It’s always interesting to look at the origins of words: Brahma means God, or a version of the divine. What is your sense of god, or the divine? Is there another layer of existence that is in relation with us? Many people think so. I don’t. In fact, the idea that God, the creator of ‘man’, is happiest when his subjects, humans, toil to subjugate the rest of existence so they can be fruitful and multiply is, quite frankly, absurd and obscene. This kind of delusion has got us to where we are.
Nonetheless, there are other possible meanings to the idea, at least, of what is divine, in the sense of sacred, or of utmost significance, beyond the realm of the everyday. What this might be for all of us is something utterly unmysterious. We all want to be loved. Iris Murdoch said this and I find it a much preferable way of expressing what we have in common than the platitude that we want to be happy. Happiness comes from being loved, and from loving in return.
Of course, the thought that god is love is hardly a new one, and we can update the spiritual injunction too. How about, ‘Everything is part of a cooperative dance, or movement of systems that belong to each moment as part of existence sustaining itself, and our values fit into that, because they, too, are the urge to cooperate’. Or , ‘Being alive and conscious of living is a rare and precious way of existing, and we have a responsibility to exercise that awareness, just as, if we were brilliant mathematicians, we would have an obligation to use that expertise for the benefit of everyone’. That comes closer to my idea of the divine.
The second part, charya, means follower. I tend to think of the image of following in the footsteps. There are lots of religious pictures in the Christian faith of footprints in the sand, and the two sets of footsteps becoming one when things get difficult. The human asks, where were you? And God answers, I carried you. This kind of imagery is powerful. We want to be carried.
Brahmacharya is a kind of carrying, in my secular view. We need to start realising that we are not running the show. The show is running itself and we are part of the action. When we use our not inconsiderable neural equipment to reflect on being alive, we come to understand that our capacity to be aware of ourselves while all this is going on is, if we can put aside the ‘vast, motheaten, musical brocade’ for a moment, a window: we are the universe (or multiverse) aware of itself. Themselves. Herself. Himself. You get the picture. The awareness allows us to see, if we will, how things work together, and we can then begin to realise that we need to fit our awareness into the patterns that best benefit their continuous unfolding. We don’t actually have much say in this. We didn’t have much say in where or when we were born, or when and where we will die. But we have a choice about how we look at all this. Instead of demanding that god fixes things, we can realise that the systems that sustain us have their own way of getting things done, an intelligence, if you like, that if we don’t bounce around placing obstacles in the way, like phobias, or the machinations and manipulations to gain power, we might actually find that we belong here. That the action acts through us. Our belonging, and indeed the cooperation that already allows systems to cooperate is something we can consciously align ourselves with.
That’s brahmacharya. Stepping back into what is already taking place, instead of clinging to the illusion that the ego, and the individual will, is in control.