by Swami Krishnananda
Among the various items of self-restraint constituting the Yamas, we have discussed in some detail the principles of Ahimsa, Satya, Aparigraha and Asteya, namely, non-injury, truthfulness, non-appropriation of properties not actually belonging to oneself, and avoidance of possessions not essential for one's life under the circumstances in which one is placed. Another, the last one among the Yamas, is Brahmacharya, which actually means the 'conduct of the Absolute'.
'Brahman' is the Supreme Being; 'Charya' is conduct, or behaviour. How God behaves – that is called Brahmacharya, finally. It is a very difficult thing for us to understand, because we do not know how God behaves, how the Absolute conducts Itself. The attitude of the Supreme Being towards the universe and all beings is Brahmacharya, and to the extent that we are able to participate in this attitude, it may be said that we are also following that canon. Our participation in the attitude of the Supreme Being may be infinitesimal, but there should be at least this 'tendency' towards holding the same attitude, the same outlook as that of the Lord. So, Brahmacharya is an integrated outlook of consciousness, an attitude of the personality, and an interpretation of things. These are the essential basic principles of Brahmacharya. And minus these principles, the term Brahmacharya will yield only a chaotic meaning which will not help us much. In the Anu-Gita of the Mahabharata, a similar broad and majestic interpretation of Brahmacharya is given, as coming out from the mouth of Sri Krishna Himself, during his instructions to Arjuna. The idea behind this significant term Brahmacharya, translated as the conduct of the Absolute, is that it is a gradual adjustment of the powers of one's personality towards larger and larger dimensions of impersonality, because, the Absolute or Brahman is the Supreme Impersonality conceivable and existent. There is no externality to the Absolute and, therefore, it cannot be pulled in any outward direction. It has no conscious relationship with anything, though it is related to everything in the world. It cannot be said that God is not related to the world, He is related even to the minutest of things; even to a grain of sand, God is related. Yet, in a way, He is not related to anything. The idea is that the attitude of the Supreme Spirit is of a generalised or universalised relationship with all things, free from particularised or specialised interpretations or evaluations in regard to any thing or any object.
Whenever there is a specialised outlook in any particular direction, along the channel of an object or a group of objects, living or non-living, consciousness moves in that direction. No matter what our interest is in that direction, our mind moves. When the mind moves, the Prana also moves. When the Prana moves, the energy also moves. So, one follows the other. Our mental interest in any particular direction draws the power of the Prana in that very direction, and like a charge of electricity, our energies are diverted. Whenever we think of an object, especially when we do so with a particular interest, which process is called the Klishta Vritti in the language of Patanjali, we are drawn towards that object, a part of us goes to it. Any interest psychologically manifest in the direction of any particular object is a diversion, of energy along that channel, and psychological or emotional interest is nothing but a way of transferring oneself, at least in part, if not in whole, to that particular centre wherein one's interest lies. So, in some measure, we cease to be ourselves for the time being when we admire something, love something, or are attracted towards something. Sometimes, we can be wholly lost to ourselves when the attraction is full and hundred-per-cent, as may happen when we are looking at a painting, or enjoying a beautiful landscape, or reading a piece of lofty literature. The object may be conceptual, visible or audible, it makes no difference; we get transferred. When we listen to an enrapturing melody, our being is transferred to the modulation of the voice which is the music or the melody. When we look at a beautiful form, a landscape, a painting or any other object, we are drawn in our consciousness, and we are drawn even in reading arresting literature. In all these processes of sensory or intellectual absorption, outside oneself, there is a channelising of force of which we are constituted and which forms our strength. As long as we do not sell ourselves to any outside object, do not participate in anything external, we stand by ourselves. Otherwise, in some percentage, we cease to be ourselves and become another. If one becomes another and does not continue to be what oneself is, A becomes B for the time being, and there is a cessation of the characteristic of A. The subject becomes the object in its evaluation of the object as something in which it has to take interest for some purpose which is in its mind. This should not happen, holds Patanjali, in essence. Because, if this happens, the energy that is supposed to be conserved for the purpose of meditation on the universality of the Purusha will be spent out in other directions, and to that extent, we will be losers of our strength. The fickleness of the mind or the absence of memory about which we often complain, the distraction to which the mind is heir to the jumping of the feelings from one centre to another – all these are attributable to the fluctuation of energy in our system. It is like the torrential Ganga moving in force with her waves dashing up and down and not resting stable as a limpid lake without movement. When our energies are in tumult, the impact of it is felt by the mind. We are shaken up in our whole system, because of the desire of the personality to move outside itself. As milk gradually becomes curd by an internal shaking of itself, the subject can turn into the object. And love of any kind is nothing but the transference of the subject into the object in some measure, be that object perceptible or merely conceptual. The very thought of the object disturbs the mind. This is mentioned in a famous passage by Bhishma in the Shanti Parva of the Mahabharata.
