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Towards Inner Harmony: Brahmcharya

Published: 03.06.2004
Updated: 02.07.2015

Acquirement of control over the senses has been the first and a very far-reaching principle of spiritual training. It is the first step and it goes very far. There are five sense organs-4e ear, the eye, the nose, the tongue and the skin. Hearing, sight, smell, taste and touch - these are the five sense-objects. In a sense, our life comprises only the life of the senses. Man derives pleasure from the senses and lives on.

One hears the sound, sees the form, smells the fragrance, relishes the taste and experiences contact. Apart from these, life does not seem to have any meaning. The question arises as to what is brahmcharya. There are many kinds of strange notions about it. Containment of the sense of touch alone has been accepted by some to be brahmcharya. However, brahmcharya in the true sense of the word, is not mere restraining of the sense of touch, but control over all the five senses, further combined with the containment of doubt, and control over memory and thinking. The disciplining of the mind and the senses constitutes brahmcharya. In another ancient and very comprehensive sense, brahmcharya means that which has acquired a foothold in Brahma, the eternal spirit - that is brahmcharya. Brahma also means 'knowledge; it means 'God', and it also means 'stay in a gurukul'. As a matter of fact, brahmchari or brahmcharya was initially related to 'staying in a gurukul. ' He who lived in a gurukul, or who followed the routine prevalent there, was a brahmchari, and his conduct and living constituted brahmcharya. A special conduct was prescribed for the residents of the gurukul - control of the senses and of the mind. However, our concept of brahmcharya is mostly confined to the restraining of the sense of touch. But how is one to exercise such restraint? All the senses are linked with one- another. It is not possible to exercise any control over one parti­cular sense in isolation, disregarding the other senses. If you have no control over the tongue, or over the eye, you cannot have any control over the sense of touch. Provocations come to us through the sense organs. Each relish has its source of stimulation. when the enduring and the fleeting emotions relating to a sense are all active, it is not possible to control that sense. And, as mentioned before, all the senses are related. The two among these - the tongue and the skin are deeply interlinked. There is a profound relationship between brahmcharya and the sense of taste, the pleasure derived there from. From the point of view of physical science, the sense of taste and the sense of touch are inter­connected rather intimately. If you can control the one, you also control the other. No extra effort is required. In the absence of any control over the tongue, over the pleasure derived from taste, all talk of acquiring control over the sense of touch is pointless. Non-violence is connected with the body, but it is not the demand of the body. Truth, non-theft, renunciation are all related to thought and the brain. But brahmcharya alone is related both to the body and the mind. It is a physical as well as a mental requisite. According to an older theory, the very discharge of the semen marks a negation of brahmcharya. According to this theory, the semen need not lapse; it is sublimated; and that is what makes a brahmchari - an upward movement of the semen, not downward. It does not seem to make much sense to me. In the course of time, the meaning of certain words changes beyond recognition, and there is danger in accepting the conventional meaning. We are in many ways highly conventional. We accept every tradition beyond question. We do not want to experience the truth for ourselves. The desire to probe the depths, to arrive at the root of things, is scarce.

From the physiological point of view there is no nerve or duct through which the semen may go up. From the complex of sexual glands there is no path leading upward for the semen to ascend. The word 'urdhavrata' implied one who could elevate the vital life force. The vital electric current of life can go up as well as go down. This electricity can inform the entire physical organism. However, as far as semen is concerned, there is no path leading upward. Originally, the word 'virya' (translated here as semen) meant force, power. The confounding of three different words (shukra, virya, and retus) into one connotation, that of semen, has caused much confusion. Actually, they have different connotations.

It is said that the falling of a drop (meaning the discharge of semen) is death and its accumulation the source of life. The Hindi word bindu (meaning a drop) came to mean semen itself, and thus created a great deal of confusion. If mere semen-discharge meant death, then no man would be alive today. It does not make sense. Actually by bindu was meant the vital life force, the electricity of vital power. When the vital electricity of the brain oozes out, it results in death because the fundamental basis of life is the brain and the live-electricity contained within it. All over the body, cells die and new cells come into being.

The brain is the only part of the body where the cells, once destroyed, cannot be recreated. The brain is the greatest factor in ensuring our security, the brain and the vital power in it. It is necessary to understand that with the birth of the sexual urge, the brain is greatly excited. This very excitement has in it an element of danger. The more tranquil the brain is, the more potent a man becomes, and the more agitated or excited the brain is, the weaker he grows. It is on this score that brahmcharya is violated. Some people get worried because of semen discharge. According to them, a man suffering a night emission is no brahmchari, which sounds very strange. Some people are greatly perplexed. And yet here there is nothing to worry about.

