The Sanskrit word ‘Brahmacharya’ is made up of two components: 'Brahma’ means the absolute, eternal truth, ultimate reality, and supreme God and ‘Charya’ means to follow. So Brahmacharya is the virtuous way of lifestyle or behavior to achieve ultimate reality, eventually leading to healthy living. Brahmacharya is the ideal regulated activity (samyak yoga) of sense organs (jnanendriya), motor organs (karmendriya) and both (ubhayendriya) with respect to time (kala), objects (artha) and activities (karma) for the growth and protection of an individual. Brahmacharya is the moderation of senses, which makes it physical as well as mental identity. Brahmacharya is a prerequisite to a healthy life. The practice of brahmacharya will lead to attaining the highest level of knowledge and health during student life. Brahmacharya is one of the five codes of conduct (yama) presented in the classical ashtanga yoga by Patanjali, where it plays the same role as the roots of the tree. In Ayurveda samhitas, it is mentioned as one of the three subpillars (trayopstambha), which supports the three pillars (tridanda) for the protection of the life (ayu). Brahmacharya is said to be one way for the kundalini jagaran, to gain the ultimate knowledge. In contemporary science, brahmacharya is considered as “celibacy”, which merely means non-indulgence in sexual activity. Brahmacharya is not always abstinence from sexual activity (maithuna karma); but it means practicing sexual act in a disciplined manner, as mentioned in sciences (shastra).[Cha.Sa.Chikitsa Sthana 2/1] So, practicing brahmacharya means altogether avoiding sexual activity is a myth. It means one should have controlled the activities of indriya. Brahmacharya is restraint or control of the mind through ascetic means. This article describes various aspects of brahmacharya with its importance in the preservation of health.
|Section/Chapter/topic||Concepts / Brahmacharya|
|Authors||Bhojani M.K.1, Jain Rahul1|
1 Department of Kriya Sharira, A.I.I.A., New Delhi, India
2 Rheumatologist, Orlando, Florida, U.S.A.3 Department of Kayachikitsa, G.J.Patel Institute of Ayurvedic Studies and Research, New Vallabhvidya Nagar, Anand, Gujarat, India
|Correspondence firstname.lastname@example.org, email@example.com|
|Publisher||Charak Samhita Research, Training and Development Centre, I.T.R.A., Jamnagar, India|
|Date of first publication:||September 30, 2022|
Etymology and derivation
The word “brahmacharya” is made by combining two words, “Brahma” and “charya”. Brahma is derived from the root word “Bruhi-vruddhau” “Bruhati Vardhayati PrajaIti Brahma”. Bruhi means something which helps in the growth or development of the individual.[Amarakosha, Vaishya Varga 1/16] Charya is derived from the root word “Ir-Gatau”. Charya means to move or follow.[Amarakosha, Vaishya Varga 7/35]
Brahma means self, ultimate unchanging reality, absolute consciousness; Brahma is also the vedic God of creation, no different from the self or atman.
Charya means “occupation with, engaging, proceeding, behavior, conduct, to follow, moving in, and going after.
Definition and interpretations
- Brahmacharya is regulated control over the sensory motor organs (indriya) and mind (manas) for the growth or to attain the ultimate truth or knowledge (brahma jnana). [Cha.Sa.Sutra Sthana 11/35]
- The path followed to attain salvation (moksha) is brahmacharya. One such way is controlling the activities of motor organs (karmendriya) such as sexual organs (upastha) etc. [Cha.Sa.Sutra Sthana 8/6] [Smriti Grantha, Yoga 10] It is the best wholesome activity (pathya) to be followed to maintain the health. [Su.Sa.Sutra Sthana 2/6]
- The code of conduct which helps in maintaining the life span is Brahmacharya. [Cha.Sa.Sutra Sthana 8/29]
- Avoiding sexual acts physically, mentally, and verbally always under any circumstances is known as ‘Brahmacharya’. [Karma Puran, Yoga 10/26] Avoidance of the company of women physically, mentally, and verbally in general and avoiding sex even with one’s wife during her menstruation is called ‘Brahmacharya’. Also applying the mind to the thought of Brahma (God) is Brahmacharya. [Darshanaupanishada, Yoga 10/27] Memorizing a sexual partner (smarana), talking about each other’s qualities (kirtan), indulging in play (keli), looking with sexual urges (prekshan), speaking in a lonely place (guhyabhashana), thinking of a sexual action towards a woman/man actuated by sensuality (sankalpa), determining above the sexual action (adhyavasaya), and coitus or sexual intercourse (kriya) are the eight characteristics of copulation. Brahmacharya is avoiding all these eight activities. [Yadnya Valkya Smriti, Vaidyakiya Subhashit Sahityam] If one gives up brahmacharya, then even a man of knowledge (jnana) becomes a sinner. [Narada Purana, Yoga 10/25]
- By the practice of brahmacharya, one can attain and fulfil any kind of difficult aspirations. Practicing brahmacharya is as effective and equivalent to learning of four vedas. [Mahabharata, Vaidyakiya Subhashit Sahityam 21/7]
- Brahamcharya is the best of all self-mortification. A brahmachari of such spotless purity is not a human, but equivalent to a God indeed. Nothing is unattainable in this world to a brahmachari who conserves his semen with great efforts. One will become just like me by the power of self-control of the semen. [Lord Shiva] And those students who by self control become brahmchari and find the World of God, will find freedom everywhere.[Chhandogya Upnishad]
- Married life should be avoided by a wise man, as sensation arises from contact, thirst from the sensation, clinging from the thirst. A halt in this will leads to purity of soul. [Lord Buddha]
- In Shiva Samhita it is mentioned that one of the main cause of premature death is letting the semen out of body, so the Yogi must permanently preserve semen and lead a life of strict Brahmacharya. [Shiva Samhita]
Abrahmacharya word is made up of “a” prefix to the word “brahmacharya”. “A” means absence (abhava). It is also derived from “at-satatyagamane” which means that always follows along with you. The other derivation is “avarakshanadau” means complete protection. So abrahmacharya includes the activities that are followed for the full protection and growth of the individual.[Amarakosha, Vaishya Varga 4/12]
Abrahmacharya is described by Vagbhata in place of brahmacharya, having the same importance of maintaining the tripod of life (trayaupstambha). It is because Vagbhata gives more significance to duties in married life (grihastha ashram) to clarify debt of ancestors (pitrurina) by having progeny. For this purpose, abrahamcharya is required. However, it shall be in controlled way or under limitation/ rule of sex. It is restraining sexual organs in a disciplined manner (upasthaindriyasanyam) for the purpose of having progeny.[A.S.Sutra Sthana 9/27]
Naishthika brahmacharya is defined as the regulated activity of body (sharira), mind (manas) and speech (vak) in all the time and situations throughout life. It is meant for preservation of health (swasthya) and to achieve the main aim of life. It is regulated control over all the 11 indriya (jnanendriya- 5, karmaendriya- 5 and ubhayendriya- 1) by maintaining equilibrium to time (kala), objects (artha) and activities (karma).[Vaidyakiya Subhashit Sahityam 21/7]
Vaivahika brahmacharya is followed during married life (gruhastha) with all the disciplines for paying moral debt of ancestors (pitrurunamukti). The male above age of 25 years and females above age of 16 years can follow this.[Vaidyakiya Subhashit Sahityam 21/7]
Ashtanga brahmacharya is defined as the regulated activity of sense organs and mind when they come in contact with their objects. The person following brahmacharya will always aim or work towards the victory over sensory-motor organs (indriyajaya).[Vaidyakiya Subhashit Sahityam 21/7]
Brahmacharya in different perspectives
- Tripods of life (trayoupstambha): Brahmacharya is one among the three strong pillars with the ability to support life.[Amarakosha, Nanarta Varga 3/135] Proper food (ahara) and proper sleep (nidra) are the other two pillars. Brahmacharya includes all the activities which are beneficial (hita) for life. [A.H.Sutra Sthana 7/52]
- Part of life (ashramavyavastha): Ashrama is a system of stages of life discussed in Hindu texts of the ancient and medieval eras. The four ashramas are: Brahmacharya (student life), grihastha (householder or marriage life), vanaprastha (forest walker/ forest dweller life), and sanyasa (renunciate).
