miller writes, “All waste of spermatic secretions whether voluntary or involuntary is a direct waste of life-force. It is almost universally conceded that the choicest element of the blood enters into the composition of the spermatic secretion.” It follows from this that a chaste life is essential to man’s well-being. According to the Hindu medical science (Ayurveda), the human body is made up of seven dhatus (elements) such as rasa (chyle), rakta (blood), mansa (flesh), meda (fat), asthi (bone), majja (marrow), and sukra (semen). According to Ayurveda the seven dhatus are so called because they by their very presence sustain the human body. Rishi Sushruta says: “Out of food chyle is manufactured, from chyle blood, from blood flesh, from flesh fat, from fat bones, from bones marrow, and lastly from marrow semen.” So semen is the finest of the seven elements of the human system. It is the essence of essences. The food we eat, the Ayurvedic physicians hold, takes five days to be digested and turned into chyle; chyle takes five days to be converted into blood; blood takes five days to become flesh; flesh takes five days to become fat; fat takes five days to become bone; bone takes five days to become marrow; and marrow takes five days to become semen. The food therefore eaten by us is generally drawn into semen in the course of 35 days after digestion. One drop of semen, say the Ayurvedic texts, is made from sixty drops of blood. It is said in our scriptures: “Sukra (semen) is calm, white, cool, giver of strength, builder of body, seed of procreation, essence of the body, and the chief stay of life.” Also: “As the ghee is pervasive in milk, and molasses in sugarcane juice, so the semen pervades the body of human beings.”
The two testes that are located in the scrotal bag are called secretory glands. The cells of the testes are endowed with the peculiar property of secreting semen from the blood. Just as bees collect honey in the honeycomb drop by drop, so also the cells of the testes gather semen drop by drop from the blood. The seminal fluid is taken by two ducts or tubes to the vesiculae seminalis. Under excitement it is thrown out by special ducts, called ejaculatory ducts, into the urethra where it is mixed with the prostatic juice and goes out. In a wet dream it may be outflow of prostatic juice only. The spermatic secretion in men is continuous; it must either be reabsorbed into or expelled from the system. Prof. Gurudas Gupta, M.A. in his Bengali book on Student Life gives the following description of how semen is prepared and preserved in the body:
“The blood-current is very slow in the testicles which retain many substances from the blood and produce what is known as semen. There are in the testicles many fine tubes that join together and form a big tube which is the passage for semen. This big tube is long enough and spreads from the rectum to the abdomen and enters the urethra. Before entering into the bladder the big tube expands and joins a bag in which semen is stored; the bag is situated very close to the rectum and the bladder. Before being joined with the bladder the big tube has become very pointed and is like rubber with power of contraction and expansion. But naturally it remains contracted and does not allow the semen to go out. When, the seminal vesicles are contracted, the end of the big tube expands and vice versa. The more the end of the big tube is tight, the more one can retain semen. Semen is always produced drop by drop in the testicles and passing through the big tube is preserved in the bag; but as the bladder is closed by the end of the big tube, semen cannot enter into the bladder. By excitement semen while coming out of the testicles goes through the urethra without entering into the bag. When there is no need for going out it is stored in the bag. When the bag is full, it percolates through the small pores of the bag and mixes with the blood. At that time it looks like white cells of the blood. They are so subtle that they cannot be seen separate in the blood even by means of the microscope like the white corpuscles of the blood which have the power of preventing disease, recouping wounds, cuts, bruises and creating new flesh, etc. That is why the more one can retain this substance in the blood the more is one away from disease. That is why a brahmachari does not fall a victim to disease and even if he falls ill he recovers sooner than incontinent persons. Semen after being mixed with blood again comes back to the testicles and with other new materials turns into stronger and dearer semen. This new substance passing through the big tube enters the bag again. In course of time it goes to the blood again when the blood is more vitalized. Again it comes to the testicles and is converted into still stronger and purer semen. If the semen is not lost it becomes gradually stronger and stronger and strengthens the mind and body. When semen is seen through a microscope it is found surrounded by an infinite number of protoplasmic cells like tiny tadpoles which are nothing but albumen. This albumen strengthens the nervous system and when it is lost our nervous system becomes weak. What is called excitement is nothing but the agitation of the nervous system. So we should not think such thoughts or do such deeds as may in any way excite our nervous system.