As we have noted earlier, the thought of an object is of two kinds, called the Aklishta Vritti and the Klishta Vritti by Patanjali. We can think of an object through an Aklishta Vritti or we can think of it through a Klishta Vritti. When we open our eyes and look at a large tree standing in front of us in the forest, an Aklishta Vritti is formed in the mind. It is a modification of the mind, because the mind has transformed itself into the form of the tree which we are beholding. But, it has not upset our emotion. It has not drawn our attention largely. We just look at it and are aware that there is a tree. To the extent that we are aware that there is some object outside us, the mind has transformed itself; it has ceased to be itself for the time being, though it has not caused us any sorrow. The tree has not attracted us or repelled us. But if we see a cobra with its hood raised, the modification of the mind at that time is not merely Aklishta, it is not merely a gazing at an object without internal association of emotion. Because, the emotion acts at the sight of a snake, while it will not act in that manner when we look at a tree or a mountain. Even as there is a particular type of emotional reaction at the time of the perception of an object like a cobra, there is another type of reaction of a similar intensity when we look at things which are highly valuable from our point of view. It may be a large treasure-chest or something else which we think is worthwhile. So, anything we like or dislike evokes a Klishta Vritti in the mind. A thing in which we are not particularly interested either way evokes an Aklishta Vritti in the mind. For the purpose of Yoga, both these Vrittis have to be subdued. Neither the Klishta nor the Aklishta is a desirable thing from the point of view of Mano-nirodha or Chitta-vritti-nirodha, which is Yoga.
The objects of the world speak in a language which we understand in our own way. They get transformed into a meaning when they enter into the mind of individuals; and each individual has his own or her own reading of any particular object. Every object sings a song and we listen to this music, but its meaning is different for different persons. For instance, the same word may convey different meanings to different persons because of the association of those persons in different ways with the particular context in which the word is uttered. All objects in the world speak to us in a psychological language or with a philosophical significance. But, the association of each one of us with them is such that it reads a specialised meaning in this generalised evoking of reaction from us by those objects. This particularised interpretation by each individual in answer to the general call of objects is his love or hatred. Objects of the world are not intended for being loved or for being hated. They exist as we also exist. Just as we do not evince any particular emotional love or hatred towards ourselves; and our loves and hatreds are only in regard to things outside ourselves, we can extend this logic to other objects also. No one assesses himself in terms of love and hatred. His assessment is in regard to other things, other persons. So, studying things in an impartial manner, we find that loves and hatreds are outside the scheme of things. They are not in the order of nature. They do not exist in nature at all. But for us, they only exist and nothing else! We are immersed in this tumultuous chaos, or the clamours of the senses and the mind, which go by the name of likes and dislikes.
