Brahmacharya (Stage of Renunciation)

ब्रह्मचर्य - brɑːməˈtʃɑːrjə

The student stage of life. One of the four ashrams or stages of life in Hindu philosophy. (1)

Brahmacharya refers to the first of four classically designed ashrams. (1) The stage lasts from birth until the age of twenty-four, and the maturing youth is advised to be single, practice self-control, and develop harmony of body, mind, will, and intellect. (2) Brahmacharya literally means “flowing with Brahma.” (3) The other three ashrams of life are grihasta (householder), vanaprastha (partially retired from worldly life), and sannyas (full renunciation). (1)

In the ancient Hindu system of education, brahmacharya was the stage of proper education beginning at puberty and lasting through adolescence. When the child arrives at adolescence at age twelve or thirteen, he experiences an awakening of sexual desire. During this period of life, the student must assume responsibility for his actions, particularly sexual activities. The student must attain physical, moral, emotional, and intellectual self-control in order to flow with truth as an adult. In this stage, he may learn that the purpose of life is to seek God. (3)

Swami Kriyananda recommends the use of a rite of passage to prepare children for the oncoming stage of adolescence. For example, they can be taught about their latent power to attract and influence each other, especially as members of opposite sexes. The students may be taught about the fragility of this power, as well as the delusion and disappointment that sexual activities — out of lust instead of love — bring. Only then may children mature into righteous and self-controlled adults. (3)

The word brahmacharya also commonly refers to the observance (yama) of sexual self-control. The practice of brahmacharya as an adult is greatly assisted by proper education as a child and adolescent in the brahmacharya stage of life. (3) Since the first ashram allows the student to prepare for a life devoted to God, brahmacharya relates to the fourth ashram of sannyas, wherein the renunciate devotes his life to the quest for liberation. (1)

In India, the system of four ashrams was founded during a higher spiritual age, in which the purpose of life was widely understood and manifested into a system of education. (1) Nowadays, the ideal system of life is not widely observed in modern India, but it has many devout follows. Special schools and communities may uphold the system under the direction of a guru. (4)

  1. a b c d e A Renunciate Order for the New Age, by Swami Kriyananda. Chapter 15, “A Need for Proper Education.”
  2. The Hindu Way of Awakening, by Swami Kriyananda. Part II, “The Symbols,” Chapter 11, “Brahma, Vishnu, and Shiva: The Trinity of AUM.”
  3. a b c d Sadhua, Beware!, by Swami Kriyananda. Chapter IX, “Two Stages of Brahmacharya.”
  4. Autobiography of a Yogi, by Paramhansa Yogananda. Chapter 27, “Founding a Yoga School at Ranchi.”