: ब्रह्मचर्य) is the first ashram in Vedic culture in which a person is dedicated to the quest for self realization.
Traditionally, such a life involved going to live with a spiritual teacher under whom the brahmacari (celibate) or chela (student) practised strict celibacy, a life of moral restraint, dedicated to learning all aspects of "Dharma" that is learning the "Principles of Justice and Righteousness" including personal responsibilities and duties towards himself, family, society and humanity at large which included the environment/earth/nature AND devotion to meditation. In the Hindu scheme of life brahmacharya starts around the age of five, when the chela starts his/her studies. In the sramanic traditions of Buddhism and Jainism (both of which stood outside normal social convention) brahmacarya was practised generally by those who had already reached adulthood.
The word brahmacharya
stems literally from two components:
- Brahma, the word for the absolute, eternal, never-born god-head.
- Acharya composed of char - "to go" and 'a' - "toward". Together this makes the word 'charya', which is often translated as activity, mode of behaviour, a 'virtuous' way of life. Acharya has meant in practice a teacher, spiritual guide, master etc and
So the word brahmacharya indicates a life lived in conformance with the deeper principles of realisation of Brahma-nature.
The term brahmacharya
has a number of uses.
One common usage denotes within the Vedic ashram system the particular phase that occupies the first 20 or 25 years of life. Ancient Hindu culture divides the human lifespan into 100 years. Brahmacharya is the stage when the young child leads a student life (ideally in the Gurukula, the household of the Guru). This stage of life is preceded by the child's Upanayanam, a ceremony in which the child is considered to take a second birth. Brahmacharya is the first of the four phases of human life, namely, Brahmacharya, Grihastha, Vanaprastha, and finally Sannyasa, prescribed by Manusmriti for the dvija castes in the Hindu system of life. The practice of brahmacharya requires, among other codes of conduct, that one be celibate.
The word brahmacharya is also used for the vow of celibacy a Hindu sannyasi, or renunciate, may take at any age after understanding that living for material or sensual pleasures will never bring the perfect happiness the soul desires. Thus one's life becomes centered on surrender to Guru and God, with the firm hope of God realization and the perfect divine happiness.
The word brahmacharya
is also understood broadly in yoga
as "sexual continence," which can be understood as being applicable as appropriate in different contexts (e.g. faith in marriage, celibacy for spiritual aspirants etc), in more extreme terms (complete celibacy full stop) or in more specific terms in relation to preserving and sublimating male sexual energy rather than losing it through ejaculation.
In yoga, the term brahmacharya tends to take on a connotation of disciplining the use of and preserving sexual energy. Brahmacharya is discussed in Patanjali's Yoga Sutras as one of the 5 Yamas, the foundational commitments for the practice of yoga. According to the Yoga Sutras, the end-result or fruit of Brahmacharya practised to perfection is unbounded energy or vitality.
Many yogic techniques, such as meditation and asanas (e.g. shirsasana) can help one to achieve Brahmacharya interpreted as celibacy or strict control of sexual desires.
Diet and brahmacharya
Brahmacharya is also observed to contain one's sensual desires for food and taste, as well as materialism
. Most brahmacharis prescribe to avoiding the consumption of meat, spices and cooked foods, said to cultivate the taste buds and pleasure senses of the mind. Gandhi
, one of the most known brahmacharis, besides being an adherent of simple living
, also devoted himself trying to create a (in his vision) perfect diet. The diet, later named the "Gandhi-diet" meant a diet which was environmentally acceptable, based on economical (low-cost) products and healthy (allowing the body to perform at its best capabilities; thus keeping digestion
in mind). The diet, on which he worked for 35 years, constantly re-evaluating and improving it for himself, consisted of:
- 1 litre of goat's milk
- 150 gm cereals
- 75 gm leafy vegetables
- 125 gm other vegetables
- 25 gm salad
- 40 gm ghee or butter
- and 40-50 gm jaggery or sugar.
Gandhi also kept his weight low, with a Body Mass Index of 17.7. Today, the Gandhi diet is again becoming more popular, and experts as Dr. P.P. Bose state the diet to be very healthy and to fit perfectly with the (USDA) food-pyramid.
, and Jain
monks take the vow for life, committing themselves to work of religious service and study. Mahatma Gandhi
, the great Indian political and spiritual leader had embraced the vow and lifestyle permanently at age 38.
Many brahmacharis have the final goal of nirvana, or moksha in mind when they pursue strictly disciplined lifestyles.
Other interpretations of brahmacharya
Brahmacharya can also be interpreted more generally in a variety of ways, such as:
- generally striving for excellence in all domains of activity and relationship
- pursuing 'virtue' however defined. Brahmacharya understood in this sense is similar to the classical Greek concept of arete (excellence)
- clearing underlying personality conflicts and centering oneself and ones spiritual journey in clear, well conceived and sustainable values (that is, thinking of Brahmacharya as an ongoing practice of 'clearing' analogous to resolving personality complexes and conflicts in psychotherapy)
- refining one's 'energies' (prana/chi/aura etc) in relation to other people generally, to become aware of more subtle energies and to take one's energies or 'vibration' higher
- Swami Narayanananda: The Way to Peace, Power and Long Life. N.U. Yoga Trust, Denmark, 2001 (1st ed. 1945)
- Swami Narayanananda: Brahmacharya, Its Necessity and Practice for Boys and Girls. N.U. Yoga Trust, Denmark, 2001 (1st ed. 1960)
- Stuart Sovatsky: "Eros, Consciousness and Kundalini: Tantric Celibacy and the Mysteries of Eros". Inner Traditions, Rochester, VT. (1999)