K Haridas Nair from Malaysia looks at the idea of absolute purity. 'Brahmacharya' represents the Hindu equivalent for absolute purity, a concept which moves beyond the notion of controlling one's mind and passions to one of managing one's emotions and senses. This is the second of a series in which we look at core moral values from an Eastern perspective.
Absolute Honesty or 'Satyam' inspires and strengthens a positive sense of 'will' in an individual but is mere will power alone adequate? It is a paradox to equate willpower as existing within a dissipated body devoid of energy. One must also have the vitality within oneself and through the exercise of will and an intelligent application to a goal beyond self interest, creative results emerge.
'Brahmacharya' represents the Hindu equivalent for Absolute Purity. This discipline provides a broader insight into what purity is all about. This concept moves beyond the notion of controlling one's mind and passions to one of managing one's emotions and senses.
It is about all our five sense organs ranging from seeing, touching, smelling, hearing and tasting. When people have no realisation then the tentacles of these senses soon overpower them making them victims of the world outside, enslaved by its enticing reality.
This leads to a dissipation of energies and the vitality present in a person gets robbed. What remains is a mere physical body, existing with no personality within, to assert or plan or achieve anything in life. In this state a person's mind feels little, nor can his intellect think. He remains a drifting entity.
Lord Krishna, in the Bhagavad Gita Chapter 2 Verses 62& 63, outlines how a lack of self-management of one's senses leads to disasters. ‘From continuous thinking of objects, attachment to them is formed. From attachment arises longing and from longing, anger, from anger comes delusion, loss of memory. From loss of memory comes ruin of discrimination and from ruin of discrimination the person perishes.’
Conserving one's energies is critical, and developing an attitude of having an intelligent contact with the world outside from the level of the body is what 'Brahmacharya' and Absolute Purity are all about. Even the Hindu concept of 'Brahmacharya' is broadly interpreted ranging from extreme asceticism and control to one of intelligently creating boundaries and discovering a sense of balance.
Brahmacharya or Absolute Purity is all about the latter: developing a discipline that needs to be lived out at the level of the body – the physical level. It is a fact that the physical entity in all of us longs for contact with the world of objects to enjoy sense gratifications. Our eyes, tongue, ears, nose and touch help us to relate fully with the world as it is.
However, when individuals seek continuous gratification of sensual demands they develop a passion that breeds and grows in greater strength, ultimately leading to their enslavement. We just have to consider the plight of the alcoholic, the womaniser, the extremely obese, the gambler and the drug addict to affirm this reality.
'Brahmacharya' was prescribed as a discipline to be diligently lived at the physical level. It is about exerting self-management with regards to all of one's sense enjoyments. This does not at all mean their total self-denial. The world of objects is meant for us to enjoy and appreciate. The scriptures do not deny us this freedom.
However, what is stressed is the need for us to be masters of our enjoyment rather than become victims through being addicted. ‘Enjoy the world but do not let the world enjoy you’ goes the refrain. Very often Absolute Purity and 'Brahmacharya' have been misunderstood in the context of complete abstinence from sexual life and the enjoyment of objects.
It is more about excessive indulgence with sensual pleasures as a whole and not one that is just limited only to issues of sex. This can even be about talking too much, listening to music all the time or eating all the time, thus exhibiting no sense of restraint. All the senses work together feeding one another. Together they become powerful and when they attack our imagination and we get enslaved a creative human condition within us becomes seriously weakened.
An un-intelligent and abrupt denial of sensual pleasures and control on the other hand through a strict interpretation of religious and spiritual practices bordering on asceticism results often in suppression. When this is done over a period of time it leads to bitterness, frustrations and cynicism.
The alternative is to continue indulging in sense pleasures and being overpowered by them. This results in a journey down the ladder of fall to the abyss of depravity and any attempt thereafter to live a spiritual life would be in vain. There is thus the need to find that inspired balance and liberation between these two extremes.
I remember my early attempts at living Absolute Purity and the challenge this posed as I had not differentiated the distinction between control and balance. I understand what suppression does as it only lends greater strength to the passion that one is attempting to control be it not eating meat, seeing films or reading books and magazines with the wrong motives or indulging in day dreaming.
Yet when I decided to review my spoken language to ensure that I dropped the use of foul words, avoided the books and magazines that I was tempted to read and enjoy, reviewed the management of my imagination and at the same time shifted my focus to a purpose beyond myself, the challenge became less daunting and life more enjoyable and purpose filled.
Reading Mahatma Gandhi's book My Experiments with Truth helped me develop strategies. I pledged myself to some 'vows' that helped me discern boundaries in my life with regards relationships, food, language and an understanding of the ‘cliff edges’ that I needed to avoid. This was a good beginning and very soon I experienced a renewed sense of energy, vitality and dynamism. These experiments endowed me with meaningful personal experiences.
Absolute Purity is about freedom and liberation from habits, and the management of all sensual needs within boundaries that one clarifies for oneself. This is sustained by a moral and spiritual motivation that engages an involvement with a meaningful cause or initiative which helps sublimate these powerful forces within us and move them towards a greater purpose. It is neither about control and repression nor is it about licence and permissiveness.
As we fine tune the instruments of body, mind and intellect ('sarira', 'manas' and 'buddhi') we will begin to discern the melody that arises from the rhythm that is generated by a purpose filled life that interacts positively with the world of reality.
The aim is not to annihilate individuality but to enhance performance, daring and achievement. Energies that are conserved coupled with a heightened memory and judgment are then able to provide creative options. The mind than operates within a fresh field of ennobling ideals and this redirects all its energies.
'Brahmacharya' like Absolute Purity is thus not a limiting concept but one that has wide implications beyond self-control and repression to one involving the management of one's sensual organs, recognising the balance needed, the boundaries involved and the liberation of one's energies towards meaningful goals.
In today's sensate and permissive environment where the challenges of choice are immense and the force of a culture based on a notion of freedom and licence so very powerful, we owe it both to ourselves and to the next generation to ensure that this gift of freedom and liberation remains a corner stone within our work and the source of its continued creativity.
Read the other four articles on this topic by K Haridas: