Dharma Night discusses the Yama Brahmacharya this Friday, April 18 at 7:30pm. All welcome!
The practice of Brahmacharya essentially can be translated as the wise use of energy, especially sexual energy. “Brahma” in Sanskrit can mean divine knowledge, universal consciousness or reality, and the root of the word “Brh” means to expand. “Acharya” is translated as to move, practice, conduct oneself, or routine. So Brahmacharya could be deciphered as conducting oneself in alignment with Brahma the divine knowledge and universal reality. This conduct requires the observation of how we deal with energies in the body, including sexual energy.
Often Brahmacharya is interpreted as celibacy, chastity and the general restraint of sexual energy. The theory of this restraint is all energy from procreation or sex be channeled towards spiritual energy (ojus) and spiritual advancement. I am glad to know that even in ancient time the sage Patanjali contemplated how powerful sexual energy is and included it in the 5 yamas of moral observations. The idea that in order to practice yoga one must be celibate in order to reach deeper states of yoga is redundant. Many great yogis were householders including the sage Vasista who had 100 children (in myth). Both T. Krishnamacharya and B.K.S. Iyengar raised families while simultaneously contributing to the teaching and advancement of modern day yoga. In fact Indian mythology is rich with stories of sexual union including the eternal dance of Shiva and Shakti procreating the universe. Working with sexual energy skillfully is crucial to ensure our efforts still flow freely towards our passions, goals, and gifts to society. Our yoga practice and our life cannot be separate but must be intimate. It is the wise use and observation of powerful sexual energies that assures we stay in alignment with Brahma. Sex and procreation are natural part of the world in which we live. Understanding our relationship to these energies allows decision making to encourage balance between body, mind, soul and the environment.
B.K.S. Iyengar is his interpretation of Patanjali’s Yoga Sutras gives insight into the practice of Brahmacharya:
“Continence or control in no way belies or contradicts the enjoyment of pleasure. Assuredly it enhances it. It is when sensory pleasure is the sole motivating factor the brahmacharya is infringed.”
Yoga is rooted in the goal of settling the fluctuations and elaborations of the mind and the practice involves observing through self-study the energies and tendencies that distract us from this universal reality (brahma). If we fulfill every desire of the mind and senses we develop ignorance towards living in non-attachment. We could become caught up in satisfying our desires in pursuit of pleasure whether sexual or not. When chasing our desire for the sake of hedonism, we often do not experience the full pleasure and joy of intimacy as we are already craving yet another next desire. Being aware and conscious of the present moment allows union with every aspect of our lives and unveils much joy. Intimate relations that bring a wholesome loving connection to another are far different than living a promiscuous life moving from partner to partner seeking only to satisfy your desires through the sensation of sex. There is an existing confusion of how to deal with sexual energy skillfully.
Modern media seems to encourage our pursuit of desire in advertisements portraying half naked models and living promiscuously. Even celebrities add to the sexual misconduct as it not uncommon to see a 17-year-old “twerking” her butt to a 100 million viewers. This creates a misconception around what wholesome conduct of sexual energy is. Promoting the gratification or our senses and desire only leads us astray on the path of yoga.
At the same time as being flagrantly touted, sexual energies have also been repressed in contemporary society. In religion, schools, and life in general there is a negativity surrounding the subject of sex. Dealing appropriately with sexual energies is rarely addressed. It seems strange as the natural act of procreation actually manifested everyone here. Sex is a natural part of our existence. It is normal to feel all sorts of energies or emotions and yoga gives us a tool to skillfully observe how we react and handle these sensations. It is essential to channel and control sexual energy (and other energies) not despise or suppress them. Rather energies and emotions in general should be respected and esteemed.
From culture to culture the view of proper sexual conduct changes. So too should our yoga practice adapt to our environment. When sexual orientation is considered there is much confusion about the proper conduct. Everyone has an opinion about the topic but no answer to the right way to live. Homosexuality and same sex marriage are part of our society and with the observance of brahmacharya we can contemplate a balanced way of living our life that does not lead us away from joy and contentment or leave a sense of wrong-doing.
The mind is constantly experiencing impermanent sensations, emotions, and energies that require our attention and observation. When acting unskillfully from habit or desire we deplete our energy. Aligning with an intrinsic universal knowledge there is opportunity to channel our energies towards our life goals, enjoyment, intimacy, and leave the mind pursuing higher thoughts. Brahmacharya and the yamas require an engagement in all energies, nature and the world to see things clearly, as they are.