The Indian concept Brahmacharya (Bengali: ব্রহ্মচর্য, Hindi: ब्रह्मचर्य) and Western concept Celibacy are not exactly same. Celibacy means a state of being unmarried and sexually abstinent. but Brahmacharya is stricter, it not only includes one’s physical activities, but also his/her thoughts and words. They say—
In Hinduism someone who is observing Brahmacharya must abstain from Ashtanga Maithuna (Sanskrit/Hindi: अष्टांग मैथुन, Bengali: অষ্টাঙ্গ মৈথুন)
Sankalpo ‘dhyavasayas ca
Kriya-nirvrttir eva ca
(A Brahmachari should not think about people of opposite sex, speak about sex life. romantically mix with anyone of opposite sex, look lustfully, talk intimately with women. plan to engage in sexual intercourse. endeavour for sex life, engage in sex life, encourage other’s lust.)
According to Swami Vivekananda‘s description: “Chastity in thought, word, and deed, always, and in all conditions, is what is called Brahmacharya.”[Source]
In this article we’ll make a collection of Swami Vivekananda‘s quotes and comments on Brahmacharya or Celibacy or Continence. Related articles are listed at the bottom of the page.
Swami Vivekananda on Brahmacharya
- Brahmacharya should be like a burning fire within the veins![Source]
- By the establishment of continence energy is gained. The chaste brain has tremendous energy and gigantic will-power. Without chastity there can be no spiritual strength. Continence gives wonderful control over mankind. The spiritual leaders of men have been very continent, and this is what gave them power. Therefore the Yogi must be continent.[Source]
- Complete continence gives great intellectual and spiritual power. The Brahmachârin must be sexually pure in thought, word, and deed. Lose regard for the body; get rid of the consciousness of it so far as possible.[Source]
- Even he, born of a foreign nationality and living in a foreign land, can understand the meaning of our Brahmacharya as the only way to the attainment of spirituality, and belies that it is not even in these days rare in India, whilst the hypocritical heroes of our own household are unable to see anything else than carnal relationship in the matrimonial union! “As a man thinketh in his mind, so he seeth outside.”[Source]
- Every one wants to command, and no one wants to obey; and this is owing to the absence of that wonderful Brahmacharya system of yore.[Source]
- If the performance of Yajnas is the corner-stone of the work-portion of the Vedas, as surely is Brahmacharya the foundation of the knowledge-portion.[Source]
- In order to attain to ideal Brahmacharya one has in the beginning to observe strict rules regarding chastity. Not only should one keep oneself strictly aloof from the least association with the opposite sex, but also give up the company of married people even.[Source]
- Is there a greater strength than that of Brahmacharya—purity, my boy?[Source]
- Save the spiritual store in your body by observing continence.[Source]
- Teach the boys the system of Brahmacharya.[Source]
- The modern system of education gives no facility for the development of the knowledge of Brahman. We must found Brahmacharya Homes as in times of old.[Source]
- The Sanskrit name for a student, Brahmachârin, is synonymous with the Sanskrit word Kâmajit. Our goal of life is Moksha; how can that be ever attained without Brahmacharya or absolute continence? Hence it is imposed upon our boys and youth as an indispensable condition during their studentship. The purpose of life in the West is Bhoga, enjoyment; hence much attention to strict Brahmacharya is not so indispensably necessary with them as it is with us.[Source]
- You have now to make the character of Mahavira your ideal. See how at the command of Ramachandra he crossed the ocean. He had no care for life or death! He was a perfect master of his senses and wonderfully sagacious. You have now to build your life on this great ideal of personal service. Through that, all other ideals will gradually manifest in life. Obedience to the Guru without questioning, and strict observance of Brahmacharya — this is the secret of success.[Source]
Unbroken Brahmacharya is the secret of power
Excerpts from an interview taken by Priya Nath Sinha, source: Complete Works, Volume VI—
Sinha: Well, Swamiji, in your lectures in the West you have frequently and eloquently dwelt on our characteristic talents and virtues, and many convincing proofs you have put forward to show our whole-souled love of religion; but now you say that we have become full of Tamas; and at the same time you are accrediting us as the teachers of the eternal religion of the Rishis to the world! How is that?
Vivekananda: Do you mean to say that I should go about from country to country, expatiating on your failings before the public? Should I not rather hold up before them the characteristic virtues that mark you as a nation? It is always good to tell a man his defects in a direct way and in a friendly spirit to make him convinced of them, so that he may correct himself—but you should trumpet forth his virtues before others. Shri Ramakrishna used to say that if you repeatedly tell a bad man that he is good, he turns in time to be good; similarly, a good man becomes bad if he is incessantly called so. There, in the West, I have said enough to the people of their shortcomings. Mind, up to my time, all who went over to the West from our country have sung paeans to them in praise of their virtues and have trumpeted out only our blemishes to their ears. Consequently, it is no wonder that they have learnt to hate us. For this reason I have laid before them your virtues, and pointed out to them their vices, just as I am now telling you of your weaknesses and their good points. However full of Tamas you may have become, something of the nature of the ancient Rishis, however little it may be, is undoubtedly in you still—at least the framework of it. But that does not show that one should be in a hurry to take up at once the role of a teacher of religion and go over to the West to preach it. First of all, one must completely mould one’s religious life in solitude, must be perfect in renunciation and must preserve Brahmacharya without a break. The Tamas has entered into you—what of that? Cannot the Tamas be destroyed? It can be done in less than no time! It was for the destruction of this Tamas that Bhagavân Shri Ramakrishna came to us.
