Brahmacharya literally means “conducting one-self in accord with BRAHMAN.” Brahmacharya itself has two important meanings. It refers to the ancient practice of celibacy for men, considered an indispensable aid for the most avid yogis and seekers who wish to break the bonds of SAMSARA, or worldly existence. Restraint of the senses has always been an important aspect of Indian YOGAs; complete restraint on sexuality is one of the most difficult and spiritually powerful restraints.Brahmacharya was also used to refer to the student stage of a man’s life, in the Brahmani-cal tradition of life stages or ASHRAMAs. One was expected to remain celibate during the 12 years of Vedic learning with one’s guru, from the age of 12 to the age of 24, when one was to take up the household life. These stages of life may never have been precisely practiced by most BRAHMINS, but the ideal was widely known and respected.
   Further readings: Klaus K. Klostermaier, A Survey of Hinduism (Albany: State University of New York Press, 1989); Patrick Olivelle, The Asrama System: The History and Hermeneutics of a Religious Institution (New York: Oxford University Press, 1993); ———, Manu’s Code: A Critical Edition and Translation of the Manava-Dharma-sastra (New York: Oxford University Press, 2005).

Encyclopedia of Hinduism. . 2007.

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