Celibacy

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Saint Kateri Tekakwitha, a catholic laywoman who took a private vow of perpetual virginity

Celibacy (from Latin, cælibatus) is voluntarily being unmarried, sexually abstinent or both, usually for religious reasons.[1][2][3][4] It is often in association with the role of a religious official or devotee.[1] In its narrow sense, the term celibacy is applied only to those for whom the unmarried state is the result of a sacred vow, act of renunciation, or religious conviction.[1][5] In a wider sense, it is commonly understood to only mean abstinence from sexual activity.[1][5]

Celibacy has existed in one form or another throughout history, in virtually all the major religions of the world, and views on it have varied. Ancient Judaism was strongly opposed to celibacy. Similarly, the Romans viewed it as an aberration and legislated fiscal penalties against it, with the sole exception granted to the Vestal Virgins. Christians in the Middle Ages and in particular Catholics believed that celibacy was a prerequisite for religious office (clerical celibacy). Protestantism saw a reversal of this trend in the West and the Eastern Orthodox Church never adopted it. The Islamic attitudes toward celibacy have been complex as well; Muhammad denounced it, but some Sufi orders embrace it.

Classical Hindu culture encouraged asceticism and celibacy in the later stages of life, after one has met his societal obligations. Jainism and Buddhism have been influenced by Hinduism in this respect. There were, however, significant cultural differences in the various areas where Buddhism spread, which affected the local attitudes toward celibacy. It was not well received in China, for example, where other religions movements such as Daoism were opposed to it. A somewhat similar situation existed in Japan, where the Shinto tradition also opposed celibacy. In most native African and American Indian religious traditions, celibacy has been viewed negatively as well, although there were exceptions like periodic celibacy practiced by some Mesoamerican warriors.[6]

Etymology[edit]

The English word celibacy derives from the Latin caelibatus, "state of being unmarried", from Latin caelebs, meaning "unmarried". This word derives from two Proto-Indo-European stems, *kaiwelo- "alone" and *lib(h)s- "living".[7]

Abstinence and celibacy[edit]

The words abstinence and celibacy are often used interchangeably, but are different. Sexual abstinence, also known as continence,[8] is abstaining from some or all aspects of sexual activity, often for some limited period of time.[9] Asexuality is considered distinct from abstention from sexual activity and from celibacy,[10][11] which are behavioral and generally motivated by factors such as an individual's personal or religious beliefs.[12]

A.W. Richard Sipe, while focusing on the topic of celibacy in Catholicism, states that "the most commonly assumed definition of celibate is simply an unmarried or single person, and celibacy is perceived as synonymous with sexual abstinence or restraint."[13] Sipe adds that even in the relatively uniform milieu of Catholic priests in the United States "there is simply no clear operational definition of celibacy".[14]

Most authors and all dictionaries define celibacy as necessarily voluntary,[15] while, according to Canadian historian Elizabeth Abbott and Denise Donnelly, the notion is to encompass involuntary contexts, such as duress.[16]

In her book The New Celibacy, Gabrielle Brown states that "abstinence is a response on the outside to what's going on, and celibacy is a response from the inside."[17] According to this 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. This perspective on celibacy is echoed by several authors, including Elizabeth Abbott, Wendy Keller, and Wendy Shalit.[18]

Buddhism[edit]

Buddhist monks in Chiang Mai Province, Thailand. 2013.

The rule of celibacy in the Buddhist religion, whether Mahayana or Theravada, has a long history. Celibacy was advocated as an ideal rule of life for all monks and nuns by Gautama Buddha, except for Japan where it is not strictly followed due to historical and political developments following the Meiji Restoration. In Japan, celibacy was an ideal among Buddhist clerics for hundreds of years. But violations of clerical celibacy were so common for so long that, finally, in 1872, state laws made marriage legal for Buddhist clerics. Subsequently, ninety percent of Buddhist monks/clerics married.[19] An example of this would be Higashifushimi Kunihide, a prominent Buddhist priest of Japanese royal ancestry who was married and a father whilst serving as a monk for most of his lifetime.

