Does Brahmacharya mean celibacy?

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:

  1. Kam (desires including sex);
  2. Arth (wealth);
  3. Dharma (duties) and
  4. 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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  1. Anil Shanker says:

    The discussion makes sense, and needs to be pondered over. Suppression of anything never leads to enlightenment. It is the full acceptance in the right direction that is needed for the evolution of consciousness and enlightenment..

  2. Audrey says:

    Makes sense to me

  3. Madhava says:


    you may agree with me that in hinduism the sex outside marriage is strictly prohibited. All the examples you present are of married men. One does not need to be a brahmacarya to follow the path of Brahman, but as you may know the varna ashram dharma presents four stages in live, being brahmacarya on of them, just before the married life, as a student in the guru ashram. Another thing is a Naishtika Brahmacharya, which is a life long bramahcarya. This depends on your nature.

    You can and should get married and became grhastra if that is your nature, and you can still follow the path of yoga, but you won’t be a brahmacarya. Later on in your live you can became a Vanaprasta or even Sanyasa, which again restricts the sex life.

    Namaste, thank you for bringing up this interesting topic

    • Jivasu says:

      Madhava, You are right that sex outside marriage is not recommended in Hinduism.

      As far as the four Varna or ashrams are concerned, they all are the stages of spiritual growth.
      .Brahamcharya or student – Formation of self
      .Grihastha or housholder – Maturation of self
      .Vanprastha or explorer – Expansion of self
      .Sanyasa or renunciate – Self-Realization (big Self)

      At any stage if sex creates problems in the process it should be managed. If it doesn’t create problem or helps one can continue with it. The essence is awareness rather than strict external discipline. Vanprastha is no exception.

  4. natalia says:

    What is discipline? How is discipline does relate to suppression? Doesn’t yoga have anything to do with discipline?

    • Jivasu says:

      Natalia, Discipline in Yoga is like Indian classical music or Jazz. In both types of music there are predetermined (discipline) notes but from those root notes one can improvise limitlessly. Discipline means ‘no harm’ to oneself and to others but beyond that there is complete freedom. Up to some extent sex can be disciplined and sublimated to achieve the goal. But it should not be suppressed. Partial sublimation brings transformation and suppression causes pathologies.

  5. Jim says:

    The generally understood interpretation I have from training/reading is that Bramacharya is about how one employs the energy of one’s own psyche in context of the Yamas. With non-violence/do-no-harm as the guiding principle, it is important that one not use one’s own energy (charisma, if you will) to take advantage of another.

    So, celibacy might be the best approach for some, but sharing with a spouse (as equals) would not violate the directive.

  6. In Hindu society like India, people do not follow complete truth and truth has been manipulated. The sexual energy is the highest form of energy in human being. It is just like seed for a plant or tree. It is the reason for beginning of life. Just like seeds have most nutrients, sexual energy has most productive energy. In Brahmacharyashram, it is used to get complete knowledge of both Prakruti and Purusha. Prakruti represents the western path of knowledge like natural, social and applied sciences; whereas, Purusha represents spiritual knowledge including Yoga. In order to reach Moksha, it is necessary that you complete your life with both Prakruti and Purusha in balanced manner which Krishna speaks about in Bhagwad Geeta. In fact, if you do not fulfill your wishes of sex, you become a Brahma Rakshasa if your wishes are unfulfilled and you have spiritual knowledge so you know everything, but your attachment to Kam is the reason you want everybody to follow your path. As such, he is not liberated. The reason people follow celibacy is the life is short, and in order to reach Moksha, it is necessary that you put all your efforts towards getting liberated without any expectations, which is important. The reason one needs to go through all the four Ashrams is to fulfill the wishes to reach a stage where you have no expectations. That’s why, it is important to fulfill wishes and not suppress it. Again, Krishna shows that having a girl friend without marriage (Radha) is right because you care for some one which is good or Punya. Having married with a woman, and not caring for her is bad, or Papa i.e. sin. Basically, it is important to know from the 18 puranas of Vyas that Parupakaray punyay, papay Parpeedanam. Helping others is virtuous or Punya and troubling others is sin or Papa.
    Yogi Hemant Panchpor alias Aadeshnath, Toronto, Canada.

    • Yogi Hemant,
      Thanks for sharing this information with us and others. Hope to hear more from you. 🙂

      • Yogi Hemant Panchpor alias Aadeshnath says:

        I am publishing on LinkedIn, you can pick and publish whatever you want. The reason for having knowledge is to share without any expectation as per Vedic science, whereas western way of life of marketing makes it necessary to pay.for knowledge beforehand. Gurudakshina on Gurupournima as per capacity of student is Vedic way. In the West, it is clear from the conditions of people ‘caring is better than selling’ from both social and mental health point of view. Society is changing slowly but surely. Vedic way is more satisfying than western marketing approach.

