17

My perception was that, "Brahm"(ब्रह्म) in "Brahmacharya"(ब्रह्मचर्य) is the same "Brahm", which is referred in Gita at many places. In this site, we mainly refer it as "Brahman" (ब्रह्मन्). And "charya"(चर्य) means, "practised" or "acted".

ब्रह्मचर्य - acting according to supreme one [instructions]

In other words, forfeiting all the doership of the actions and thinking of "actions" as being done by the supreme one.
(The other way of saying is that, performing actions without desires (kAma) born out of Rajas.)


Now,

celibacy - abstaining from sex

Why or how is "Brahmacharya" related to "celibacy"?
For example, this Qn already assumes them as synonyms:
What is the importance of Brahmacharya (Celibacy) in Hinduism?

Lord Krishna was referred as "आजीवम् ब्रह्मचारिन्" (lifelong BrahmachAri). How can it be true, when he had 8 main wives & lot of children.
Hence the Qn in title.


Answer wiki

All the answers are nice in details & echo the same sentiment.
For those, who wants to know in brief:

  • "Brahmacharya" means acting towards realisation of Brahman (supreme One)
  • Overall it means to stay away from desires which deviates from Dharma
  • It's not a synonym of "celibacy", but may include attributes of "celibacy" as a part of it
  • "Celibacy" in this context, also doesn't mean "absolute abstinence from sex"; Amorous pleasures enjoyed for conceiving during particular period is allowed
  • It's yet unclear, if the sexual congress performed on prescribed days but without intention of conceiving is valid or not

Conformance from AnushAsana Parva:

He who has congress with only his wedded wife and that only at her season, is said to be observant of the vow of Brahmacharya

  • 2
    Brahmacharya literally means Achara or conduct that leads to the realization of Brahman or one’s own Self. It is used as synonyms for celibacy but whose who always contemplates on Brahman will include celibacy into it. – The Destroyer Sep 7 '17 at 8:56
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    Dharmic sex or dharmic kama is always allowed. I can answer as per teachings of Swami Sivananda. – The Destroyer Sep 7 '17 at 9:02
  • @TheDestroyer, Is "DhArmic sex" part of "celibacy"? BTW, "DhArmic" (born from Sattva) & "KAma" (born from Rajas) are opposites. Which makes the term "DhArmic(desireless) Kama(desire)" an oxymoron. :-) Probably you meant "DhArmic sambhoga". Yes, it will be helpful to see more & more answers for this term "Brahmacharya", as it's very much used in popular culture. – iammilind Sep 7 '17 at 9:14
  • Small correction in Devanagari spelling: Brahman is just ब्रह्म (Sanskrit sound of brahma). We add "n" in English for Supreme Brahman (ब्रह्म in Devangari) to differentiate from creator Brahma (ब्रह्मा). "Brahmaa in Sanskrit". – The Destroyer Sep 8 '17 at 6:58
10

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.

6

Lord Krishna was referred as "आजीवम् ब्रह्मचारिन्" (lifelong BrahmachAri). How can it be true, when he had 8 main wives & lot of children.

For the time being i am addressing only the above question. One can be married and enjoying conjugal bliss and still at the same time be a BrahmchAri. For that one just needs to follow certain instructions from scriptures.

LXXIX.—Sixteen nights are the "" Season " of women. Among these he should approach them during the even nights. Let him avoid the Parvana nights, &c. and the first four nights. By so doing he would be even a Brahmachari.—79

YAjnvalkya Smriti Verse.

The MitAksAra commentary on this verse as follows:

That period of women, indicative of the state in which they are capable of getting conception, is called *' Season." And that period is " sixteen days and nights," counting from the first day of menstruation. In *' such " a season, and during ** even" i.e., equal (and not odd) nights, *' he should approach " or go to his wife for the sake of begetting a son. By specifying "night" day-time has been excluded. " Even nights," being in the plural number, indicates totality taken separately as well as collectively. So that in one season he may go in all even nights which have not been (otherwise) prohibited. By so doing he is even " like a Brahmachari." Therefore, when Brahmacharya (abstention from women) is ordained in Sraddha, &c. then by going as above, he is not guilty of transgressing the rule of Brahmacharya.

UPDATE:

The Brahm in BrahmachArya refers to the Brahman or the Self. The conduct that helps us realizing the Brahamn is BrahmachArya.

In Vedas and Smritis, a BrahmchAri simply means a student. The one who after being initiated by the teacher studies the Vedas. In this stage of his life the rules that he need to follow are quite strict.