Gautama, later known as the Buddha, is known for his renunciation of his wife, Princess Yasodharā, and son, Rahula. In order to pursue an ascetic life, he needed to renounce aspects of the impermanent world, including his wife and son. Later on both his wife and son joined the ascetic community and are mentioned in the Buddhist texts to have become enlightened.[citation needed]

Brahma Kumaris[edit]

In the religious movement of Brahma Kumaris, celibacy is also promoted for peace and to defeat power of lust and to prepare for life in forthcoming Heaven on earth for 2,500 years when children will be created by the power of the mind even for householders to like holy brother and sister.[20][21]

In this belief system, celibacy is given the utmost importance. It is said that, as per the direction of the Supreme God those lead a pure and celibate life will be successfully able to conquer the surging vices. The power of celibacy creates an unseen environment of divinity bringing peace, power, purity, prosperity and fortune. Those with the power of celibacy are eligible to claim a bright future of Golden Age of heaven / Paradise. Brahma Kumaris' concept of identifying the self as a soul, different from physical body, is deeply linked to the philosophy of celibacy. It is said that the craving for sex and impure thoughts are the reason for the whole trouble in the universe today. And celibacy is to lead the pure relationship in one's life.[citation needed]

Christianity[edit]

A Russian orthodox nun and monk in Israel, 2012

In Matthew 19:11-12 Jesus says, "All men cannot receive this saying, save they to whom it is given. For there are some eunuchs, which were so born from their mother's womb: and there are some eunuchs, which were made eunuchs of men: and there be eunuchs, which have made themselves eunuchs for the kingdom of heaven's sake. He that is able to receive it, let him receive it."

When Jesus discusses marriage, he points out that a certain talent is needed to live together with another human being. Not having assets of their own, women needed to be protected from the risk of their husbands' putting them on the street at whim. In these times marriage was an economic matter[22] rather than one of love. A woman and her children could easily be displaced. Restriction of divorce was based on the necessity of protecting the woman and her position in society, not necessarily in a religious context, but an economic context.[23] He also points out that there are those "which were made eunuchs of men: and there be eunuchs, which have made themselves eunuchs for the kingdom of heaven's sake", but in the original text this was expressed in a different way, namely, "castrated". It was the custom at the time Jesus lived for priests of some ancient gods and goddesses to be castrated.[24] In the pre-Christian period Vestals, who served the virgin goddess of the hearth, were obliged to forgo marriage, and so were some priests and servants of some ancient deities such as Isis.[24] Jewish priests are allowed to marry. However, they were not allowed to marry a prostitute or a widow (Leviticus 21:7, 8, 14 and 15).

There is no direct commandment in the New Testament that Jesus' disciples have to live in celibacy.[22] The general view on sexuality among the early Jewish Christians was quite positive.[25] Jesus himself does not speak in negative terms of the body in the New Testament. The general practice of the Jewish community by that time prescribed marriage for everybody, and at an early age.[22] Saint Peter, also known as Simon Peter, the Apostle was married; Jesus healed his mother-in-law (Matt. 8:14), and other apostles and church members among the early Jewish Christians were also married: Paul's personal friends, Priscilla and Aquila (Romans 16:3), who were Paul's coworkers, Andronicus of Pannonia (Romans 16:7), and Junia (Romans 16:7), who were highly regarded among the apostles, Ananias and Sapphira (Ap 5:1), Apphia and Philemon (Phil 1: 1). According to Eusebius Church History (Historia Ecclesiastica), Paul the Apostle, also known as Saul of Tarsus, was also married. Since it was the custom in the Jewish community to marry early[25] it was very likely that all the apostles were married (or widowed).

In his early writings, Paul the Apostle described marriage as a social obligation that has the potential of distracting from Christ. Sex, in turn, is not sinful but natural, and sex within marriage is both proper and necessary.[26] In his later writings, Paul made parallels between the relations between spouses and God's relationship with the church. "Husbands love your wives even as Christ loved the church. Husbands should love their wives as their own bodies" (Ephesians 5:25-28). The early Christians lived in the belief that the End of the World would soon come upon them, and saw no point in planning new families and having children.[22] This was why Paul encouraged both celibate and marital lifestyles[22] among the members of the Corinthian congregation, regarding celibacy as the preferable of the two:

"Now concerning the things whereof ye wrote unto me: it is good for a man not to touch a woman. Nevertheless, to avoid fornication, let every man have his own wife, and let every woman have her own husband. Let the husband render unto the wife due benevolence: and likewise also the wife unto the husband. The wife hath not power of her own body, but the husband: and likewise also the husband hath not power of his own body, but the wife. Defraud ye not one the other, except it be with consent for a time, that ye may give yourselves to fasting and prayer; and come together again, that Satan tempt you not for your incontinency.

