What is “Brahm” in “Brahmacharya”? How does it relate to celibacy?


This answer is based on teachings of Swami Sivananda. Swami Sivananda wrote many books explaining Brahmacharya, such as Practice of Brahmacharya. I will quotes some of his words here.

Swami Sivanada says Brahmacharya literally means Achara or conduct that leads to the realization of Brahman or one’s own Self and conduct is control of semen, the study of the Vedas and contemplation on God. So, "Brahma" in Brahmacharya is Supreme Brahman or Parabrahman or the Ultimate Truth.

Swami Sivananda explains meaning of Brahmacharya as follows:

Brahmacharya is a divine word. It is the sum and substance of Yoga. Brahmacharya is the Achara or conduct by which you attain or reach Brahman (God). It is life in the Absolute. It is movement towards God or the Atman (Self).

Brahmacharya is absolute freedom from sexual thoughts and desires. It is the vow of celibacy. It is control of all the senses in thought, word and deed.

Brahmacharya is not mere bachelorhood. There should be strict abstinence not merely from sexual intercourse but also from auto-erotic manifestations, from masturbation, from homosexual acts and from all perverse sexual practices. It must further involve a permanent abstention from indulgence in erotic imagination and voluptuous reverie.

In a narrow sense, Brahmacharya is celibacy. In a broad sense, it is absolute control of all the senses. The door of Nirvana (liberation) or perfection is complete Brahmacharya.

Brahmacharya involves the conduct in which all senses are controlled and sexual energy is sublimed. Swami Sivanada also says the following.

Brahmacharya literally means Achara or conduct that leads to the realization of Brahman or one’s own Self. Brahmacharya is purity in thought, word and deed. It is celibacy and continence. Brahmacharya is the vow of celibacy. The term ‘celibacy’ is from the Latin ‘caelebs’, meaning unmarried or single, and signifies the state of living unmarried. But Brahmacharya is not mere bachelorhood. It includes the control, not only of the sex or reproductive Indriya, but also of all other Indriyas in thought, word and deed. This is the definition of Brahmacharya in a broad sense of the term. The door to Nirvana or perfection is complete Brahmacharya. Complete celibacy is the master-key to open the realms of Elysian bliss. The avenue to the abode of supreme peace begins from Brahmacharya or purity.

Even Married people can lead life of Brahmacharya. They should follow words of Dharma Sastras here. Swami Sivananda answers the same question in his book "May i answer that".

207. How can a married man practice Brahmacharya? Is it possible especially when the couple are young?

To live and enjoy Grihastha life, with one’s own wife during the Ritu period subject to the imposed restrictions of the Sastras is itself Brahmacharya. Sastras say that the married man should not indulge in sense-satisfaction as and when his senses prompt him to do so. He should subject himself to the various restrictions imposed even on the enjoyment of sense life. For details in this respect, study my book, "Advice to Women". One who observes these Sastraic injunctions and leads a happy, well-regulated life is a perfect Brahmachari, though technically a Grihastha. Whatever be the natural ebullient impulses of the couple, and however young they be, it is quite possible to observe Brahmacharya on the above lines. Brahmacharya for a Grihastha does not mean absolute abstention from enjoying the conjugal life; but means a well-disciplined, self-restrained, Dharmic life.

For more details of exact quotes, see this answer on regulative principle of sex life. So, doing sex for progeny is allowed and Krishna did the same, although it's not proper to apply human rules to Krishna who knows His divinity.

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