These four are integrated with the concept of four proper attainments of life (purushartha), namely, dharma (piety, morality, eternal duties), artha (wealth, health, means of life), kama (love, relationships, emotions), and moksha (liberation, freedom, self-realization). Each of the four ashramas of life is a form of personal and social environment, each stage with ethical guidelines, duties, and responsibilities for the individual and the society. Each ashrama stage places different levels of emphasis on the four reasonable goals of life, with various stages viewed as steps to attaining moksha.
Brahmacharya ashrama (student life) is till the age of 25 years. This stage focuses on learning. It includes the practice of restraining senses. The student residing at gurukula (an educational campus with hostel) with a guru (mentor) aims to acquire knowledge of science, philosophy, scriptures, and logic. The student practices self-discipline, works to earn dakshina (paybacks) to be paid, and learns to live a life of dharma (righteousness, moral, duties). Upanayana sanskara (induction ceremony for starting education) at the entry and samavartana samskara (convocation ceremony for ending education) at the exit of this ashrama are performed.[Shastri Pt. Kashinath, Chaturvedi Gorakh Nath commentary on Cha.Sa.Sutra Sthana 11/35]
- Yama (a part of yoga practices): Maharshi Patanjali’s Yoga darshana is one of the six darshanas of Indian philosophy. According to Yoga darshana, the eight practices of yoga are, Yama, Niyama, Asana, Pranayama, Pratyahara, Dharana, Dhyana, and Samadhi. Brahmacharya is one of the five practices of yama. Non-violence (ahimsa), non-stealing (asteya), preservation of one’s prowess (semen) by control over senses (brahmacharya) and non-deprivation (aparigraha) are five practices of yama. It is a great austerity or vow (mahavrata), which is of universal application and are not conditioned by any consideration of birth, place, past, present, future, or time. The goal of yoga is the highest goal for a human being. Therefore, one must prepare mentally for the same by imbibing and practicing these noble virtues intended to cleanse the mind. The Kurma Purana, while enumerating these five constituents of yama, emphasizes the fact that they bring about purity of mind. The Agni Purana gives a detailed description of what constitutes brahmacharya. It states that renunciation of sexual intercourse is brahmacharya. It has to be total and includes:
- Renouncing it mentally (smaranam)
- No mention of sex (kirtanam)
- No amorous sport (keli)
- No staring at women (prekshnam)
- No conversation in seclusion or secret (guhye-bhashnam)
- No thought of sex (sankalp)
- No attempt at sex (adhyevasaye)
- Physical non-indulgence in sex (kriya-nivriti)[Yoga 10/28]
Brahmacharya is fundamental to yoga practice; otherwise, all these efforts will fail.
- Rasayana therapy: In Hatha Yoga Pradipika, it has been quoted that there is a relationship between reproductive elements (shukra) and mind (manas). Both are interdependent, and one should try to conserve shukra to regulate manas. Brahmacharya helps in preservation of shukra dhatu, oja and regulation of mind. Eventually, brahmacharya gives benefits of rasayana therapy. In achararasayana, brahmacharya is included as it can produce rasayana benefits. [Cha.Sa.Chikitsa Sthana 1/31]
Practical methods and limitations
The guidelines given in scriptures to practice brahmacharya include following proper sexual activities at an appropriate time and frequency.
Code of conduct:
Brahma also means self, and charya means “occupation with, engaging, proceeding, behavior, conduct, to follow, moving in, and going after.” This can be translated as ideal activity, conduct, or behavior for individual growth and development.
