What is celibacy and its purpose?

Celibacy is purposeful abstention from sexual activity which begins with a formal vow. It is not merely living one's life without sexual relations. As such, celibacy is as different from merely not having an active sex life, as fasting is different from merely not having anything to eat!

In the West, the only persons who are generally qualified to say anything about "celibacy" are those who have taken vows, for example, current and former Catholic priests, monks and nuns. Others can only express questions, because without experiencing it, opinions can express only here say.

Taking a vow of celibacy will strike nearly every adult as strange, unnatural or foreign, particularly in the modern Western popular culture, where the average person is continuously bombarded by advertising and the media to entertain sexual fantasies, virility or association with sexual attraction. Happiness requires an active sex life according to advertisements for Viagra, and millions of men believe it.

In India, celibacy is usually referred to as "brahmacharya."The word "brahmacharya" means "knower of Brahma," that is, one who is able to access the nondual transcendental state of awareness. It is one of the yamas, or social restraints of Patanjali's "eight limbed" (ie. astanga) yoga, and in that context implies the broader concept of chastity, in thought, word and deed. As a "social restraint" or yama, it is prescribed as a means of spiritual Self-realization, to protect the seeker in social relationships, where the ego's manifestations, which include pride, greed, lust, and anger, can cause mental delusion and inter-personal conflict. The other yamas include not harming, not lying, not stealing and greedlessness.

Celibacy, therefore, is not merely abstaining from sexual activity. It includes avoiding lust, sexual desire and fantasy.

Celibacy's greatest purpose is to slay desire, the principle of all our superficial life, which satisfies itself with the life of the senses and in the play of the passions. When we eliminate desire, that propensity of our natural being, the passions, the emotional results, will fall into quietude. A calm equality will then be gained. As a result, the delusion that "I am the body," and "I am my feelings, emotions, wants, and thoughts," is gradually replaced by the realization that "I am," that which never changes, that Witnesses the drama of my life, as "being, consciousness, and bliss," sat chid ananda.

Celibacy is not an end in itself, but a means to realizing a greater spiritual or religious purpose. In Christian religious orders a vow to maintain celibacy is part of one's complete dedication to Christ and the work of His Church. Catholic nuns or sisters are taught to view themselves as the "brides of Christ." When viewed as a means to a greater purpose, it makes perfect sense. It is not unlike a marriage vow of faithfulness to one's wife or husband which helps to ensure the success of the marriage. In Hindu and Buddhist monastic traditions, in order to keep one on the path to moksha or spiritual liberation from the wheel of samsara, endless desire and reincarnation, it is part of a three-fold life time vow of celibacy, poverty, and obedience to one's spiritual preceptor or to the discipline of one's monastic order.

No comments: