Self control is the key to healthy living. Brahmacharya, whether viewed in its narrow meaning as abstinence from sex, or in its broader meaning, as establishing oneself in the path of Brahma-the Supreme Reality- is traditionally believed to provide a new stimulus to life by invigorating the nervous system, strengthening will power, and purifying the soul. Chastity in thought, word and deed, helps one to achieve perfect concentration as the vital energy (prana shakti) ravelling in lower channels of the body enters the brain.
Brahmacharya is basic to the Vedic tradition, and it involves total discipline of the body and the mind to gain Supreme Knowledge. The Atharvaveda (XI,V,17,19,24) extols the virtues of brahmacharya in a number of verses: 'By brahmacharya, a king defends his kingdom…'; 'By brahmacarya and by penance, the gods smote away death…'; 'The brahmacharin bears a shining halo; in that are woven together all the gods…'And so on.
Sage Patanjali says (Yoga Sutra II.38): By the establishment of continence, energy is gained.' Continence the conservation of life-giving fluid in the body - gives extraordinary control over oneself and others, as can be observed in case of the highly evolved souls from St. Paul to shri Ramakrishna.
According to the Vashishta Samhita (Yoga Kendra, I.43) 'Brahmacharya is absolute abandoning of sexual indulgence everywhere and in all the forms of beings (at all levels) i.e. Mental, Verbal and Physical.' While some medical scientists argue that abstinence from sex can have a deleterious effect on the human body, others hold that indiscriminate sensory indulgence weakens the body, the mind and the spirit.
There is a popular Sanskrit apothegm : marnam bindu patena, jivanam bindu dharnat 'loss of semen is death, retention of it is life'. In yogic physiology, it takes forty days for blood to convert into the vital fluid of life. The concept of sapta dha¯tu in Ayurveda- ancient Indian science of longevity- entails the formation of the seven dhatus by way of rasa (plasma), rakta (blood), mamsa (flesh), medha (fat), asthi (bone), majja (bone marrow), and shukra (semen). A single drop of this fluid is traditionally believed to be equal to about forty-nine drops of blood. Complete retention of seminal fluid metamorphoses into ojasa, strengthening the life-current in the human organism. The sublimation of this prime energy brings one nearer to one's divine nature, and opens up inner dimensions, which remain inaccessible to the lustful.
Brahmacharya thus helps one to harness Pranashakti - life-aspect of the cosmic energy which lies dormant in human beings. Pranayam is a vital force which can be judiciously activated for the complete transformation of the human personality. The mastery of Prana, is possible through continence and the control of breath (Pranayama). Mind which is 'very fine matter', is an instrument for using Prana. Taking a cue from the Upanishads, Swami Vivekananda described the prana thus: 'This prana is electricity, it is magnetism; it is thrown out by the brain as thought. Everything is prana; it is moving the sun, the moon and the stars.'
In order to make a person 'the complete master of himself', all his energies which lie in the unconscious mind, need to be tapped. The unconscious can be controlled by the proper working of ingla and pingala, the two subtle passages in the body, which carry pranic energy. The former starts from left nostril and goes up to muladhar chakra seat of kundalini or coiled power ; the later runs from right nostril, and goes parallel to, and on the right of susumna channel , which passes through the centre of the spinal cord. By constant practice of pranayama one can activate susumna, to experience the higher states of consciousness which lead one to turiya -avastha - the fourth dimension of Being, signifying the apogee of inner perfection.
Mental hygiene, which is a prerequisite to the activation of prana, helps one to check corrosive emotions like fear, anger, anxiety and passion, and conserve inner vitality. Swami Vivekananda suggested pure (sattvic) food, right company, reading of holy books, breathing exercises, recitation of holy syllables, and meditation, among other methods, to keep the mind away from sensual thoughts. He observed that unchaste imagination is as bad as unchaste action. 'Controlled desire leads to the highest result. Transform the sexual energy into spiritual energy, but do not emasculate, because that is throwing away the power. The stronger this force, the more can be done with it. Only a powerful current of water can do hydraulic mining.'
In his lecture, 'The Mind: Its Powers and Possibilities', at San Francisco, dated March 13, 1900, he snubbed those who believed that the practice of chastity was wrong : 'You doctors in this country who hold that chastity is against the laws of nature, don't know what you are talking about. You don't know the meaning of the word purity. You are beasts! Beasts! I say, with the morals of a tomcat, if that is the best you have to say on that subject!'
Swami Vivekananda advised the youth not to spill out vital energy, for it is the summum bonum of life, the essence of creative self.
Ex-British Council Scholar, Secretary, Dayanand Institutions, Solapur.