Where am I investing my energies? Am I being choiceful about how I allocate my resources? Practicing bramacharya can help us address these questions. Bramacharya is a yama – the 1st limb of yoga which provides universal guidelines for ethical living.
Bramacharya means practicing moderation and balance, taking the middle path rather than swinging between extremes, using self-restraint, and freeing the mind from domination by the senses. Every day we encounter countless distractions competing for our attention. We are inundated by demands on our time and we face an endless array of sense pleasures to pursue. When we are on automatic pilot, our energies can become scattered, pulled in every direction. We may be too exhausted to focus on what is most meaningful.
Bramacharya requires us to see the bigger picture. It asks us to be conscious about what we attend to and trade the temporary, short-term enjoyment of external sensory pleasures for true internal joy. Practicing bramacharya helps liberate us from the cycle of grasping, clinging, and aversion.
According to the Yoga Sutras of Patanjali, “Performing each action with an awareness of a higher ideal engenders tremendous strength.” In Sanskrit, achara might be translated as “pathway” and brahman might be translated as “higher consciousness”. Rather than allowing our energies to be depleted by things that are transient, meaningless, or that do not truly serve us, we conserve inner resources for pursuits that take us further on the path of higher consciousness.
In the Katha Upanishad, Yamaraja, Lord of Death, says the following:
“Know the self as a rider in a chariot,
and the body, as simply the chariot.
Know the intellect as the charioteer,
and the mind, as simply the reins.
The senses, they say, are the horses,
and sense objects are the paths around them….
When a [person] lacks understanding,
and the mind is never controlled;
Like untrained horses,
the senses do not obey the charioteer”
A person with an undisciplined mind, operating on impulse, suffers from the whims of uncontrolled senses. Like a charioteer driving untrained horses, the course is likely to be chaotic, unpredictable, and without purpose. We find we are endlessly chasing fleeting pleasures, being diverted by distractions, and running away from aversions. Driving such a chariot is at the very least uncomfortable and at worst, downright terrifying. The charioteer may even be in danger of coming to great harm or of harming others.
A person with a disciplined mind benefits from controlled senses. Pleasures and difficulties can be fully experienced as they come and go, without grasping, clinging or aversion. By practicing bramacharya, we are better able to focus energies on our chosen path. Through moderation of the senses, one travels mindfully in higher-consciousness rather than careening blindly down the meaningless path of the senses.