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5 Minute Philosophy Break: The Yamas Part 4: Brahmacarya

5 Minute Philosophy Break: The Yamas Part 4: Brahmacarya

Welcome to the fourth post in our series on the yamas.  Today we’ll be taking a look at the fourth yama – Brahmacarya (conservation of vital energy)

Brahmacarya comes from two sanskrit root words

  • Brahman = supreme truth, limitless reality, the essence of all things (Brahman is kind of a big deal!)   
  • Carya = to follow, to move toward

So as a yama Brahmacarya means to avoid wasting our energy on things that distract us away from supreme truth.  But what is supreme truth? Yoga teaches that we are more than our body and mind and the crazy thoughts in our heads!  And the essence of our True Self is pure energy – formless, eternal, whole, and complete – perfect as is.

So the practice of yoga involves peeling away the layers of learned behavior and story, and coming back home to what we already are – whole and complete. Experiencing our true Self is the source of all lasting happiness, joy, peace, love and contentment in our lives.

With that in mind, let’s go back to the ancient text of Patanjali’s Yoga Sutras and see how brahmacarya is described.  Chapter 2, verse 38 tells us…

II.38 Brahmacarya-pratiṣṭhāyāṁ-vīrya-lābhaḥ
When the yogi is firmly established in abidance in the I-AM, the Self (brahmacarya), spiritual strength, continence, and vigor are gained
– translation by Shri Brahmananda Sarasvati

This verse affirms that supreme truth is realized by experiencing our true Self (the cosmic I-AM beyond the body & mind)  And the more we focus our energy inwardly, cultivating a relationship with our true self, the more strength, and vitality and self control we have to deal with the challenges and distractions of life. And so the more we’re able to connect to, and live from our inner source of peace and joy.

And so of course the less time we spend inside, the less connection we have to our inner source of peace and joy. And when that happens we become confused. Without a connection to our true self, It’s like there’s an insatiable loneliness, or an underlying sense of “not ok”. And so we often chase after sense pleasures to fill that gap – food, sex, amazon prime…

An important thing thing to realize here is that Bramacarya does not say sensual pleasures are inherently bad.  I believe we’re meant to experience all sorts of wonderment and bliss with these bodies. But… if we’re looking to sensual pleasures for our overall happiness and peace, then we’re wasting our vital energy chasing an insatiable ghost.  

So how do we cultivate a relationship with our true Self?  So many sweet little ways! We can spend more time in nature. The ancient yogic texts say that nature is meant to wake us up to our truth. So we can unplug from the frenetic, chaotic, noisy artificial world, and plug back into the slow healing earth. We can spend time looking up at the stars, expanding our perspective, thinking bigger.  We can spend time doing something creative, letting the source of creative energy flow through us and connect back to our nature as creative beings. And most importantly, we can consistently make time to sit quietly with ourselves. We can consider “Who am I beyond this body and mind”, and then listen and pay attention to the experience.

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