But I speak this by permission, and not of commandment. For I would that all men were even as I myself. But every man hath his proper gift of God, one after this manner, and another after that. I say therefore to the unmarried and widows, it is good for them if they abide even as I. But if they cannot contain, let them marry: for it is better to marry than to burn.

And unto the married I command, yet not I, but the Lord, Let not the wife depart from her husband: But and if she depart, let her remain unmarried or be reconciled to her husband: and let not the husband put away his wife. But to the rest speak I, not the Lord: If any brother hath a wife that believeth not, and she be pleased to dwell with him, let him not put her away. And the woman which hath an husband that believeth not, and if he be pleased to dwell with her, let her not leave him. For the unbelieving husband is sanctified by the wife, and the unbelieving wife is sanctified by the husband: else were your children unclean; but now are they holy. But if the unbelieving depart, let him depart. A brother or a sister is not under bondage in such cases: but God hath called us to peace. For what knowest thou, O wife, whether thou shalt save thy husband? or how knowest thou, O man, whether thou shalt save thy wife?"[27]

Paul the Apostle emphasized the importance of overcoming the desires of the flesh and saw the state of celibacy being superior to the marriage.[28]

Desert Fathers[edit]

"Saint Macarius and a Cherub" from Saint Catherine's Monastery, Sinai, Egypt.

The Desert Fathers were Christian hermits, and ascetics [29] who had a major influence on the development of Christianity and celibacy. Paul of Thebes is often credited with being the first hermit monk to go to the desert, but it was Anthony the Great who launched the movement that became the Desert Fathers.[30] Sometime around 270 AD, Anthony heard a Sunday sermon stating that perfection could be achieved by selling all of one's possessions, giving the proceeds to the poor, and following Christ.(Matt. 19.21) He followed the advice and made the further step of moving deep into the desert to seek complete solitude.[29]

Over time, the model of Anthony and other hermits attracted many followers, who lived alone in the desert or in small groups. They chose a life of extreme asceticism, renouncing all the pleasures of the senses, rich food, baths, rest, and anything that made them comfortable.[31] Thousands joined them in the desert, mostly men but also a handful of women. Religious seekers also began going to the desert seeking advice and counsel from the early Desert Fathers. By the time of Anthony's death, there were so many men and women living in the desert in celibacy that it was described as "a city" by Anthony's biographer.[29] The first Conciliar document on celibacy of the Western Christian Church (Canon 33 of the Synod of Elvira, c. AD 305) states that the discipline of celibacy is to refrain from the use of marriage, i.e. refrain from having carnal contact with your spouse.[32]

According to the later St. Jerome (347 – 420) celibacy is a moral virtue, consisting of not living in the flesh but outside the flesh (vivere in carne praeter carnem). Celibacy excludes not only libidinous acts, but also sinful thoughts or desires of the flesh.[33] Jerome referred to marriage prohibition for priests when he argued in Against Jovinianus that Peter and the other apostles had been married before they were called, but subsequently gave up their marital relations.[34] Celibacy as a vocation may be independent from religious vows (as is the case with consecrated virgins, ascetics and hermits). In the Catholic, Orthodox and Oriental Orthodox traditions, bishops are required to be celibate. In the Eastern Christian traditions, priests and deacons are allowed to be married, yet have to remain celibate if they are unmarried at the time of ordination.

Augustinian view[edit]

Nuns in procession, French manuscript, ca. 1300.

