|YOGALife - Spring 1996|
|Table of Contents|
Memories of Swami Vishnu-devananda:
- A Different Kind of Swami
- The Spirit of Renunciation
- Cherished Memories
|·||The Yogi: Portraits of Swami Vishnu-devananda|
|·||Swami Vishnu-devananda speaks: Questions and Answers|
|·||How to Get Vairagya|
|·||Sex is not compulsory|
"Brahmacharya is a divine word. It
is the sum and substance of Yoga. Brahmacharya is the Achara or conduct by which
you attain or reach Brahman (God). It is life in the absolute. It is movement
towards God or Atman. Brahmacharya is purity in thought word and deed. It is
celibacy and continence."
- Swami Sivananda
Brahmacharya is the self-control, discrimination and will-power by which we learn to choose the "Good" over the "Pleasant". Human beings and animals have many instincts and emotions in common. However, humans have the distinct capacity to use discrimination to sublimate their animal instincts. This process of sublimation is the essence of Yoga. Regrettably, the double-standard of repressive morality amidst a popular culture of "freedom of indulgence" has made Brahmacharya both feared and misunderstood. Consequently, it is the most commonly neglected or inbalanced in the practice of Yoga.
In Brahmacharya, the will constantly asserts mastery over the senses and the mind. By asserting a primary dominance over the lower sexual and sensual tendencies of the mind, we obtain the discrimination and motivation to practice the other Yamas -Non-violence, Truth, Non-stealing, and Non-covetousness. Satya or "Truth" is practiced when the "Good" is chosen over the "pleasant". Because most acts of violence are done as an undisciplined response to unfulfilled desire, no Ahimsa (Non-violence) is possible without Brahmacharya. A regular practice of Brahmacharya is an important corner-stone to all Yoga discipline. For anyone wishing to take on this most essential Sadhana, I strongly recommend the book, The Practice of Brahmacharya, by Swami Sivananda. In the meantime, I would like to share a few insights that I have gleaned from my master Swami Vishnu-devananda in his attempt to transplant Brahmacharya in the West, and from my own long on-going struggle to understand and practice Brahmacharya - "the path that leads to Brahman".
"This world is nothing but sex and
ego. Ego is the chief thing. It is the basis. The sex is hanging on the ego.
Sex and ego are the products of Avidya or ignorance. Man - master of his destiny
- has lost his divine glory and has become a slave, a tool in the hands of sex
and ego, on account of ignorance."
More than we would like to admit, our lives are dominated by habit and instinct.
Undisciplined life can be compared to that of a street dog, a series of meaningless
adventures - instinctive response to desire. Maya or the illusive power of God
controls this world, making all dance like marionettes with the strings of delusive
power of desire and infatuation.
Sexual attraction is at the root of most advertising, fashion, and mass media entertainment because people spend their money impulsively and illogically when sexual desire is stimulated or when sexual adequacy is challenged. Fortunes are made by transforming luxuries into necessities through the association of worthless commodities with virility and "sex appeal".
Society's main vices, from cigarettes to alcohol are sold with sex. Like the moth whose instinct draws it again and again into the fire, the whole world dances to the music of sexual infatuation casting away discrimination into a sea of excited emotions. Cinema, music, sports and even political "stars" are marketed as sexual commodities of our pop culture. We all complain of moral decay and sexism, yet are afraid to look to the source of the exploitation in an over-stimulated and unrestrained sex drive.
Even when it is not explicit, our culture associates sex with "life, liberty
and the pursuit of happiness". Even among otherwise moral and religious people,
sex within marriage is often considered as an expression of youth, beauty and
virility. The Yoga philosophy and psychology of self-mastery, sees the search
for happiness and self expression through sex as symptomatic of the spiritual
disease of identification with the body, emotions and ego rather than the immortal
Self or Atman.
This false identification is considered to be the root cause of ignorance and the consequent sins of lust, anger, jealously, hatred, selfishness, etc. All Yoga practices serve to sublimate the subtle, psychic sexual energy or Ojas and transform it into spiritual energy or Tejas. Hatha Yoga involves directly channeling the Prana or vital life energy by directing it away from sensual and sexual pursuits and towards spiritual awakening.
A Yoga practitioner directly perceives during his or her practice of Asana, Pranayama, abstraction, concentration and meditation, that sexual thoughts and acts quickly drain the vital energy, or Ojas. Thus Yoga practitioners who do not control the sexual instinct become hypocrites, wasting their time in the mere show of spiritual practices while the vital energy charged and stored pours out the holes in the leaking bucket of an undisciplined mind.
When one decides to live the divine life of Brahmacharya, it is also possible
to fall into the other extreme. If it is really "the sum and substance of Yoga",
it must be conquered systematically over one's whole lifetime. As one of the
Master's disciples humorously put it when asked about Brahmacharya, "It's a
long word brother". New aspirants often make a major error in zealously transposing
their old habit of ego attachment from sexual indulgence to a fanatical and
self-destructive crusade of sexual repression. Swami Vishnu-devananda, though
a fervent advocate of self-discipline, and Brahmacharya, warned time and again
of the dangers of repression.
