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Purpose Of Brahmacharya Ashrama In Hinduism

In the Vedic age the lifespan of an individual was divided into four ashramas, stations of life: Brahmacharya, Grihastha, Vanaprastha, and Sannyasa. According to Hindu ancient tradition, every individual had to pass through the stage of brahmacharya before taking up any of the next stages of life. In Hinduism, the Brahmacharya Ashrama consisted in staying with the teacher, serving him or her, studying the Vedas, following a life of self-control, and also performing certain austerities. The students remained with the teacher for a fixed period of time after the completion of which they were free to choose their way of life — either returning home to live as a householder or continuing to stay with the teacher while practicing lifelong celibacy along with other spiritual disciplines, service, and study. The former type was called Upakurvana brahmacharya and the latter Naishtika brahmacharya.

The final purpose of the Brahmacharya Ashrama and its activities was spiritual enlightenment and it served, at the same time, as the foundation of the other three ashramas. The ancient rishis knew well that only if people succeed in this station of life can they later lead worthy lives in the other ashramas.

Those following the ideal of brahmacharya in early youth are capable of becoming ideal householders or ideal sannyasins in future.

Initiation into Brahmacharya Ashrama involves the ritual of upanayana. This word means ‘taking the student near the teacher’ or ‘the rite by which the student is taken to the acharya’. Upanayana is a samskara, purification rite, during which the student is invested with a sacred thread and imparted the Gayatri mantra, which is a prayer for the awakening of dhi, spiritual insight. Therefore, upanayana principally means gayatri upadesha, instruction in the Gayatri mantra.

It is important to note that even for becoming a householder, a student had to pass through the Brahmacharya Ashrama and undergo training and studies under a guru. Only after acquiring appropriate knowledge were students entitled to marry and lead the life of a householder. The Grihastha Ashrama is of great value, as it is the householder who materially supports the entire community and the other three ashramas. Householders carry great social responsibility and a particular kind of brahmacharya is also mandatory for them. Grihastha Ashrama does not mean giving license to the senses; some desires can be satisfied, but this has to be done within the framework of dharma. Householders are expected to exercise great self-control, and the training for it is acquired in the Brahmacharya Ashrama. Only with this background can a person evolve and achieve fulfilment in life.

Source – excerpts from article titled ‘Brahmacharya and Its Practice’ by Swami Yukteshananda published in the Prabuddha Bharata magazine January 2010 issue.