“The bladder, stomach and the bag of semen are placed together closely. If one swells, there is possibility of the outgoing of semen. That is why we should not put off our calls of nature, i.e., passing urine and stool. If in the morning, three hours after midday meal and in the afternoon we drink water our system will be flushed. Retention of semen creates the eighth dhatu called Ojas in our body. Ojas is what is called by the Westerners human magnetism. Ojas is the spiritual force and true builder of personality. The Bhagavata says: ‘The essence of the seven dhatus from rasa to shukra is known as Ojas which though pervading the whole body lies mainly in the heart. Cheerfulness, development, and strength of the body depends on the growth of ojas; its absence leads to death. It is the main prop of life. Enthusiasm, merit, patience, grace and beauty and other attributes pertaining to the body are born of this substance called Ojas.’”
Rishi Sushruta says: “The best essence of the seven dhatus from rasa to shukra is verily the Ojas, that is power.”
Sharangadhar says: “Ojas pervades the whole body and is soothing, cool, steady, white and soma-like and is very conducive to the strength and development of the body.”
From this it is perfectly clear that semen is the most precious substance in human system. That is why it is said in the Shivasamhita that retention of semen is life and its loss is death. We should therefore endeavor our level best to conserve every drop of this precious substance.
Guru Dattatreya says: “By a sexual act semen is lost and by the loss of semen life is wasted and incapability grows.”
Rightly it has been said by the wise that chastity is life and continence is heaven; but sexuality is death and lust leads to hell. Our scriptures designate brahmacharya as the “great vow of ordinance” or Mahavrata, because of its unsurpassed benefits and because of difficulty of achieving perfection in it.
A student of Dhanvantari, the father of Ayurveda, approached him after completing his full course of Ayurveda under him and said, “Bhagavan, teach me the secret of health.” Dhanvantari replied, “Shukra (semen) is verily Atman (soul). The secret of health lies in preserving this vital fluid. He who wastes this energy will have no development, physical, moral and mental.”
Lord Siva says in the Jnana-Sankalini Tantra: “Torturing the body is no austerity. Continence is the best austerity. A man of unbroken continence is not a man, but a god.”
Lord Siva himself further says: “What is there in this world that cannot be achieved, when one preserves this jewel of semen, by whose power I have so much glory in the whole universe?”
Sri Ramakrishna says: “He who can give up the sex-idea can spurn the world.”
“Continence being established, strength of body and vigor of mind is gained,” says Patanjali Rishi.
It is said in our scriptures that continence is the negation of eight kinds of sexuality described in the following verses: “Thinking, hearing and talking of the sex; playing with, looking at, and conversing with the opposite sex in secret; attempting at, and finally the performance of, the sexual act; these are the eight kinds of sexuality according to the wise. Continence, which is not doing any of these, should be practiced by those who want self-mastery.”
To harbour impure thoughts in the mind is a kind of incontinence. Christ rightly says: “Whosoever looketh on a woman to lust after her hath already committed adultery with her in his heart.” (Matt. V. 28).
Power of lust
How powerful is lust and how hard to conquer lust and how difficult it is to eradicate it is well illustrated by the following narrative. In spite of our constant vigilance and circumspection, one cannot say when he will fall a victim to lust. The young aspirants should never be certain of the conquest of lust.
Once upon a time Vyasadeva in the course of his discourse to his students observed that brahmacharins should very carefully avoid the contact of women, even of virgins (bramacharinis). At this Jaimini, the author of Purva Mimansa, told Vyasa that he was so well-established in continence that no object of temptation, nor even a young woman could attract him. Vyasa, however, warned him not to be over-confident in this slippery path of continence and advised him to be more vigilant. After some time the Muni told his disciples that he was going on a pilgrimage and would return after some months. On leaving his hermitage, he assumed the form of an exquisitely beautiful woman with charming face and piercing eyes. The woman was standing under a tree at dusk, when the sky became covered with dark clouds and rains began to fall. Jaimini happened to pass by that way and seeing the girl helpless felt pity on her and said to her, “Dear sister, you may come to my hermitage close by and take shelter there for the night.” On enquiry when she came to know from Jaimini that he was alone in the hermitage and there was no lady, she told him that it was not proper for her, a young virgin, to spend a night with a brahmachari. But when Jaimini assured her that he was firmly established in continence and she had no fear from him, she agreed and went to the hermitage. The woman lay inside and Jaimini outside the room. At the dead of night lust stole into the mind of Jaimini who then on the plea of bad weather went inside the room and lay there. At last he was overcome with lust and was about to embrace the lady when Vyasa reassumed his original form and scolded his disciple for false vanity and pride.
