The Divine Life
by Bill Eilers and Susan Eilers*
Born in South India in 1916, the eldest son of an orthodox Brahmin
family, Swami Chidananda was inspired at an early age by devotional songs and
stories from the Hindu scriptures. During his college years, the lives and
teachings of modern saints such as Sri Ramakrishna, Swami Vivekananda, Ramana
Maharshi and Swami Ramdas awakened in him a fiery aspiration for spiritual life.
In 1943 he joined the ashram of the world-renowned saint and sage Swami
Sivananda, the founder of the Divine Life Society, whose passionate
spiritual writings had long attracted him. Sivananda ashram, which then
consisted of only a few buildings, was located on the banks of the Ganges River
in the foothills of the Himalayas near Rishikesh, India. During this period of
his life, Swami Chidananda, among other activities, gave lectures, attended to
ashram guests, and served the sick, expressing what would become a lifelong
concern for the welfare of the lepers. Late in 1959 he was sent on a two-year
world teaching tour by Swami Sivananda and eventually succeeded him as president
of the Divine Life Society after Swami Sivananda passed away in 1963.
Swami Chidananda’s life since has been one of almost continuous travel, both
in India and abroad, in the cause of the central objective of the Divine Life
Society: the dissemination of spiritual knowledge.
When Andrew Cohen phoned from Australia and asked us if
we could interview Swami Chidananda on the role of celibacy in the spiritual
life, our first reaction was: “How will Swamiji ever find the time?” But our
second reaction was that if there was anyone in the world who had a practical
understanding of celibacy, it was Swamiji, and therefore we should make the
So when Swamiji returned to the ashram a few days later for the five days
of the Navaratri worship, our written request was given to him. That night,
after satsang [a gathering with a spiritual teacher], he turned to me and
said that while it would not be possible to find time during the next few days,
if we didn’t mind a little inconvenience, we could join him in a couple of
weeks near Delhi. The location was a new country home that he had been requested
to officially open and bless, and where we would then spend a few days resting.
We readily agreed, and so toward the end of October, over four full days, we not
only had some informal time with him, but we also managed to record five hours
of dialogue relating to the subject of this issue [no. 13] of What Is
Our interview was supposed to start late morning of the first day, but
Swamiji was exhausted, and so the first we saw of him was when he joined us for
a walk at dusk. As we were slowly walking along the country road we came upon a
watchman guarding a gate. Swamiji stopped and carried on a fifteen-minute
conversation. We didn’t understand most of the Hindi, but we knew he was
inquiring about the man’s family and where he lived. As we moved on, we saw
that another life had been touched by one who still remains at heart a simple
monk, whose aim in life is to do as much good as possible for as many people as
When we returned from the walk and were climbing the steps, Swamiji
turned to us and said, “The subject of brahmacharya, or celibacy or
self-restraint, does not necessarily have, in Hindu society, any connection at
all with the spiritual life, or sadhana [spiritual practice], or with
Self-realization. It is not normally discussed or recommended only with a view
to promote spiritual life.” After we had climbed the stairs and joined him in
his room, Swamiji continued, describing traditional Hindu social life and how it
relates to the subject of brahmacharya and sexual life, so that we would
understand the broader context in which brahmacharya is viewed in the
In ancient India, he explained, a person’s life was reckoned as one
hundred years, divided into four stages. The first stage was the student stage,
or brahmacharya stage, where young people were expected to study hard,
build a good physique, and in all ways prepare themselves for their adult lives
to come. During this stage they were expected to observe strict celibacy.
The second stage was the householder stage, where the exercise of the
sexual faculty was taken for granted and recognized as a legitimate part of
human life; it was regarded as a fundamental duty of a family to offer progeny
to form the next generation. Swamiji continued: “Of course, its exercise was
not meant to be unrestrained; otherwise it would be degrading. But it was given
the full sanction of society.