Here is the basic foundation of the great admonition by the Yoga teacher that we have to conserve energy. We generally understand Brahmacharya to be celibacy, a very poor translation of the word, and a misdirected meaning also. By celibacy we mean abstinence from marriage, and we associate or identify celibacy with Brahmacharya or continence in the light of the requirement of Yoga, especially as mentioned by Patanjali. But, nothing of the kind is Brahmacharya. It is not non-marriage, and it is not celibacy in its popular meaning. A person who has not married need not necessarily be a Brahmacharin. And a person who has married need not cease to be that. Because, what we have to be careful in noting in this context is the intention behind this instruction, and not merely the following of it in social parlance. The intention is the conservation of energy, and the directing of the whole of one's personality towards the great objective of universal consciousness. And the energy of the system is required for any kind of concentration, not merely for God-realisation or Brahma-Sakshatkara. We require energy even to solve a mathematical problem. Even to build a bridge across a large river, even to study the minute particles of nature in a physical research laboratory, one requires a tremendous concentration of mind. Even to walk on a wire in a circus requires concentration. So, wherever there is a necessity to hold one's breath and concentrate one's attention, as in walking on a very narrow passage, tremendous energy is required, concentration is necessary. A two-feet wide bridge without any protection on either side and spanning a stream flowing in a deep gorge below – we know how we will walk on that bridge, holding our breath and thinking only of that narrow passage and nothing else. Certainly we will not be thinking any other distracting thought in our mind. Like that, the fixing of the mind on the great ideal of Yoga requires a complete surrender of oneself, in every part of one's being, in the form of concentration. This cannot be done, says Yoga, if we have other interests.
So, a lack of Brahmacharya means nothing but the presence of interests other than the interest in Yoga. The distracting object may be anything. If we have got a strong interest in something which distracts our attention, the energy goes. Any kind of leakage of energy in any direction, caused by any object or any event or context, is a break in Brahmacharya. A burst of anger is a break in Brahmacharya, though one does not normally think so. No one condemns a man because he is angry. We may even think him to be a wonderful person in spite of his burst of anger, but the truth is that he has failed utterly in his Brahmacharya. He is broken down totally. Because most people are tradition-bound, they go by the beaten track of social tradition and custom, and think that religion is nothing but what society sanctions. But, it is not like that. Religion is not merely the requirement demanded by a Hindu society or a Christian organisation. It has nothing to do with these things. What the universe expects us to manifest from our side, in respect of it, is the great religion of mankind, the religion of God or the religion of the universe. Nobody is going to save us, merely because we are religious in the eyes of the people. In that case, we may well go to the dogs with all our religion. What will help us, what will guide us, what will take us by the hand and lead us along is the great law which we obey, in the manner in which we are required to obey it, under the circumstances of our relationship with all things in the universe. So, in every way, we have to conserve our energy without any kind of distraction.
The philosophers, the mystics, the saints and the sages have made a thorough analysis of the energies of the human mind, the psycho-physical organism in all its completeness. It would appear that we are centres of pressure or stress. Every individual is such a centre, which seeks to break down this pressure, overcome this stress, by adopting some means which it thinks is the proper one under the circumstances. But, the understanding of the way in which this stress is to be removed depends upon one's own stage of evolution. Everyone knows that stress and strain are not good, but everyone does not know how to be free from them, because the causative factors of stresses and strains are not properly understood or analysed. We may know that we are sick, but we may not fully know why we are sick. And unless we know the cause behind our illness in the form of psychological stress and strain, distraction of attention, like and dislike, we will not be able to handle this subject properly. The so-called desires of man are the outer expressions of his personality to relieve itself from the stresses and strains in which it finds itself shackled. We are perpetually in a state of mental stress and nervous pressure from childhood to doom, and the whole of our life is spent only in trying to find out ways and means of relieving ourselves of these stresses and strains, and we have our own way of doing it. The way in which we try to relieve ourselves of these stresses and strains – this way is called the expression of desires. What is called desire is the method we adopt to relieve ourselves of our tensions, nervous and psychological. So, each person tries his own method to relieve himself of his tension, according to the manner of his understanding. But, most of these ways are misdirected ways. They increase the tension on account of ignorance about the reason behind the arising of the stress or the strain.