It is well-nigh impossible to eradicate lust and those who surrender to God and protect themselves by intense prayer and meditation and good company can alone escape. To look upon women as mothers or different human forms of divinity is a very effective way of getting rid of lust. Bhagavan Sri Krishna says in the Gita that lust is the strongest passion and the worst enemy of man. It is indeed very difficult to control it. Sri Krishna says in the Gita again that he who can control the impulse of lust can alone be happy and prosperous. Bhartrihari, author of the Vairagya Shatak says: “Once a day I take that tasteless food which I get by begging; I use the earth as bed; the body is my only attendant, and a worn-out blanket with patches all over is my dress; but alas! lust does not leave me.” Jerome writes to the virgin Eustochium about his struggle for abstinence and the power of lust: “Oh! how many times when in the desert, in that vast solitude which burnt by the heat of the sun offers but a horrible dwelling to monks, I imagined among the delights of Rome; I was done. My limbs were covered by a wretched sack, and my skin was as black as an Ethiopian’s. Every day I wept and groaned, and if 1 was unwillingly overcome by sleep, my lean body lay on the bare earth. I say nothing of my food and drink, for in the desert even the invalids have no drink but cold water. Well, I who out of fear for hell, had condemned myself to this prison, companion of scorpion and wild beasts, often seemed in imagination among a band of girls. My face was pale with fasting and my mind within my frigid body was burning with desire; the fires of lust would still flame up in a body that already seemed to be dead.”
Some of the well-known women of early Sanskrit literature like Gargi in the Brihadaranyaka Upanishad, Sulabha in the Mahabharata and Sabari in the Ramayana, lived celibate lives.
Means of attaining perfect continence
Once I asked a great saint: What is continence? I expected that his reply would consist of some moral rules and regulations. But, to my surprise, he said: ‘‘Keep your mind as simple, innocent, pure and unattached as that of a child; and that is continence.” And the same great soul was again asked by me the question as how to conquer lust, to which he replied: “Continence means absence of lust. You cannot conquer lust, for it is the finest form of energy. Energy cannot be destroyed; this is proved by science. You have got to forget lust; you have to re-direct, transcend and transform it. Love love, love culture, love knowledge. This is the best way to forget lust. One of the best methods of controlling lust and observing continence is the love of knowledge.”
Sri Aurobindo observes in his “Bases of Yoga” as follows: “The contrary opinion (about continence) may be due to the idea that sex is a natural part of the human vital physical whole, a necessity like food and sleep and that its total inhibition may lead to unbalancing and to serious disorders. It is a fact that sex suppressed in outward action but indulged in other ways may lead to disorders of the system and brain troubles. That is the root of the medical theory which discourages sexual abstinence. But I have observed that these things happen only when there is either secret indulgence of a perverse kind of subtle vital way by imagination or by an invisible vital interchange of an occult kind. I do not think harm ever occurs when there is a true spiritual effort at mastery and abstinence. It is now held by many medical men in Europe that sexual abstinence, if it is genuine, is beneficial; for the element in the retas which feeds the energies of the system mental, vital and physical and that justifies the Indian idea of brahmacharya, the transformation of retas into ojas and the raising of its energies upward so that they may change into a spiritual force.”
In another place of his book Sri Aurobindo remarks, “As to sexual impulse, regard it not as something sinful and horrible and attractive at the same time but as a mistake and wrong movement of the lower nature. Reject it entirely not by struggling with it, but by drawing back from it, detaching yourself and refusing your consent; look at it as something not your own but imposed on you by a force of nature outside you. Refuse all consent to the imposition. If anything in your vital nature consents, insist on that part of you withdrawing its consent. Call in the Divine Force to help you in your withdrawal and refusal. If you can do this quietly and resolutely and patiently, in the end your inner will will prevail against the habit of outer nature.
“The Sadhaka (aspirant) has to turn away entirely from the invasion of the vital and the physical by the sex-impulse; for if he does not conquer the sex-impulse, there can be no settling in the body of the divine consciousness, and the divine ananda. It is true that mere suppression or holding down of desire is not enough, not by itself truly effective, but that does not mean that desires are to be indulged; it means that desires have not merely to be suppressed but rejected from the nature. In place of desire, there must be a single-minded aspiration towards the Divine.”