“The third stage of life was the retired stage, when the couple turned
the burdens of earning a living over to the children and turned their minds to
higher things,” Swamiji explained. Here again they begin to practice brahmacharya
as part of their sadhana.
“Then, during the fourth stage, one’s entire life was to be devoted
to God. One became a sannyasin, or monk, and then, of course, celibacy
was automatic. So you see, the concept of brahmacharya was part and
parcel of the Indian-Hindu social tradition. In its narrowest sense brahmacharya
meant complete celibacy, but in its broader sense, as it could be applied to the
life of a householder, it meant self-restraint, not abusing the sex function and
strict fidelity to one’s partner.”
Our conversation then turned to the role of spiritual practices and how
they help to lift the consciousness by fostering the higher tendencies within
us. “The vast, vast majority of human beings are human animals only,”
Swamiji said. “They are totally rooted in body consciousness. They have no
idea of being something else, something other. Even their mental function is
instinctive. It’s all a reaction to whatever happens to them, not a purposeful
independent exercise of their mental faculty. They have no time for it. From the
moment they get up, they are absorbed by their daily activities.
“And the whole of the spiritual life,” he continued, “is a gradual
elimination, eradication, of the animal within, and the refinement or
purification and education of the entire human nature so that it loses its
movement in all other directions and starts taking on an ascending vertical
direction. Once the human nature is given an upward turn, one simultaneously
starts awakening the sleeping Divinity with the help of all one’s spiritual
practices. If one knows that the spiritual process, the spiritual life, is the
elimination of the animal, the refining and directing upward of the human, and
the awakening and unfoldment of the Divine, then all spiritual practices,
including the role that brahmacharya plays, fall into their right
Swamiji seemed to have enjoyed our first conversation. He smiled and
said, “So we must thank Andrew Cohen for this, for ultimately he is at the
back of it, the root of it. Tomorrow we will start discussing the questions one
Our dialogues over the next few days revealed a side of Swamiji that is
not often visible. Normally one sees in him what one would expect of a
saint—holiness, sweetness, joy, constant consideration for others, beauty of
movement, and a presence that makes itself subtly felt in the hearts of those
who cross his path. The following interview shows the stuff a saint is really
made of. It helps to complete the picture.
Question: Celibacy or brahmacharya has always been given a prominent place
in the spiritual life, and we know that both Swami Sivananda and yourself have
subscribed to its importance. Why is celibacy important and what is its role in
the spiritual life?
Swami Chidananda: One of the reasons for its importance is that we have received from our
spiritual heritage the view of celibacy being a basic requirement, a
prerequisite, of spiritual life. And this view has continued to be recognized
over many, many centuries during which time Indian society has changed, and many
other old concepts have been discarded.
normal Hindu has always been progressive. He has never hesitated to change if he
felt that the change would enhance his knowledge and take him in a better
direction. And in coming into contact with views and knowledge from other
societies, there has been an ongoing reappraisal of our ancient concepts and
views. In spite of this, we find that the concept of brahmacharya and its
having an important role to play in the spiritual life has continued. It has
stood the test of time; it has become time-honored. Had it not been something of
enduring value, it would also have changed. But it has not. As it used to be
regarded thousands of years ago, so it is regarded even today amongst spiritual
teachers, gurus and yogis—with the same attitude of its being a
necessary and important thing.
reason I have always been an advocate of celibacy is that the towering spiritual
personalities who have been a molding influence in my life ever since I can
remember—personalities like Ramakrishna Paramahansa, Swami Vivekananda, Sri
Aurobindo Ghosh, as well as Gurudev Swami Sivananda himself—were all people
who swore by celibacy. They were people who said that it is most important,
indispensable. So naturally, when these people who were the source of my
inspiration in the spiritual life were so forthright and absolutely clear—they
didn’t seem to have any doubt about it—I said, well, this is it! So that
decided the matter for me in my approach to the spiritual life.
or celibacy, is a rational process of preserving and conserving precious energy
so that it can be utilized in other very essential and indispensable functions.
