In Sanskrit, Brahma means 'higher awareness' and acharya means 'to live in'. Brahmacharya therefore means to move, learn and live in higher awareness. But the religious sects throughout the world have a different explanation of brahmacharya. For them, brahmacharya means complete control over sexual interactions. Therefore, brahmacharya should be understood in two different ways. The first one is to be immersed in higher awareness and the second is to abstain from all types of sexual interactions.
In the vedic traditions of India, relationships between men and women, within the limits of righteousness and dharma (duty), are considered to be a virtue and not a vice. Actually, they call it 'yagna'. Yagna is the burning of a sacred fire and the offering of your humble oblations to that fire. They light the fire in a special small pit and put a lot of fragrant offerings and aromatic materials into it. In the same way, the sexual relationship within the framework of dharma is known as yagna. In the vedic religion, sexual life is not considered to be a sin. This is how the concept of brahmacharya in vedic religions differs from that of the Christian religions, where the very concept of contact is considered to be an eternal sin, even between husband and wife. Therefore the concept of continence as practised by the monks in Christian monasteries is completely different from the yogic concept of brahmacharya.
In the practices of yoga and tantra, brahmacharya means perfection in retaining the bindu. The tantric yogi does not lose his bindu at any cost because he knows how to hold and sublimate it. Therefore the concept of brahmacharya is mainly to be understood as maintaining a positive state where the higher energy is not allowed to fall and to be ejected. It is not merely a concept of sexual abstention; it is a concept of higher energy. The physical benefits of brahmacharya give the practitioner strength and power, and create heat in the system, vitality, resistance, splendour and endurance.
Many books have been written about brahmacharya and if I tell you about it fully, it will take days. The whole concept is so peculiar. After all, Lord Krishna had many consorts, yet he was known as the eternal brahmacharya. How was that possible? On the other hand, in the Ramayana, Hanuman, who was absolutely devoted to the service of Sri Rama, was one hundred percent brahmacharya, having no contact with any women. Mow then, what should be the definition of brahmacharya? If Krishna exemplified brahmacharya then all of you are brahmacharya and if Hanuman exemplified brahmacharya then perhaps there is no one who qualifies as brahmacharya.
You see, the vedic concept does not merely depend on external performances. For example, I live the life of a sannyasin and it's a very good life. But if there is something else in my mind, then socially I'm a swami but spiritually I'm not. In the same way, externally you may be married, but internally you may be aware. Then you are brahmacharya, and even though you may have five children, it does not matter. This is the beautiful aspect which is very dangerous to teach, but I will just throw in a hint.
At the same time, indulgence in sexual life cannot be called brahmacharya. Brahmacharya cannot be interpreted in terms of physical action as it is a much deeper and finer state of human consciousness.
Sexual abstention has been taught in the vedic religion in order to create a healthy discipline and a healthy social structure. It may or may not help a person to have the higher experience, but it will definitely help him achieve amicability, unity, conformity and purity in his social and personal life.
According to the Vedas one should not touch a man or a woman before the age of twenty five because until then the individual does not yet possess the necessary maturity of the various physical, psychological and emotional functions and aspects of life. For this reason, man was asked to wait until his maturity was established and he could successfully understand and integrate the sexual experience into his life.
Therefore, from the age of eight to twenty five, each individual was totally dedicated to his studies. That was known as brahmacharya life. Then he married and lived a householder life in a scientific manner. If he had sexual interactions with his partner only, that was also considered as brahmacharya. Then at age fifty the individual was asked to conclude this phase of life so as to enter into another realm of experience. At fifty it was 'Hari Om Tat Sat', no more sexual activity. After that time, husband and wife had no more physical contact and lived like brother and sister, guru and disciple, friend and friend.
In tantra it is said that sexual interaction has three different purposes. The first purpose is progeny, the second is pleasure and the third is super-consciousness. Those who consider super-consciousness to be the purpose are yogis, those who consider pleasure to be the purpose are human beings, and those who consider progeny to be the purpose are animals.
All religious people, whether Hindus, Muslims or Christians, believe that the main purpose of sexual life is to procreate. It also says in the Bible that the main purpose is to create more adherents, so that the religion becomes powerful and influential. That however, was not the purpose of Christ. Christ was a swami but his disciples were leaders, not swamis. They made a socio-political order out of the spiritual life of Christ.
The best definition is the tantric and yogic definition: having a passionless mind, with an attitude of worship for all women. Give your respect and devotion to every woman, whoever she is. Whatever physical relations you have with her, they are immaterial. Relationships with the opposite sex can be based on many ideas. You can be a total friend to your wife, your mother, daughter or sister, and you can give her immense and total love. Sex is not the only way of interaction. In my personal opinion there can be no greater definition of brahmacharya than this. All the other definitions have some sort of unscientific basis. Many create conflicts and contradictions, but in tantra there is no suppression, contradiction or licentiousness.
The concept of brahmacharya is not very clear in western society and that is why a lot of problems have developed. Some people have tried to become brahmacharya but the conditions of western society were not suited to absolute abstention. Naturally those people were not able to manage it correctly and then-behaviour reflected this. You see, sexual abstention definitely affects the quality and structure of awareness. It is a fact. But many people suppress themselves and then think they are doing a very beneficial thing. Then if they create a breach of trust in themselves they become very disappointed and feel guilty about it.
So the whole act and the whole subject has to be reviewed and everybody should re-think about brahmacharya and its real meaning for himself or herself. Have a total concept of brahmacharya from both physiological and psychological points of view. Your sexual behaviour is influenced by various hormones produced by the glands of your body. You have to discover how the hormones are released into your bloodstream and pass through your body to influence the gonads, the testes in the male body or the ovaries in the female body. You have to realise these matters for yourself. The hormones are released from the pituitary gland in the brain in response to what stimuli? Do they stimulate the testes and if so how do the testes create seminal fluid? How does seminal ejection create an experience and how does this experience come to an end? How does one fall into emotional states, nervousness and erratic changes in, blood pressure? What is the effect of all these events on the state of your mind? All these things will have to be taken into account as you re-evaluate the meaning of brahmacharya for yourself.
Recently I met up with a person whom I had known about thirty five years ago. He had never married because he wanted to be a brahmacharya, but he said twenty four hours a day he only thought of that. He was constantly fighting with himself. So one must live the life of a householder correctly; that is the first way to brahmacharya.
Finally, brahmacharya has to become part of the human consciousness. The best way to be established in brahmacharya and to be divine is to have the tantric attitude of passionless-ness, reverence and worshipfulness. In an act without passion there must be mastery over the yogic kriyas, kumbhaka, uddiyana, vajroli, etc. Without this, brahmacharya is self-deception.