79. What is the True Meaning of Brahmacharya?

Brahmachari, celibate ascetic

by Jayaram V

Notes: I have translated the Bhagavadgita twice. The first one was a loose translation. The second one was a word to word translation with a detailed commentary. The commentary is however different from what you will find here. In this section I will share with you my thoughts about the knowledge, philosophy and wisdom of the Bhagavadgita as I understand it from my perspective. Jayaram V

Brahmacharya does not mean celibacy only, although it is generally used to denote it. Brahmacharya truly means engaging the mind in the unwavering contemplation of Brahman with the whole mind, without any distraction, or driving the mind towards Brahman with total concentration. Madhavacharya defined it as “the sending of the mind to Brahman” or offering the mind and all the senses to the Lord with devotion.

One can see that Brahmacharya (devotion to Brahman) cannot be practiced without self-control (atma samyama). To practice self-control, one must overcome all desires and passions through detachment, renunciation, indifference, etc. Of all the desires and passions, sexual desires and passions, including lust (kama) are the most powerful. If they are controlled, one can control any desire, attachment, or passion without much difficulty. Hence, celibacy is considered the central aspect of self-control and brahmacharya. Thus, Brahmacharya truly means engaging the mind in the contemplation of Brahman, with unwavering concentration, without desires and passions, and consecrating the mind and body (or oneself) to Brahman as an offering or sacrifice.

The Bhagavadgita identifies self-control as a key aspect of yoga. It defines yoga as the evenness of the mind, which cannot be attained without controlling the mind and the senses or overcoming desires and passions induced by the gunas. It equates samadhi with sameness only, and thereby stresses its importance. Thus, having an even or unwavering mind is essential to attain liberation. If one has it, one can excel in any yoga practice and quickly attain liberation. The scripture also admits to the difficulty in controlling the mind, which is fickle by nature. However, it gives hope to yogis and devotees, stating that it can be controlled through practice (abhyasa) and dispassion (vairagya) or with the help of the Lord through exclusive devotion (ananya bhakti).

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