And if it is preserved like this, it can be converted, just as tangible, gross
water is converted into subtle steam. Then it can do wonders. A river may not
have much power in it by itself. You may be able to easily row or swim across
it. But if it is dammed up and its waters conserved, then it has the power, when
properly channeled, to turn huge turbines. And the hot sun, even in summer,
won’t normally cause a fire, but if you concentrate its rays through a lens,
those rays will immediately burn whatever they are focused on. That is what
celibacy actually is.
the interesting question is: What is the origin, the source, of this energy?
After years and years of theory and discovery, modern physicists have arrived at
the conclusion that what exists in nature is not palpable or solid matter as
such. It is energy, energy that fills the entire cosmos, all space.
our ancients have said that it is this cosmic energy that holds the heavenly
bodies in their course. They are all kept moving by this mysterious,
inexplicable, indescribable, unimaginable energy. And they regarded that energy
as something divine, something that has neither a beginning nor an end. It is
eternal and pervades everywhere. There is nowhere that it is not. And it is this
energy that is present in living beings as the sex force. So Hindus regarded
this energy as sacred, something that is worthy of being worshipped, not
frittered away. They said that this energy is none other than the manifestation
of the Divine Mother, the cosmic energy; therefore, it should be regarded with
cosmic force manifests in our own system as prana [vital energy, life
force]. And prana is the precious reserve of the seeker. Any sense
activity or sense experience consumes a lot of prana. And the activity
that consumes the greatest amount of prana is the sex act. The highest of
all goals in human life, spiritual attainment, requires the maximum available
pranic energy on all levels: mental, intellectual and emotional. Prana is
required for spiritual reflection and discrimination. The thinking must be sharp
and the intellect penetrating. To understand the inner implications of a guru’s
instructions requires a special type of intelligence. You may be a very
intellectual person, and you may immediately grasp the language meaning of
something the guru is telling you, but if the guru is speaking of
an abstruse subject not within the normal range of your ordinary human
experience, you require a special type of understanding. And that understanding
develops through brahmacharya. So as I said, all these various practices
require the use of prana, and celibacy ensures that an abundance of
pranic reserve is available to the seeker. So viewed from this angle, it is a
rational and very positive process.
is the rationale behind celibacy. If you conserve this vital energy and divert
it to the spiritual process of contemplation, philosophical study and
reflection, and meditation, it becomes successful, because you have concentrated
your force and you are able to direct the concentrated force by focusing it upon
your spiritual practices. If it is preserved, concentrated and diverted into a
specific channel, it works wonders.
is another reason why brahmacharya is important. I am not now talking
about exceptional persons who have a sudden illumination and then they are once
and for all lifted from the gross physical plane of body consciousness into
another, never to return back. In one moment of illumination, Ramana Maharshi
became established in “I am neither mind nor body, Immortal Self am I. I have
neither time nor space, I was never born.” In one split second—one moment he
was just an ordinary student, and then suddenly he knows that he is what the
Bhagavad Gita describes as “Fire cannot burn you; water cannot wet you;
weapons cannot injure you; wind cannot dry you. You are unborn, permanent,
eternal, beyond time. Death is nothing to you”—he became established once
and for all in that experience, and he never budged from that state. All his
life, no matter what was going on around him, it did not touch him. It did not
affect him. But I am not talking about such people.
long ago probed into this subject of the human situation, and the sages saw
clearly that 9,999 out of every 10,000 were completely caught up in a state of
“I am this body.” They knew of their identity only as a physical entity, a
being with hands and feet and ears and eyes, eating, drinking, sleeping,
talking, doing things. So they are totally body-bound. Their consciousness is
held upon the level of the physical body. This is the situation. But the goal of
the spiritual seeker is cosmic consciousness, which is their inner reality
beyond time, space, name and form. So when you juxtapose their present state of
consciousness and the experience they wish to attain, you can just imagine how
impossible this would be if they go on perpetuating this total identification
with the physical body and all its processes.