  7. Himalyan Yogi says:


    The correct meaning of Brahmacarya is “to remain attached to Brahma”. “Brahmańi vicarańam iti Brahmacaryam”. Whenever people do some work or think of doing any work extroversially, they look upon the object, with which they come in contact, as a crude finite entity. Because of their constant aspiration for material achievement their mind is so engrossed in material objects that their very consciousness becomes crude. The meaning of practising Brahmacarya Sádhaná is to treat the object with which one comes in contact as different expressions of Brahma and not as crude forms. By means of such an ideation, even though the mind wanders from one object to another, it does not get detached from Brahma because of the Cosmic feeling taken for each and every object. As a result of this Preya Sádhaná (extroversial approach) is converted into Shreya Sádhaná (introversial approach) and Káma into Prema. ([Preya means attraction towards crude material objects, while] Shreya means attraction towards the ultimate reality. Káma means desire for finite objects and Prema means desire for the Infinite).

    Many misinterpret Brahmacarya to mean preservation of semen. It should be remembered that neither the word Brahma nor the word carya has any relevance to the word “semen”. Moreover, even physiologically such a preservation of semen is a bluff. Either owing to the disease in certain glands or by the use of similar other processes, unless one becomes maimed, it is not possible to observe such Brahmacarya. It is certainly true that if the correct meaning of the word Brahmacarya is accepted (that is, to feel the Cosmic Entity in every material object), control in life becomes essential, but such control does not imply disobeying the laws of nature. Control means to abide by nature’s laws.

    The prevention of the discharge of semen by some special measures or prevention of its surplus formation by fasting is ordinarily termed as so-called Brahmacarya. For those who are not married, this so-called Brahmacarya (which is really not Brahmacarya) has some meaning, because it reduces the possibility of sexual excitement and thus prevents a discharge which may occur due to excitement while awake, asleep or dreaming. This is because when there is no formation of surplus semen, there is no physical desire to waste it. Further consideration will, however, show what this so-called Brahmacarya is worth. Are the prevention of formation of surplus semen and the loss of surplus semen not one and the same thing? All that can be said is that the first alternative is good for the unmarried and the second for the married.

    People who by different suppressive methods seek to prevent the discharge of semen, create a bad reaction on their body and mind. Their bodies become rough and lack in lustre. A suppression of the sexual desire results in other desires, especially anger, taking a more terrible form. In the olden times only the actual meaning of Brahmacarya was accepted. Later, when society was dominated by the intelligentsia, the so-called monks, who had taken to complete exploitation, thought that if ordinary citizens were allowed to pursue spiritual practices, they might lose the machinery of exploitation at any moment, of which they were so fond. If common people are inspired by spiritual ideals their rationality will grow and grow. The monks realized therefore that the people will have to be kept maimed and helpless. Fear and inferiority complex will have to be infused in people to exploit them. They found that such an exploited mass consisted of ordinary worldly people, most of whom were married. If, therefore, the loss of semen was anyhow declared as anti-religious, they would be able to gain their end without difficulty.

    And the result was promptly achieved. Ordinary worldly people began to think that they, by leading a married life, had committed a serious wrong, a heinous sin: they had indulged in activities against Brahmacarya. The monks observed celibacy and were, therefore, far superior. The so-called recluses took advantage of the situation and have, without difficulty, been exploiting the society.

    Whether these recluses in fact are naeśt́hika Brahmacáriis (those who do not waste semen at all) cannot be decided by arguments. This can be decided by medical test. But it can be said without doubts that many of the so-called monks will not pass this test.

    Marriage is a natural function like bath, food, sleep, etc. Therefore, there is nothing to be condemned in it, nor does it go against dharma. When a great man or an elevated sádhaka is not prohibited from taking food, etc., there is no reason why he or she should be debarred from marriage. But proper control is no doubt greatly needed, not only over food and sleep, but in every walk of life. The lack of such control causes disease. Food is essential for life, but absence of control over eating causes indigestion. A bath is refreshing, but in absence of control over bath, i.e., a long-continued bath, would make one catch cold. Similarly, marriage has its function but the absence of restraint in married life would cause various diseases in body and mind.

    Marriage is slightly different from other natural functions in life, such as eating, sleeping, etc. Marriage is not so essential for life as are food and sleep.

    The need for marriage differs with individuals. That is why in the opinion of Ananda Marga every individual has complete freedom in matters of marriage. For example, marriage of those persons who suffer from some physical or mental disease, or who are not financially well off, or whose present circumstances are not favourable for marriage (i.e., where marriage can cause unhappiness), is not desirable. Those who are constantly engaged in the fulfilment of an ideal, or those who have to spend the greater part of their day in earning their livelihood or some mental occupations, should not marry, because they will not find it possible to fulfil their family commitments properly. The marriages of such people are harmful to the society in many cases. Although marriage is not desirable for those who are suffering from some disease or whose circumstances are not favourable to getting married, there remains a possibility of their indulging in vices stealthily if they are not married. To avoid this, they should work for the attainment of some high ideals or do rigorous spiritual practices. The psychological degeneration which is inherent in the suppression of psychic tendencies can be avoided only by an effort to fulfil a lofty ideal.

