In one context, brahmacharya is the first of four ashrama (age-based stages) of a human life, with grihastha (householder), vanaprastha (forest dweller), and sannyasa (renunciation) being the other three asramas. The brahmacharya (bachelor student) stage of one's life, up to twenty-five years of age, was focused on education and included the practice of celibacy. In this context, it connotes chastity during the student stage of life for the purposes of learning from a guru (teacher), and during later stages of life for the purposes of attaining spiritual liberation (moksha).
In another context, brahmacharya is the virtue of celibacy when unmarried and fidelity when married. It represents a virtuous lifestyle that also includes simple living, meditation and other behaviors.
In the Hindu, Jain, and Buddhist monastic traditions, brahmacharya implies, among other things, the mandatory renunciation of sex and marriage. It is considered necessary for a monk's spiritual practice. Western notions of the religious life as practiced in monastic settings mirror these characteristics.
The word brahmacharya stems from two Sanskrit roots:
In ancient and medieval era Indian texts, the term brahmacharya is a concept with a more complex meaning indicating an overall lifestyle conducive to the pursuit of sacred knowledge and spiritual liberation.Brahmacharya is a means, not an end. It usually includes cleanliness, ahimsa, simple living, studies, meditation, and voluntary restraints on certain foods, intoxicants, and behaviors (including sexual behavior).
The Vedas discuss Brahmacharya, both in the context of lifestyle and stage of one's life. Rig Veda, for example, in Book 10 Chapter 136, mentions knowledge seekers as those with Kesin (long haired) and soil-colored clothes (yellow, orange, saffron) engaged in the affairs of Mananat (mind, meditation). Rigveda, however, refers to these people as Muni and Vati. The Atharva Veda, completed by about 1000 BC, has more explicit discussion of Brahmacharya, in Book XI Chapter 5. This Chapter of Atharva Veda describes Brahmacharya as that which leads to one's second birth (mind, Self-awareness), with Hymn 11.5.3 painting a symbolic picture that when a teacher accepts a Brahmachari, the student becomes his embryo.
The concept and practice of Brahmacarya is extensively found among the older strata of the Mukhya Upanishads in Hinduism. The 8th century BC text Chandogya Upanishad describes in Book 8, activities and lifestyle that is Brahmacharya:
Now what people call yajña (sacrifice) is really Brahmacharya, for only by means of Brahmacharya does the knower attain that world (of Brahman). And what people call Ishta (worship) is really Brahmacharya, for only worshipping by means of Brahmacarya does one attain the Atman (the liberated Self). Now, what people call the Sattrayana (sacrificial session) is really Brahmacharya, for only by means of Brahmacharya does one obtain one's salvation from Sat (Being). And what people call the Mauna (vow of silence) is really Brahmacharya for only through Brahmacharya does one understand the Atman and then meditate. Now, what people call a Anasakayana (vow of fasting) is really Brahmacharya, for this Atman never perishes which one attains by means of Brahmacharya. And what people call the Aranyayana (life of a hermit) is really Brahmacharya, for the world of Brahman belongs to those who by means of Brahmacharya attain the seas Ara and Nya in the world of Brahman. For them there is freedom in all the worlds.
A hymn in another early Upanishad, the Mundaka Upanishad in Book 3, Chapter 1 similarly states,
? ? ? ?Through continuous pursuit of Satya (truthfulness), Tapas (perseverance, austerity), Samyajñ?na (correct knowledge), and Brahmacharya, one attains Atman (the Self, soul).-- Mundaka Upanishad, III.1.5
The Vedas and early Upanishadic texts of Hinduism in their discussion of Brahmacharya, make no mention of the age of the student at the start of Brahmacharya, nor any restraint on sexual activity. One of the earliest discussion and contrasting viewpoints on sexual intercourse during Brahmacharya is in section 11.5.4 of Satpatha Brahamana. The verses 188.8.131.52 and 184.108.40.206 present two different viewpoints on sexual activity, one against and one as a choice. Similarly, in verse 220.127.116.11, the Satapatha Brahamana presents contrasting viewpoints on an eating restraint for the Brahmachari.
Historically brahmacarya referred to a stage of life (asrama) within the Vedic ashram system. Ancient Hindu culture divided the human lifespan into four stages: Brahmacharya, Grihastha, Vanaprastha and Sannyasa. Brahamacharya asrama occupied the first 20-25 years of life roughly corresponding to adolescence. Upon the child's Upanayanam, the young person would begin a life of study in the Gurukula (the household of the Guru) dedicated to learning all aspects of dharma that is the "principles of righteous living". Dharma comprised personal responsibilities towards himself, family, society, humanity and God which included the environment, earth and nature. This educational period started when the child was five to eight years old and lasted until the age of 14 to 20 years. During this stage of life, the traditional vedic sciences and various sastras were studied along with the religious texts contained within the Vedas and Upanishads. This stage of life was characterized by the practice of celibacy.
Naradaparivrajaka Upanishad suggests that Brahmacharya (student) stage of life should extend from the age a child is ready to receive teachings from a guru, and continue for a period of twelve years.
