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Chapter Seven: The Meaning of Brahmacharya

Swami Sivananda youngBrahmacharya literally means achara or conduct that leads to the realization of Brahman or one’s own Self. It means the control of semen, the study of the Vedas and contemplation on God. The technical meaning of brahmacharya is self-restraint, particularly mastery of perfect control over the sexual organ or freedom from lust in thought, word and deed. Strict abstinence is not merely from sexual intercourse, but also from auto-erotic manifestations, from homosexual acts and from all perverse sexual practices. It must further involve a permanent abstention from indulgence in erotic imagination and voluptuous reverie. All sorts of sex anomalies and evil habits of various sorts like masturbation and sodomy must be completely eradicated. They bring about a total breakdown of the nervous system and immense misery.

Brahmacharya is purity in thought, word and deed. It is celibacy and continence. Brahmacharya is the vow of celibacy. The term ‘celibacy’ is from the Latin caelebs, meaning unmarried or single, and signifies the state of living unmarried. But brahmacharya is not mere bachelorhood. It includes the control, not only of the sex or reproductive indriya, but also of all other indriyas in thought, word and deed. This is the definition of brahmacharya in a broad sense of the term. The door to Nirvana or perfection is complete brahmacharya. Complete celibacy is the master-key to open the realms of Elysian bliss. The avenue to the abode of supreme peace begins from brahmacharya or purity.

Brahmacharya is absolute freedom from sexual desires and thoughts. A real Brahmachari will not feel any difference in touching a woman, a piece of paper or a block of wood. Brahmacharya is meant for both men and women. Bhishma, Hanuman, Lakshman, Mira Bai, Sulabha and Gargi were all established in brahmacharya.

Mere control of the animal passion will not constitute brahmacharya. This is incomplete brahmacharya. You must control all the organs–the ears that want to hear lustful stories, the lustful eye that wants to see objects that excite passion, the tongue that wants to taste exciting things and the skin that wants to touch exciting objects.

To look lustfully is adultery of the eyes; to hear anything that excites passion is adultery of the ears; to speak anything that excites passion is adultery of the tongue.

The eight breaks in brahmacharya

You should carefully avoid the eight kinds of enjoyment, namely, sarshan or looking at women with passionate resolve, sparshan or touching them, keli or play, kirtan or praising the qualities of the other sex, guhya-bhashan or talking in private, sankalpa or determination, adhyavasaya or nearing the other sex with the desire for gratification and kriyanivritti or the actual sexual act. These eight kinds of enjoyment are eight kinds of breaks, so to say, in the current of akhanda brahmacharya practice. You must avoid these eight interruptions with great care, sincere exertion and vigilant circumspection. Only he who is free from all these breaks can be called a true brahmachari. A real brahmachari should ruthlessly avoid all these eight breaks.

A brahmachari should avoid looking at a woman with lustful eyes. He should not have the desire to touch her or go near her with evil intention. He should not play, cut jokes or converse with her. He should not praise a woman’s qualities within himself or before his friends. He should not speak to a woman in secrecy. He should not think of women at all. He should not have a carnal desire to have sexual enjoyment. A brahmachari should, without fail, avoid sexual intercourse. If he breaks any of the above rules, he violates the vow of brahmacharya.

Though the first seven kinds of maithuna do not cause the actual loss of semen, yet the semen is separated from the blood and it tries to escape when opportunity arises, either in dreams or in other ways. In the first seven kinds, man enjoys mentally.

Aspirants should not indulge in talk about sex. They should not think about ladies. Bring the image of your ishta devata into your mind if the thought of a woman crops up. Repeat the mantra vigorously.

Lustful look, lustful thinking, wet dreams are all failures or breaks in brahmacharya. Be chaste in your look. Give up drishti dosha or lustful look. A lustful look itself is a break in brahmacharya. There is internal discharge. Virya is separated from the system.

See Mother Kali in all women. Cultivate sublime, divine thoughts. Do japa and meditation regularly. You will be established in brahmacharya.

Physical Brahmacharya and mental Brahmacharya

It is very necessary that you should be pure in mind if you wish to be a brahmachari. Mental brahmacharya is more important. You may succeed in physical brahmacharya, but you must succeed in mental brahmacharya also. That state of mind wherein no single sexual thought enters the mind is termed mental brahmacharya. If thoughts are impure, the sex impulse will be very strong. Brahmacharya depends upon regulating the whole course of life.

