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Brahmacharya

by Swami Sivananda

"Brahmacharya or spotless chastity is the best of all penances; a celibate of such spotless chastity is not a human being, but a god indeed... To the celibate who conserves the semen with great efforts, what is there unattainable in this world? By the power of the composure of the semen, one will become just like Myself."

- Sri Sankaracharya

Introduction

Brahmacharya is a divine word. It is the sum and substance of Yoga. Brahmacharya is the Achara or conduct by which you attain or reach Brahman (God). It is life in the Absolute. It is movement towards God or the Atman (Self).

Brahmacharya is absolute freedom from sexual thoughts and desires. It is the vow of celibacy. It is control of all the senses in thought, word and deed.

Brahmacharya is not mere bachelorhood. There should be strict abstinence not merely from sexual intercourse but also from auto-erotic manifestations, from masturbation, from homosexual acts and from all perverse sexual practices. It must further involve a permanent abstention from indulgence in erotic imagination and voluptuous reverie.

In a narrow sense, Brahmacharya is celibacy. In a broad sense, it is absolute control of all the senses. The door of Nirvana (liberation) or perfection is complete Brahmacharya.

Celibacy is to a Yogi what electricity is to an electric bulb. Without celibacy no spiritual progress is possible. It is a potent weapon and shield to wage war against the internal evil forces of lust, anger and greed. It serves as a gateway for the bliss beyond, and opens the door of liberation. It contributes perennial joy and uninterrupted bliss. It is the only key to open the Sushumna (the chief among astral tubes in the human body running inside the spinal column) and awaken the Kundalini (the primordial cosmic energy located in the individual).

There cannot be any language without words. You cannot draw a picture without a canvas or a wall. You cannot write anything without paper. Even so, you cannot have health and spiritual life without celibacy.

An established celibate will not feel any difference in touching the opposite sex, a piece of paper, a block of wood, or a piece of stone. A true celibate only can cultivate Bhakti (devotion). A true celibate only can practice Yoga. A true celibate only can acquire jnana (wisdom).

Brahmacharya is meant both for men and women. Bhishma, Hanuman, Lakshmana, Jesus, Mirabai, Sulabha and Gargi were all celibates.

The Vital Energy

One of the students of Dhanvantari approached his teacher after finishing his full course of Ayurveda (the ancient Indian science of medicine) and asked: "O Bhagavan, kindly let me know the secret of health now."

Dhanvantari replied: "This seminal energy is verily the Atman. The secret of health lies in preservation of this vital force. He who wastes this vital and precious energy cannot have physical, mental, moral and spiritual development."

Veerya (seminal energy) is God in motion. Veerya is dynamic will. Veerya is soul-force. Veerya is the essence of life, thought, intelligence and consciousness. Always remember this.

The vital energy, Veerya which supports your life, which is the Prana (life-force) of Pranas, which shines in your sparkling eyes, which beams in your shining cheeks, is a great treasure to you. It is the quintessence of blood.

From food, chyle is manufactured; out of chyle comes blood; out of blood comes flesh; out of flesh comes fat; out of fat comes marrow; out of marrow comes semen. Semen is the last essence. It is the essence of essences.

Just as sugar pervades sugar-cane and butter pervades milk, so also semen pervades the whole body. It exists in a subtle form throughout the body. It is withdrawn and elaborated in a gross form in the sexual organs under the influence of the sexual will and sexual excitement.

Sexual Excitement and its Evil Consequences

When a man is excited by passion, the Prana is set in motion. The vital air or Prana moves the internal sap or semen. The semen is put into motion. It falls downwards, just as the clouds burst into the rain water; just as the fruits, flowers, and leaves of the tree drop down by the force of the blowing winds.

Note carefully the evil after-effects, once the Veerya is lost. Prana gets unsteady. It gets agitated.. The body and mind refuse to work energetically. There is physical and mental lethargy. Exhaustion and weakness are experienced. You have to take recourse to milk , fruits and other articles to make good the loss of energy. Remember, these articles can never, never repair loss. Bad memory, premature old age, impotence, various sorts of eye diseases and nervous diseases are attributable to the heavy loss of this vital fluid.

Those who have lost much of their semen become easily irritated. They lose their balance of mind quickly. Little things upset them. Those who have not observed the vow of celibacy become slaves of anger, laziness and fear. If you do not have your senses under control, you venture to do foolish actions which even children will not dare to do.