In the early Church higher clerics lived in marriages. Augustine of Hippo was one of the first to develop a theory around the sexual feelings as sinful and negative. Augustine taught that Original sin of Adam and Eve was either an act of foolishness (insipientia) followed by pride and disobedience to God or the opposite: pride came first.[35] The first couple disobeyed God, who had told them not to eat of the Tree of the knowledge of good and evil (Gen 2:17).[36] The tree was a symbol of the order of creation.[37] Self-centeredness made Adam and Eve eat of it, thus failing to acknowledge and respect the world as it was created by God, with its hierarchy of beings and values.[38] They would not have fallen into pride and lack of wisdom, if Satan hadn't sown into their senses "the root of evil" (radix Mali).[39] Their nature was wounded by concupiscence or libido, which affected human intelligence and will, as well as affections and desires, including sexual desire.[40] The sin of Adam is inherited by all human beings. Already in his pre-Pelagian writings, Augustine taught that Original Sin was transmitted by concupiscence,[41] which he regarded as the passion of both, soul and body,[42] making humanity a massa damnata (mass of perdition, condemned crowd) and much enfeebling, though not destroying, the freedom of the will.

In the early 3rd century the Canons of the Apostolic Constitutions decreed that only lower clerics might still marry after their ordination, but marriage of bishops, priests, and deacons were not allowed.[43][44][45] Augustine's view of sexual feelings as sinful affected his view of women. For example he considered a man’s erection to be sinful, though involuntary,[46] because it did not take place under his conscious control. His solution was to place controls on women to limit their ability to influence men.[47] He equated flesh with woman and spirit with man.[48]

He believed that the serpent approached Eve because she was less rational and lacked self-control, while Adam's choice to eat was viewed as an act of kindness so that Eve would not be left alone.[47] Augustine believed sin entered the world because man (the spirit) did not exercise control over woman (the flesh).[49] Augustine's views on women were not all negative, however. In his Tractates on the Gospel of John, Augustine, commenting on the Samaritan woman from John 4:1–42, uses the woman as a figure of the church.

According to Raming, the authority of the Decretum Gratiani, a collection of Roman Catholic canon law which prohibits women from leading, teaching, or being a witness, rests largely on the views of the early church fathers—one of the most influential being St. Augustine, the Bishop of Hippo.[50] The laws and traditions founded upon St. Augustine's views of sexuality and women continue to exercise considerable influence over church doctrinal positions regarding the role of women in the church.[51]

After Augustine[edit]

Catholic priests all over the world in Budapest, 2013

One explanation for the origin of obligatory celibacy is that it is based on the writings of Saint Paul, who wrote of the advantages celibacy allowed a man in serving the Lord.[52] Celibacy was popularised by the early Christian theologians like Saint Augustine of Hippo and Origen. Another possible explanation for the origins of obligatory celibacy revolves around more practical reason, "the need to avoid claims on church property by priests' offspring".[53] It remains a matter of Canon Law (and often a criterion for certain religious orders, especially Franciscans) that priests may not own land and therefore cannot pass it on to legitimate or illegitimate children. The land belongs to the Church through the local diocese as administered by the Local Ordinary (usually a bishop), who is often an ex officio corporation sole. Celibacy is viewed differently by the Catholic Church and the various Protestant communities. It includes clerical celibacy, celibacy of the consecrated life, voluntary lay celibacy, and celibacy outside of marriage.

The Protestant Reformation rejected celibate life and sexual continence for preachers. Protestant celibate communities have emerged, especially from Anglican and Lutheran backgrounds.[citation needed] A few minor Christian sects advocate celibacy as a better way of life. These groups included the Shakers, the Harmony Society and the Ephrata Cloister. Celibacy not only for religious and monastics (brothers/monks and sisters/nuns) but also for bishops is upheld by the Catholic Church traditions.[54]

Many evangelicals prefer the term "abstinence" to "celibacy." Assuming everyone will marry, they focus their discussion on refraining from premarital sex and focusing on the joys of a future marriage. But some evangelicals, particularly older singles, desire a positive message of celibacy that moves beyond the "wait until marriage" message of abstinence campaigns. They seek a new understanding of celibacy that is focused on God rather than a future marriage or a lifelong vow to the Church.[55]

There are also many Pentecostal churches which practice celibate ministry. For instance, The Pentecostal Mission is a church spread world-wide which strictly forbids its ministers to marry.[citation needed]

Catholic Church[edit]

