Centre Bouddhique International

Le Bourget - France

The Buddhist Concept Of Brahmacariya

By  Chamindaji Gamage
Senior Lecturer University of Ruhuna




The perfection of the pabbajita is achieved trought the course of training laid down in the vinaya . the career of the pabbajita is the culmination of brahmacariya which means the life of celibacy. Addressing sudinna the Buddha said,


“Katam hi name tvan  moghapurisem, evam
Svakkhate  dhammavinya pabbajitva na
Sakkhissasi yavajivam parisuddham paripunnam
Brahamacariyam caritum”


“How is that you , foolish man having gone forth under this dhamma and discipline which are well taught,are nbot able for your life time to lead the Bramma life which is completely and wholly purified “ it is obvious that buddhism lookd upon the pabbajita as one who had taken it upon him / her self to engage in the life long practice of brahmacariya. Mrs. Rhys Davids discusses the importance of  brahmacariya saying.
“ here was religious mandate shorn of the divine a wonderful anticipation when at that time the very word “ Man “ breathed the diving nature when the very word for what the man should do ( dhamma ) had become tantamount to diving guidance and to speak of holy living was to speak of the god conduct ( brahmacariya ).


The term brahmacariya has a long history . long before Buddhism  came to know the practice of brahmacariya it was taught by Brahmnism as well as others ascetic sects. The earliuest  religious literature of India, The  Rig Veada ,proclaims:
 “The brahmacari goes about engaged on duty , he is a member of the god s own  baby.” 


At that time , gods were considered to be the highest and most perfect  holy beings in the universe and as Mrs Rhys davids states , the supreme and the divine during rig vedic period too a person who observes celibacy was considered to be a perfect holy beings. in his ethics of Buddhism techibana says that “ The life of celibacy, which is usually expressed by the term brahmacariya , was inherited by Buddhism from Brahmanism  “ in the introduction to the translation to the of vinaya pitakaya  Miss I.B Horner states.


“ Evidently the aim of the strictures on unchastely with which parajika one is concerned , was party to bring the monk in to line with member of other preceding and contemporary sects whose members having renounced the household state , had to  be celibate . This notion already had history behind it by the time the Sakyan Order of monk came in to being. 


It is true that the notion of brahmacariya is pre Buddhist , but it is difficult to agree with techibana and Horner because the way in which  the term brahmacariya is understood in Buddhism  indicates that it has  developed differently from the way it was understood in pre Buddhistic teachings.


The Buddhist concept of  brahmacariya involves significant issues pertinent to the celibate life . in the methuna sutta of the Anguthharanikaya, replying to barhamin janussoni  the Buddha declared.
“Ekacco samano va brahmano va samma brahmacari patijanamano  na heva kho mathugammanasaddhim dvqayandvaya samapattin samapajjati  “


A bhikhu or brahamin , who declares himself to be a person of perfect brahmacariya may not enjoy sexual intercourse with a women . but this is not enough to warrant such a declaration ,: according to this statement it is clear that the buddhas teaching of brahmacariya differs from that of the teaching of Brahmanism or any other ascetic sects.


In Buddhism the term brahmacariya is not limited to mean abstention from sexual intercourse with a women .  G S P Misra suggest second meaning of brahmacariya ,” to live a particular system of life which was conducive to the attainment of the hights truth”Misra explain that brahmacariya indicate the state of complete emancipation as understood in Buddhism .by the term brahmacariya Buddhism required not only complete celibacy but also complete cessation of a attachment to any sort of sensual  pleasure .in theAngutthara nikaya it is said.
            A bikkhu or Brahman who declares himself to be a person of perfect brahmacariya   may not enjoy sexual intercourse with a women . but this is not enough to warrant such a declaration ,for


   If he allows  a women to rub his body with oil or perfume to give him a bath and shampoo him, and enjoy and long s for it
   If he laughs sport or amuses himself with a women
   If he looks in to watches with expectations, the eye of women who does the same in return
   If he listens through a wall or fence to the noise of the women who is laughing reciting ,singing , or weeping.
   If he remembers that he has formerly laughed,talked and sported together with a women
If he sees a householder or householders son in possession of five sport of pleasure and being attended by a women.
Or if he practices    brahmacariya desiring to join a certain class of celestaial  saying “ through this morality religious practice, austerity, or through brahmacariya ,I shall be a certain celestial being , I shall be one of the celestial beings .such brahmacariya cannot be called unbroken uninterrupted, unvaried, unadujlterateed ,perfect and pure brahmacariya


According to this passage ,Buddhism has explicitly laid out the Buddhist meaning of the term of the brahmacariya  it requires not only complete abstinence from sexual in tercourse with a women but also complete  abstinence from any sort of sensual pleasure derived through them whether it be physical or psychological. Buddhism visualizes   brahmacariya as the life of complete purity .obviously abstinence from sexual intercourse alone cannot ensure such purity. The passage cited above clearly state that certain psychological aspects of sex bondage were to be accounted for and that ones  brahmacariya could yet remain impure  if one were to have other forms of sensual contact with the opposite  sex whether this was physical verbal or mental . regarding the difficulties of the life of brahmacariya life in Theravada Buddhism john Stevans says in reality thought  few can reside on a state of true celibacy in both body and mind.