Acharya Charaka at various places throughout the text has mentioned lifestyle guidelines or codes of conduct viz. Sadvritta [Cha.Sa.Sutra Sthana 8/17,33], Achararasayana [Cha.Sa.Chikitsa Sthana 1], Ritucharya [Cha.Sa.Sutra Sthana 6], Dinacharya [Cha.Sa.Sutra Sthana 5], mokshopaya [Cha.Sa.Sharira Sthana 1], dharaniya and adharaniyavega [Cha.Sa.Sutra Sthana 7], rules for the aspirants [Cha.Sa.Vimana Sthana 8] etc.
Brahmacharya and kundalini jagrana (awakening of spiritual energy):
Kundalini means spiritual energy that is coiled like a snake at the base of the spine, which is illustrated as three and half times coiled sleeping serpent. The traditional descriptions of Kundalini awakening state that kundalini resides in mooladhara in the form of a coiled snake. When this sleeping and coiled snake awakens, it shoots up through sushumna.
According to Hatha Yoga Pradipika, one who follows brahmacharya and always takes moderate diet and practices arousal of kundalini, achieves perfection in forty days.
According to Swami Vivekananda, power comes to him who observes unbroken brahmacharya for a period of twelve years. Complete continence gives great intellectual and spiritual strength. Controlled desire leads to the highest results and transforms sexual energy into spiritual energy. All learning can be mastered in very short interval of time by simply observing the strict brahmacharya. Further, he added, the Yogi alone has the Sushumna open. When this sushumna current opens and begins to rise, one gets beyond the sense, the minds become superconscious. One can get beyond even the intellect, where reasoning cannot reach. To open the sushumna is the prime object of the Yogi.
Sama Veda says that brahmacharis become friends of God. Brahmacharis also called Vasus, Rudras, and Adityas. Brahmachari for 24 years are called Vasus, for 36 years Rudras, and for 48 years Adityas.
Brahamacharya and diet
Diet plays a leading role in maintain the brahmacharya. Pure food brings in the purity of mind. The power that connects the body and the mind is present in the food we take. Consumption of rajasika food exites the reproductive organ at once. The Brahmachari must consume simple and restricted diet, which must be, non-stimulating, simple and non-irritating in nature. Moderation of food is essential. Stuffing the stomach is highly deleterious. Fruits are highly beneficial. One should take food only when hungry. Dietry restrictions and fasting are two very useful aids in controlling the mind and attaining brahmacharya. Fasting controls passion and destroys sexual excitement. It calms the emotions. It controls the indriyas also.
In contemporary views, brahmacharya is taken as ‘celibacy’, which merely means non-indulgence in sexual activity. However, this definition is insufficient to explain brahmacharya. Brahmacharya includes complete control over body and mind through ascetic means.
Sex life after marriage is accepted socially. Some people make sexual relationships outside marriage for the pleasure only, sometimes with more than one partner, this ultimately leads to consequences such as venereal diseases, AIDS, heartbroken by defrauded feelings, and many more psychosomatic diseases. It is scientifically proved that phosphorus, lecithin, cholesterol and other constituents of nervous and brain tissues are important constituents of the reproductive system as well. If we lose this valuable substances, it will result in the under-functioning of the nervous system and brain. If one follows brahmacharya, the same nutrients get used up in improving the mental powers. The nutrients that could have been lost in momentary sensations of lust, are available for creating new cells in brain and nervous system.
Applicability of brahmacharya
- Kundalini jagarana: By practicing brahmacharya, one can attain the stage of kundalini jagarana very easily.
- In conservation of energy: Traditionally, brahmacharya is meant to encourage those involved in yoga practice to conserve their sexual energy in favor of using that energy to further progress on the Yogic path.
- To attain knowledge and health: The practice of brahmacharya will always lead to attaining the highest levels of knowledge and health.
- Salvation (moksha): Brahmacharya plays a root role in attaining the salvation (moksha).
- As code of conduct: Another meaning of brahmacharya is the ideal code of conduct for self.
- Ashramavyavastha aims to focus on learning and following a code of conduct.
- With the practice of brahmacharya, longevity, glory, strength, vigor, knowledge, wealth, fame, virtues, and devotion to the truth increase. Brahmacharya is also important to control indriyas.
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