Often in Yoga, Brahmacharya is equated with celibacy.
Is there truth in this belief?
The Sanskrit word Brahmacharya comes from ‘Brah’ meaning expansion (of consciousness) and Charya means to follow. The full meaning of Brahmacharya then, is to follow the path of Brahma or expansion of consciousness.
There is no hint in that word of suppression of sex or celibacy.
Many spiritual teachers however, are of the opinion that if we allow sexual energy to flow downward for sexual intercourse, it wastes precious resources that could otherwise be directed upward and inward for self-realization.
According to Indian thinkers and sages, human life rests on the four pillars of:
- Kam (desires including sex);
- Arth (wealth);
- Dharma (duties) and
- Moksha (liberation).
Kam is the first pillar of life in which sexual and other desires are fulfilled in appropriate and moral ways. Indian Rishis have been well aware that going against one’s own nature is an invitation for disease and destruction.
Consciously and unconsciously, sex is a part of the natural world. From flowers to the trees and from animals to humans, it is a natural component of being alive!
In Yogic tradition, Shiva has been identified as the first Yogi and he is frequently depicted as being accompanied by his wife Parvati and two sons Ganesh and Kartikaya.
In spite of being married and having children, Shiva is a Brahmachari and walks the path of Brahmacharya because his consciousness is filled with the Truth of Brahma.
Krishna, who is called Yogeshwar or the lord of Yoga, would be another example of an entity filled with the same truth.
He narrated the complete yoga in the Bhagavad Gita that includes Bhakti, Karma and Jnana Yogas. Krishna was married to many women and was an expert in the art of Kam. Beside Shiva and Krishna, Ram, Janak, Vashistha, Yajnvalkaya and many other vedic and post Vedic rishis and yogis were married and still became Brahmajnani or ‘knowers’ of Braham.
In Indian spirituality, Tantra has a special place because it deals with desires and sexual energy directly.
In Tantra, sex is not the path to the fall but the door to liberation. According to Tantra, what makes us fall can elevate us and what seems to be poison can become nectar, if we understand and use it rightly. It is ignorance about sex that is the problem and not the sexual act itself.
In world history, the first authentic and detailed book about sex and sexuality was the ‘Kam-Sutra’, written by an Indian sage, Maharishi Vatsayan.
Vatsayan himself was a celibate but he wanted to present the subject of sex in a positive way because he knew that experiencing sex in the right way paves the path to the experience of the divine and Brahma.
In Sanatan (eternal or timeless) Dharma, sex suppression or celibacy was never the essential condition for self-realization. Many shunned sex but that was an individual preference rather than an institutionalized tradition.
With the beginning of Buddhism however, celibacy began to be prescribed and its practice became widespread. It is difficult to discern whether or not the Buddha himself recommended celibacy.
Buddha was a married prince and experienced sex fully. What we do know is that Buddha’s way was of the ‘middle path’ in which neither renunciation nor indulgence was suggested.
In mainstream Hinduism, celibacy became more important as an aid for the Brahmajnana (knowledge of Braham ) after the time of the great non-dualist sage, Adi Shankaracharya who lived in 8th century. Many of the Shankaracharya’s sects of Sanyasis (or monks) spread the idea of celibacy as an essential and desired virtue for self-realization throughout India.
In essence, Brahmacharya doesn’t mean celibacy. It simply means following the path of the Brahma or the divine, and it will all depend on a person’s innate nature whether celibacy should or should not be practiced.
What do you think?
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