For a while now I've had a beef with one of Anusara's Ethical Guidelines: Brahmacharya.
Brahmacharya is defined on the Anusara website thusly:
(Walking or having ethical conduct like God): Relating to another with unconditional love and integrity, without selfishness or manipulation. Practicing sexual moderation, restraining from sexual misconduct, and avoiding lustful behavior. Celibacy/chastity.
Mkay, it seemed pretty clear to me right off the bat that this description clearly couldn't be taken literally considering that one of my Vancouver teachers, Christine Price-Clark, was quite visibly pregnant at the time that I discovered this guideline. I'm pretty fuckin' clever, but there's absolutely NO WAY that you can convince me that (unless she was rebirthing Christ), Christine clearly wasn't a strict advocate of the whole "Celibacy/chastity" portion of this guideline. Somethin' ain't right here.
I questioned Anusara founder John Friend about this seeming paradox at the Dharma Talk I attended where he referenced celebration in the form of sexual freedom, specifically with regard to the Pride Weekend that was kicking off in Toronto that evening. How, I needed to know, do you align this form of celebration and human expression with the concept of brahmacharya? He listened, nodded, took a second and then right off the bat acknowledged that a lot of people get hung up on the whole celibacy aspect of this value. Something tells me he gets asked about this a lot. I took two pages of notes, turning out like this:
BRAHMACHARYA -> to walk like Brahma
- integrity in relationship
- balance in energy exchange
-- no subordinate, no power trip
- I want to be attractive in a way that inspires creative energy
- Raising each other up
- Glorifying the spirit
- Moving energy between each other to raise up
TRUST (which begins as blind faith)
- in yoga, in relationship
sharing information = intimacy
TANTRA = proper relationship on every level - teacher, lover, child, friends
Every relationship is a gateway for learning
"Integrity" "Balance" "Respect" "Trust"
Mkay, now you're speaking my language, this I understand. Pick up a copy of "The Ethical Slut" or "Urban Tantra" or even "Screw the Roses, Send Me the Thorns" and I think you're going to find similar language. These concepts (integrity, balance, respect, trust) I've been striving to integrate into my relationships since well before I started practicing yoga - from the swinger community to the kink community to various smaller polyamorous groupings, I think this goes well beyond yogic philosophy (or maybe yogic philosophy is just a lot bigger than many of us may think).
Aside from the chastity thang, I think my personal struggle also stemmed from the bit about "Practicing sexual moderation, restraining from sexual misconduct, and avoiding lustful behavior." But...! but...! awwwww... shucks.
In this area I think there's a lot to be said for respecting the ways in which I move forward with choosing my partners, both for my sake and theirs. Engaging with people in ways that will be beneficial to both parties, as opposed to for the gain of one person or another (or another, or another...) On this issue I've found the concept of "discernment" as outlined in Sakyong Mipham's "Ruling Your World" to be particularly useful in how to go about doing that.
Here, discernment is explained as being how a tiger moves. Ever watched a tiger move? Or, I suppose, any cat at all? Notice how they don't really waste any energy - they kind of think each step, each movement, each pounce through before making their move. When they move, it's will full exertion and effort, no doubt, but by discerning which way of doing so will be best, they gain the most from their efforts (like when your pet kitty is able to jump from the kitchen counter to 6 feet away and around a bend to on top of the fridge or brings you home one of the birdies from the tallest tree in the park). So, to bring this back to sexual moderation, restraint and avoiding lustful behaviour...
By engaging in relationships with discernment (moderation/restraint) and avoiding involvement of unnecessary lustful behaviour, doesn't this then lead to increased energy to be invested in these relationships? If you're not dealing with regret, parasitic connections and hurt feelings, presumably there's more of a chance to actually "raise each other up" and "glorify [each other's] spirit." This is what I aspire to these days. This the way in which my world has shifted as a result of my spiritual development.
And just for the record, not only do I think that brahmacharya is compatible with kinky and polyamorous relationships, I think that it is a crucial component to making them successful - whether we call it brahmacharya or not.