As for love, the love must be turned singly towards the Divine. What men call by that name is a vital interchange for mutual satisfaction of desire, vital impulse or physical pleasure. It has to be said that the total elimination of the sex impulse is one of the most difficult means in sadhana and one must be prepared for it to take time. But its total disappearance has been achieved, and a practical liberation crossed, only by occasional dream-movements from the subconscient.
Lilly Heber records in her “Krishnamurti and the World Crisis” the following interesting observations on continence made by J. Krishnamurti. Sri Krishnamurti said, “I was asked the other day why I did not marry. I will give you the reason. I am not against marriage. Marriage–that which society calls marriage–is brought about because men and women are lonely. Now if you surmount all loneliness you need not marry. You are everything. You are no longer lonely. You no longer need support, encouragement, the lesson of constant adjustment to the point of view of another. The purpose of marriage is to make an effort together, man and woman, to grow, to adjust, to understand, to develop various qualities. But if you are in love with life itself, in which is the expression both of man and woman, then you are adjusting yourself to that totality all the time, and you are beyond the need for the experience of constant adjustment of points of view. Then you need not marry. But don’t deceive yourselves.”
To a question: “Can a married person who is living a normal sex life achieve the supreme goal? Is the ascetic life which we assume to be your mode of living, essential to achievement?” Sri Krishnamurti, an ethical teacher of world-fame, answers: “The realization of Truth is the consummation of energy. To reach that consummation, energy must be concentrated in deep contemplation which is the natural result of action, the right judgment of values. I lead what you call an ascetic life because of this concentration of energy, which is the freedom of self-consciousness. I am not saying that you should imitate me. I do not say that you cannot realize this contemplation because you are married. But a man who desires the realization of completeness wholly, permanently, must have all his energy concentrated.
“A man who is a slave to passion, to lust, to sensation, cannot realize this.”
Sri Krishnamurti continued: “The fact is that pure emotion is detached from its own objects. If I love someone truly, deeply, then I am detached, for true love is in itself complete. What passes by the name of love is but empty emotion, and depends on another for its very existence. If affection is bound up with the individual, it must be limited. If you cling to another for your happiness, you are all the time afraid to lose them, either through death or through their affection being transferred to another.
“Personal love, with its possessiveness, its fears, its jealousies, its demands, inevitably creates a barrier between itself and the object of its love.” Here we are facing the ever-recurring tragedy of personal love: “The pain of love in all its forms is created by this barrier, whereas true love which is complete in itself, is free from all sorrow.”
To another question: “Is the physical expression of sexual love a limitation of love and life? If so, how may we get rid of it?” Sri Krishnamurti remarked: “If you are a slave to sensation, if you are attached for your happiness to this satisfaction, to this sensation–then it is a limitation of love and life…. A man who would be free of delusion and craving must have perfect control of the body–control through understanding, not through suppression or repression. Control comes with the desire for the understanding of the purpose of individual existence and its fulfillment. Most people suppress their desires through fear; but this is not control, it is death. True control is suppleness, activity, the body being fully active but under restraint….
“I use the word control as self-imposed discipline with understanding–not the stupid control which leaves you bitter, hard, cruel, and ruthless. Self-imposed discipline is full of kindness, thoughtfulness, is tender and not harsh….
“When you understand desire, whence it springs and whither it is going, desire becomes a precious jewel…. Such desire is the source of true discipline–not set discipline, but discipline that varies progressively until you arrive at pure being.
“The whole problem of sexuality has its root in the ‘I’ consciousness. While the ‘I’ consciousness exists, the ‘opposites’ of existence will have free play, and there will be attraction and repulsion between men and women.
“Passion will exist so long as both men and women are bound by the sorrow of incompleteness.”
Swami Ashokananda in his Spiritual Practice (pp. 130-140) gives some useful advice for the practice of continence. He says that continence has been differently interpreted and doubtless it has very many implications. But its simple and essential meaning is abstention from sexual thought and deed in every form. Sexual act, the grossest form of sexuality, is of course to be given up entirely. But persistence in the practice of continence reveals the fact that this gross form is the expression of the inner impulse. The control and eradication of these impulses is the main thing. Without that, mere outer abstention avails little. Sex-consciousness is deeply rooted in our minds. It may almost be said to be contemporaneous with the very beginning of the individual life. The philosophers observed long ago that there exists an intimate relation between sexual activity and imagination. The sexual emotion stirs our psychological being, troubles the senses and infatuates reason. The less one experiences the emotion, the better is his well-being. “Have we said everything as to the sexual emotion,” writes M. Ruyssen, “when we have traced the eddy which it excites on the surface of our consciousness? Have we not on the contrary the deep impression that something else is stirring far below, that our inmost self is moved by a force at once close to us and yet stretching infinitely beyond us?”
