Brahmacarya, or celibate student life, is the first spiritual stage (asrama) in the varnasrama system. It lasts from 5th to 25th year of of one's life and during this time the brahmacari lives with his spiritual master and learns the theory and practice of the Vedic life recorded in the revealed scriptures.
After this time he is allowed to marry and enter the stage of householder life (grhastha asrama). Some brahmacaris, however, remain celibate the whole life.
Brahmacarya is defined as an abstention from the sexual gratification on the level of body, words and mind. This rule applies also to vanaprasthas and sannyasis.
There are 4 types of brahmacaris: (Krishna, the Supreme Personality of Godhead, ch.87, Prayers by the Personified Vedas, pp 407-408)
1. Savitra: After initiation and the sacred thread ceremony must observe at least three days of celibacy.
2. Prajapatya: Strictly observes celibacy for at least one year after initiation.
3. Brahma-brahmacari: Observes celibacy from the time of initiation up to the time of the completion of his study of the Vedic literature.
4. Naisthika: Remains celibate throughout his whole life.
The first 3 classes are called upakurvana, which means that the brahmacari can marry later, after the brahmacari period is over.
"There are two-fold conditions in all asramas. Brahmacari becomes upakurvana or naisthika. Naisthika is eager to realize Brahman. "After studying the Vedas if he becomes householder he is called upakurvana. The naisthika remains brahmacari till death." (Garuda Purana 1.49.6-7)
Life and duties of the brahmacari are described in the following quotes from the Srimad Bhagavatam:
SB 7.12.1: Narada Muni said: A student should practice completely controlling his senses. He should be submissive and should have an attitude of firm friendship for the spiritual master. With a great vow, the brahmacari should live at the guru-kula, only for the benefit of the guru.
SB 7.12.2: At both junctions of day and night, namely, in the early morning and in the evening, he should be fully absorbed in thoughts of the spiritual master, fire, the sun-god and Lord Visnu and by chanting the Gayatri mantra he should worship them.
SB 7.12.3: Being called by the spiritual master, the student should study the Vedic mantras regularly. Every day, before beginning his studies and at the end of his studies, the disciple should respectfully offer obeisances unto the spiritual master.
SB 7.12.4: Carrying pure kusa grass in his hand, the brahmacari should dress regularly with a belt of straw and with deerskin garments. He should wear matted hair, carry a rod and waterpot and be decorated with a sacred thread, as recommended in the sastras.
SB 7.12.5: The brahmacari should go out morning and evening to collect alms, and he should offer all that he collects to the spiritual master. He should eat only if ordered to take food by the spiritual master; otherwise, if the spiritual master does not give this order, he may sometimes have to fast.
SB 7.12.6: A brahmacari should be quite well behaved and gentle and should not eat or collect more than necessary. He must always be active and expert, fully believing in the instructions of the spiritual master and the sastra. Fully controlling his senses, he should associate only as much as necessary with women or those controlled by women.
A brahmacari should be very careful not to mix with women or with men addicted to women. Although when he goes out to beg alms it is necessary to talk with women and with men very much attached to women, this association should be very short, and he should talk with them only about begging alms, and not more. A brahmacari should be very careful in associating with men who are attached to women.
SB 7.12.7: A brahmacari, or one who has not accepted the grhastha-asrama [family life], must rigidly avoid talking with women or about women, for the senses are so powerful that they may agitate even the mind of a sannyasi, a member of the renounced order of life.
SB 7.12.8: If the wife of the spiritual master is young, a young brahmacari should not allow her to care for his hair, massage his body with oil, or bathe him with affection like a mother.
The relationship between the student or disciple and the wife of the spiritual master or teacher is like that between son and mother. A mother sometimes cares for her son by combing his hair, massaging his body with oil, or bathing him. Similarly, the wife of the teacher is also a mother (guru-patni), and therefore she may also care for the disciple in a motherly way. If the wife of the teacher is a young woman, however, a young brahmacari should not allow such a mother to touch him. This is strictly prohibited. There are seven kinds of mothers:
atma-mata guroh patni
dhenur dhatri tatha prthvi
saptaita matarah smrtah
These mothers are the original mother, the wife of the teacher or spiritual master, the wife of a brahmana, the king's wife, the cow, the nurse and the earth. Unnecessary association with women, even with one's mother, sister or daughter, is strictly prohibited. This is human civilization. A civilization that allows men to mix unrestrictedly with women is an animal civilization. In Kali-yuga, people are extremely liberal, but mixing with women and talking with them as equals actually constitutes an uncivilized way of life.
SB 7.12.9: Woman is compared to fire, and man is compared to a butter pot. Therefore a man should avoid associating even with his own daughter in a secluded place. Similarly, he should also avoid association with other women. One should associate with women only for important business and not otherwise.
SB 7.12.13-14: According to the rules and regulations mentioned above, one who is twice-born, namely a brahmana, ksatriya or vaisya, should reside in the guru-kula under the care of the spiritual master. There he should study and learn all the Vedic literatures along with their supplements and the Upanisads, according to his ability and power to study. If possible, the student or disciple should reward the spiritual master with the remuneration the spiritual master requests, and then, following the master's order, the disciple should leave and accept one of the other asramas, namely the grhastha-asrama, vanaprastha-asrama or sannyasa-asrama, as he desires.
SB 5.4.8: After Nabhi Maharaja departed for Badarikasrama, the Supreme Lord, Rsabhadeva, understood that His kingdom was His field of activities. He therefore showed Himself as an example and taught the duties of a householder by first accepting brahmacarya under the direction of spiritual masters. He also went to live at the spiritual masters' place, gurukula. After His education was finished, He gave gifts (guru-daksina) to His spiritual masters and then accepted the life of a householder. (...)
SB 5.9.6: The brahmana father of Jada Bharata considered his son his heart and soul, and therefore he was very much attached to him. He thought it wise to educate his son properly, and being absorbed in this unsuccessful endeavor, he tried to teach his son the rules and regulations of brahmacarya--including the execution of the Vedic vows, cleanliness, study of the Vedas, the regulative methods, service to the spiritual master and the method of offering a fire sacrifice. (...)
Further information: Manu-samhita (ch.2) etc.
Examples of famous brahmacaris:
SB 4.8.1: The great sage Maitreya said: The four great Kumara sages headed by Sanaka, as well as Narada, Rbhu, Hamsa, Aruni and Yati, all sons of Brahma did not live at home, but became urdhva-reta, or naisthika-brahmacaris, unadulterated celibates.
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