Celibacy is a period of time in which the practitioner avoids sexual contact. In some cases, this includes avoiding any form of self-pleasuring, sexual thoughts or fantasies. The dictionary definition of celibacy refers to "the state of voluntarily being unmarried, sexually abstinent, or both, usually for religious reasons".
What is celibacy?
The words abstinence and celibacy are often used interchangeably, but are not necessarily the same thing. Sexual abstinence, also known as continence, is abstaining from some or all aspects of sexual activity, often for some limited period of time, while celibacy may be defined as a voluntary religious vow not to marry or engage in sexual activity. In Tantra, refraining from ejaculation of referred to as "continence", while refraining from sexual activity is referred to as "celibacy".
The concept of "new celibacy" was introduced by Gabrielle Brown in her 1980 book The New Celibacy. In a revised version (1989) of her book, she claims that "abstinence is a response on the outside to what's going on, and celibacy is a response from the inside". According to her definition, celibacy (even short-term celibacy that is pursued for non-religious reasons) is much more than not having sex. It is more intentional than abstinence, and its goal is personal growth and empowerment.
Why be celibate?
Even if one has made nondual awareness, Self-realization, God-realization, enlightenment, liberation or nirvana one’s ultimate spiritual objective, state or value, sexuality will very often cause detours, in which one forgets, even for many years, what one is seeking .Some practitioners of traditional Tantra have described the ecstasy of celibacy as being even more intense than the ecstasy of sexual union.
Gradually such sensations, longings, and urges were refined into a singular passionate feeling that moved more or less up the spine. The yogi grew still. In amazement he saw the passion blossom into glowing, blissful radiance at seven spinal locations called chakras or "wheel-flowers." After many years of devoted nurturing of the distinctive tonalities of each chakra, this passion dissolved into a primordial brilliance of indescribable beauty and fulfillment. As an inward "orgasm of consciousness," it exceeded the yogi's every expectation. His sense of body and self was that of a cathedral housing a spark of divinity.Tantra brings us to complete wholeness. There is actually no need for another. There is no need for sex. We have both masculine and feminine energies within us. Combining these polarities with spirit, we are fully satisfied within us. This is true tantra.
Celibacy in Tantra
Tantra embraces the full range of human experience, and thus embraces celibacy as enthusiastically as any other practice. The ultimate aim of Tantra is to exercise complete mindfulness, presence, and control over the full power of the energies of manifestations as they flow through the practitioner, channelling the energy to the crown chakra and to liberation or enlightenment.
Periods of chastity are an important check point for a practitioner, to assess how much control they have over their sexual energy. Can the practitioner convert the sexual energy to something more refined, and use it to empower their higher chakras?
Periods of celibacy can also highlight impurities around sexuality in our emotional and mental bodies. Do we feel that it is pointless to interact with members of our desired gender if sexual contact is not an option? Do we feel useless or worthless when we are not being sexually admired? Do we have uncontrollable sexual fantasies when we are celibate?
A Tantric may undertake a period of celibacy as a tapas (an austerity, a commitment to a particular course of action for a particular period of time), simply to strengthen their will power, or to explore a specific issue.
Even within the context of celibacy, a practitioner can work with sexual energy as a means to awaken and enliven their energy system. Solo sexual Tantric practice may be allowed in some forms of Tantric celibacy. The sexual energy which is aroused by solo practice can be channelled into opening higher chakras, clearing blockages, and healing physical and energetic dysfunction.Traditional Tantric rituals often involve a period of chastity as part of the preparation for a ritual. The traditional maithuna ritual, for example, should be preceded by either seven or 21 days of celibacy. Longer periods of celibacy were used to purify the practitioner of attachments and desires.
In the teachings of authentic tantra celibacy realizes its full potential as mean of purifying the vital body of desire. The Siddhas, or adepts of Tantra were not life long celibates. They performed tapas as celibates for extended periods to develop mastery over their human nature and to purify themselves of desire. They practiced kundalini yoga to sublimate sexual energy. They also practiced paryanga yoga [sexual Tantra with a partner] to transform bindu [seed energy] into ojas [Divine vital energy] and enter into Oneness. But paryanga yoga, like celibacy, is a means to ultimate God realization, here in the world, embracing and transforming nature .
Risks of CelibacyCelibacy requires great skill and self-awareness. Without these qualities, it results in psychological suppression of desire, and consequent neuroses. One slays desires not by suppressing them, but by observing them, and “letting them go.” Not only celibacy, but any object of desire, any intention which one sets for oneself, for example, dietary restriction, or marriage fidelity, can become a source of inner conflict. That is why more than half of the adult population in the West suffer from serious neuroses. Anyone who begins to meditate, or with the help of a therapist, begins to observe their thoughts and emotions with detachment can eventually develop the skill required to “let go” of them.
Celibacy is the first half of brahmacharya, but not necessarily all of it, because without prerequisite purification of the nervous system and then encouraging sexual energy to move to a higher manifestation, there is no cultivation, which is the second half of brahmacharya. This concept of celibacy being one half of brahmacharya is an important point. Without the second half of brahmacharya, celibacy can lead to stagnation and to the emergence of unbalanced obsessive behaviors, particularly if it is an "enforced" celibacy.
So, while celibacy (preservation) is in the direction of brahmacharya, it is incomplete as a spiritual practice without activating (cultivating) sexual energy for a higher purpose. That, of course, is the purpose of tantric sex. Ironically, those who are diligent in their tantric sexual practices can have better spiritual prospects than celibates who are not diligent in their sitting yoga practices and ongoing loving service to others to cultivate sexual energy to a higher manifestation in their nervous system.
- Celibacy in Wikipedia, accessed Oct 26, 2017.
- Brown, Gabrielle (1989). The New Celibacy: A Journey to Love, Intimacy, and Good Health in a New Age (Rev ed.). New York: McGraw-Hill.
- Tantric Explorations by Talia Y, accessed Oct 26, 2017.
- The Celibate Tantric by Eyal Matsliah, accessed Oct 26, 2017.
- Tantric Celibacy excerpt from Eros, Consciousness and Kundalini: Deepening Sensuality Through Tantric Celibacy and Spiritual Intimacy (pgs. 16-18) by Stuart Sovatsky.
- Celibacy on the Tantric Path by Katrina Bos, accessed Oct 26, 2017.
- Sexuality, Celibacy and Tantra, an interview with Babaji (M. Govindan Satchidananda), 2014.
- Brahmacharya, Tantric Sex, and Celibacy by Yogani, accessed Oct 26, 2017.