Swamiji used to describe the consequences of forceful, egotistical repression as "kick-back". He would ask his students to humbly respect Maya, or God's power of desire and illusion. "Only through Lord's grace," he would warn, "can we be freed from this Maya. The sexual instinct is the power of attraction of desire itself, which is the most powerful force in this Universe. To try to stand against it with one's will alone, is like trying to hold back Niagara Falls. We need God's grace."
This grace manifests as discrimination and dispassion for body identification, and the spiritual desire and will to practice Yoga asanas, pranayama, Satsang, prayer, Japa, inquiry and meditation; only with the strength of these positive habits can we hope to eradicate the disease of passion and open the eye of wisdom.
The Bhagavad Gita describes three types of pleasure: "That which is like poison at first but in the end like nectar - that pleasure is declared to be Sattwic, born of the purity of one's own mind due to Self-realization. That pleasure which arises from the contact of the sense-organs with the objects, which is at first like nectar and in the end like poison -that is declared to be Rajasic. That pleasure which at first and in the sequel is delusive of the self, arising from sleep, indolence and heedlessness -such a pleasure is declared to be Tamasic." - BG 18 37- 39
The worldly definition of pleasure is of the Rajasic type: sensual and emotional stimulation which Yogi's compare to an itch. The sex impulse charged with powerful instinct and habit essentially creates a nervous itching. The satisfaction of this impulse begets a delusive pleasure, which both further aggravates the irritation and depletes one's vital energy. Think what happens when you scratch a mosquito bite. The more you scratch the more the itching, until the bite becomes a burning sore, and finally a bloody wound.
The sexual act and imagination produces a Samskara or impression in the subconscious mind or Chitta. The Samskara raises a Vritti or thought-wave in the mind and the Vritti again reinforces the Samskara. Enjoyment thickens the Vasanas or subconscious instincts. Through memory and imagination, a revival of sexual desire comes in.
Brahmacharya is not only an important part of the renunciate tradition as a preparation for Sannyas or Swami. In the four stages of Hindu life, Brahmacharya is the first stage - that of the students training in self-control. Traditionally, children are initiated into Brahmacharya when they begin their student life. Self-control and spiritual education form a foundation for the second life stage, the Grihasta Ashram (householder life), as well as a life of renunciation. Grihasta (householder life) - is the only stage in one's life where sex is condoned, and then in moderation. Grihasta ashram is the time in one's life emphasizing social responsibility or Dharma . Sexuality becomes part of that duty as a means to bring children into the world. The example of lions which have sexual relations but once a year for this purpose is often cited as an ideal for householders. The Vanaprastha Ashram, (retired hermitage) forms the third stage of life. When children are established, the married couple leaves their worldly responsibilities and attachments and retire to an ashram to concentrate on Sadhana or spiritual practices in preparation for a life of renunciation. Life's last stage is Sannyasa (renunciation and meditation). This stage comes whenever one masters Brahmacharya. The other three stages are only a preparation for Sannyas. Swami Vishnu-devanandaji used to say, "The Sannyasi kicks the world before the world kicks him."
"You cannot always remain as a child
playing with dolls. You change into a teenager dancing and listening to music.
Then you move into the role of a responsible householder educating the children.
Then someday you are going to retire and give all the business, etc. to the
offspring, and the third stage 'Vanaprastha', will come. By knowing this, there
will be no problem. However, in the West, marriage lasts an average of about
5 or 6 years. Then they want to change their partner. They are tired because
they do not see the psychological thing happening. "Think about it! Our life
is very short, the householders life is fleeting. You will soon become old.
Before they throw you out of the house, before they take all of your money,
say 'I quit. I am going to be a Swami. Om Shanti"
. I have taken a few quotations from Swami Sivananda's masterpiece the Practice of Brahmacharya:
"You cannot attain perfect Brahmacharya by limited effort. Just as a machine-gun is necessary to kill a powerful enemy, so also, constant, vigorous, powerful Sadhana is necessary to annihilate this powerful enemy, lust. You must not be puffed up with pride for your little achievement in celibacy. If you are put to test, you will hopelessly fail."
"Sexual impulses can, with difficulty, be controlled. A rebellion of the sexual impulses takes place when you attempt to control them. Constant Japa and meditation for a long period are necessary to direct the sex energy into the spiritual channel. Complete sublimation of the sexual energy into Ojas Shakti is necessary."
"Yogic practices, meditation and so on will attenuate or thin out the sexual desire to a very great extent. But, Self-realization alone can completely destroy or burn the sexual desire and Samskaras in toto."
"Sex urge is a creative force. Unless you are inspired by spiritual ideals, it is difficult to keep the sexual instinct in check. Direct the sex energy to the higher spiritual channel. It will be sublimated. It will be transformed into divine energy. Complete eradication of lust, however, cannot be done through personal effort. It can be accomplished only by God's grace."
"For a liberated sage, this world is full of Brahman only. For a passionate man, this world is full of woman. He falls in love with a wooden post if it wrapped in a silken gown or a beautiful cloth with attractive borders and a petticoat. When a man is under the influence of passion and, excitement the sex impulse or force destroy his understanding and reason, overwhelm him and make him utterly helpless."
May you all realize the absolute through the courageous practice of Brahmacharya.
(Srinivasan, a senior disciple of Swami Vishu-devananda, is the director of the Sivananda Ashram Yoga Ranch colony in Woodbourne, New York. He and his wife, Lakshmi, have a daughter named SivaKami)
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