The question is small, but it requires a lengthy answer.
Brahmacharya is commonly understood as Celibacy which means non-indulgence in sexual activity. Brahmacharya is more than that.
It is the combination of two words: Brahman and Carya. The word Brahman is derived from the root ‘Brh‘ which means great or supreme; Carya is derived from the root ‘carati’ which means conduct. Hence Brahmacharya means ‘supreme conduct’.
Ancient Hindus divided the lifespan of men into four disciplines (ashrama): Brahmacharya (Student life), Grihastha (householder), Vanaprastha (retired life), and Sanyasa (renounced life).
Brahmacharya ashrama is the stage of life meant for education. This stage extends up to the age of twenty-four. The student typically goes to the place of Guru (Gurukul) for acquiring the knowledge of scriptures, philosophy, logic, and self-discipline. During this period, he should perform moral duties and practice celibacy, righteousness, and other ethical guidelines as prescribed by the scriptures.
The supreme duty of a student in Brahmacharya ashrama is celibacy. Because of the importance of Celibacy in Brahmacharya ashrama, both words are being used interchangeably. Later, the word Brahmacharya has been used to mean Celibacy.
Earlier, the word Brahmachari was used to denote a Bachelor. Now, it denotes a person who has taken a resolve to abstain from all sexual activities in deeds, thoughts, and words.
Darshana Upanishad 1.14 defines Brahmacharya as brahmabhāve manaścāraṃ brahmacaryaṃ parantapa. It means the constant application of the mind in the path of becoming Brahman is Brahmacharya.’
Shandilya Upanishad defines Brahmacharya as brahmacaryaṃ nāma sarvāvasthāsu manovākkāyakarmabhiḥ sarvatra maithunatyāgaḥ. It means ‘the abstinence from all forms of the bodily union by the mind, speech, and body.’
In the commentary of Chandogya Upanishad, Sri Sankara defines Brahmacharya as ‘the renunciation of desire for women‘.
After successfully completing Brahmacharya ashrama at the age of twenty-five, if one chooses not to proceed conventionally to the grihastha ashrama and opts for continuing the life of an ascetic for the attainment of liberation by maintaining celibacy and living with his Guru, he is said to be a Naishtika Brahmachari.
If he opts to choose grihastha ashrama after Brahmacharya ashrama, he is called Upakurvana Brahmachari. Upakurvana Brahmachari maintains celibacy until his studies are over and Naishtika Brahmachari maintains celibacy for the whole of his life.
A Naishtika Brahmachari should take resolve to maintain strict celibacy and should not give any room for carnal desires till his death. He should not even see women of age 10 to 50. He should undertake to live with his Guru until death. He should maintain extreme sense-control (Indirya Nigraha). All Sense organs namely eyes, ears, mouth, nose, and body should be kept away from sensual pleasures.
According to Vasista Smriti, he should hand over all his Bikhsha (food procured as alms) to his Guru and eats only what his Guru gives. He should never sleep on a cot. He should not use perfumes.
Naishtika Brahmachari is otherwise known as Askalita Brahmachari or Nitya Brahmachari. Skalitha means ‘that has slipped or escaped’. Askalita means ‘that has not been slipped or escaped’. A person who has not slipped in Brahmacharya is Askalita Brahmachari. It may be interpreted in yet another way; Askalita Brahmachari is one whose sexual fluid has not been slipped away from him.
It is not a surprising fact that Lord Sri Krishna was a Naishtika Brahmachari, though he kept himself in the company Gopikas. In their earlier birth, Gopikas were the devotees of the Lord. To fulfill their pious wishes of his devotees, the Lord allowed him to be loved and embraced. His love for them is pure and transcendental in nature. For Him, they are devotees and there is no question of any carnal desires in him. Lord Krishna has never attached himself in the ethereal body.
Take the example of Sri Hanuman who is a Nitya Brahmachari. His tremendous strength and intellect are attributed to Brahmacharya. If you have difficulty in believing this, take the case of Swami Vivekananda who was also a Brahmachari. His strength of memory and wisdom were just the result of Celibacy.
In India, there were hundreds and hundreds of Siddhas and Saints who practiced celibacy and excelled in spirituality. Invariably all religions of India prescribe celibacy as their moral code of conduct.
