For June, we continue our consideration of the five Yamas with the fourth one, brahmacharya. Brahmacharya is perhaps the most misunderstood of the five Yamas, so I've turned to a wonderful book called Inside Patanjali's Words: Explore the Heart of Yoga by Rev. Jaganath Carrera (pp.212-213, p.191).
Here's what he says:
"Brahmacharya= life of self-mastery and liberation.
"Brahmacharya is usually translated as continence, chastity, or celibacy. But brahmacharya is not just about sexual matters. It literally translates as path to Brahma (Brahma = the Absolute, Spirit, holy, sacred, relating to sacred knowledge, prescribed by the Vedas, the supreme, the great, the creator deity.) That is why the word has been translated here with a phrase: to live a life of self-mastery and liberation.
"A life without physical intimacy is not only outside the desire of most sincere seekers, it does not reflect the deeper intent of the practice of brahmacharya.
"The reason brahmacharya is so closely associated with the sex act is because the sex act is one of the single greatest expenditures of the subtle energy necessary for spiritual progress. However, it should also be kept in mind that extreme anger, greed, and lust may waste even more energy.
"The good news is that living the Yoga life and engaging in regular Yoga practices helps attain and maintain the vital subtle energy we need for self-transformation.
"For an adult student of Yoga, brahmacharya, as moderation of physical intimacy, becomes important. It doesn't mean that a yogi needs to be celibate. But excessive or self-centered sex wastes energy and can lead to confused, troublesome relationships and large expenditures of energy. On the other hand, a loving, giving, caring physical exchange between committed partners does not waste energy. For a yogi, the best sex takes place within a loving, committed partnership where the act becomes an expression of the depth of the relationship.
"In its broadest sense, brahmacharya is about not wasting energy. Energy is wasted when thoughts, words, or actions strengthen -- or give rise to -- ignorance. Behavior that only brings fleeting excitement, but not fulfillment or joy, or when it leads one away from their spiritual goals -- that is a waste of effort and energy.
"Brahmacharya invites us to examine how we spend our days, to assess every facet of our lives -- including our speech, thought processes, goals, recreation, diet, and habits -- to identify how what we do takes us closer or further from our spiritual intentions.
"The efficient use of attention, time, and energy is moderation -- and the essence of brahmacharya. Following this path enhances the depth, breadth, and speed of learning and growth.
"While these [continence or celibacy] are valid translations, we can consider the a wider context of the word, where it means to regulate all aspects of life in order to create and conserve energy and then apply that energy to the goal of liberation.
"The roots of the word mean to behave in a way that leads to Brahman, the Absolute. Brahmacharya, then, may be best understood as a moral, ethical life dedicated to liberation through self-mastery, one-pointedness of mind, and dedication (selfless service, devotion to Ishvara).
"When considering brahmacharya as sexual restraint, it can also include not using sex for manipulation or to work out psychological problems. Brahmacharya, within a relationship, can be defined as physical intimacy for expressing love, caring, fidelity, generosity, and devotion to another. In this context, brahmacharya is also about learning to discriminate between lust and love."
The Jivamukti-focus-of-the-month for June is written by Sharon Gannon and can be found here.