“Brahmacharya pratishthayam virya labhha.”
This is the line, in sanskrit, from the Yoga Sutras of Patanjali on the yama of brahmacharya.
Roughly translated, it means: “Upon being established in brahmacharya, there is the attainment of vital energy.”
Especially in the Western tradition, this yama is greatly misunderstood. Many modern students of yoga assume that practicing brahmacharya means practicing celibacy. But with this assumption, many of the essential aspects of the teaching have been lost.
Among all the yamas, this is a particularly challenging one to reflect upon because there are wide and varied definitions of what brahmacharya actually entails. If you spend a week reading everything you can on this practice, you will find many different suggestions and teachings. Some of which align, and some of which don’t.
And so I enter into this reflection leaning heavily on my teacher (Master Choa Kok Sui—the founder of modern Pranic Healing and Arhatic Yoga), whose discussions on this topic seem to align, perfectly, with the sanskrit definition above—once established in brahmacharya there is the “attainment of vital energy.”
Based on that definition, it makes sense to explore the practice of brahmacharya from an energetic perspective. Perhaps, then, the different layers of truth can begin to open up.
Many spiritual teachings speak about the importance of sex energy for our spiritual development. My teacher used to say that the sex energy is like fuel for the upper chakras. When the sex energy gets depleted, there is no vital energy to bring up during meditation for spiritual awakening. It is like trying to light a lamp, but having no oil. This is different for men and women. In the process of ejaculating, men lose vital energy—which is why men, typically, cannot have multiple orgasms. The sex energy of women, alternatively, does not deplete after releasing, allowing the sex energy to stay strong. Women lose vital energy mostly during menstruation.
The practice of brahmacharya is then more accurately translated as the conservation and sublimation of sex energy, and this is reflected in the wisdom imparted by Eastern and yogic philosophy.
The over-indulgence in sexual activity (and the excessive loss of sexual fluid) can lead to a depletion in vital energy—energy that is needed for spiritual development, inner experience, and higher awakening.
Krishna (a deity in the Hindu tradition) was known as the ultimate brahmacharya—and yet he had multiple wives and thousands of gopis (women devotees/consorts). He was known as the ultimate tantric yogi—because even though he was a lover to many—he was said to never have lost a single drop of semen. Instead, sexual activity (and the transmutation of sex energy during intercourse) was a way to experience ecstasy and divine oneness. In fact, you will find many intimate depictions of Krishna with his ultimate beloved, Radha—which is believed to symbolize the ultimate union of the divine feminine with the divine masculine.
Keeping the wisdom of this story in mind, the practice of brahmacharya is not about sexual suppression and forced celibacy. In fact, the unnatural suppression of sex energy can lead to great imbalance within a student, and can create blockages which prevent the sex energy from flowing freely through the body and energetic system. It is also not about abstaining from pleasure.
Instead, sexuality is placed within a sacred context—a spiritual practice where one learns techniques of sublimation to ignite higher spiritual experiences and feelings of oneness. And many practitioners of sacred sexuality claim that the pleasure is actually enhanced, and learn techniques to orgasm without releasing.
As yogis, therefore, we are called to study the techniques and practices of sacred sexuality. It is part of the yogic path, and brahmacharya reminds us of this. It is not enough to look at something from its surface level definition. This yama opens up a vast field of exploration around our notions of sexuality, divine oneness, illumination, and awakening.
I feel this contemplation is then simply a doorway, a small spark that begins a much larger discussion and dialogue, and hopefully encourages further study on energy and sacred sexuality. For I have come to believe that this is one of the most powerful yogic practices we can experience as a human in this body. . .
"Love is the food that will make your Soul grow. By loving deeply, you become One with your beloved. And One with all.” -Master Choa Kok Sui