all these bodily processes, most have become mechanical. Most people are not
intensely aware of eating, drinking, sleeping, voiding. All these things have
become automatic. But the one process that most of them purposefully engage in,
with great desire for it—wanting it, thinking about it, planning for it and
going after it—is sex enjoyment, which means that this is a process that
concentrates their entire consciousness, entire mind, entire attention upon the
physical, their physical identity. From one angle, the sex act is the acme of
physicality or animality. It is a process that perforce directs your entire
attention upon the physical, and even more, the full focusing of your desire and
intention upon that part of your physical nature that you share in common with
the entire animal kingdom. Is this going to be in any way helpful for attaining
here is a human being, the crown and glory of God’s creation, high above all
the rest of the living species, going down to the gross, physical, material
animal level and giving oneself totally to it: seeking it, wanting it, going
after it, doing everything one can in order to obtain it, indulging in it, and
wanting to have it always available. That means that one is voluntarily binding
oneself down to a level of physical consciousness.
you are a spiritual seeker, can you not see that you are working against
yourself? You have to liberate your consciousness from the lesser levels and go
on lifting it to progressively higher and higher levels of finer and more
refined states. For if the whole of the spiritual process of illumination and
enlightenment is a process of rising into a higher state of consciousness, it
automatically implies liberating yourself from a lower state of consciousness.
If you want to move northward, it means moving away from the south. And one of
the things that helps you to free yourself from being caught in this physical
level is celibacy. Cosmic consciousness, Absolute consciousness, is a far cry if
you don’t recognize the necessity of liberating yourself from your total
identification with the body.
Question: Are there particular stages in the spiritual life when celibacy becomes
especially important or even essential?
Swami Chidananda: Yes and no. From one point of view, celibacy forms the very foundation.
It is the very first stage, the ABC stage. So we may say that it is not at some
stage that it becomes important or indispensable, but that it is essential right
from the very beginning.
your aspiration is to be authentic and genuine, and if the aspiration is to take
the form of an all-out commitment toward the spiritual experience and an all-out
effort to move in that direction, then you must keep moving only in that
direction. You cannot run after two things. Because then it will be taking one
step forward and one step backward, and you will never really progress.
spiritual life starts with your recognition that as long as you keep going
headlong in the pursuit of sense satisfaction and pleasure, you are not going to
move one step. So all will be academic and theoretical. Our aspiration, our
wanting spiritual life will only be in theory—a fancy and a feeling. You have
not started. So the beginning stage itself of the spiritual life is a turning
away from sense experience and sense indulgence and starting to move in the
Sivananda used to say: “Brahmacharya is the basis of immortality.”
And in many places in the Upanishads it says: “Wisdom experience cannot come
to one who has not his senses under restraint and who has not controlled the
vagaries of his wandering mind.” So I believe that it is not at some stage,
but it is the all of the spiritual life. Because spiritual life is a
transcendence of your human nature, human consciousness. And if it is a
transcendence, you have to leave behind all that constitutes your human nature,
your physicality. You will have to commence with it and keep on with it. You
view celibacy in a positive manner, not as something anti-nature. You do not at
all feel that you are doing any violence to yourself.
from a purely scientific and technical point of view, one of the yogas
where celibacy is absolutely essential and indispensable is kundalini yoga
[the practice of arousing vital energy]. There is no compromise with that. Right
from the beginning it is absolutely essential and indispensable. Otherwise it
can be dangerous. That’s the “no” part of the answer.