The graduation from Brahmacharya stage of life was marked by the Samavartanam ceremony. The graduate was then ready to either start Grihastha (householder) stage of life, or wait, or pursue a life of Sannyasa and solitude like Rishis in forest.Vyasa in Chapter 234 of Shanti Parva in the Mahabharata praises Brahmacharya as an important stage of life necessary for learning, then adds Grihastha stage as the root of society and important to an individual's success.
? |A youthful Kanya (, girl) who graduates from Brahmacharya, obtains a suitable husband.
Gonda states that there were no age restrictions for the start of Brahmacharya in ancient India. Not only young men, but older people resorted to student stage of life, and sought teachers who were authoritative in certain subjects. The Chandogya Upanishad, in Section 5.11, describes "wealthy and learned householders" becoming Brahmacharis (students) with Rishi Kaikeya, to gain knowledge about Atman (Soul, inner Self) and Brahman (Ultimate Reality).
Brahmacharya is traditionally regarded as one of the five yamas in Yoga, as declared in verse 2.30 of Patanjali's Yoga Sutras. It is a form of self-restraint regarded as a virtue, and an observance recommended depending on an individual's context. For a married practitioner it means marital fidelity (not cheating on one's spouse); for a single person it means celibacy. Sandilya Upanishad includes brahmacharya as one of ten yamas in Chapter 1, defining it as "refraining from sexual intercourse in all places and in all states in mind, speech or body".
Patanjali in verse 2.38 states that the virtue of brahmacharya leads to the profit of virya (). This Sanskrit word, virya, has been variously translated as virility and, by Vyasa, as strength and capacity. Vyasa explains that this virtue promotes other good qualities. Other ancient and medieval era texts of Hinduism describe the fruits of this virtue differently. For example, Pada Chandrika, Raja Marttanda, Sutrartha Bodhini, Mani Prabha and Yoga Sudhakara each state that brahmacharya must be understood as the voluntary restraint of power.Chandogya Upanishad in verses of chapter 8.5 extols brahmacharya as a sacrament and sacrifice which, once perfected, leads to realization of the soul or Self (Atman), and thereafter becomes the habit of experiencing the soul in others and everything. Tattva Vaisharadi and Yoga Sarasangraha assert that brahmacharya leads to and increase in jñana-shakti (power of knowledge) and kriya-shakti (power of action).
The great epic Mahabharata describes the objective of brahmacharya as knowledge of Brahman (Book Five, Udyoga Parva, the Book of Effort). Brahmacharya leads one to union with the Supreme Soul or Self (Chapter 43). By subduing desire, the practice of self-restraint enables the student to learn, pay attention in thought, word and deed to the guru (teacher), and discover the truth embodied in the Vedas and Upanishads. According to the epic, the practice of studying and learning requires the "aid of time," as well as personal effort, ability, discussion, and practice, all of which are helped by the virtue of brahmacharya. A brahmacharya should do useful work, and the earnings he obtains should be given away as dakshina ("fee," "gift of thanks") to the guru. The epic declares that brahmacharya is one of twelve virtues, an essential part of angas in yoga and the path of perfecting perseverance and the pursuit of knowledge.
Brahmacharya is one of the five major vows prescribed for the ?r?vak? (layman) and ascetics in Jainism. For those Jains who adopt the path of monks, celibacy in action, words and thoughts is expected. For lay Jains who are married, the virtue of brahmacharya requires remaining sexually faithful to one's chosen partner. For lay Jains who are unmarried, chaste living requires Jains to avoid sex before marriage.Uttam Brahmacharya (Supreme Celibacy) is one of the ten excellencies of a Digambara monk.Brahmacharya is mentioned as one of the das dharma (ten virtues) in ancient Jain texts like Tattvartha Sutra, Sarv?rthasiddhi and Pururthasiddhyup?ya.
Among Brahma Kumaris , Brahmacharya is practised by married couples and householders too, as a way of formalizing sexual behavior into a conscious, co-creative practice rather than merely an unconscious habit.
In ISKCON, a bhakti sect or devotional movement within Hinduism, a male devotee is called brahmachari and female devotee brahmacharini. The unmarried male brahmacharis wear saffron robes, while married male householders wear white robes. Brahmacharinis wear saris of any color. The terms brahmachari and brahmacharini are reserved for those practicing celibacy. Married devotees, in contrast, are called grihastha (householders).
Various Ashrams (, hermitage) and Matha (, college of ascetics) of various schools of Hinduism call their male and female initiates as Brahmachari and Brahmacharinis.
Among the sramanic traditions (Buddhism, Jainism, ?j?vika and Carvaka schools of Hinduism), brahmacharya is the term used for a self-imposed practice of celibacy generally considered a prerequisite for spiritual practice. The fourth of the five great vows of Jain monks, for example, is the vow of celibacy, which in this case means a total abstinence from the sensual pleasure of all five senses, including the avoidance of sexual thoughts and desires. The yogin who is firmly grounded in the virtue of brahmacharya is said to gain great vitality.
This article incorporates text from this source, which is in the public domain.
This article incorporates text from this source, which is in the public domain.