By Bal Ram Singh, PhD
What really constitutes the Brahmacharya, and how does one get the training! While Brahmacharya is referred differently in different texts, the Bhagvadgita refers to the Brahmacharya multiple times in diffrent contexts.
देवद्विजगुरुप्राज्ञपूजनं शौचमार्जवम् |
ब्रह्मचर्यमहिंसा च शारीरं तप उच्यते ||6.14||
deva-dwija-guru-prājña- pūjanaṁ śhaucham ārjavam
brahmacharyam ahinsā cha śhārīraṁ tapa uchyate
Through observing expansive creativity (brahmacharya), and non-violation (of dharma), with worship of the devas (running this universe), the twice born (dviza) via acquiring sanskaras, and the Guru laced with scholarly knowledge, along with the observance of cleanliness and simplicity, one is declared to be performing the penance of the body.
In Bhagvadgita, among the three folds of penance – body, speech, and mind, the Brahmacharya is critical for the physical penance to create a sattvic or goodness personality in a human being. Penance or the tapah is a practice of self examination to reach at understanding of one’s own nature. The other two types of penance are the following:
अनुद्वेगकरं वाक्यं सत्यं प्रियहितं च यत् |
स्वाध्यायाभ्यसनं चैव वाङ्मयं तप उच्यते ||6.15||
anudvega-karaṁ vākyaṁ satyaṁ priya-hitaṁ cha yat
svādhyāyābhyasanaṁ chaiva vāṅ-mayaṁ tapa uchyate
Practicing to self-examine, while expressing oneself in words that do not cause distress, are truthful, and in favor of being dearly are pronounced as penance of speech.
मन: प्रसाद: सौम्यत्वं मौनमात्मविनिग्रह: |
भावसंशुद्धिरित्येतत्तपो मानसमुच्यते ||16||
manaḥ-prasādaḥ saumyatvaṁ maunam ātma-vinigrahaḥ
bhāva-sanśhuddhir ity etat tapo mānasam uchyate
In order to purify one’s sentiments, the serenity of thought, gentleness, are self-control displayed through silence— are all the means to be declared as penance of the mind.
The purpose of performing the above penance is to reach the Sattvic status, as explained below.
श्रद्धया परया तप्तं तपस्तत्त्रिविधं नरै: |
अफलाकाङ्क्षिभिर्युक्तै: सात्त्विकं परिचक्षते || 17||
śhraddhayā parayā taptaṁ tapas tat tri-vidhaṁ naraiḥ
aphalākāṅkṣhibhir yuktaiḥ sāttvikaṁ parichakṣhate
With devotion and transcendence when one approaches the difficult (taptam) situations through the three-fold penance without yearning for any rewards, lead to sattvic state of life.
Thus, one can see at least four elements of Yama, the brahmacharya, Ahimsa. Satya, and Asteya (through arjavam or simplicity) are incorporated for one to have Sattvic personality.
Where does one begin to get such a group of traits? The karmic currency one accumulates over past lives, leads one to the choice of parents. And, parents are considered as devas according the Taitreyi Upanishad, as its Shikshavalli eleventh Anuvaka, says,
मातृदेवो भव । पितृदेवो भव ।
आचार्यदेवो भव । अतिथिदेवो भव ॥ ४ ॥
‘Matruvedo bhava, pitrudevo bhava,
acharyadevo bhava, atithidevo bhava’
‘Know your mother to be like a goddess (i.e. serve her and please her as if she were a goddess), know your father to be like a god, know your teacher to be like a god, know a guest to be like a god’ (Taittireeya Upanishad: 1/11).
Therefore, for one to become a brahmachari, the charity (training) begins at home, as those are the foremost devas, and fulfil the command of Bhagvadgita (6.14) as cited above. There is a famous Padma Purana story about competition between Ganesha and Kartikeya to go around the universe, and while Kartikeya embarked upon the journey on his peacock as the vehicle, Ganesha decided to circle around his parents, Shiva and Parvati, and won the race. Thus, parents are actually the universe for a child.
It is worth noting here that when one says Matruvedo bhava, pitrudevo bhava, acharyadevo bhava, or atithidevo bhava, it is incumbent up on each of these – mother, father, preceptor, or the guest, to indeed act like devas.
As per Manusmriti,
उपाध्यायान् दशाचार्य आचार्याणां शतं पिता ।
सहस्रं तु पितॄन् माता गौरवेणातिरिच्यते ॥ १४५ ॥
upādhyāyān daśācārya ācāryāṇāṃ śataṃ pitā
sahasraṃ tu pitṝn mātā gauraveṇātiricyate || 145 ||
Meaning, in veneration, the Preceptor excels ten Sub-teachers; the Father a hundred preceptors, and the Mother a thousand Fathers (145).
The mother is, thus, the biggest teacher of all, and when that is exercised properly, it has a long lasting impact on the child, well into the adulthood.
Modern scientific studies have shown that mother’s voice has substantial effect on the fetus as well as the newborn. According to Fifer and Moon (Acta Paediatica, June 1994), “ Both the newborn and fetus show heart rate decelerations in response to speech sounds. Early experience with voice has both acute and enduring effects on the developing brain. These effects have ramifications for the development of the auditory system, as well as for later social and emotional development.”
Brain and behavior may, in fact, thus be at play here, as another study mentions the calming role a mother’s voice has on the fetus, which also is likely to develop into the compliance of the children to mother through even their adult years.
Balram Singh is a Professor and the President of the Institute of Advanced Sciences, Dartmouth, Massachusetts, researching Ayurveda, Yoga, Vedic education, and Vedic social and political traditions. He is also adjunct faculty at Jawaharlal Nehru University (JNU), New Delhi.