Brahmacharya Is More Than Just Not Ejaculating
In the ascetic Yoga traditions, brahmacharya means celibacy. In the Tantric tradition, which also embraces sexuality, it means something different, which we will explore. Anyone who knows anything about Tantric sexuality knows that in Tantra, men do not ejaculate. This is for a number of good reasons, the fundamental of which is that it preserves the essential life-force, the ojas in Yoga or jing in Taoism. How to do this is explained elsewhere, notably in my Tantric Sexuality Workshop (check out http://meetamitayus.com/offerings/sexuality/tantric-sacred-sexuality-workshop/ for upcoming events). Of course, there are some wonderful side effects of the practice of holding back your seed, not the least of which is that it creates the potential for long love-making sessions, enabling a woman to be more likely to relax to the point of having deep and powerful orgasms.
But Brahmacharya is so much more than just not ejaculating.
So what is brahmacharya? This term is most commonly known from the Yoga Sutras of Patajali, where it is included in the Yamas – sometimes explained as the ‘should nots’ or ‘restraints’ of the yogic ethical code. This set of five tenets can also be understandood as suggestions on how a Yogi acts in accordance with the world, with forces outside of the self. This makes more sense in the context of the Niyamas – another set of five edicts, these sometimes referred to as the ‘shoulds’ of the Yogic ethical code. These are suggestions on how one should act relative to themselves.
Tapas; burning aspiration manifest in the form of commitments,
Svadyaya; self study
Ishvarapranidha; devotion to the divine
Brahmacharya then is one of the edicts concerning how the Yogi interacts with the world, and is in the form of a restraint. This word is commonly translated into English as ‘continence’, which is defined as:
“self-restraint or abstinence, especially in regard to sexual activity; temperance; moderation.”
This definition fits just fine into the ascetic, celibate understanding of brahmacharya, with the condition of abstinence, but not so much with Tantric understanding.
However, when we look at the root words of the Sanskrit we find other intriguing possibilities.
Firstly Brahma is the creator god of the Hindu Trinity. This is the aspect of bringing forth life, all of the creative, generative energies of the cosmos. Life as it bursts forth.
The suffix can be understood as
“-charya”: to be followed, as in an observance or a restraint”
“-acharya”: a spiritual teacher, guru, or master”
So with the first we are to observe and to restrain, or retrain, this generative, life-force energy, and with the latter we are a master of this generative life-force energy.
Control over desire
There is no doubt that Brahmacharya applies to sexual energy, and more specifically for men, the retention of the semen.
However, a more complete understanding is that any loss of life-force energy, anywhere that we ‘spill our seed’, is a breaking of brahmacharya. While it’s true that simply living expends tremendous life-force energy (the continual renewal of cells and blood, etc), there are specific habitual activities we engage in that we can modify to helpu us in the conservation of ojas. Bringing awareness to these actions can support the practice of retaining ejaculation during lovemaking, which can be extremely difficult. For example:
We loose significant amounts of energy just by talking. If you have ever done a silent retreat you know this for a fact. If not, think on how you feel after a long telephone conversation – often drained. Gossip is also a big cause of energy depletion. The yogic term mauna refers to the conscious choice to not speak. This spiritual silence is a beautiful practice in retraining and bringing consciousness to our instinctual, habitual desire to communicate, to be heard, or to socialize. Check the blog for an upcoming full article about mauna, or sign up for the newsletter HERE.
We all need to eat to sustain our physical body. However, many of make choices in this area that are actually detrimental to our being. One of the reasons that it is suggested that Yogis eat clean, simple food is that this is an act of brahmacharya. Junk foods, meat, coffee, alcohol and the like, all actually drain and deplete the system of energy. When we choose our diet based on our desires, rather than consciously, we are breaking this yama. When we bring awareness into our food choices, we are acting in line with it.
Wait! Isn’t this an article about brahmacharya from the Tantric tradition, which embraces sexuality? Yes, it is, and yet, periods of celibacy are still highly recommended in this expanded understanding of brahmacharya. This comes down to ‘restraint’ and ‘mastering’. Periods of celibacy will bring to the light of consciousness to one’s relationship with sexuality and with sexual desire. In Tantra, sexuality can be beneficial for the expansion of consciousness, however it’s a very difficult path – walking the razor’s edge. It’s important that one is not controlled by their sexual desire, but rather is actively, consciously, engaged in love-making with awareness and with intention. Periods of celibacy will demonstrate quickly and powerfully how much one is actually master of their sexual desire, or controlled by it, and in the latter case, empower one to change their relationship with their sexual desire.
In other words – brahmacharya is about bringing awareness to your desires, and consciously deciding if you will indulge in that desire or not. In order to do this, and to be honest with oneself, it’s sometimes important to pass up that desire – to choose not to make love, to choose not to speak, to choose not to eat that meal, or that chocolate, etc.
This is beautifully summed up by Brad Waites, the director of the College of Purna Yoga in Vancouver, “brahmacharya is about allocation: using your resources effectively to achieve your aspiration. To hone our practice of this principle, we must learn to conserve and not waste energy on things that do not serve our purpose.”
So remember, brahmacharya is about more than just not – ejaculating. It’s about mastering our desires, and bringing consciousness to every choice we make in life, every habit we have.
So I invite you to practice this understanding of brahmacharya for the rest of this day – evaluating each action, each word, each choice, and each interaction. Will this action, this word, this choice, this interaction support my aspiration, my deepest knowing and my essential being?