If you’ve studied yoga philosophy and heard the term brahmacharya, you may think of celibacy, self-denial, or asceticism when you see the word. But believe it or not, the aim of brahmacharya is to enjoy life! Brahmacharya means “to walk with God” (in Hindu terminology, to seek Brahman). In my belief, God doesn’t want us to suffer or deny ourselves the pleasures of life.
Brahmacharya is the fourth yama — the fourth of five ways in which yogis (ideally) relate to the outer world. (The others are kindness, truthfulness, not taking what doesn’t belong to you, and not being greedy.) The basic idea of brahmacharya that we need to pay attention to the endless craving for more that never satisfies us. It’s living with the knowledge that what liberates us from suffering is not having more, but awakening to our own divine nature, a nature that in itself is enough.
Brahamacharya is not so much about denial as it is about knowing when we’re going overboard. Excess is what keeps us from walking with God. Excess is destructive. If you doubt this, think of how you felt the last time you ate too much junk food or spent too much money or even learned too much!
Anything that nourishes us, whether physically, intellectually, spiritually, or emotionally, does so to a point. At that point—the point of excess—it begins to have the opposite effect. The pursuit of pleasure, whatever it is, begins to take over our lives. It controls us and is no longer pleasant. So, we need to know when enough is enough.
The Practice of Gratitude and Joy
Most of us seek pleasure to avoid suffering. What gives you pleasure in life? Good food? Social connections? Nice clothes? If you have those things and appreciate them, you are not necessarily acting against brahmacharya. But if your goal is more food, more friends, more fashion, more anything, you can easily cross the line from enough to excess.
There are many burdens that come with overindulgence. In some cases, they’re obvious. Eat too much, and you’ll feel sick. Spend too much money, and you’ll be broke. Work too hard to get money, and you’ll be exhausted, stressed, and without time to enjoy the fruits of your labor. In other cases, the burdens of excess may not be so obvious.
Are you working too hard to get people to like you so you can maintain an image of social connection? Has your sexual desire turned into a string of meaningless encounters? Is your need to understand everything giving you a big headache?
Brahmacharya Teaches Us to Seek Less
Brahmacharya is living simply and with reverence for life, seeking and accepting only what we truly need. And it’s interesting to note that, over time, our yoga practice — particularly the ethical practices of the yamas and niyamas — tends to align with the truth behind the saying that “less is more.”
I remember watching a movie about a Christian singer who became very popular and wealthy, but he wanted to live as Jesus lived, so he asked his accountant to give him only enough money to live an “average” lifestyle. Beyond that, he didn’t even want to know how much money he had. This man practiced brahmacharya.
You’ve probably had the experience of shopping for something and being overwhelmed by the number of choices you have. This kind of experience can tempt us toward another type of indulgence. We think we need to sample everything that’s out there.
Brahmacharya teaches us to live simply, and when we live simply, we can walk with God.
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Hi, I’m Maria. I created Yoga Circles for you if you want to delve more deeply into the philosophy, practice, and life-changing effects of yoga. I’m also a writer and editor who helps small business owners, wellness professionals, teachers, and authors publish books, develop marketing strategies, and connect with readers, clients, and students. Visit my website (link below) for more about that. I’d love to hear from you!