The idea of body is in a sense the prop of the sexual consciousness. Therefore Sri Ramakrishna said that until a man has realized God he cannot completely rid himself of lust. One day Bhagavan Sri Ramakrishna was asked by one of his young disciples: “Sir, how to conquer lust? I am trying my best to control my mind and eliminate evil thoughts but they come in spite of all these and destroy my peace of mind.” Sri Ramakrishna said to him: “Lust does not leave us finally before God-vision. Even after God-vision it remains in some form or other in of course very small measure as long as the body lasts; but then it cannot raise its head. Do you think lust has left me altogether? Once I thought that I had conquered lust. I was then sitting in the Panchavati Grove. Just then a torrent of lust arose in my mind and was about to overtake me when I fell on the ground and began to rub my face against the earth and prayed to the Divine Mother saying, ‘I have done wrong. Save me this time, O Mother! I will never think in future that I have conquered lust.’ Then it subsided through the divine grace. The fact is that the tide of overflowing youth has come, so you find it difficult to stay it. When the flood comes, all rice fields become full of water. But in the Kali Yuga mental sins are not to be counted as sins. If once in a while an evil thought comes to the mind, do not be dejected. These are like excretions of the body and are physiologically natural to the physical system. After passing stool or urine nobody thinks what he has done. If once in a while an impure thought crosses the mind, do not attach any importance to it. Gradually it will subside.”
To Swami Yogananda, a disciple, Sri Ramakrishna said in reply to his question as how to conquer lust: “Repeat the Name of the Lord by clapping your hands morning and evening.” Mahatma Gandhi also testifies that the repetition of God’s name drives away all evil thoughts from the mind.
To recognize sexual difference in men and women is a kind of sexuality. When one has completely eliminated lust one will not feel that difference. Only the soul will be apparent, existing in all, beyond all distinctions of sex and body. Continence has all these wide significances among its implications. But of course in the beginning one cannot rise to such heights but must begin on the lower plane. Nevertheless, the goal should never be lost sight of.
Without effort continence can never be successfully practiced. The aspirant will have to win every inch of the arduous uphill way with great struggle which will bring in return benefits in abundance. A yearning for spiritual life is the primary condition of the practice of continence. The secret is to forget the body. It is often found that being intent on the practice of continence too much attention may be paid to small physiological details and the details of food and living. There may too much consciousness of the practice of continence. This ultra-awareness is psychologically harmful and in the long run impedes the success. The more we dwell on sexuality whether with the desire of indulging or checking it, the less shall we succeed in getting rid of it. To forget it is the best and safest way to its conquest.
We must avoid contact with people, places or things that are reminiscent of sexuality. It is very urgent that we should give up the company of those who indulge in sexuality. As the sun always radiates heat, a flower its fragrance and a dead body a bad smell, so the impure persons give out an aura of impurity which is very contagious. Hence it is best to avoid sitting or sleeping with such persons as far as practicable. The world is full of temptations and distractions. Hence an aspirant of continence should live with strict care and caution. He should move in the society as Sukhadev, Vyasa’s son, walked in the streets of Mithila with a pot brimful of water on his head at the instruction of King Janaka. In the streets there were dance and music of young women, and a lot of other distractions. Sukhadev did not care to notice any of these distractions and returned to the palace of Janaka without spilling a drop of water from the pot. Unless we practice utter indifference to objects of temptations, we will be carried away by them.
There is no need for perturbation if there are nocturnal emissions. They do not matter much if they happen once or twice a month. Let us press forward in spite of these. By and by, as our mind becomes calm and pure, even the seminal discharges during sleep will become rare. We need not be afraid if night pollutions happen once in a while. There are few fortunate souls in the world who are free from it. It is no use taking medicines or being moody. That brings contrary results. Night pollutions are mostly due to indigestion, constipation and dream in sleep. It is a very good and beneficial practice to observe partial or complete fast on the day after a nocturnal emission praying to and thinking of God. This has a wonderful counter-effect. Nocturnal emissions generally take place in the fourth quarter of the night, i.e., after 3 a.m. One should pass urine and stool as soon as one feels the call of nature. It is a preventive habit to rise between 2 and 4 a.m. and pass urine to keep the bladder empty in the small hours of the morning.