If the discharge of semen takes place on account of carnal passion or excitement, it is one thing-it should not occur too often­ - but the semen is naturally forced out if the glands containing it are too full - this is not something to worry about. Undue worry is a waste of energy. As to the question of becoming a brahmchari, it is difficult to be completely celibate. The common people fulfil their sexual urge and life goes on. But, there are some who want to control this urge, and are able to do it. The only problem is that of excess. Too much sexual indulgence can prove to be dangerous in so far as it destroys a man's powers.

Socrates was asked how often should a man indulge in sexual intercourse?

He said, "Once in a life-time."
"And if that much restraint is not possible?"
" Once a year.”
"And if that is also not possible?"
"Once a month."
"And if that is also not possible?"

"Then be prepared to die and do as you will."

This is an undeniable truth that too much of sexual indulgence can prove very dangerous. Some psychologists think that a completely celibate man is liable to go mad, utterly crazy. There is some truth in it. It is also true that sexual indulgence gives pleasure. There is no doubt about it. If a man forsakes a pleasure, suppresses some strong biological urge, there is naturally a reaction; a bewilderment, and sometimes one cannot stand it and goes mad. But if a man experiences a greater pleasure than the one he has forsaken, there is no madness; instead there is greater joy. The question of madness arises in a particular situation when a man abandons some present comfort without any prospect of a greater one. Draw a line. Let a longer line be drawn underneath and the former line would appear to be short. But if there is only one line, the question of its being long or short does not arise. If one can find a greater pleasure, the question of forsaking something becomes secondary; it is in fact no forsaking at all.

There are certain techniques of spiritual training, by following which, one comes to acquire a gratification which is even more powerful than the gratification of sex. In the process of dhyana, there is a practice called antar-yatra (the inner journey). When one is well-versed in the practice of antar-yatra, the sheer upward and downward movement of consciousness in the sushumna (the spinal cord) gives forth such ecstatic joy which, perhaps, is not to be found even in the sex-act.

Meditating upon the early morning sun on the darshan­kendra, awakens such bliss as is not to be found in mere sexual gratification. A thorough understanding of the scientific basis thereof would go a long way towards ensuring clarity of vision. Pleasure means: the fusion of the mind and electro-chemical impulses of the body. In fact, the experience of pleasure or pain is caused by a kind of electric current in union with the mind. The coalition of the mind with one kind of electric current gives pleasure, while its coalition with a different kind of electric current or chemical gives pain. The fusion with the mind is the important thing. If we can unite with the mind certain inner chemicals, certain electrical impulses within the body, it can yield extraordinary pleasure.

In the hind part of the head, in the cavity of the brain, two glands have been discovered side by side. Modem scientific analysis tells us that if one of these glands becomes active, even a most dreadful happening would leave a man unaffected, and he would never experience pain; whereas if the second gland becomes activated, even the most suitable conditions of life, glory, wealth, high gratification, will yield him no pleasure. We have a notion that pleasure or pain comes from outside. In fact, however, the feeling of pleasure or pain comes from inside. The material object makes no difference whatever. Of course it is possible to experience pleasure and pain even with material objects. But this experience is possible only when particular kinds of vibrations and sensations are produced in the body and the electric current thereof united with the mind. This is the way in which our sensibility functions. If we exercise restraint or control, it is usually with respect to the material objects; rather we should control our sensations. In fact, to understand the secret of sensation, is to understand brahmcharya. He who cannot comprehend sensation will not be able to understand brahmcharya as well. His mind will wander around material objects, will for ever be involved with them. It is true that a material object can also become the medium of awakening a particular sensation; but in itself it can never cause pleasure or pain.

The secretion of sexual hormones takes place in all bodies. Its downward flow in early years is, however, withheld by the pineal gland. As a body reaches the age of 12-13, the pineal gets gradually inactivated, and the sexual hormones, the hormones of excitement, start descending. The descent of sexual hormones to the gonad, thereby activating the latter - this is abrahmcharya, a denial of celibacy. That the hormones descend to the gonad, affecting the sexual gland and rousing sexual desire, is a purely physical process. He who has learnt to meditate upon the darshan or the jyoti kendra and thereby learnt to control the flow of the sexual hormones, will experience a great transformation.

There are many kinds of dispositions. There is a disposi­tion where the carnal desire dare not awaken. But this relates to a stage far ahead. There is a mentality in which the carnal desire awakens but does not torment; another mental state in which it is roused and torments continually.