“yes” part is to state that in the total context of spiritual life in India,
there are certain stages and states where one can be highly spiritual and yet at
the same time be leading a normal sex life. That is true especially in the bhakti
path—people who are following the path of love of God, devotion, prayer and
worship, chanting the divine name, singing His glories. This path does not make
any distinction between a celibate brahmachari, a married householder,
and a retired couple living a spiritually oriented life after they have finished
their duties as householders. The path of devotion seems to be a dimension of
spiritual life in India where total celibacy in its sense of absolute abstinence
is not insisted upon. It is not looked upon with disfavor, but it is not
insisted upon. But because the sexual act consumes a great amount of pranic
energy, naturally self-restraint is also important. And promiscuous sex was
never countenanced, never looked upon with favor. So a sort of restraint in the
form of self-control and fidelity in your sexual relationship with your
recognized legal partner can also be regarded as brahmacharya.
this has been the case with ever so many devotees, lovers of God, and spiritual
India lacks no example of them. Throughout India we have seen the phenomenon of
large communities of ecstatic devotees of God, many or most of whom have been
married people, living a normal sex life, but nevertheless absorbed in divine
love of God. So this is the “yes” portion. In this stage sexuality seems not
in any way forbidden or incompatible with spiritual life.
Question: I presume that Vedantic inquiry, the more intellectual approach to the
spiritual life, would also not be incompatible with normal married life.
Swami Chidananda: Yes, yes. But in the Vedantic type of life, gradually, unconsciously,
without even intending it on purpose, in the course of time the person would
graduate to that level of consciousness where sex would begin to seem
superfluous. Because it contradicts the very basic thesis of Vedanta: “I am
not this body. I am not the five elements. I am not the limiting adjuncts. I am
something quite distinct and different.” And for that different, distinct
something, sex has no meaning. For it is not within the realm of physical
consciousness and physical functioning.
Question: Celibacy is often seen in the modern West as an outmoded, old-fashioned
practice. It is often viewed as repressive, life-denying—even antithetical to
what spiritual practice is ultimately all about. Many spiritual authorities in
the West are now teaching that to realize our full potential as human beings, we
must embrace, rather than in any way avoid or repress, our sexuality. These
views stand in stark contrast to what the great traditions have always taught.
What do you think about this?
Swami Chidananda: I don’t agree with the general attitude that has just been expressed.
They have failed to grasp the place of brahmacharya in the spiritual
life. It is not outmoded; it is not at all old-fashioned, and it is not
repressive or life-denying. On the contrary, it is used as a plank for
everlasting life, endless life. Their view of life seems to be a very, very
limited and narrow view of life. This is not the only life there is. When you
come to have a little glimpse or idea of what real life is, then you will just
stand amazed. This present life is meaningless. It is a petty trifle, a nothing
if not understood in terms of its being a takeoff runway for catapulting into
that greater life. This life is a means to that great, glorious, grand end and
aim of human existence, which is to enter into a life that is the life of God,
that is one with God’s life, the kingdom of Heaven. That is the whole purpose
of human existence. Human life has been given to us as a passageway to divinity,
as a passageway to everlasting life.
is neither repressing sexuality nor avoiding sexuality. It is just bypassing
sexuality—making use of this sexual potential for something ten times, a
hundred times greater. Therefore the question of repression and suppression is a
misnomer. It is due to a lack of proper understanding of what the real spiritual
quest is. If it is understood, then these terms will not be used. We are not
just human beings; we are more than human beings. Our human status is only a
pale reflection of what we really are. The only reason our human status acquires
some meaning and significance is because if it is properly utilized, it can
raise us up and take us into that which is our own, bring us into the
kingdom—for which we have a birthright.
in one way, the idea in the West that brahmacharya is suppression is not
entirely off the mark. If one represses or suppresses some natural faculty it
can bring about undesirable changes in the personality. If brahmacharya
is forced upon an individual against the individual’s inclination and will,
abnormal conditions naturally may result, because the person is being compelled
to do something that deep within himself or herself the person does not want to
do—compelled by others, by social restraint or by taking up vows that he or
she ought not to have taken before having well considered exactly what was
if an intelligent person, having deeply pondered the whole basis of life, says:
“When I want to achieve something great, something mighty, I cannot afford to
deplete the energies that I have. The more I conserve, the more I can divert
into that achievement and the greater the chance of succeeding.” So thinking
and having understood the rationale of it and fully appreciating the ultimate
achievement it would lead to, if he or she voluntarily, willingly and with great
enthusiasm undertakes celibacy, where comes the question of suppression? On the
contrary, what appears to be a sort of denial is actually giving full
self-expression to a higher dimension of your being into which you have now
placed yourself. So, far from denying self-expression, it is giving full
expression to yourself because you are no longer identified with the lesser
aspect of your total personality. You are identified with the higher aspect. It
is a sort of liberation and evolution to a higher level. It is something
positive, creative, and not anything negative. It is not a denial but an actual
expression of yourself.
