The Structural Gambit for Celibacy and Chastity

By Vrndavanlila Devi Dasi (Dr Vrinda Baxi) - 28.11 2017

Despite this fast changing world where promiscuity encouraged by the hedonist approach to life is overtaking almost everywhere, India still preserves its age old veneration towards celibacy. The vast majority of girls and boys still remain celebate till their marriage and even post-marriage lead a regulated life. Of course in cities, this ‘conservative’ species are on the brink of extinction, and even when preserved, generally make the person a butt of ridicule and curiosity. However, fortunately in villages it is still a norm.

What is it which still allows the virtue of celibacy still thrive in India? It would be interesting to know this as this would help us build a similar structure elsewhere.

A country’s spiritual culture can be felt in its social structure. A broad system is supported by number of social systems that in turn help realizing the primary objective. The primary Indian philosophy rests on the principles of karma, punar janma (rebirth) and departure for param dhama when one is successfully able to break the cycle of birth-death-rebirth. Even the common people were aware of the two big obstacles on the path of spiritual evolution:

bhogaiśvarya-prasaktānāḿ / tayāpahṛta-cetasām

vyavasāyātmikā buddhiḥ / samādhau na vidhīyate [BG 2:44] [In the minds of those who are too attached to sense enjoyment and material opulence, and who are bewildered by such things, the resolute determination for devotional service to the Supreme Lord does not take place.]

Therefore, we had the social structure that encouraged “simple living and high thinking”. Sex desire, identified as the most serious obstacle was thus most cautiously addressed. Its seriousness can be understood if we remind ourselves that every jiva has enjoyed this facility in so many forms (84,00,000 forms atleast) in the body of a dog, cat, rabbit etc and still we are foolishly chasing it again – punah carvita carvitam –

śrī-prahrāda uvāca

matir na kṛṣṇe parataḥ svato vā / mitho ‘bhipadyeta gṛha-vratānām

adānta-gobhir viśatāḿ tamisraḿ / punaḥ punaś carvita-carvaṇānām [SB 7.5.30] [Prahlāda Mahārāja replied: Because of their uncontrolled senses, persons too addicted to materialistic life make progress toward hellish conditions and repeatedly chew that which has already been chewed. Their inclinations toward Kṛṣṇa are never aroused, either by the instructions of others, by their own efforts, or by a combination of both.]

Even an illiterate fool knows that sexual attraction is the most fatal one, containing the seed of one’s material attachment and spiritual suicide it was addressed in several ways in the social set up.

puḿsaḥ striyā mithunī-bhāvam etaḿ / tayor mitho hṛdaya-granthim āhuḥ

ato gṛha-kṣetra-sutāpta-vittair / janasya moho ‘yam ahaḿ mameti [SB 5.5.8] [The attraction between male and female is the basic principle of material existence. On the basis of this misconception, which ties together the hearts of the male and female, one becomes attracted to his body, home, property, children, relatives and wealth. In this way one increases life’s illusions and thinks in terms of “I and mine.”]

Celibacy and chastity. A boy is encouraged to remain celebate with its supportive system of encouraging a girl to be chaste. Chastity and celibacy are interdependent virtues. One virtue helps the other to prosper. A girl’s natural attribute of shyness was encouraged in the culture. It not only fortified her defence, but also supported a brahmacari’s vow to remain a celibate. Even Srila Prabhupada gave the famous example of a sweeper woman who would not enter because of shyness. The men had to get up and make way for her to enter. Her shyness had only made men to get in her honor. Bashfulness is considered a woman’s most precious ornament and evokes honor and respect by civilized people. This idea was further effected by subsystems that did not allow free mixing of girls and boys at any stage of life. A girl was always protected, by her father and brother before marriage, by her husband after marriage, and by her son in the absence of her husband. Even schooling was done separately. Girls were homeschooled in different arts that suited their temperament and their role to support and serve their husbands. Even princess Uttara (ref. Mahabharat) was trained in the art of dancing at the palace itself (by Arjuna in disguise as Brahnalla); even Queen Madri (King Pandu’s wife), Kaikeyi (wife of King Dashrath) were well versed in the art of charioteering during war. There is famous instance of Satyabhama driving Krishna’s chariot when He defeated Narakasura. The women were well trained to follow their temperament, but they were never sent outside to schools along with boys or other men. Though now women are encouraged to be financially independent, go out to study, play and work; but earlier it was unimaginable. Queen Draupadi, one of very chaste women, had never been beheld even by wind or sun [Mahabharata, Sabha Parva]! Those were the ideals of chastity then! As India is replete with wonderful examples of chaste women, no wonder there have been similar examples of celibate men like Hanuman, Parashuram, Haridas Thakur, the goswamis of Vrindavan, Narada muni, Sukadev Goswami, Bheeshma pitamah and so on.

Education. Observance of the vows of celibacy and sense control are so important in defining a person’s intelligence and memory that first phase of a man’s period that of student life was in itself defined as brahmachary, followed by grhastha, vanyaprastha, and sannyasi. Out of the four, three ashrams are based on observance of complete celibacy. The exception, grhastha phase, a man was allowed to mix with women but that too in restriction.

“Srila Prabhupada: One thing is that we teach our boys how to become (brahmacari)-how to live the life of celibacy, how to control their senses. In Vedic culture, marriage generally doesn’t take place until the boy is about twenty-four or twenty-five and the girl is about sixteen or seventeen. And because they are experiencing the spiritual pleasure of Krsna consciousness, they are not simply interested in sex life. So we don’t say “don’t mix with women,” or ,”Stop sex life.” But we regulate everything under the higher principle of Krsna Consciousness. In this way everything goes nicely.”

