Brahmacharya is a divine word. It is the sum and substance of yoga. Through avidya, this is forgotten. The importance of brahmacharya was emphasized by our great Rishis. It is the supreme yoga, which Lord Krishna emphasizes repeatedly in the Bhagavad Gita. In Chapter Six, sloka fourteen, it is very clearly stated that the vow of brahmacharya is necessary for meditation: Brahmacharivrate Sthitah. In Chapter Seventeen, sloka fourteen, He says that brahmacharya is one of the requisites for the austerity of the body. Now, we have another statement made in Chapter Eight, sloka eleven, that yogis practice brahmacharya in order to attain the goal spoken of by the knowers of the Vedas. A similar statement is also found in the Kathopanishad.
In the Raja Yoga of Patanjali Maharshi also, yama is the first step. Yama is the practice of ahimsa, satya, asteya, brahmacharya and aparigraha–non-killing, truthfulness, non-stealing, celibacy and non-receiving of gifts. Among these brahmacharya is the most important.
In Jnana Yoga too, dama or self-control is the foundation for the student.
In the Mahabharata you will find in the Shanti Parva: “Many are the branches of dharma, but dama is the basis of them all’.
Brahmacharya is the vital subject for those who want success in material or spiritual life. Without it, a man is absolutely unfit for worldly activities as well as for spiritual practices.
Celibacy in the different religious orders
Down through the ages, the highest stress has been laid on brahmacharya or sexual abstinence in every religion. Throughout folklore runs the idea that second-sight and the vision of the supernatural are especially, if not solely, the privilege of the celibates. Westermack favors the explanation that sexual pollution destroys holiness. A tribe on the Rio Negro enjoined celibacy upon their shamans, because they believed that medicine would prove ineffectual if administered by a married man.
Iambichus states that the gods do not hear him who invokes them if he is impure from sexual connections. In Islam, strict continence is required on the pilgrimage to Mecca. It was required for the Hebrew congregation during the theophany at Sinai and before entering the temple. Ancient India, Egypt and Greece enforced the rule that the worshipper must abstain from intercourse during and before worship. In Christianity, continence was required as a preparation for both baptism and the eucharist.
The highest type of Christian was a celibate. Christian teachers praised celibacy, and marriage came to be, in their eyes, only a secondary good for those who were unable to serve continence. The bishops of the Greek Church are always celibates, being chosen from the monks.
The monk who lowers himself to touch a woman’s person with corrupt thoughts while he clasps her hand or clasps her hair or touches one part or another of her body, brings shame and degradation on the order. The present ordination vow is to abstain from all sexual intercourse as long as life shall last.
The Jains force on their munis the rule to abstain from all sexual relations; not to discuss topics relating to women, not to contemplate the forms of women. Lust is thus condemned: “Of the myriad vices, lust is the worst.”
There are other rules subsidiary to this, forbidding all actions of an unchaste kind, especially any act or word which might either lead to a breach of the principal rule or give rise to an impression that it was not being strictly observed.
A bhikshu is not to sleep in any place where a woman is present, or to preach the sacred doctrine in more than five or six words to a woman unless a grown-up man be present, or to exhort the sisters unless specially deputed to do so, or to journey along the same route with a woman. On his round for alms, he is to be properly clad and he is to walk with downcast eyes. He is not to accept a robe from any woman not related to him, except under specified conditions. He is not to sit in a secluded place with a woman, much less to touch or speak to her with impure intent.
The Buddhist Order of Mendicants was governed by the 227 rules of the Patimokha. Of these, the first four were of specific gravity. A breach of any one of the four rules involved expulsion from the order; and they were, therefore, called the Parajika or the rules as to acts involving defeat.
The first rule says: “Whatsoever bhikshu–who has taken upon himself the system of self-training and rule of life, and has not thereafter withdrawn from the training or declared his inability to keep the rule–who shall have carnal knowledge of any living thing, down even to an animal, has fallen into defeat, he is no longer in communion.” “Withdrawn from the training” was the technical expression for throwing off the robes, retiring from the order, and returning to the world, a step which any member of the order was at liberty to take at any time.
Numa 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 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 emperors, 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 his way to execution, his life was spared.
In the large colony of Tibetans at Darjeeling, several hundreds of the men doing coolies’ work are ex-lamas who fled from Tibet, with their paramours or singly, in order to escape the severe penalties attaching to their breach of celibacy. The delinquent is denounced, and if caught, is subject to corporal chastisement in public, as well as to a heavy fine and expulsion from the order in disgrace.
The Peruvian “Virgins of the Sun”–a type of priestess–were punished with living burial if detected in misconduct.
Brahmacharya–the foundation of spiritual life
Brahmacharya is a sine qua non of spiritual life. It is a great desideratum. It is of vital importance. Without perfect brahmacharya, you cannot have substantial spiritual progress.