Man, with his boasted intellect, has to learn lessons from birds and animals. Even animals have more self-control than men. It is only the so-called man who has degraded himself much by indulgence. At the heat of sexual excitement, he repeats the same ignoble act again and again. He has not a bit of self-control. He is an absolute slave to passion. He is a puppet in the hands of passion. Like rabbits he procreates and brings forth countless children to swell up the number of beggars in the world. Lions, elephants, bulls and other powerful animals have better self-control than men. Lions cohabit only once in a year. After conception, the female animals will never allow the male animal to approach them till the young ones are weaned and they themselves become healthy and strong. Man only violates the laws of nature and consequently suffers from innumerable diseases. He has degenerated to a level far lower than that of animals in this respect.

Indulgence in the sexual act is exhausting to the female system and a drain upon their vitality as in the case of man. The nervous strain it imposes is very great indeed. The female system, being more delicate and high-strung, is often more affected than that of the male.

Need for Celibacy

What do we see these days? Boys and girls, men and women are drowned in the ocean of impure thoughts, lustful desires and little sensual pleasures. It is highly deplorable indeed. It is shocking to hear some of the stories of boys. Many college boys have come to me and personally narrated their pitiable lives. Their power of discrimination has been lost owing to sexual excitement and lustful intoxication. Why do you lose the energy that has taken many weeks and months to gain for the sake of a little, momentary sensual pleasure?

In olden days, boys of the Gurukula (ancient educational system of India) were healthy and strong. Today there is no real ethical culture in modern schools and colleges. The present system of education needs a drastic and radical change. Modern civilization has enfeebled our boys and girls. They lead an artificial life. Children beget children. There is racial degeneration. It is impossible to be strong and healthy unless males and females, boys and girls, try their level best to keep up Brahmacharya or the vow of celibacy.

Pure air, pure water, wholesome food, physical exercise, outdoor games like tennis - all contribute to the maintenance of good health, strength and a high standard of vigour and vitality. There are, indeed, many ways to gain health and strength. These ways are, doubtless, indispensable requisite. But, celibacy is the most important of all. It is the only specific that keeps up true manliness.

Benefits of the Practice of Celibacy

The practice of celibacy is not attended with any danger or disease, or undesirable results such as the various sorts of 'complex' wrongly attributed by the Western psychologists. They have no practical knowledge of the subject on hand. They have a wrong and ill-founded imagination that the ungratified sex-energy assumes the various forms of 'complex' such as touch-phobia. The complex is due to some other causes. It is a morbid state of mind due to excessive jealousy, hatred, anger, worry, and depression brought about by various causes.

On the contrary, even a little of self-restraint or a little practice of continence is an ideal 'pick-me-up'. It gives inner strength and peace of mind. It invigorates the mind and nerves. It helps to conserve physical and mental energy. It augments memory, will force, and brain power. It bestows tremendous strength, vigour, and vitality. It renovates the system or constitution, rebuilds the cells and tissues, energizes digestion, and gives power to face the difficulties in the daily battle of life. One who has perfect control over sexual energy attains power unobtainable by another means.

If a man leads a life of celibacy even in his householder's life and has copulation occasionally for the sake of progeny only, he can bring forth healthy, intelligent, strong, beautiful, self-sacrificing children. The ascetics and saviours of ancient India, when married, used to follow this excellent rule very carefully for this purpose, and also used to teach by example and practice how to lead a life of a Brahmachari even as a householder.

It is worth repeating that a true celibate possesses tremendous energy, a clear brain, gigantic will-power, bold understanding, retentive memory and good Vichara Sakti (power of enquiry). Swami Dayananda stopped the carriage of a Maharaja (great king). He broke the sword with his hands. This was due to his power of celibacy. All the spiritual leaders have been true celibates. Jesus, Sankara, Jnana Deva and Samarth Ramdas were all celibates.

The Importance of Right Diet

Diet plays a prominent part in keeping up celibacy. There are different compartments in the brain and each food produces its own effect on each compartment and of the general system. A confection of sparrow produces aphrodisiac effect. It directly stimulates the reproductive organs. Garlic, onions, meat, fish, and eggs stimulate passion.

Give proper attention to food. Have moderation in diet. Take Sattvic (pure) food such as milk, fruits, and wheat. Occasional fasting checks passion, calms the emotions, controls the Indriyas (senses), and helps in the practice of celibacy.