it constitutes such a process, then Freud and the others are off the mark. They
have never visualized such a situation, such a possibility. But it is not only a
possibility, it is a tradition of centuries, of millennia—someone being
prepared to do anything, give anything, pay any price for the attainment of the
Question: Why do you think that even the idea of celibacy often makes people in
the West today respond with anger or outrage?
Swami Chidananda: I should say that Andrew Cohen would be in a better position and more
competent to answer this question than myself, for whom this question is an
academic and theoretical question, whereas for him, it is an experiential
situation. Perhaps this concept is unacceptable to them because it would deny
them the pleasure pursuit, the hedonistic approach they have in their life. It
is something that the ordinary person in the West doesn’t want to hear. It
gets in the way of their way of life. If they are made to feel that they are
doing something foolish, they will feel guilty. Then they become very
uncomfortable, and naturally they become very angry. I am sure that there are
others too who feel that celibacy is against the biblical commandment to go and
multiply. So if you talk about brahmacharya in its extreme sense, then
you seem to be preaching against God’s commandment.
Question: Tantra, or the practice of “sacred sexuality,” is becoming very
popular in the West today. Do you think these teachings offer an authentic
Swami Chidananda: No, I do not think that these teachings offer an authentic spiritual
path. Why? Because of human frailty, human weakness. The human mind is so made
that it always takes the path of least resistance. It always wants the easy way.
is an approach to God through all types of sense enjoyment. Everything is
offered to God and so everything becomes sanctified; nothing is profane. One
enjoys sense satisfaction and sees it also as part of God’s bliss. There is a
view, and it has something to it, that while in all human experiences duality
persists—there is an “I am enjoying this object” feeling—that in the
ultimate sexual experience between a truly loving male, intensely in love with
the female and fully reciprocated by the female, there is no consciousness of
one’s individuality. There is a total fusion of the separatist consciousness
in each one, and there is only the awareness of experience. There is no
experiencer. They say this is a possibility when it is done to its perfection.
The two cease to be and there is only one, non-dual experience, experience
Absolute, brahmic-consciousness. So they say that the human body is an
instrument that, if properly made use of, can bring about a rising above body
consciousness. For one in a million it may click.
pursuit of pleasure is part of the Western view of life—not the denial of
pleasure. And one teacher in ten may be an authentic teacher genuinely offering
something suited to the Western temperament. But nine of them are very shrewd
people. They know there is a market for this, and they are wise to it. The
approach is: You can have your cake and eat it too.
you, this was an authentic path that did once upon a time exist in India,
especially in the Eastern part. Even now it exists. But it became grossly
perverted. People became enmeshed in it. They said they were practicing tantra,
but it was only wining, dining and sex pleasure. It took them nowhere, but I
suppose it took them where they wanted to go. So it was dubbed by enlightened
people of that time as the “perverted path.” Two paths then came into
existence: the authentic path, which was called the “right-hand path,” and
the perverted path, which was only after enjoyment. That was called the
is an episode in the life of the great Sri Ramakrishna, the guru of Swami
Vivekananda. He practiced all the yogic paths as well as Christianity, Islam and
others, and he discovered that they all led to the same ultimate God-experience.