. . . . . . . . .
Sinha: Whatever you may say, I cannot bring myself to believe in these words. Who can come by that oratorical power of expounding philosophy which you have?
Vivekananda: You don’t know! That power may come to all. That power comes to him who observes unbroken Brahmacharya for a period of twelve years, with the sole object of realising God I have practiced that kind of Brahmacharya myself, and so a screen has been removed, as it were, from my brain. For that reason, I need not any more think over or prepare myself for any lectures on such a subtle subject as philosophy. Suppose I have to lecture tomorrow; all that I shall speak about will pass tonight before my eyes like so many pictures; and the next day I put into words during my lecture all those things that I saw. So you will understand now that it is not any power which is exclusively my own. Whoever will practice unbroken Brahmacharya for twelve years will surely have it. If you do so, you too will get it. Our Shâstras do not say that only such and such a person will get it and not others!
. . . . . .
Sinha: What were you going to say the other day about the tol (Sanskrit boarding school) system?
Vivekananda: Haven’t you read the stories from the Upanishads? I will tell you one. Satyakâma went to live the life of a Brahmachârin with his Guru. The Guru gave into his charge some cows and sent him away to the forest with them. Many months passed by, and when Satyakama saw that the number of cows was doubled he thought of returning to his Guru. On his way back, one of the bulls, the fire, and some other animals gave him instructions about the Highest Brahman. When the disciple came back, the Guru at once saw by a mere glance at his face that the disciple had learnt the knowledge of the Supreme Brahman. Now, the moral this story is meant to teach is that true education is gained by constant living in communion with nature.
Knowledge should be acquired in that way, otherwise by educating yourself in the tol of a Pandit you will be only a human ape all your life. One should live from his very boyhood with one whose character is like a blazing fire and should have before him a living example of the highest teaching. Mere reading that it is a sin to tell a lie will be of no use. Every boy should be trained to practice absolute Brahmacharya, and then, and then only, faith —Shraddha—will come. Otherwise, why will not one who has no Shraddha speak an untruth? In our country, the imparting of knowledge has always been through men of renunciation. Later, the Pandits, by monopolising all knowledge and restricting it to the tols, have only brought the country to the brink of ruin. India had all good prospects so long as Tyâgis (men of renunciation) used to impart knowledge.
By the observance of strict Brahmacharya. . .
From Complete Works, Volume VII, Conversations and Dialogues. Swami Vivekananda was ill at the time, yet he started talking after being requested by Swami Niranjanananda—
Being examined, Swamiji not only reproduced the sense, but at places the very language of the difficult topics selected from each volume. The disciple, astonished, put aside the books, saying, “This is not within human power!”
Swamiji: Do you see, simply by the observance of strict Brahmacharya (continence) all learning can be mastered in a very short time — one has an unfailing memory of what one hears or knows but once. It is owing to this want of continence that everything is on the brink of ruin in our country.
Disciple: Whatever you may say,sir, the manifestation of such superhuman power cannot be the result of mere Brahmacharya, something else there must be.
Swamiji did not say anything in reply.
Is Brahmacharya a direct blow dealt at woman?
“You should remember”, said the Swami, “that if religion exalts Brahmacharya for woman, it does exactly the same for man Moreover, your question shows a certain confusion in your own mind. Hinduism indicates one duty, only one, for the human soul. It is to seek to realise the permanent amidst the evanescent. No one presumes to point out any one way in which this may be done. Marriage or non-marriage, good or evil, learning or ignorance, any of these is justified, if it leads to the goal. In this respect lies the great contrast between it and Buddhism, for the latter’s outstanding direction is to realise the impermanence of the external, which, broadly speaking, can only be done in one way. Do you recall the story of the young Yogi in the Mahâbhârata who prided himself on his psychic powers by burning the bodies of a crow and crane by his intense will, produced by anger? Do you remember that the young saint went into the town and found first a wife nursing her sick husband and then the butcher Dharma-Vyâdha, both of whom had obtained enlightenment in the path of common faithfulness and duty?”
Women too should observe Brahmacharya
From a letter written to Haripada Mitra, dated 28 December 1893—[Source]
As sons should be married after observing Brahmacharya up to the thirtieth year, so daughters also must observe Brahmacharya and be educated by their parents. But what are we actually doing? Can you better the condition of your women? Then there will be hope for your well-being. Otherwise you will remain as backward as you are now.
Swami Vivekananda believed that Brahmacharya, or celibacy, is an essential part of spiritual practice and self-discipline. He taught that celibacy is necessary for the preservation of physical and mental energy, which is essential for spiritual growth and self-realization. He said, “Brahmacharya is the highest duty and the highest culture. It is the basis of all spiritual progress.”
He believed that celibacy is essential for the control of the mind and the senses, and that it is a key step in the process of self-purification and spiritual growth. He also believed that celibacy is necessary for the attainment of spiritual knowledge and understanding, and that it is a prerequisite for the practice of meditation and self-inquiry.
Swami Vivekananda also believed that celibacy is not just about physical restraint, but also mental and emotional restraint, he said “Brahmacharya is not merely the control of the sex function, but the control of all the passions, the control of all the desires, and the control of all the emotions.”
He taught that celibacy is a discipline that requires self-control, self-discipline, and a commitment to spiritual growth, and that it is essential for those who are seeking to attain spiritual liberation. He also believed that celibacy is not just for monks or renunciants, but for anyone who seeks to live a spiritual life and to realize the ultimate truth of their being.