Theory and Practice

People talk of celibacy; but practical men are rare, indeed. A life of continence is really beset with difficulties.

It is easy to tame a tiger or a lion or an elephant. It is easy to play with a cobra. It is easy to walk over the fire. It is easy to uproot the Himalayas. It is easy to get victory in the battlefield. But, it is difficult to eradicate lust.

You need not despair even a bit, however. Have faith in God, in His Name and in His grace. You are bound to succeed if you have faith in Him. Mere human effort alone will not suffice. The divine grace is needed. Lust cannot be completely uprooted from the mind except by the grace of the Lord. God helps those who help themselves.

Lack of spiritual Sadhana is the main cause for all sexual attractions. Mere theoretical abstention from sensuality will not bring you good results. You must mercilessly cut off all formalities in social life and lead a pious life. Leniency to internal lower tendencies will land you in the region of suffering. Excuse will not be of use in this respect. You must be sincere in your purpose for the sublime life of spirituality. Half-heartedness will leave you in your old state of misery.

How to Get Established in Celibacy

Do not think of the opposite sex. Do not look at the opposite sex. Looking at the opposite sex will create desire to talk to them. Talking will create a desire to touch them. Eventually you will have an impure mind and will fall a victim. Therefore never look at the opposite sex. Never talk intimately with them. Do not be familiar with them.

The look must be perfectly chaste and pure. Lord Jesus says: "If you have a lustful look, you have already committed adultery in the heart." Lustful look, lustful thinking, wet-dreams are all failures or breaks in celibacy. Be chaste in your look. Be chaste in your talk. See mother in all women. Cultivate sublime, divine thoughts. Repeat the Lord's Name and meditate regularly. You will be established in celibacy.

There are four processes in the practice of celibacy. First control the sex-impulse and sex-Vasana (sex-desire). Then practice conservation of sex-energy. Shut out all holes through which energy leaks. Then divert the conserved energy into proper spiritual channels through Japa, Kirtan, selfless service, Pranayama (practice of breath-control), study, vigilance, self-analysis, introspection and Vichara. Then have conversion or sublimation of the sex-energy. Let it be converted into Ojas (spiritual energy) or Brahma-tejas (spiritual halo) through constant meditation or Brahma-Chintana (remembrance of God).

According to Yogic science, semen exists in a subtle form throughout the whole body. It is found in a subtle state in all the cells of the body. It is withdrawn and elaborated into a gross form in the sexual organ under the influence of the sexual will and sexual excitement. An Oordhvareta Yogi (one who has stored up the seminal energy in the brain after sublimating the same into spiritual energy) not only converts the semen into Ojas, but checks through his Yogic power, through purity in thought, word and deed, the very formation of semen by the secretory cells or testes or seeds. This is a great secret. Allopaths believe that even in an Oordhvareta Yogi, the formation of semen goes on incessantly and that the fluid is reabsorbed into the blood. This is a mistake. They do not understand the inner Yogic secrets and mysteries. They are in the dark. Their Drishti or vision is concerned with the gross things of the universe. The Yogi penetrates into the subtle hidden nature of things through Yogic Chaksu or the inner vision of wisdom. The Yogi gets control over the astral nature of semen and thereby prevents the formation of the very fluid itself.

Danger of Reaction

You will have to be very careful of reaction. The senses that are put under restraint for some months, or for one or two years, become rebellious if you are not always vigilant and careful. They revolt and drag you out when opportunities arise. Some people, who observe celibacy for one or two years, become more passionate and waste the energy considerably in the end. Some people become incorrigible, moral wrecks also.

You must not labour under the delusion that you have eradicated lust completely by adjusting the diet a bit, by practicing Pranayama, and by doing a little Japa, and that you have nothing more to do. Temptation may overcome you at any moment. Eternal vigilance and rigorous Sadhana are very essential.

You may be able to stop copulation for months and years, but there should not be any sexual craving or attraction for the opposite sex.

The state of mental celibacy 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.

You cannot attain perfect celibacy by limited effort. Just as a machine-gun is necessary to kill a powerful enemy, so also, constant, rigorous and powerful Sadhana is necessary to annihilate this powerful enemy, lust. You must not be puffed up with pride for your little achievement in celibacy. If you are put to test, you will hopelessly fail. You must be ever conscious of your shortcomings and you must constantly strive to get rid of them. The highest effort is necessary. Then you will have sanguine success in this direction.


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