[Extract from The Role of Celibacy in the Spiritual Life by Chidananda.]
The spiritual life starts with your recognition that as long as you keep going headlong in the pursuit of sense satisfaction and pleasure, you are not going to move one step. So all will be academic and theoretical. Our aspiration, our wanting spiritual life will only be in theory—a fancy and a feeling. You have not started.
So the beginning stage itself of the spiritual life is a turning away from sense experience and sense indulgence and starting to move in the opposite direction. It is perhaps precisely for this reason that Maharshi Patanjali [1, 2] put brahmacharya right at the very commencement of his eight-stage Raja Yoga and not at any later stage. It is one of the five vows that constitute the first stage. If he had thought that it was only important or essential at a later stage, he would have brought it in at the third or fourth stage. But no, he did it at the very beginning.
[2. Verse 2.38: "When walking in the awareness of the highest reality (brahmacharya) is firmly established, then a great strength, capacity, or vitality (virya) is acquired."]
The third key to success [the second key had to do with mental attitude] is also something that I myself have used right from the very beginning, and I think it is the ultimate answer. The real secret of success in brahmacharya, the real key, is what I'm just now going to state: The moment you begin to think that I am Atman, unborn, nameless, formless, I have neither body nor mind, I am Satchidananda (Existence-Consciousness-Bliss Absolute), Self-sufficient, I am of the very nature of Bliss Absolute–if you thus totally shift your consciousness to your reality, to your essential, eternal, true identity, then, finished! Brahmacharya is no longer a problem. The problem of brahmacharya ceases to exist except only once in a while due to old impressions. If some factor outside of you happens to act as a stimulus, then an idea may come.
Mind you, it is not only what your mental-intellectual mechanism thinks about yourself, it is also your feeling about yourself. If both your thinking and feeling are elevated to such a height, elevated to that dimension–it's not only a question of height, it's a different dimension altogether–and you move into that dimension, this lower dimension ceases to be of importance, ceases to have any impact upon you. It is there; it may function, but you are not at all affected by it in any way.
Once you start cultivating staying put in the consciousness of your own essential identity, then brahmacharya is no longer a problem. It is solved. So the ultimate key to success in brahmacharya is atma bhava, to become absolutely convinced that you are something totally beyond body, mind, senses etc. The mind, due to its habitual wrong thinking, may periodically bring in a contrary idea that "I am so and so." Be indifferent to it. Dismiss it as nonsense. Refuse to entertain it. Don't pay any attention to it. Just be. Abide in your own Self. This is the master key more than anything else.
Actually, the vast, vast majority of human beings are human animals only; they are totally rooted in body consciousness. So the yogi says that their consciousness only revolves in the lowest three centers, that is food, sex and lower elimination.
If some higher awakening comes and they develop compassion for others, a spirit of service, wanting to make others happy, then the consciousness occasionally manifests itself in the fourth center, the center of feeling. If the consciousness persists in the upward trend of spiritual evolution and ideal living, it can come to the vishuddha chakra where one can have many subjective experiences, visions etc., but still the experiences come and go and the consciousness moves up and down, up and down.
If consciousness rises further to the ajna chakra, one tends to be more and more stable, established, because it is the center of the mind, the psyche. But it is only when consciousness comes to the sahashrara that there is no longer a chance of a downfall. One is above body consciousness. One is not aware of oneself as a body. One does not think or feel or conceive of oneself as a physical entity at all. There is no moving down. Consciousness is firmly established. But until then there is always a need to be vigilant.
Man is a mixture of three ingredients: first, an animal with all the physical propensities and sense urges that one shares in common with animals; second, the rational, logical human level; and third, the dormant Divinity, the sleeping God within. The whole of the spiritual life is a gradual elimination, eradication, of the animal within, and the refinement or purification and education of the entire human nature so that it stops its movement in all other directions and starts taking on an ascending vertical direction.
Once the human nature is given an upward turn, one simultaneously starts awakening the sleeping Divinity with the help of all one's spiritual practices. If one knows that the spiritual process, the spiritual life, is the elimination of the animal, the refining and directing upwards of the human, and the awakening and unfoldment of the Divine, then all spiritual practices, including the role that brahmacharya plays, fall into their right place.
Brahmacharya or celibacy is a rational process of preserving and conserving precious energy so that it can be utilized in other very essential and indispensable functions. And if it is preserved like this, it can be converted, just as tangible, gross water is converted into subtle steam. Then it can do wonders. A river may not have much power in it by itself. You may be easily able to row or swim across it. But, if it is dammed up and its waters conserved, then it has the power, when properly channelled, to turn huge turbines and produce electricity. The hot sun, even in summer, does not normally cause a fire, but if you concentrate its rays through a lens, those rays will immediately burn whatever they are focused on. That is what celibacy actually is.
This cosmic force manifests in our own system as prana (vital energy, life force). And prana is the precious reserve of the seeker. Any sense activity or sense experience consumes a lot of prana. And the activity that consumes the greatest amount of prana is the sex act. Gurudev has put it very strongly: "It shatters the entire nervous system."
Because it creates great excitement, great agitation, and such an intensity of feeling that as an aftermath it leaves the person exhausted and depleted. The highest of all goals in human life–spiritual attainment–requires the maximum available pranic energy on all levels: mental, intellectual and emotional.
It is through prana that one has to restrain one's senses. It is through prana that one has to still the restless activity of the mind. It is through prana that one has to centralize all the scattered rays of the mind and make it one-pointed in concentration. It is through prana that one has to direct the concentrated mind upon the object of meditation. Prana is required for spiritual reflection and discrimination.