But modern science has yet to understand the glory of celibacy.
Brahmacharya helps the yogi to conserve the sexual energy and diverts it for spiritual development. It is the best instrument for spiritual progress. It boosts the practice of Pranayama and Yoga.
Take the life of any founder of Religion like Sri Buddha, Sri Mahavira, Sri Jesus Christ, Sri Adi Sankara, Sri Ramanuja and the like. They are all celibates. Understand their power of influence which is the outcome of the strength of Celibacy.
Mahatma Gandhi practiced Brahmacharya in his later part of life. His influence on people and others were due to the power of Brahmacharya. One could not ignore the influential power of speech delivered by Swami Vivekananda in the parliament of world religions.
At the physical level, energy is not wasted. It is conserved which improves health and immunity. It fills the body with Ojas which is a form of energy that gives focus and vitality. The vitality generated by means of Brahmacharya helps the yogi to reach the next level.
At the mental level, Brahmacharya improves focus and concentration. Other benefits include good memory, courage, and emotional stability. Negative mental tendencies like anger, passion, creed, worries, distractions, and irritability diminish and cease to exist. It improves confidence and will power. It generates internal peace and harmony. The intellect becomes sharper and more insightful.
The glory of Brahmacharya could not be expressed in words. It should be realized. The vitality and wisdom will increase million-fold.
Brahmacharya in Yoga
In Raja Yoga, Brahmacharya is one of the five-fold Yama. Yama is the code of conduct or Self-discipline to be cultivated as a pre-condition for the progress in the path of yoga.
Verse 2.38 of Yoga Sutra of Patanjali says, “brahmacharya pratiṣṭhāyāṁ vīrya-lābhaḥ.” It means, “by the mastery of Brahmacharya, vitality is gained.”
Swami Vivekananda when commenting the above verse says, “the chaste brain has tremendous energy, gigantic will power, without that there can be no mental strength. All men of gigantic brains are very continent. It gives wonderful control over mankind. Leaders of men have been very continent, and this is what gave them power. Therefore the yogi must be continent.”
Maharishi Vyasa while commenting on the same verse says, “On attaining continence, vitality is gained. By the attainment, the yogi raises to perfection. He attains irrepressible qualities or powers. On becoming perfected, the yogi is able to infuse wisdom to his disciples.”
Verse 1.64 of Hatha Yoga Pradapika says,
“tathā hi ghorakṣha-vachanam
prātaḥ-snānopavāsādi kāya-kleśa-vidhiṃ tathā“
It means, “it is stated by Gorakksha that one should keep himself away from evil-minded, fire, women, traveling, early morning bath, fasting, and bodily strain.”
Besides verses 2.88 to 91 state, “the yoga who protects the bindu (sexual fluid) overcomes death. His life is prolonged by its preservation. A pleasant smell is emitted by the body of the yogi who preserves bindu. For him, there is no fear of death until the bindu is established in his body. The bindu is under the control of the mind. Life depends on the bindu. Hence bindu and mind should be protected by all means.”
The type of Brahmacharya to be taken depends on the goal of the yogi. If liberation is the goal of the yogi, Naishtika Brahmacharya is more suitable. For lesser goals, less vigorous Brahmacharya or moderation is enough.
Samadhi happens only when the conserved sex energy is brought up to Sahasrara Chakra. In the case of sexual indulgence, precious energy is wasted. If the yogi conserves the energy, he can bring that up to higher centers. If the container has a big hole at the bottom, it can not be filled.
Brahmacharya is the concept of yoga that has been misunderstood by the modern world. Modern yoga is nothing more than postural yoga. It is confined to Asana or yoga poses, not even a full-fledged hatha yoga stream. Brahmacharya is not a pre-condition for them. At the same time without it, they could not advance beyond a certain point in the yogic path.
Approaches to yoga have become narrower. Earlier people pursued the path of yoga for spiritual progress and liberation. Now people approach yoga for health, fitness, mental peace or something like that. Hence Brahmacharya and other Yama are not relevant to modern yoga.
In ancient India, Brahmacharya was the precondition for the student of any discipline. It was not limited to the study or practice of yoga alone. Now the student life has changed drastically and the approaches to yoga too.
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