When you cannot control the lustful thoughts, at least control the physical body. Physical brahmacharya must be strictly practiced at first. Control the body when the sex impulse troubles you. Mental purity or mental brahmacharya will gradually manifest.

Surely it is better to control the karma indriyas at least than to indulge actually in sensual pleasures. Gradually the thoughts will be purified if you persist in your japa and meditation. Eventually there will be direct control of the mind also.

A sexual act, a sexual contact, revives all bad ideas and gives them a new lease of life. Therefore, the body should be controlled first. Physical brahmacharya must be maintained first. Then only you can achieve mental purity and mental brahmacharya.

You may be able to stop copulation for months and years, but there should not be any sexual craving or attraction for women. Evil thoughts also should not arise when you look at a woman, when you are in the company of women. If you succeed in this direction, then you are established in perfect brahmacharya. You have crossed the danger zone.

Thought is the real action. An evil desire is tantamount to adultery. The desire is more than the act. But, there is a great deal of difference between the actual shooting of a man and thinking to shoot a man, between actual copulation and thinking to have intercourse with a woman. Philosophically speaking, thinking to shoot a man or thinking to have copulation is the real act.

Even if there is a single impure sexual thought in the mind, you can hardly expect to have strict mental brahmacharya. You cannot then be termed as urdhvaretas or one in whom the seminal energy flows upwards towards the brain for being stored up as ojas shakti. There is a tendency for the semen to flow downwards even if there is a single impure thought.

The state of mental brahmacharya must be kept up even amidst temptations and sickness. Then only you are safe. The senses begin to revolt during times of ailment and also when you come in contact with sense objects.

If thoughts of a lustful nature manifest in your mind, it is due to hidden passion. The cunning diplomatic mind seeks silent gratification by looking at a lady and talking to her. Mental maithunam takes place secretly or unconsciously. The force that drags you is hidden passion.

The sex energy has not been sublimated thoroughly. The vital being or pranamaya kosha has not been regenerated and purified perfectly. This is the reason why impure thoughts enter your mind. Do more japa and meditation. Do selfless service in some form for the society. You will soon attain purity.

Learn to cleanse your mind with the water of purity or celibacy, with the soap of divine love. How can you expect to become pure internally by merely washing the body with soap and water? Internal purity is more important than external purity.

Continue the life of brahmacharya. Herein lies your spiritual progress and realization. Do not give a new lease of life to this dire enemy lust by repetition of the sinful act.

Keep the mind fully occupied. Intense musing on the objects of sense does more harm to the inner spiritual life than actual sense-gratification. If the mind is not rendered pure by sadhana, mere mortification of the external senses will not produce the desired effect. Although the external senses are mortified, their internal counterparts, which are still energetic and vigorous, revenge upon the mind and produce intense mental disturbance and wild imagination.

It is the mind that really does all actions. A desire arises in your mind and then you think. Then you proceed to act. The determination of the mind is put into action. First there is sankalpa or thought and then comes action. Therefore, do not allow the sexual thoughts to enter the mind.

No space is empty at any time. This is the law of nature. If one thing is removed from a place, immediately another comes in to take its place. The same law holds good in the case of the inner mental world also. Therefore, it is necessary to entertain sublime divine thoughts to replace evil thoughts. As you think, so you become. This is the immutable psychological law. The vicious mind is gradually divinized by entertaining divine thoughts.

A common complaint

There is always a complaint amongst men that they do not get good success in brahmacharya despite their earnest efforts and sincere practices. They get unnecessarily alarmed and discouraged. It is a mistake. There is a thermometric registration in the spiritual realm also. It is very subtle. The spiritual thermometer registers or indicates the advancement in mental purity even to the minutest degree. You want a vishuddha buddhi or pure intellect to comprehend the degree of purity. Intense sadhana, burning vairagya and burning mumukshutwa or desire for liberation bring on the highest degree of mental purity quickly.

Even if anyone repeats a mantra for just half an hour, the spiritual thermometer registers at once a minute degree of brahmacharya or purity. You are unable to note it on account of your malina buddhi or impure intellect. Do sadhana regularly for one or two years and then compare your state of mind with that of the previous year. You will surely find a vast change. You will experience or feel more calmness, more purity, more inner moral force or strength. There is no doubt of this. Because the old vicious samskaras are very powerful, it takes some time for mental purification. You need not be discouraged. Nil desperandum. Never despair. You have to fight against the samskaras of anadi kala or beginningless time. Therefore, a great deal of exertion is needed.

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Chapters for Practice of Brahmacharya

Introduction: Practice of Brahmacharya

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