The thinking must be sharp and the intellect penetrating. To understand the inner implications of a guru's instructions requires a special type of intelligence. You may be a very intellectual person, and you may immediately grasp the language meaning of something the guru is telling you, but if the guru is speaking of a abstruse subject not within the normal range of your ordinary human experience, you require a special subtle type of understanding. And that understanding develops through brahmacharya. So as I said, all these various practices require the use of prana, and celibacy insures that an abundance of pranic reserve is available to the seeker. So viewed from this angle, it is a rational and very positive process.
This is the rationale behind celibacy. If you conserve this vital energy and divert it to the spiritual process of contemplation, philosophical study and reflection, and meditation, it becomes successful, because you have concentrated your force and you are able to direct the concentrated force by focusing it upon your spiritual practices. If it is preserved, concentrated and diverted into a specific channel, it works wonders
Vedanta long ago probed into this subject of the human situation, and the sages saw clearly that 999 persons out of every 1000 or 9,999 out of every 10,000 were completely caught up in a state of "I am this body." They knew of their identity only as a physical entity, a being with hands and feet and ears and eyes, eating, drinking, sleeping, talking, doing things. So they are totally body- bound. Their consciousness is held upon the level of the physical body. This is the situation.
But the goal of the spiritual seeker is Cosmic Consciousness, which is their inner reality beyond time, space, name and form. So, when you juxtapose their present state of consciousness and the experience they wish to attain, you can just imagine how impossible this would be if they go on perpetuating this total identification with the physical body and all its processes.
Among all these bodily processes, most have become mechanical. Most people are not intensely aware of eating, drinking, sleeping, voiding. All these things have become automatic. But the one process that most of them purposefully engage in, with great desire for it-wanting it, thinking about it, planning for it and going after it–is sex enjoyment, which means that this is a process that concentrates their entire consciousness, entire mind, entire attention upon the physical, their physical identity.
From one angle the sex act is the acme of physicality or animality. It is a process that perforce directs your entire attention upon the physical, and even more, the full focusing of your desire and intention upon that part of your physical nature that you share in common with the entire animal kingdom. Is this going to be in any way helpful for attaining Cosmic Consciousness?
So here is a human being, the crown, and glory of God's creation, high above all the rest of the living species, going down to the gross, physical, material animal level and giving oneself totally to it–seeking it, wanting it, going after it, doing everything one can in order to obtain it, indulging in it, and wanting to have it always available. That means that one is voluntarily binding oneself down to a level of physical consciousness.
If you are a spiritual seeker, can you not see that you are working against yourself? You have to liberate your consciousness from the lesser levels and go on lifting it to progressively higher and higher levels of finer and more refined states. For if the whole of the spiritual process of illumination and enlightenment is a process of rising into a higher state of consciousness, it automatically implies liberating yourself from a lower state of consciousness.
If you want to move northward it means moving away from the south. And one of the things that helps you to free yourself from being caught in this physical level is celibacy. Cosmic Consciousness, Absolute Consciousness, is a far cry if you don't recognize the necessity of liberating yourself from your total identification with the body.
So brahmacharya is neither repressing sexuality nor avoiding sexuality. It is just bypassing sexuality, and making use of this sexual potential for some thing ten times, a hundred times greater. Therefore, the question of repression and suppression is a misnomer. It is due to a lack of proper understanding of what the real spiritual quest is. If it is understood, then these terms will not be used. We are not just human beings; we are more than human beings. Our human status is only a pale reflection of what we really are.
If you want to understand the practice of celibacy through an analogy that is within the thought forms of today, consider an athlete whose great ambition is to win a gold medal at the Olympics. He will willingly put himself into the hands of a trainer, and if the trainer says, "No more late night revelry, no more sex, no more junk food, no more alcohol," the athlete readily agrees. He says: "I'll agree to this and more also if you want it." Why? Because he wants the gold medal. And no one raises an eyebrow, no one is outraged. Why? Because the gold medal justifies all these so-called "inhibitions."
You cannot say that he's doing violence to or repressing himself, because he is not looking at it that way. He is willing to do anything that the trainer demands of him. It is not imposed upon him by other people. We understand why he is doing it and we accept it. On the contrary, what appears to be a sort of denial is actually giving full self-expression to a higher dimension of your being into which you have now placed yourself.
So, far from denying self-expression, it is giving full expression to yourself because you are no longer identified with the lesser aspect of your total personality. You are identified with the higher aspect. It is a sort of a liberation and evolution to a higher level. It is something positive, creative, and not anything negative. It is not a denial but an actual expression of yourself in the form of a keen aspiration and a noble ambition.
For example, the Ramakrishna Mission keeps a person as a pre-probationer for one full year. Then he goes through a probationary period for a minimum of eight years. Only then is he eligible to request that he be a full monastic swami. So this type of taking in, sifting, and observing would perhaps obviate many of these lapses and aberrations. You only allow a person to undertake that vow after a certain period in the spiritual life. However, even when all the conditions I have mentioned are fulfilled, extreme caution must be exercised until a stage is reached where brahmacharya is one's normal and natural condition.
[I]f the mind is diverted into higher things, automatically brahmacharya becomes easy. You can succeed in brahmacharya if the mind is totally taken up by something so wonderful, so big, it absorbs you and elevates you, and the mind is simply gripped by it. When you want an infinitely higher enjoyment, then you say: "My discarding this is not any discarding. My discarding the smaller enjoyments of the physical aspect of my being is not at all any renunciation to boast about."
On the contrary, you are being shrewd and wise because you want to go after something infinitely more wonderful. It is like throwing away pieces of glass if someone says, "I'll replace them with diamonds." That is another way of looking at the whole phenomenon of celibacy from the point of view of the spiritual life and the highest attainment of illumination and enlightenment.