Further, again there was subsystem of education methodology, curriculum and the facts related to a students’ eligibility for receiving education.

Education had never been a money minting industry, as it has turned now. It was given free for the sake of spreading knowledge of self realization and training a class of realized leaders of the society. No wonder even the kings were rishis and great yogis. Parikshit maharaj, Yudhisthir, Dashrath, Janaka, Sri Ram are just a few to name.

Unlike the modern schooling system where even the transportation buses, classes are air conditioned, giving a glimpse of luxury and comfort; Vedic system had system of gurukulas where life was sans sense gratification and of austerity and surrender. The student served the guru with humility and remained 24/7 under constant observance and training by a qualified teacher or acharya, who was himself a great example of what he preached. Even the Supreme Lord, as a student set the example by serving His guru Sandipani muni just like any other student and doing ‘menial’ work as collecting wood from the forest etc.

“The brahmacaris, or students under the care of a bonafide spiritual master, control the mind by abstaining from sense gratification. A brahmacari hears only words concerning Krishna consciousness; hearing is the basic principle for understanding, and therefore the pure brahmacari engages fully in harer namanu kirtanam — chanting and hearing the glories of the Lord. He restrains himself from the vibrations of material sounds, and his hearing is engaged in the transcendental sound vibration of Hare Krishna, Hare Krishna.” [Commentary by Srila Prabhupada.BG 4.26]

The educational content was not based on the speculative information furnished by the scientists whose science keeps changing its statements every day and motivated historians who would distort the facts to suit their ulterior motives. Time was regarded precious and every moment was utilized in realizing the higher truth, emphasis was not on body but on soul which is eternal. The curriculum was thus based on eternal truths, the shastras.

Further, there was no room for co-education. Boys lived separately in the gurukula under the able guidance of a qualified acharya, while the girls were educated at home by other senior women of the family and of the village. In Vrindavan, we have the example of Purnaswasi playing the role of mentor to the girls. In a few cases, they were also trained by other qualified teachers, but all at home itself.

The acharya had complete freedom to accept a student based on the latter’s qualification become his student. (So different from modern system where it is only the ability to pay the fat fees that defines their ability to get admitted in a particular school. We have examples of acharayas rejecting a student’s request in the history. For instance, Dronacharya rejected Karna and Ekalavya’s request to be their students. The relationship between the student and the teacher was of mutual love, trust and great reverence. Truth was the founding principle. We learn that Karna in his ambition to become the world’s archer wanted to receive training and education from Parasuram and lied to his teacher to learn the art. He claimed himself to be a brahmana, but later when the truth got revealed to Parasuram in a very touching situation, Parasuram did not hesitate to curse Karna. So stringent were the rules of eligibility to education and learning (education for all?). No wonder every man was trained to see every woman other than his own wife as his mother.

Social systems. Celibacy is like going upstream. This desire has been indoctrinated in the jivas through different lakhs and lakhs of bodies; surprisingly still it has not exhausted itself and it is difficult to give it up totally in favor of the Lord for just one life. The Indian social system recognized the great power that Maya devi wielded. The structure of social system was therefore designed to be a matrix of wonderful rules that encouraged celibacy and chastity. The institution of child marriage was one of them. In our village in UP it is still prevalent. The children, after a thorough check of the background and other related details of the boy and girl by the family elders, are married at the age of 6 years or so. When they become matured and are appropriately trained and educated (somewhere round 24 years or 25 years) another ceremony called gauna takes place. Prior to this ceremony the girl and the boy though married, do not stay together. After the solemnization of this ceremony the girl begins to come to the boy’s house for different festivals and slowly over a period of a year or so she begins to permanently stay at her in-law’s place. Since the two are married at quite a young age, love for each other grows over time and there is no room for anxiety of partner-hunting. There is no concept of divorce or remarriage or even abortion; there is therefore no equivalent for these words in Hindi language.

Since men and women are comparable to butter and fire, they need to not only kept separate but attraction is further minimized by the dressing code. The nakedness of animals was not emulated by men as they were constantly aware of the significance of a human body and its goal. A decent woman was expected to keep her head covered and cover herself nicely. Srimati Radharani is the epitome of a woman’s grace, no man had ever held her, even her feet are never visible except on Her appearance day. Laxman, as Sri Ramji’s brother sets the ideal of conduct even with a sister in law. He had never beheld Sita devi’s face and could recognize only her anklets as he had always seen Her feet while touching them for blessings. A married woman or girl is immediately recognizable by their sindoor in the parting, red bindi, toe rings, mangal sutra round her neck, and clamor of bangles while draping themselves in a sari (the 6 yard wonder) to avoid confusion. Similarly men covered themselves decently in a dhoti, kurta and angavastram (also known as angoccha).

This purity in thought and action was further cemented by healthy eating habits and varnasrama system. This is why Srila Prabhupada on seeing a few sannyasis failing to keep their vows of celibacy compassionately gave the solution of reviving the institution of daiva varnasrama in the society.

Daiva Varnasrama set up is like a safety net to save the spiritual trapeze artists from falling in the circus of material life. Celibacy is purity in thought and action; and thus a great force, which is so much required. Hare Krishna!