    It has been said earlier, and it is being repeated, that one has to exercise control in every sphere of life, whether big or small. Such control does not imply killing the desire but controlling it. Desires and tendencies are natural attributes of a living being. Therefore, those who want to kill the desires should better adopt some easy method of committing suicide instead of pursuing any difficult method of spiritual practices. I do not find any reason to support the so-called Brahmacarya for those who are Shaeva, Shákta, Vaeśńava, or who believe in Puráńas, because their deities, Shiva, Viśńu, Krśńa and others, were what is commonly known as worldly people. In Puráńa the names of their wives and children are also mentioned.

    Dharma is based on Satya, “Dharma sah na yatra na satyamasti.” “Where there is no satya there is no dharma.” This peculiar interpretation of Brahmacarya may contain anything and everything save except satya. Hence there is no dharma or Brahma in it.

    Humanity has to progress towards the ultimate reality by accepting what is truth. That is the path of a sádhaka; that is the path of dharma. It may be a privilege to parasitic religious professionals to deny what is simple truth in practical life, but thereby the sanctity of dharma cannot be maintained. It is not the path of satya, it is nothing but hypocrisy.

    • Dear Himalayan Yogi,
      Thanks for explaining and telling us about Brahmacharya. Hope to hear more from you soon!

    • Yogi Hemant Panchpor alias Aadeshnath says:

      I am publishing on LinkedIn, you can pick and publish whatever you want. The reason for having knowledge is to share without any expectation as per Vedic science, whereas western way of life of marketing makes it necessary to pay.for knowledge beforehand. Gurudakshina on Gurupournima as per capacity of student is Vedic way. In the West, it is clear from the conditions of people ‘caring is better than selling’ from both social and mental health point of view. Society is changing slowly but surely. Vedic way is more satisfying than western marketing approach.
      Himalayan Yogi: My take is simple. Due relativity problem, even Einstein got confused. Satya is manipulated, half said, or even not said (e.g. Naro va kunjaro va) with respect to who decides ‘satya’. Britishers use same point of view in relation to Indians and took the place of Deciding Authority. Bengalies followed the suite by taking ‘First mover’s advantage’ learning from British. They shared secret and sacred cultural values to their advantage for ‘peanut’ material benefit and fame. Since then Indian society is continuously misled by rulers and advantage seekers.
      Spiritual benefits are individualistically offered at mental and physical level, as such, the show business does not help in spirituality, though it helps at marketing and misguiding masses as an authority level. As such, westerns are benefitting and Indians (show business type) are losers. As Krishna says one cannot understand spirituality by saying, explaining or hearing. And one who understands, for him/her, Vedas are useless as when there is water everywhere, the need of well or pond is very limited. Yogi Hemant Panchpor alias Aadeshnath,Toronto, Canada. PS: I am using wording of modern as well as Vedic science.

    • The problem arises when ‘satya’ or truth needed to be determined. In today’s pluralistic society, everybody manipulates truth to suit themselves. As such, due to relativity, the truth is distorted and completed changed by brainwash. As such, ‘satya’ is relative. The world is in the hands of Prakruti now, and not Purusha where ‘satya’ is one and that is ‘Brahma’. Till the society gets back in the hands of Purusha or soul, the problems will exist. However, the world is moving towards Purusha for sure.

  8. Jivasu says:

    To Yogi Adeshnathji and Himalaya Yogi:

    Thanks for your insightful and comprehensive comments. I agree with what you said because it covers the spectrum of possibilities and not confined to an ideological trap. As you must be aware that even great Adi Shankaracharya could not win the debate with Mandan Mishra unless he had gone through the experience of the sex. That was put forward by Ubhaya Bharathi, Mandan’s Mishra’s wife. And Shankarcharya has to experience it through the body of a king.

    With best wishes,

  9. Jivasu says:

    Thanks Aadeshnathji. I didn’t know you live in Toronto. I am in Hamilton. Hope to meet you sometimes.

    With best wishes,

  10. devi yogi says:

    I love your blog, read every article, you have done a fantastic job of explaining concepts very simply. I live and teach yoga in delhi and am thinking of visiting your centre/ashram at some point.

  11. Erik says:

    Celibacy does seem to give you more power and control over your attachments. Even though it is difficult to master. It is one of the strongest forces on this planet and we all need to address our relationship to it. Suppresion of sex is unhealthy, its much more healthy and balanced to have no attachment to it. This can really only be achieved through meditation, and asanas help tremendously as it trains you to bring the energy up rather than throw it away (if your male).

    Keep practicing meditation and all that is not serving you will dissolve away and all that is giving you energy will appear. Namaste

  12. Charan says:

    Celibacy means abstaining from sexual desires and leave sex life but after having sex how can one be celibate not fair.C celibacy means a serious rejection of sex to have a pure and healthy life to attain moksha.celibates like Lord hanuman,lord ayyapa are real celibates who has no lust