In the following passage ,King pasenadi compares the brahmacariya of Buddhism with that of other religious groups.
            “Idha panaham bhante ,bhikkhu passami
yavajivam apanakotikam paripunnam parisuddham
                                   brahmacariyam carante,na kho panaham
                                               bhante ito bahiddha annam evam paripunnam
                                                           parisuddham brahmacariyam samanupassami”


“Venerable sir ,it is here that I see the life long and pure brahmacariya of the bhikkus, outside which see is no other religious system complete and so pure.” king pasenadi was a layman ,as a layman  .he appreciate the Buddhist concept of brahmacariya by contrasting Buddhist brahmacariya with other form of brahmacariya which were adopted by recluses and brahamins of other religious affiliation.


According to the Buddhism , brahmacariya is a psycho physical discipline, this psycho physical discipline include the process of life in its triple manifestation. thought ,speech and physical action. “Tihi bhikkhave dhammehi samannagato pandito veditabbo ,Katamehi tihi ,kayasucaritena, vacisucaritena, manosucaritena. ”egarding this psycho physical discipline Miss .Horner states.


“For one of the point of entering Gotamas order was to learn control of  body ,mind and speech .this it was thought was essential to spiritual progress ,and was extremely hard to attain, Unless the shackles of the household life had been laid aside.  then men ,as monk.  Could more readily attain perfection and its fruit (arahattaphala) the goal of brahmacariya ,the good ,divine,holy of brama life.


Therefore ,the Buddhist brahmacariya is designed to control and discipline life .the discipline involves a course of train
ing which is facilitated by the detachment from worldly pleasure. This total detachment should be completed both physically as well as psychologically .The passage in the Anguttharanikaya clearly shows that the psychological   discipline is importations in fulfilling the ideal of brahmacariya .The passage says “to complete the brahmacariya one should not enjoy thinking of past,such as remembering that he has formerly laughed, talked and sported together with a women”.


“Abstinence from sensuality is an important characteristic of the Buddhist concept of brahmacariya which leads to the ultimate goal. Tachibana in his ethics of Buddhism points out that brahmacariya life leads to its goal.


“ The precepts in the patimokksha are said to be the first part of ,and on conformity with the brahmacariya or life of holiness,if any one is firm and stable in observing them ,and exercises himself on them. Taking all upon himself he will destroy the three bonds. The heresy of individuality ,doubt and erroneous religious practices and rites, and there by he will enter the path”


it should be pointed out that the renunciation of sexual pleasure is not peculiar to Buddhism. Ancient religious as a general rule have regarded this renunciation as one of the most praiseworthy human action .as I mentioned earlier in this article ,the earliest  literature of India , the rig-Veda proclaims the brahmacari life as pure holy life . even today Hinduism considers one who observes celibacy is a perfect holy being. 
In early Christianity the ideals for celibacy and virginity have played an important role in the life of the church. In the bible ,matthew reports in jesus words


“There are eunuchs who has made themselves eunuchs for the sake of      the kingdom of heaven”
furthermore the bible says


            “ I want you to be free from anxieties. The unmarried man is anxious about the affairs of the lord , how to please the lord ,but the married man is anxious about  worldly affairs.how to please his wife , and his interests are divided.”


Based on this statement ,celibacy leads leads to direct involment with the lord .The lord is the ultimate holiness .In Christianity, both roman catholic priests and nuns even today practice celibate lives for the sake of sanctity.


So, celibacy has undoubtedly been an important part of the life of the holy people . it is not peculiar to one religious tradition. Rudolf Otto ,in das   heilige, clime that the religious man  practices two different experiences in his life. one is his life in the profane world ,the other one is his experience in the state of the holy or the sacred world .The world holy or holiness means. ”completely good “ or “completely pure” thus a religious  mans goal is to reach the state of  .”completely good “ or “holiness” Therefore ,the holy people are obedient to the moral law of holiness and they take the law as an imperatively universal obligation. For Buddhist ,the Buddhist path is considered .”completely good “so taking it as a universal obligation. They follow the duty o0f the path . refraining from sensuous gratification may be difficult to a secular man, but not to the religious man who has taken it has a holy law .Abstaining from sensuality is a sacred experience for him.


However ,taking in to consideration what I have discussed here , the concept of brahmacari has a long history ,and  brahmacari life has considered the the most praiseworthy  human action , and it is obvious that the Buddhist concept of brahmacari life is required not only complete celibacy, but also complete  cessation of attachment to any sort of sensual pleasure is an necessary condition for the success of the spiritual March.





 Samadhi Bouddha Statue - Anuradhapura - Sri Lanka  IV-Ve Siècle