And during one period of his spiritual life he practiced tantra also. A woman
tantric approached him and said, “I have been sent here by God to initiate you
into the tantric way of attaining God.” Day after day she expounded the
tantric way. But when it came to the final stage, Sri Ramakrishna, who swore by brahmacharya,
replied that through this body it is impossible. So she said, “Then I’ll
have the whole thing enacted before you.” So she got a tantric male and a
tantric female to enact the ultimate consummation of the practice before him. As
he was observing it stage by stage she went on describing it to him: “Observe
carefully. Now you see how they are in ecstasy; they are ecstatic. They are
losing their own consciousness.” And at that stage, suddenly Ramakrishna lost
all consciousness. He went into deep samadhi [a blissful state of
non-dual consciousness]. So he vicariously proved to himself that that ultimate
sexual experience can lift one up into that state beyond all duality.
so the science as such exists, but there are very few authentic gurus,
and it has to be strictly followed under the personal supervision of a true guru.
I am likely to be accused of being uncharitable, but I believe that most
purveyors of modern sacred sexuality are interested in making a profit out of it
told you, the sex force is sacred; sex is sacred. It is one of the most sacred
of all things. But sacred sexuality is a misnomer. Once you get enmeshed in
sexuality, the sacredness is given the bye-bye. That is due to man’s weakness,
frailty. Therefore, I am not going to be an advocate of it.
Question: Considering the number of lapses and aberrations in those who have taken
a lifelong vow of celibacy both in the West and East, do you feel that perhaps
undertaking the practice should be restricted to individuals who have attained a
certain degree of spiritual maturity first?
Swami Chidananda: I wouldn’t fully subscribe to this view because, first and foremost,
people who have attained a certain degree of spiritual maturity would have
reached that at least partially through brahmacharya. The very fact that
they have reached a certain degree of spiritual maturity indicates that brahmacharya,
at least in the broader sense of the term, must have been part of their makeup
or part of the way by which they ascended to that degree of maturity. And I have
no hesitation in saying that the lapses and aberrations you refer to cannot
lessen the validity of the concept and the tradition of brahmacharya in
any way. They are solely due to the imperfection of the persons.
the other hand, before one takes a lifelong vow of celibacy one has to make sure
one has a real vocation; there has to be an inner call to the life and to
embrace celibacy. It cannot be a decision based on sentiment and emotional
euphoria, rather it is a judgment through a rational, logical appraisal of the
life. I also insist that one should not take the vow of monasticism until one is
old enough to understand one’s own biology and has had some experience of what
one has within oneself, what one has to deal with. One has to face this
squarely. I would also suggest that a person be allowed to take the vow of
lifelong celibacy only after they have been kept under observation and tutelage
for some time. For example, the Ramakrishna Mission keeps a person as a
pre-probationer for one full year. Then he goes through a probationary period
for a minimum of eight years. Only then is he eligible to request to be a full
monastic swami. So this type of taking in, sifting and observing would perhaps
obviate many of these lapses and aberrations. You only allow a person to
undertake that vow after a certain period in the spiritual life. However, even
when all the conditions I have mentioned are fulfilled, extreme caution must be
exercised until a stage is reached where brahmacharya is one’s normal
and natural condition.
Brahman, the Absolute, is the highest brahmachari because He is One without a second, and if you are established in Brahman, you are in that same state—where there is no second, where there is no other. There is a stage where one becomes totally devoid or free from the sex idea. There is no sex or man or woman or this or that because one’s view has changed. Quite apart from whatever is around—the world in which one is living—one is totally changed. One’s consciousness is no longer kept upon that level where these things have any meaning or relevance. When consciousness is in another place, all things are seen, perceived, but they make no difference. You look at this, you look at that; you are seeing everything, but it doesn’t bring about any change in the state of your consciousness, which always remains the same. That is the ultimate transcendence which is a possibility and which is an ideal, which ought to be striven for and which ought to be attained. That is what the guru wants for the disciple. That is what the saints want for the ordinary man. But before this there is still risk of downfall. So our saints say that until the last breath, one must always exercise caution.
Question: What is the key to success in brahmacharya?
