Making sense of our senses
By learning to moderate our senses, the yama of brahmacharya frees us from the suffering of the undisciplined mind.
Brahmacharya, in Sanskrit, translated to ‘pure conduct’. It’s a precept that Buddhist monks or nuns are familiar with. In keeping with the Buddhist tradition, those who submit to brahmacharya endeavour to pursue a moral life free of murder, theft, improper sexual intercourse, or even intoxicants such as alcohol.
For yogis, brahmacharya is more familiar as one of the yamas that promote one’s wise use of energy, including sexual energy. Here, balancing one’s sexual energy is not necessarily a physical pursuit. These energies also arise in the domains of the body and speech. Simply setting eyes on an erotic photo or listening to music with suggestive lyrics can trigger the mind to take flight. When untamed, the mind can easily veer into the domain of sexual fantasies, which can be an energetic distraction that prevents us from fully regarding another person beyond an object of sexual desire.
Yet, it is human to possess sexual feelings. From a clinical perspective, sexual desire is an expression of the human search for evolutionary advantage. Without desire, the human population would not find the urge or impetus to reproduce. It is an evolutionary need that drives us at a fundamental level.
As such, discussing the topic of sexuality in the context of yoga shouldn’t be off-limits. The ability to discuss it instead of repressing it entirely has its benefits. In some monastic communities, it has been reported that the very repression of sexual energy has at times lead to an acting-out of those very same energies.
So when we practice brahmacharya, we strive to recognise the nature of our bodies, respect the dignity of our bodies, and in turn that of others.
What is important is the ability to recognise our sexual energies, but without attachment or aversion. We simply acknowledge them as what they are. We work with it as it arises. We work with it as it passes away. It is what it is – energy. In keeping with the laws of energy, it cannot be created, neither can it be destroyed. It is simply converted from one form to another.
Drawing this sense of awareness of our inherent sexual energies allow us to release any feelings of loneliness, longing, frustration, or craving. This way, we can prevent ourselves from pursuing situations that create more of these feelings.
That is not to say that sexual relations are necessarily negative in nature. When realised in a state of mutual understanding, commitment, and love, these sexual energies form the genesis of a new life. Think of a baby being created, being born.
Upholding the precept brahmacharya can be challenging at times, even for our fellow human beings who have sworn into a life of chastity. However, similar to the yamas of ahimsa, satya, asteya, and aparigraha, the ideal itself encourages us to transform. In this way, we make room for such qualities of compassion, empathy, and kindness – both to ourselves and others.