Manu Smriti 2.177. Let him abstain from honey, meat, perfumes, garlands, substances (used for) flavouring (food), women, all substances turned acid, and from doing injury to living creatures.

So maintaing celibacy is just one aspect of BrahmachArya.

In this stage, if the BrahmachAri discharges seminal fluid, even if done unintentionally, he needs to perform a penance to purify himself.

Manu Smriti 2.180. Let him always sleep alone, let him never waste his manhood; for he who voluntarily wastes his manhood, breaks his vow.

Manu Smriti 2.181. A twice-born student, who has involuntarily wasted his manly strength during sleep, must bathe, worship the sun, and afterwards thrice mutter the Rik-verse (which begins), ’Again let my strength return to me.

Note that in the above verses, the word used in the original for student is BrahmachAri.

So, maintaining celibacy is important for the BramachAri but celibacy is just one aspect of the whole conduct.

For, householders, the word BrahmachArya has an entirely different meaning as shown at the begin of this answer.

Finally, i am adding few words of Rishi Aurobindo on Vedas and BrahmachArya:

Practice of Bramhacharya involves at least three steps:

1) Learning how to allow the energies like Agni or divine will to manifest in our body.

2) Continuously striving to increase in his/her capacities to hold these energies step by step.

3) Expelling the obstructions in our bodies for the manifestation of these energies.

Celibacy is only one aspect of Brahmacharya. Some of the greatest Rishis were married. Retas is the essence of the energy given to a human being in a material form. The Retas is involved in a hidden manner leading to Tejas, the heat, light and electricity in man. This energy may be either expanded physically or it can be conserved.All passion, lust, desire and want in general wastes the energy by pouring it out either in a gross or subtle form. Immorality in act throws it out in the gross form; immorality in thought, the unchastity in mind or speech throws it out in subtle form. On the other hand, all self-control conserves the energy in the Retas; conservation and associated practices lead it to increase in range and power. But the needs of the physical body are limited. Excess of energy can be directed for some use other than physical. When we practice self-control, concentration and meditation, both the mind and speech are calmed down. As a first step, the excess of retas turns into heat or tapas. Tapas stimulates the whole system; it is for this reason that all forms of self-control and austerity are called tapas since they generate the heat or stimulus. From this stimulation retas is transformed into Tejas or light, the energy which is the source of all knowledge. Next, it turns to Vidyut or electricity which is the basis of all forceful action, whether intellectual or physical. The final culmination is of the Retas becoming Ojas by which man attains perfect spiritual knowledge and spiritual love and faith and spiritual strength. This supreme consumption is mentioned in ( Atharva Veda 11.5.1 and 11.5.7) when student (brahmachAri) is said to equal the Gods and support heaven and earth.

Adapted from Sri Aurobindo complete works.

  • Seems to be a good insight about Brahmacharya. So it seems that "celibacy = abstaining from improper sex". Now another Qn from this commentary is that, what about "condom sex" (popular now a days), which is without intention of conceiving a child, but done on proper dates as suggested in your answer. However, that seems to be a different Qn, & I don't expect you to update in this answer. Either a separate post or some chatroom. – iammilind Sep 7 '17 at 9:39
5

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.

  • Thanks your answer discusses well on the concept of "Brahm" with more detail. – iammilind Sep 7 '17 at 12:13
  • Actually all the answers are quite good. I choose Sivananda's way as it seems more authoritative on Brahmacharya as an overall topic. Moreover, he is also a Guru of Swami Gambhirananda, who has wrote the best Gita translation so far. That add a bit of soft corner. :-) – iammilind Sep 8 '17 at 6:44
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    @iammilind He was not Guru of Swami Gambhirananda. Swami Sivanada i mentioned was founder of Divine life society. Swami Sivananda left to Himalayas and He was Yogi (with main emphasis on Yoga and Vedanta). He was doctor by education and profession. – The Destroyer Sep 8 '17 at 6:50
  • Actually I had a soft corner for wrong reasons (i.e. he was Guru of Gambhirananda), but not because of celibacy. But that is not the sole reason either. I have read about this "Swami Sivananda" as well (just missed to see the wiki link this time). I don't think he considers "BrahmachAri" as "Celibate" as already mentioned in the answer. According to him Celibacy seems a part of Brahmacharya. As I say, all answers are good. But could select only one. This is the reason, I created "Answer wiki". :-) Hope that clears my stance. – iammilind Sep 8 '17 at 7:11
  • why u think gambhirananda is best ? – Rakesh Joshi Sep 8 '17 at 7:29

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