|[ Excerpt from The Science of Yoga, page 294 ]
Brahmacarya is said to be the second most important of all the yamas and niyamas, next to ahimsa, for spiritual ascension. Most yogic texts translate the word brahmacarya as "chastity in thought, word and deed," as "celibacy," "sexual abstinence," or as an injunction to "exercise self-restraint in all things," especially with regard to the sexual appetite.
The word itself is derived from Brahma, the Supreme Creator, and carya, meaning "external acts of worship." Thus, the combined word literally means "worship of the Creator," or it may also be interpreted as "life of holiness."
Of all the yamas, this is the virtue that seems to be the most prohibitive, which may be why even the most serious and eager students of yoga shy away from this topic for fear of having to give up the pleasure of sexual indulgence:
"Many Western writers have tried to solve this problem by suggesting a liberal interpretation of brahmacarya and taking it to mean not complete abstinence, but regulated, moderate indulgence within lawful wedlock.
The Eastern student who is more familiar with the traditions and actual conditions of yogic life does not make this mistake. He knows that the real yogic life cannot be combined with the self-indulgence and waste of vital force which is involved in the pleasures of a sex life and has had to choose between the two.
He may not be required to give up (his) sex life all at once, but he has to give it up completely before he can start the serious practice of higher yoga as distinguished from mere theoretical study or even yogic practices of a preparatory nature."
~ I.K. Taimni, The Science of Yoga
That's probably a very difficult pill for most people to swallow these days. We need to see this yama in a clear light, though, in order to fully understand what is being directed here, and in doing so, we will hopefully come to see not how frightening it is, but all the wonderful things that it can bring.
Let's start by taking a look at brahmacarya beyond the context of sexual indulgence and understand that what is intended with this directive is the freedom from the prison of all our sense cravings and sensual enjoyments.
The point, however, is not simply a relinquishing of all things which yield these transient bodily pleasures. As we have seen from our explorations of the other yamas, mere restraint of the body serves little if the mind itself is consumed with the desire.
In brahmacarya, we aim at the freeing of the mind from the desire for pleasures of the senses -- those desires which are invariably a constant source of mental anxiety and disturbance -- which when present, hinder any possibility of engaging in the higher states of mind.
"My experience is that everything is bliss. But the desire for bliss creates pain. Thus bliss becomes the seed of pain. The entire universe of pain is born of desire. Give up the desire for pleasure and you will not even know what pain is."
~ Nisargadatta Maharaj
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