Devanagari: 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 Hinduscheme of life brahmacharya starts around the age of five, when the chelastarts his/her studies. In the sramanic traditions of Buddhismand 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 systemthe particular phase that occupies the first 20 or 25 years of life. Ancient Hinduculture 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 Manusmritifor the dvijacastes in the Hindusystem 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
celibacya 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
yogaas "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
meditationand 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 livingand nonresistance, 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 digestionin 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
* and 40-50 gm
jaggeryor sugar. [ [http://www.lifepositive.com/body/holistic-recipes/recipes/gandhian-diet.asp Ghandi diet make-up and info] ]
Gandhi also kept his weight low, with a
Body Mass Indexof 17.7. Today, the Gandhi diet is again becoming more popular, and experts as Dr. P.P. Bose [ [http://www.lifepositive.com/body/holistic-recipes/recipes/gandhian-diet.asp Ghandi diet make-up and info] ] state the diet to be very healthy and to fit perfectly with the (USDA) food-pyramid. [ [http://www.lifepositive.com/spirit/masters/mahatma-gandhi/diet.asp Gandhi diet very healthy] ]
Hindu, Buddhist, and Jainmonks 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 mokshain 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
* 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
Yoga Sutras of Patanjali
*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)
* [http://www.hariomgroup.org/yuvadhan Yuvadhan Book on Brahmcharya] by Sant Shri Asaramji Bapu
* [http://www.atmajyoti.org/sw_brahmacharya_page.asp Articles on Brahmacharya] by Swamis Sivananda, Chidananda, and Krishnananda
* [http://www.hinduism.co.za/celibacy.htm Celibacy] - Useful notes on different aspects of brahmacarya
* [http://wiki.gaudiyakutir.com/Brahmacarya Brahmacarya in Hindu scriptures and tradition]
* Interviews with Swami Chidananda: [http://www.sivanandadlshq.org/download/celibacy.htm The Role of Celibacy in the Spiritual Life]
* "Practice of Brahmacharya" by
Swami Sivananda- [http://www.sivanandaonline.org/graphics/ebooks/swami_sivanandaji/downnload/practice_brahmacharya.html html] , [http://www.sivanandaonline.org/graphics/ebooks/swami_sivanandaji/downnload/practice_brahmacharya.pdf pdf]
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