Anyway, one should leave the bed at least one hour before sunrise and practice concentration and meditation which in our opinion is the best means to observe continence. Constant wearing of a kaupin day and night checks effectively excitement of the sex organ. The aspirant should read such books as will fill him with noble thoughts and he should meditate over the lives of holy men. The antidote for impure thoughts is pure thoughts. A heart-felt prayer every day for purity makes one progressively pure. The first and foremost thing in the practice of continence is the realization of its absolute necessity in life and a spiritual view of life and society.
Before sleep it is good to read religious books, think of pure thoughts and meditate. These good thoughts will pervade our unconscious mind during sleep.
Great men of East and West on continence
Before we conclude we present the reader with the following sayings of some great men of East and West on the creative power of continence.
Continence increases infinitely the power of retentiveness and remembrance. Try to gain absolute mastery over your sexual instinct. If one succeeds in doing this a physiological change is produced in the body by the development of a nerve known by the name of medha, whose function it is to transmute lower energies into the higher. The knowledge of the higher Self is gained after the formation of this medha nerve.
Continence being established infinite energy is gained.
Attainment of continence is the secret of all occult powers and makes one capable of transmitting powers to others.
Those who believe that happiness is in the body and misery in whatever hinders sexual pleasure, how they become satiated with it and die of it!
To be strong, be pure.
M. Justin Godard
No one but imbeciles mock at chastity.
The future is for the nations who are chaste.
Absolute continence is the key to Buddhahood.
Swami Shivananda–disciple of Sri Ramakrishna
Continence is the sine qua non of all spiritual experiences.
Continence means chastity in thought, word and deed in all times and in all conditions. The chaste brain has tremendous energy and gigantic will-power. Without chastity there cannot be any spiritual strength. Continence gives wonderful control over mankind. The spiritual guides of humanity have been perfectly continent and this is what gave them power. Whosoever practices unbroken continence for a period of twelve years will be the recipient of all extraordinary powers. If you want to be great, preserve continence without a break. Absolute observance of continence is essential to become a spiritual teacher. Continence is the foundation of the Vedic wisdom. Continent life is a life of crystal purity. By simple practice of strict continence all learning can be mastered in a very short time and one obtains unfailing memory of what one hears or knows but once. It is owing to this want of continence that everything is on the brink of ruin in our century. Complete continence gives great intellectual and spiritual power. The very fact of being unmarried is a spiritual asset.
Swami Brahmananda–disciple of Sri Ramakrishna
Without brahmacharya (continence), it is not possible for anyone to hold fast to great ideals. To secure the full development and vitality of the body, brain and mind continence is essential. Those who observe strict continence develop a strong memory and a remarkable capacity for understanding. By means of continence a special nerve is developed which brings about these special powers. Do you know why our great teachers have laid so much emphasis upon continence? It is because they knew that if a man fails in this respect everything is lost. The strict brahmachari does not lose his vitality. He may not look like a great athlete but the development of the brain is so fine that his capacity for grasping super-sensuous things is remarkable. There are certain rules which a brahmachari should observe. He must avoid exciting food, over-sleep, over-exercise, laziness, bad company and evil conversation. It is continence that strengthens the body and mind. Without continence the mind never gains the power of concentration and meditation. Our shastras say that by observing continence for twelve years very strictly God becomes easy to be realized.
Brahmacharya or spotless chastity is the best of penances. A celibate who is endowed with spotless chastity is not a human being indeed but a god. To the celibate who conserves the semen with great efforts what is there unattainable in this world? By the power of the conservation of semen, one will become just like myself.
Lust ruins life, luster, strength, vitality, memory, wealth, fame, holiness and devotion to Truth.
Caution in diet is of three-fold value but abstinence from sexuality is of four-fold value. Though the sexual propensities are at first like ripples, they acquire the proportion of sea waves on account of bad company.
Death is hastened by loss of semen but life is prolonged by preserving it. Everybody therefore must try his best to lead a life of continence.
A wise man should avoid married life as if it were a burning pit of live coals. From the contact comes sensation, from sensation thirst. By ceasing from contact, one is saved from all sinfulness.
It is a sin to look at men or women with sexual motives.
Debility of intellect, especially of the memory, characterizes the mental alienation of the licentious.
Bhisma says to Yudhisthira, “O King, know that in this world, there is nothing that cannot be attained by one who remains from birth to death a perfect celibate. In one person there is knowledge of the four Vedas and in another, there is perfect celibacy; of these the latter is superior to the former who is wanting in celibacy.”