Too much sex', ‘moderate sex' and ‘no-sex' are three different states. For a householder 'no-sex' is out of the question. He is no monk who has completely abjured sex. The other two states remain. In one he enjoys sex, in the other he is the victim of sexual desire, it torments him continually. That he should be able to exercise control so as not to be tormented, is eminently desirable for every man. He should control instead of being controlled by sexual desire. The whole secret of spiritual training lies in this that we do not allow passions to sway us; it is not they who master us, rather it is we who master them. We should be able to control our passions, we should be able to dominate them. That's all. And you need not unnecessarily involve yourself with the results of total freedom from passions or affections, of complete absence of sex. You need not wonder as to how the world will go on then, how life continue on this planet. That all should become brahmcharis is too highly imagina­tive a proposition. This is not possible right now. Even great monks have found it difficult to exercise complete abnegation. You need not bother about it at all. You should only concern yourself with the fact that sensuality is a deep-rooted instinct, and if you are able to exercise even a little control over it, it should be more than enough for your purpose. Control over sexual desire can be achieved in two ways, (i) through violent suppression or (ii) through sublimation. Suppression produces more reaction, and the question of madness arises only when a man tries to control desire forcibly, holds it down by sheer might and continues indulging in constant suppression. There is inevitably a reaction, giving rise to excitement and conflict. And a kind of madness seizes such a man. If not wholly mad, he becomes half-mad at least.

Many unmarried people display this kind of disintegration, which is obviously the result of too much suppression. But the kind of control we are talking about is not brought about by force, rather through the sublimation of desire.

The sexual instinct is so enlarged, made so very comprehensive through practical work on oneself that the question of it tormenting one just does not arise. No suppression is involved;

no forcible restraint, but a process by which the secretion of hormones is lessened and their effect greatly reduced. All this is possible through spiritual training, and here the meditation upon different psychic centres is extremely helpful. For people afflicted with too much excitation, excessive passion and immoderate sexual desire, meditation upon the psychic centres is even more beneficial. All these emotions are roused around the navel. The sexual impulse rises in the gonad, and all excitation­ near the adrenal; it is the excessive secretions from these glands that cause the problem. Otherwise, what is desirable and necessary, happens of itself and one's attention is free to concentrate upon other things. However, we often find a man caught in such a morbid state, in the grip of such uncontrollable passion that he becomes impervious to everything else. Many people go crazy. Thwarted of a union with a particular person, they commit suicide. It is difficult to tell how many young men and women destroy themselves thus, or how many other crimes and problems sexual frustration breeds, the main cause being people' s lack of ability to control sexual desire. What is required is to let water into the tank according to its capacity. One should be in a position to cut off the flow of water at any time. The dam can hold a certain quantity of water; excess water would pose a danger. Only that much sex for a man which may fulfil itself without causing him any mental or psychological harm.

Those who have not considered these aspects of brahmcharya from the physiological, mental and spiritual angle, as well as from the sociological point of view, are liable to entertain a great many false notions about it. From the physical point of view, the psychological doctrine that sexual indulgence is absolutely necessary for the maintenance of physical health, is greatly misleading. In fact, people who observe brahmcharya, enjoy very good health. But this is a moot point. We cannot afford to neglect the mental aspect. For, physically speaking a man may not be indulging in sexual intercourse, but his mind may be fully preoccupied with it. In that case, madness would assail him and he would experience lots of difficulties. If you would learn to master your body, you will have to acquire control over the mind first; and in order to acquire control over the mind, you will have to learn spiritual control, as to how to moderate the inner secretions and chemicals, and how to maintain a balance of electrical energy throughout the body. You will have to undergo this spiritual training.

Some people believe that a brahmchari's body must needs be very luminous and strong. This too is an illusion, a great error. A glowing face would belong to a man whose blood-formation is good. We went into it and found that the man who eats and drinks well, has a good digestion, whose blood-formation is good, his face would be luminous. We have come across individuals who are steeped in sensuality, but their faces are so brilliant as if blood were flowing there from. Further explora­tion revealed the truth of what has been said of a brahmchari in ancient literature - that he is ‘a live fire covered with ashes' ­there is the inward flame but outwardly it is all ashen. Because in the course of spiritual perfection, he has so disciplined his body through penance that the flesh has gone quite dry - from the outside it appears to be rough, but a flame is burning inside. A casual reading of the maxims of holy men revealed what Kabir says of a brahmchari: "Nothing is visible outwardly, but a light is burning inside." A heaped glow, a massed splendour! In the words of Acharya Bikshu: "He who is an ascetic will not have much flesh or blood. The poor fellow is quite emaciated. The very first characteristic of a yogi is: leanness."

Dharam Chand narrated a reminiscence of his. He met a yogi in Calcutta and presented him with some of my books on yoga. The yogi read casually from here and there, and was arrested by certain things said in the books. He asked, "Whatever is written in these books is the language of experience or is it all merely theoretical?" Dharam Chand answered, "It is the language of experience." Then the yogi asked, "How about the body of the writer? Is it lean or full of flesh?" He answered, "Very lean." The yogi then observed, "It's all right, I understand."

