Brahmacharya – a modern conceptualization.
Brahamacharya is the fourth of the yamas, which compose the first limb of the yoga tree. The yamas articulate the ways in which we should intereact with one another in our yogic path. The first of the yamas are pretty easy to digest; ahimsa – the practice of non-violence, satya – truthfullness, asteya – non-covetessness, and then we get to brahmacharya. I spent some time this morning looking up the word Brahmacharya. This is the most precise definition I could find. Thank you wikipedia. The word brahmacharya stems literally from two components:
- Brahma, (shortened from brahman), the absolute, eternal, supreme God-head. (As opposed to Brahmā, the deity in the Hindu triad responsible for creation).
- charya, which means “to follow”. This is often translated as activity, mode of behaviour, a “virtuous” way of life.
So the word brahmacharya indicates a lifestyle adopted to enable one to attain the ultimate reality.
The most common working definition of Brhamacharya is celibacy. Restraining from spilling vital sexual energy. Many respected sources cite the health benefits, both physical and spiritual of restraining and redirecting powerful sexual energies. Ok, fine. If I want to progress in my path towards attaining the ultimate reality, I am going to have to give up sex. Not. And honestly, I think I am not alone here. There are many of us on the yoga path who are interested in living more fully in accordance with the yamas and niyamas, and this one presents the biggest hurdle.
So what would a working definition of brahamcharya be for those of us who will not be retreating to a monastery in the near future?
If we take the intention behind the words, I think living a life of moderation, restraint, consistency and respect for ourselves and others would be an apt definition. Further, if we resist from spreading ourselves too thin, if we resist from spreading our seeds to far and too often, then we can be more present in any given moment. And in today’s culture, that is a difficult thing to do. There are so many demands upon our time and energies, it is difficult to choose when to engage and when to hold back.
I have a husband, 3 kids, a job, a home, a garden and pets. All of these place demands on my time. I also have a job, I do community service and I have friends. I want to be able to give to and support my family, and friends when they are in need. I want to do well at my job and support my community. Thus the real question is how best to support them without draining myself. If I continue to give and give, there could well come a time when I am too drained to be present for those whom and I love and who are in need.
You know what I am talking about here. Your youngest spills the milk, the phone rings, the dog runs through the milk onto the new carpet and you go bezerk. She begins to cry, and shortly so do you. It’s not that the spilt milk was such a big deal, it’s just that you are overwhelmed. You have been trying to do too much for too many. You have spread yourself too thin. Your ability to reside in a place of wholeness is gone. At this moment you cannot walk the path of the Brahmin, because you are to tired, too drained and too scattered.
So what to do? Practice yoga. Take time out everyday to do some asanas, some pranayama, and some meditation. And this doesn’t have to de a daily marathon session. Grab a few minutes here and there to stretch, to breath, and to focus on the present moment. Five minutes of meditation will go a long way towards restoring your inner balance. Try not to say yes to every project, every job opportunity, every community service need. Turn off the extra noise in your life – the computer, radio and TV do not always have to be on. Your cell phone is a cool and useful tool, but you don’t always have to answer it or check emails at every traffic light. Give yourself some space for quiet. Practice restraint. Don’t try to be everything for everyone. Don’t spill your seed too often, don’t spread yourself too thin.
Walking the path of the Brahmin is not impossible, but it is difficult. Learning how and when to say no, so that we can be more fully present when we need to be is the challenge. That and learning to take care of ourselves in the midst of all the chaos of daily life. So, embrace your life, celebrate the joys, live your yoga beyond the mat, and know that you do not have to become a monk to practice brahmacharya.
Shalom & Namaste.