Swami Chidananda: It is how you look at it!
of all it is how you understand it. Brahmacharya is the diversion to a
higher purpose and utilization of the basic, quintessential energy potential of
the universe located in the individual being. It is the individualized or
microcosmic aspect of the illimitable, infinite, primordial cosmic power that is
the macrocosmic aspect or the dynamic aspect of the one non-dual reality. As you
know, the static aspect is Brahman, which is the transcendental, non-dual
reality. And the kinetic or the dynamic aspect is that same thing in
manifestation or expression, in movement.
the individualized aspect of this primordial power, located in all beings, is
this potential for unbroken continuity of existence. This potential is
practically everywhere. Just because you may be in a position to describe it and
define it or explain it in terms of modern physics or chemistry doesn’t in any
way alter the actual metaphysical or philosophical fact of its real nature.
Physically you may explain it in terms of pressure, etcetera, but that is only
an explanation of something that is already a transforming, ongoing process of
continuously being and becoming, being and becoming. This creative potential,
creative power, is present throughout the botanical and animal kingdoms. It is
this alone that manifests as all the different forces in the individual human
being—the power of acting, the power of thinking, the ability to see, hear,
smell, taste, to digest, to breathe—everything. And it is this that is equally
present in both sexes as the sex energy. Therefore, this being the key to life,
one can imagine its importance, and one can also imagine its precious quality.
one can understand it in this way—realize its real, sacred cosmic nature as
the microcosmic aspect of the macrocosmic shakti or cosmic power—one
takes a healthy attitude of reverence for it. It is not something to be just
spat away like spittle. A person may spend away nickels and dimes, but if he has
gold coins he will not so easily part with them. So reverence is a fruit of this
understanding. Furthermore, the aspirant recognizes and sees clearly: “There
is something very important that I have to do. I have a great goal to achieve,
and I require all the energy at my disposal to put into my spiritual quest. I
cannot afford to divert it into other channels in order to obtain a lesser
achievement.” As Swami Krishnananda used to say, “It is better to aim at a
lion and miss it than to aim at a jackal and hit it.”
the first key to success in brahmacharya is to recognize and understand
the sacred and precious nature of the energy potential one has. When one has
this clear perception that it is meant to be conserved, preserved and directed
toward the greatest of all attainments, then one has a desire to be brahmachari.
It is seen as a very positive process.
second key to success, and a way of looking at both brahmacharya and the
sex function, is even more fundamental, and it is one of the two factors that to
a large extent have been personally utilized by me. It is to clearly perceive
that first and foremost what they call the male sexual organ is not a sexual
organ at all. It is only a urinary drainpipe. That is what it is, and that is
its main function from the moment a child comes out of his mother’s womb until
he kicks the bucket.
if you look at it, sex is not in that part of our anatomy at all. Sex is not in
the urinary organ; sex is in the mind of a person. So it is a question of your
mental attitude. If you are convinced and train your mind to think of it in a
sane and rational manner—it’s only an eliminatory thing; its main purpose is
not that which dominates the world and drives it crazy—then you’re already
free of it. It doesn’t obsess you any longer because you don’t think of it
in the way most of unfortunate human society has been made to think.
you come to think of it, the main function of the sex act is the most important,
indispensable process of procreation. From a higher metaphysical sense, the
husband and wife are cooperating with the Creator for perpetuation of the
species so that creation will continue. That is its main function, not the
experience of enjoyment that accompanies it. That is a secondary offshoot of it.
Then why was this function made so enjoyable? It had to be. The procreative
function, the perpetuation of the species, was done through the sex act, and if
it was not combined with a super experience of pleasure and enjoyment, no one
would indulge in it, and its purpose would be nullified.
Bill Eilers and Susan Eilers (Swami Atmaswarupananda and Swami
Amritarupananda) are both longtime residents of Sivananda Ashram and both
have taken lifelong monastic vows. Among other activities, they work
together as a team to prepare Swami Chidananda’s teachings for