Through brahmcharya, you obtain the power of tolerance, the keenness of intellect or the capacity to probe the subtle truth.

A brahmchari is endowed with such fortitude that he will endure everything without the least impatience. While defining a resolute person, a poet says, "That man alone is firm whose mind is not perverted or disordered in the very midst of perversion and disorder. This is fortitude, indeed." Through brahmcharya is fortitude developed; also will-power. People are surprised that Gandhi's body was a mere skeleton - so lean, so thin, not very handsome, the face not luminous, and yet possessed of such resolution as not to be afraid of the greatest power on earth. Whenever there was a question of dying he stood in the forefront, never fearing that he might be killed. Brahmcharya yields us self-confidence and courage. Such is the subtle power of brahmcharya. Through it inner faculties are awakened. It is not so much related to the body, at least not deeply. It is true that the nervous system of a brahmchari will not be weak; on the contrary, his nerves will be strong and he will be possessed of great intellectual power. He will be hugely active. However, brahm­charya is much more concerned with the development of inner powers than that of physical powers.

Brahmcharya implies control over all the senses, and control over the mind. He who wants to control the reproductive organ, will have to pay a great deal of attention to control the tongue. That is why the pelvis in preksha dhyana is known as swasthya kendra, the centre of health. A man will enjoy mental and emotional health in so far as his swasthya kendra is well regulated and under control, i.e., properly trained. To exercise control over the tongue, to keep it steady, to observe silence- all these contribute towards mental and emotional health.

Brahmcharya has three states:

  1. complete brahmcharya
  2. limited brahmcharya
  3. abrahmcharya, i.e., absence of brahmcharya or undisciplined or disorderly brahmcharya

These are the three ways; one of them, the last, not to be touched even with a pair of tongs. Licentiousness is simply out of the question. Only two ways remain, and whichever way one adopts depends upon one' s own strength. lf one could practise complete brahmcharya - that is the best. But if one does not feel strong enough to undertake complete brahmcharya, one could explore the possibilities of limited brahmcharya. In the language of anuvrat it may be expressed by the phrase - "Contentment with one's wife." No going to the prostitutes, no adultery, no virgin violation - a total abjuration of all these. This is the mark of limited brahmcharya.

When our vision is clear and when we consider the matter from the point of view of health - physical, mental and spiritual - it is certainly possible to choose one of these two ways. The third way, as we said, is simply out of the question; it is completely forbidden.

Such are the problems connected with sex that we have briefly discussed. And this discussion is necessary too. Because in today's environment, the situation is becoming more and more impossible, particularly in the case of young boys and girls; in the case of children, too. Because in this matter they have no knowledge whatsoever, no guidance, no training. Occasionally there is the talk of training sex education, but even there we find unconscious resistance. But sex is too important a matter to be avoided, lest our children fall into bad habits, unable to face the many natural and unnatural situations in which they find themselves. He who resorts to the unnatural practice of mastur­bation, is certainly moving in the direction of madness and cipherdom, of complete non-existence. His powers lapse. His nerves grow weak. He can control himself no longer. If at the very beginning, the children are alerted against this danger, good results will follow. There is no harm in discussing sex, in understanding the truth about it. On the contrary, it is some­thing good. But people look upon sex as something immodest, not to be talked about! What is immodest in it after all? To be properly informed about sex is in the interest of the children; it is for their good. On the other hand, absence of right knowledge can cause real harm. We must consider this question in all its manifold aspects, and such a discussion is bound to prove extremely beneficial.


Published by: Kuldeep Jain for "HEALTH & HARMONY" An imprint of: Jain Pubilishers (P) Ltd, New Delhi

Reprint 2006

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Some texts contain  footnotes  and  glossary  entries. To distinguish between them, the links have different colors.
  1. Acharya
  2. Acharya Bikshu
  3. Anuvrat
  4. Body
  5. Brahma
  6. Brahmcharya
  7. Brain
  8. Calcutta
  9. Celibacy
  10. Centre of Health
  11. Consciousness
  12. Darshan
  13. Dhyana
  14. Environment
  15. Gonad
  16. Gurukul
  17. Jyoti Kendra
  18. Kendra
  19. Meditation
  20. Non-violence
  21. Pineal Gland
  22. Preksha
  23. Preksha Dhyana
  24. Psychic Centres
  25. Science
  26. Socrates
  27. Sushumna
  28. Swasthya Kendra
  29. Tolerance
  30. Virya
  31. Yoga
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