Brahmacarya

Brahmacarya (ə/; Devanagari: ब्रह्मचर्य,Bengali: ব্রহ্মচর্য) is a concept within Indian religions that literally means "conduct consistent with Brahman" or "on the path of Brahman".[1] In Yoga, Hinduism and Buddhism it generally refers to a lifestyle characterized by sexual continence or abstinence.

Brahmacarya is somewhat different from the English term "celibacy," which merely means non-indulgence in sexual activity. Brahmacarya is when a person controls his citta through ascetic means.

In one context, brahmacarya 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 brahmacarya (bachelor student) stage of life – from childhood up to twenty-five years of age – was focused on education and included the practice of celibacy.[2] 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 (Sanskrit: moksha).[3][4]

In the Hindu, Jain, and Buddhist monastic traditions, brahmacarya implies, among other things, the mandatory renunciation of sex and marriage.[5] It is considered necessary for a monk's spiritual practice.[6] Western notions of the religious life as practiced in monastic settings mirror these characteristics.

Etymology

The word brahmacarya stems from two Sanskrit roots:

  1. Brahman is what god is called in the Vedas, the main Hindu scriptures.
  2. carya (चर्य), which means "occupation with, engaging, proceeding, behaviour, conduct, to follow, moving in, going after".[7] This is often translated as activity, conduct, or mode of behaviour.

In ancient and medieval era Indian texts, the term brahmacarya is a concept with a more complex meaning indicating an overall lifestyle conducive to the pursuit of sacred knowledge and spiritual liberation.[8] Brahmacarya is a means, not an end. It usually includes cleanliness, ahimsa, simple living, studies, meditation, and voluntary restraints on certain foods (eating only Sattvic food), intoxicants, and sexual behavior which is no sex and no masturbation (in some schools of thought).[8][9]