Abstinence or continence is the corner-stone on which the pedestal of moksha stands. If the corner-stone is not very strong, the superstructure will fall down when there is heavy rain. Even so, if you are not established in brahmacharya, if your mind is agitated by evil thoughts, you will fall down. You cannot reach the summit of the ladder of yoga or the highest nirvikalpa samadhi.
There is no hope for you to have Self-realization or Knowledge of the Self if you are not well established in brahmacharya. Brahmacharya is the master-key to open the realms of eternal bliss. Brahmacharya is the very foundation of yoga. Just as a house that is built on a rotten foundation will surely fall down, so also, you will fall down from your meditation if you have laid no proper foundation, namely, the attainment of perfect brahmacharya. You may meditate for a period of twelve years and yet you will have no success in samadhi if you have not destroyed the subtle lust or the craving-seed that lingers in the innermost recesses of your heart.
Brahmacharya is the basis for the attainment of kaya siddhi–physical perfection. Complete celibacy must be observed. This is of paramount importance. By the practice of yoga the semen becomes transmuted into ojas shakti. The yogi will have a perfect body. There will be charm and grace in his movements. He can live as long as he likes. This is also known as Iccha Mrityu or death at will.
The practice of brahmacharya is the most important qualification for the spiritual aspirant, no matter what his chosen path may be–Karma Yoga, Upasana, Raja Yoga, Hatha Yoga or Vedanta. The discipline of complete abstinence is demanded from all aspirants. Only a true brahmachari can cultivate bhakti. Only s true brahmachari can practice yoga. Only a true brahmachari can acquire jnana. Without brahmacharya, no spiritual progress is possible.
Lust deals a deadly blow to the spiritual calibre of man. It is not possible for you to enter the spiritual path that leads to union with God unless and until you control lust and become established in brahmacharya. As long as lust smells sweet in your nostrils, you cannot entertain sublime, divine thoughts in your mind. That man in whom the sex idea is deep-rooted can never dream of understanding Vedanta and realizing Brahman even within one billion births. Truth cannot dwell where passion lives.
Sexual indulgence is a great obstacle in the spiritual path. It bars spiritual practices definitely. The sexual urge must be controlled by entertaining sublime thoughts and regular meditation. There must be complete sublimation of the sexual energy. Then only is the aspirant absolutely safe. The total annihilation of the sexual desire is the ultimate spiritual ideal.
Sex attraction, sexual thoughts and sexual urge are the three great obstacles in the path of God-realization. Even if the sexual urge vanishes, the sex attraction remains for a long time and troubles the aspirants. Sex attraction is very, very powerful. Sex attraction binds one to this world. Each cell in the body of a male or a female is surcharged with the sex element. The mind and the senses are filled with sex juice. Man cannot remain without looking at a woman, without talking to her. He derives pleasure in the company of a woman. Woman also cannot remain without looking at a man, without talking to him. She derives pleasure in the company of a man. That is the reason why he or she finds it extremely difficult to annihilate the sex attraction. Sex attraction cannot be destroyed without the grace of the Lord. No human effort can eradicate in toto this mighty force of sex attraction.
The organ of sight does great mischief. Destroy the lustful look, the adultery of the eye. Try to see God in all faces. Again and again generate the currents of dispassion, discrimination and enquiry. Eventually you will be established in Brahman or the Eternal. Again and again generate sublime divine thoughts and increase your japa and meditation. The sexual thought will be annihilated.
Of what avail is knowledge of the arts and sciences, of what avail is reputation or titles, of what avail is repetition of the Lord’s Name or meditation or enquiry of “Who am I?,” if you become a slave of lust? Control this strong urge first by the rigorous tapasya of sense-control. Before you take to advanced meditation, first become at least a strict physical celibate. Then endeavor to have perfection in mental chastity.
Amongst you all, there may be a hidden Shakespeare or a Kalidasa, a hidden Wordsworth or a Valmiki, a potential saint, a St. Xavier, an akhanda brahmachari like Bhishma Pitamaha, a Hanuman or a Lakshman, a Viswamitra or a Vashishtha, a great scientist like Dr. J.C. Bose or Raman, a yogi like Jnana Deva or Gorakhnath, a philosopher like Shankara or Ramanuja, a Bhakta like Tulsidas, Ramdas or Eknath.
Awaken, then, your hidden faculties, potential energies of all description, through brahmacharya and attain God-consciousness quickly and get over the miseries of this mundane life with its concomitant evils of birth, death and sorrow.
Blessed is the brahmachari who has taken the vow of celibacy till the end of life. Twice blessed is that brahmachari who is sincerely struggling to destroy lust and attain perfect purity. Thrice blessed is that brahmachari who has completely rooted out lust and has attained Self-realization. Glory be to such exalted brahmacharins! They are veritable gods on earth. May their blessings be upon you all.
Chapters for Practice of Brahmacharya
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Read about the meanings of unfamiliar terms in A Brief Sanskrit Glossary
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