Brahmacharya: Wikis

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Brahmacharya (pronounced [brʌmatʃərɪə], Devanagari: ब्रह्मचर्य) whose literal meaning is under the tutelage of Brahma refers to a period of spiritual education in the traditional scheme of life in Hinduism that takes place during the teenage years. This period of time in which the student becomes inculcated in the mystical doctrine contained within the Upanishads is characterised above all else by the practice of strict celibacy. As such, in non-Hindu traditions (see nastika) Brahmacharya denotes a mode of life devoted to spiritual endeavour in which sexual continence is the guiding factor. A Brahmachari therefore is a male who observes non-ejaculation unless intentionally procreating. A Brahmacharini is a female who observes sexual abstinence when fertile unless intentionally procreating. These characteristics correspond to Western notions of the religious life as practised in monastic settings.

Contents

Derivation

The word brahmacharya stems literally from two components:

  1. Brahma, the deity representing the creative force (as part of the trinity of Hindu deities of Brahama as creation, Vishnu as preservation and Shiva as destruction). The word Brahma needs to be distinguished from Brahman, the absolute, eternal, never-born godhead.
  2. charya, which means "to be followed". This is often translated as activity, mode of behaviour, a "virtuous" way of life.

So the word brahmacharya indicates a life lived in conformance with the creative aspects of ultimate reality or "god".

Usage

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.

Traditionally, such a life involved going to live with a spiritual teacher under whom the brahmachari (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 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.

Yoga

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) 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, which are 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 and nonresistance, also devoted himself to creating what he believed to be a 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 ] [2] :

  • 1 litre of goat's or cow's milk
  • 170 g cereals
  • 85 g leafy vegetables
  • 140 g other vegetables
  • 30 g raw vegetables
  • 40 g ghee
  • 60 g butter
  • and 40 g jaggery or sugar
  • fruits according to one's taste and purse
  • 2 sour limes (juice taken with vegetables or in water, cold or hot)
  • salt according to taste

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 [1 ] state the diet to be very healthy and to fit perfectly with the (USDA) food-pyramid.[3]

The effect of certain food components in stimulating sexual desire may be attributed to their role in sex hormone synthesis. Certain foods such as garlic and onion are empirically known to induce sexual desire. Whole milk and milk products derived from cream (butter, ghee and cheese) are also known to stimulate sexual desire, despite being part of the Ghandi diet.

Modern brahmacharis

Most Hindu, Buddhist, 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.

Swami Vivekananda attributed his success and magnificient personality to his perfect observance of brahmacharya. [4]

Many brahmacharis have the final goal of nirvana, or moksha in mind when they pursue strictly disciplined lifestyles.

Some practical suggestions for brahmacharya

People who engaged in sexual pleasures in their past will find it very difficult or almost impossible to observe continence in the beginning, regardless of their sincerity. They may find the following helpful:

  1. Strict adherence to diet control: Sexual desires are stimulated by hormones. One need to control them through diet at the beginning, if not he/she will most likely fail in brahmacharya in the present environment.
  2. Avoiding sexual thoughts: Sexual thoughts have the same effect as sexual acts. Therefore, they should be avoided altogether. One should identify all the sources which cause sexual thoughts (such as certain television programs, movies, newpapers or magazines, certain types of music, certain web sites, wrong friends and being close with a person of the opposite sex) and avoid them.
  3. Correct attitude: A common problem for beginners is that they become nervous about any sexual thoughts and begin to worry about them all the time. When a person worries about something he/she shouldn't think about, he/she ends up thinking about it all the time. Therefore, one should avoid worrying about sexual thoughts and when they arise, should simply ignore them and put the mind on something else which is useful (such as studies, helping others, sports, work , harmless entertainments,etc). Succeeding in brahmacharya needs a lot of patience as it takes many years to become established in brahmacharya. When a person practices brahmacharya over many years, changes take place in his/her body and he/she becomes less sensitive to sexual excitement. Things or images which would sexually excite an average person will not excite them.
  4. Conciousness of the bad consequences of sexual indulgence: One should be mindful of the bad effects of sexual pleasures such as loss of relationships, poor memory, tiredness, weakness, irritability, lack of good feelings, etc.
  5. Avoidance of emotional music: Music which causes a person to become emotional (whether it be devotional or not) can result in the later arousal of lust in that person if he/she is not established in brahmacharya. Such music should be avoided in the beginning.
  6. Increasing the will power: Activities which increase the will power such as unselfish service, hard work and strengthening the body (sports, excercise, etc) will help resist giving in to lust.

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 Vivekananda on Brahmacharya

[4]

  1. "That power comes to him who observes unbroken Brahmacharya for a period of twelve years, with the sole object of realising God I have practiced that kind of Brahmacharya myself, and so a screen has been removed, as it were, from my brain."
  2. "The chaste brain has tremendous energy and gigantic will power. Without chastity there can be no spiritual strength. Continence gives wonderful control over mankind.The spiritual leaders of men have been very continent and this is what gave them power."
  3. "Every boy should be trained to practice absolute Brahmacharya and then, and then alone faith and Shraddha will come. Chastity in thought, word and deed always and in all conditions is what is called Brahmacharya. Unchaste imagination is as bad as unchaste action. The Brahmacharin must be pure in thought, word and deed."
  4. "In order to attain to ideal Brahmacharya one has in the beginning to observe strict rules regarding chastity. For minimum 12 years, one should keep oneself strictly aloof from the least association with the opposite sex as far as possible. When spiritual aspirants are established in the ideal of Sannyasa and brahmacharya, they will be able to mix on an equal footing with worldly men without any harm. But in the beginning 12 years, if they do not keep themself within the barriers of strict rules, they will all go wrong."
  5. "Brahmacharya should be like a burning fire within the veins!"
  6. "Obedience to the Guru without questioning, and strict observance of Brahmacharya — this is the secret of success."

See also

Notes

References

  • 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)

External links

http://hariomgroup.net/hariombooks/satsang/English/TheSecretOfEternalYouth.htm#_Toc187499136

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Wiktionary

Up to date as of January 15, 2010

Definition from Wiktionary, a free dictionary

Contents

English

Etymology

From Sanskrit ब्रह्मचर्य (brahma-cárya).

Proper noun

Singular
Brahmacharya

Plural
-

Brahmacharya

  1. The first ashram in Vedic culture in which a person is dedicated to the quest for self-realization.

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