Brahmacharya is difficult to translate into Western terms. It literally means “under the tutelage of Brahma.” Brahmacharya refers to celibacy, religious study and self-restraint. It resembles expected behavior of monks and nuns in Christian monasteries. Yet, in Indian society, many people who practice brahmacharya are married with children, because without knowledge of human love one can’t know divine love. One way to translate brahmacharya for Western sensibilities may be to see it as cultivating control of all our perception so that we are not unbalanced by our own experience, our hormones, our desires, or our fears. This means that we take a step back from the situations we find ourselves in and look at them objectively.
You could also see it as adopting a discipline (such as meditation, yoga, prayer, or all three along with any others that seem life-enhancing) in daily life and using our experiences to cultivate wisdom and balance.
For me, yoga was the first step. From the very beginning (when I was ostentatiously fit and strong—I’m still fit and strong, just not ostentatiously so!) doing yoga has felt like I was putting my body back together.
This led me to practicing meditation. Not one of the easiest things I’ve ever attempted. Even before I felt like I was beginning to succeed, my responses to everyday stresses and challenges began to change. I took fewer things personally. I felt less judgement toward others. I was less impatient … and more.
Eventually I even did a few years of mantra practice (more about that in another post).
The thing is, each of these practices led me to a fuller, more balanced, and happier life. I never realized at the time that I was practicing brahmacharya.