The word Brahmacharya has technically nothing to do celibacy or abstinence as popularly known.
After the advent of samnyasa and related sects, there was heavy importance given to renunciation and abstinence etc.
THE CONCEPT OF BRAHMACARYA – ITS TRUE MEANING, NATURE & IMPLICATION
Brahmacarya as the name signifies, relates to brahman. The word ‘brahma’ derives its meaning from the root bRhmi “bRhmi dhAtvarthagocaraM vastu” (बृह्मि धात्वर्थगोचरं वस्तु) . The more famous term “brhatvAt bRhmaNatvAcca brahma ityucyate budhaiH” (बृहत्वात् बृह्मणत्वाच्च बृह्म इत्युच्यते बुधैः) neatly explains brahma - Meaning, “In view of its vastness of size or extent and in view of its expansiveness, it is called as brahman by the wise”. The brahman is so called because of its inherent ability to expand. It will thus be known that brahman is nothing but the form of supra-conscious shakti (paracit shakti) that is the cause of this creation. viewed in this context, the real meaning of the word “brahmacarya” would be the religious anuShThAna-s or practices related to shiva-shakti or the experience of brahman in the turIya state or more appropriately, the anusaMdhAna of shiva-shakti /Almighty.
Besides the above, the vedas are also collectively known as brahma. This can be inferred from the words of shiva in bRhannIlatantra –
ekovedaH caturdhAbhUt yajussAma RgAdayaH |
vedo brahmeti sAkShAdvai jAneham naganandinI ||
It is thus very clear from the above that the vedas were one and later branched out into four as Rgveda, yajurveda, sAmaveda & atharvaNaveda later.
The fact that the word brahma refers to the vedas and vice-versa can be inferred from innumerable mantras of the vedas
“yena devA apunata| tena divyena brahmaNA |
idaM brahma punImahe|” (Y.V)
“mahimAnamagnervihitasya brahmaNA” (A.V. 18-4-8)
“gAtrANi te brahmaNA kalpayAmi” (A.V. 18-4-52)
The above verses are but a few examples which reveal that brahma is the name for vedas. And hence, veda- adhyayana or learning of the vedas is called “brahmacarya”. Since control of the senses is laid down as a condition for the learning of the vedas, what is popularly known as “CELIBACY” in english has now come to be termed as brahmacarya and the true import of the word “brahmacarya” and its true meaning has been completely obscured.
Today people simply know brahmacarya as abstinence or celibacy ! One should know that true brahmacarya is actually being in marital life. In the grihasthAshrama, the couple involving in conjugal bliss after being totally devoted to each other is known as brahmacarya.
Says yAjJavalkya in his smRti on the time favourable for conception
ShoDashartunishA strINAM tasmin yugmAsu saMvishet |
brahmacAryeva parvANyAdyAshcatasrashca varjayet ||
“ Of the first sixteen nights from the onset of periods in woman, intercourse should be had with them in the even nights avoiding parva-s (amAvAsya & other parva like saMkrAnti) and the first four nights. By doing so, he will verily be a brahmacAri”
While commenting on the above verse, vijJAneshvara observes that the fruit of brahmacarya is attaining of brahmaloka. Hence, the observance of brahmacarya by couple in their marital life is not a bar for intercourse with the wife had with the purpose of obtaining progeny :-
“…….. yatra brahmacaryaM coditaM tatra gacchatopi na brahmacaryaskhalanadoShaH….”
It is therefore amply clear from the above that brahmacarya has nothing to do with abstinence or celibacy and the union of the husband with his wife is indeed what is known as brahmacarya as it is aimed at begetting progeny. It is in this context that lord Krishna though a much married man, is a nityabrahmacArI and not as sought to be conveyed / confused by the sanyAsimata-s
परमादेवता पत्नी संपूज्या गृहमेधिना सदा पत्न्याः शरीरे तु वर्तन्ते सर्वदेवताः
paramAdevatA patnI saMpUjyA gRhamedhinA sadA patnyAH sharIre tu vartante sarvadevatAH
तथैवाग्निर्गार्हपत्यो ब्रह्मरूपं च वर्तते तस्मात् पत्या सदा पूज्या सेति वेदेषु निश्चयः
tathaivAgnirgArhapatyo brahmarUpaM ca vartate tasmAt patyA sadA pUjyA seti vedeShu nishcayaH
यस्तु पत्नीं सुसंपूज्य गार्हपत्यमुपासते सभुक्त्वा सकलान् कामान् ब्रह्मलोके महीयते
yastu patnIM susaMpUjya gArhapatyamupAsate sabhuktvA sakalAn kAmAn brahmaloke mahIyate
Wife is the supreme deity required to be worshipped by the husband who is a gRhamedhin i.e. worshipper of the gArhapatyAgni. In the body of the wife reside all the devatA-s. Likewise, the gArhapatyAgni which is verily brahmarUpa also resides in her body. Hence, she should be worshipped always by the husband. Thus declare the veda-s. Hence whosoever worships his wife & and gArhapatya, attains all one can aspire for in this world and is worshipped in brahmaloka after his death.
Source : Compilation for a discourse by N .R. Srinivasan, Nashville, TN, USA, August 2018