What consideration should be given to cultural before adopting a vow of celibacy?

The decision to make a vow of celibacy needs to be made after considering whether one’s environment is going to be sufficiently supportive. Do you need to and if so, can you give up watching movies which involve sexuality? Are you going to school and surrounded by persons who tempt you? If you are working in a place which brings you into contact with many sources of temptation, it may be necessary for you to decide whether you can manage it, or change where you live or work. It will be easier to maintain the vow if you are living in a place which is isolated, for example a rural retreat center. Or even, if you commit your free time to your practices and study rather than to socializing.

In India, in certain orthodox Hindu communities, children take a vow of brahmacharya at the age of puberty, so that until they are married, all of their energy can be directed towards their studies, both spiritual and temporal, and so prepare themselves for the second phase of life, the heavy responsibilities of family life. The life of the student is the first stage of four stages, or ashramas of life. It is followed by the life of the householder, the grahasta, wherein one enjoys sexuality activity, creates and maintains a family, contributes to society’s economic needs. When one’s children are grown and have become married, then the third stage of life, that of a retired person, a vanaprasti, when one has more time for self-study, contemplation of eternal verities, public service and spiritual seeking. Typically during this third phase, sexual activities are avoided. This third stage prepares one for the final ashrama, the fourth stage of life, known as sannyas, wherein one may choose to renounces one’s material possessions and family. This choice may be formalized with vows of renunciation, made with or without the blessings and guidance of a spiritual preceptor. Such vows will usually include vows of celibacy. In India, most sannyasins, are men, and they can be identified by their ochre colored clothes. But many women enjoy a special status when they reach the age of sixty, which allows them to be freed of family responsibilities and to dedicate their time to activities associated with religion and spirituality. Such women choose to mark this status by wearing only white.

A social code will also be supportive. In India, men socialize only with men. Women socialize only with women. Even in social gatherings, this has been the rule, until recently, when Western social behavior, through modern media, has weakened the observance of this social code. Otherwise, dating is frowned upon. Group social activities are the norm. Such limitations serve to prevent unwanted advances and unnecessary intimate exchanges. Unfortunately it also leads to frequent psychological suppression, because people are ignorant of the need for “letting go” of sexual fantasy, and even less skilled in practicing it. Fueled by the influx of pornography and Western values, India’s spiritual and religious culture is threatened. If one decides to follow such a social code, one must also avoid mentally “pushing away” with others, as this may create psychological suppression, and worse, misogyny, or antipathy, and towards others, and alienation. One must also avoid the belief that one is superior to others. Such a belief is sometimes fostered within religious sects.

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