To answer this question, let us take an example of a person who practiced brahmacharya throughout his life. Swami Vivekananda’s name comes readily to the mind. He took the vows of sannyasa at an early age and kept them up till his death.
What is this brahmacharya? Practice of brahmana is called brahmacharya. And, what is brahmana? Brahman is the basic ingredient of existence, related to spirit, which is beyond matter. Therefore the practice of brahmacharya relates to soul-related activities, different from food, sleep, sex and survival- the activities related to human bodies. Of these four basic bodily instincts, food and sleep are compulsory for survival, as is the instinct to protect one’s body from harm and death. This leaves sex. Is sex compulsory for existence? Does it give any long-term advantage? Can someone abstain from it and still manage? What benefits are there in controlling the urge for sex? Answers to these questions shall indicate whether brahmacharya in which abstaining from sex is a necessary condition, is useful or not.
Sex is not compulsory for existence
Answering the above questions, sex is not compulsory for existence as Swami Vivekananda showed to us. Sex does not give any long-term advantage either unless one takes into consideration an excellent progeny. Yes! one can manage to live without sex but it is quite difficult. No wonder, there are so few examples, like Swamiji.
This brings us to the most important question regarding benefits derived from controlling the urge for sex. Let us refer to the book of wisdom –Bhagavad-Geeta for our answer.
“Those desiring to gain liberation practice brahmacharya”says Lord Krishna.
ca sariram tapa ucyate
It has been stated that brahmacharya is the austerity of the body. So there are two benefits. One, practicing brahmacharya goes a long way in getting liberation. Two, one can save oneself from all kinds of negative fallouts resultant from sensuous behaviour, like diseases, unwanted children, broken relationships, loss of wealth and health, etc.
When should one start off?
The next question is, “should one follow brahmacharya from the beginning of one’s life or can this be done later also? From the available evidence, it is obvious that only a very rare person can sustain such control from childhood itself. It appears that most people are unable to restrain themselves from sex pleasures, considered the topmost pleasures related to the human body. So if there is no natural urge for sannyasa then it would be wise to get married at an appropriate time and meanwhile try to taste pleasures related to the soul, such as peace and bliss, and then gradually free oneself from all pleasures related to sex. However, this is a tough task and one needs to constantly preach to oneself. One has to be highly motivated to transcend this bodily instinct and operate at the level of soul. Ultimately, everyone has to answer this question, “what are we looking for – bodily enjoyments or liberation”? And if we are seeking freedom from birth and death cycle, one must have the mental strength to practice brahmacharya. By the way, the practice of brahmacharya itself enhances mental strength to a great extent.