Conventual Franciscan friar, 2012

During the first three or four centuries, no law was promulgated prohibiting clerical marriage. Celibacy was a matter of choice for bishops, priests, and deacons.[56] The early Church resisted asceticism. Scripture reflects the fact that early Christians embraced marriage and yet felt that an ascetic bias against marriage was seeping into their culture: 1 Timothy 4:1 "In the last times, some will turn away from the faith by paying attention to deceitful spirits and demonic instructions through the hypocrisy of liars with branded consciences. They forbid marriage and require abstinence from foods that God created to be received with thanksgiving for those who believe and know the truth. For everything created by God is good and nothing is to be rejected when received with thanksgiving. For it is made holy by the invocation of God in prayer".[1 Tim 4:1]

Statutes forbidding clergy from having wives were written beginning with the Council of Elvira (306) but these early statutes were not universal and were often defied by clerics and then retracted by hierarchy.[57] The Synod of Gangra (345) condemned a false asceticism whereby worshipers boycotted celebrations presided over by married clergy.” [58] The Apostolic Constitutions (c 400) excommunicated a priest or bishop who left his wife ‘under the pretense of piety”’ (Mansi, 1:51).[59]

“A famous letter of Synesius of Cyrene (c 414) is evidence both for the respecting of personal decision in the matter and for contemporary appreciation of celibacy. For priests and deacons clerical marriage continued to be in vogue”.[60]

“The Second Lateran Council (1139) seems to have enacted the first written law making sacred orders a diriment impediment to marriage for the universal Church.”.[57] Celibacy was first required of some clerics in 1123 at the First Lateran Council. Because clerics resisted it, the celibacy mandate was restated at the Second Lateran Council (1139) and the Council of Trent (1545–64).[61] In places, coercion and enslavement of clerical wives and children was apparently involved in the enforcement of the law.[62] “The earliest decree in which the children [of clerics] were declared to be slaves and never to be enfranchised [freed] seems to have been a canon of the Synod of Pavia in 1018. Similar penalties were promulgated against wives and concubines (see the Synod of Melfi, 1189 can. Xii), who by the very fact of their unlawful connexion with a subdeacon or clerk of higher rank became liable to be seized by the over-lord”.[62] Mandatory celibacy for priests continues to be a contested issue even today.

In the Roman Catholic Church, the Twelve Apostles are considered to have been the first priests and bishops of the Church. Some say the call to be eunuchs for the sake of Heaven in Matthew 19 was a call to be sexually continent and that this developed into mandatory celibacy for priests as the successors of the apostles. Others see the call to be sexually continent in Matthew 19 to be a caution for men who were too readily divorcing and remarrying.

The view of the Church is that celibacy is a reflection of life in Heaven, a source of detachment from the material world which aids in one's relationship with God. Celibacy is designed to "consecrate themselves with undivided heart to the Lord and to "the affairs of the Lord, they give themselves entirely to God and to men. It is a sign of this new life to the service of which the Church's minister is consecrated; accepted with a joyous heart celibacy radiantly proclaims the Reign of God."[63] In contrast, Saint Peter, whom the Church considers its first Pope, was married given that he had a mother-in-law whom Christ healed (Matthew 8).

Usually, only celibate men are ordained as priests in the Latin Rite.[64][65] More recently, married clergy who have converted from other Christian denominations have been ordained Roman Catholic priests without becoming celibate.[66] Mandatory priestly celibacy is not doctrine of the Church (such as the belief in the Assumption of Mary) but a matter of discipline, like the use of the vernacular (local) language in Mass or Lenten fasting and abstinence.[67] As such, it can theoretically change at any time though it still must be obeyed by Catholics until the change were to take place. The Eastern Catholic Churches ordain both celibate and married men. However, in both the East and the West, bishops are chosen from among those who are celibate.[68][69] In Ireland, several priests have fathered children, the two most prominent being Bishop Eamonn Casey and Father Michael Cleary.

Discalced Carmelites from Argentina, 2013

The classical heritage flourished throughout the Middle Ages in both the Byzantine Greek East and the Latin West. Will Durant made a convincing case that certain prominent features of Plato's ideal community where discernible in the organization, dogma and effectiveness of "the" Medieval Church in Europe:[70]

"The clergy, like Plato's guardians, were placed in authority... by their talent as shown in ecclesiastical studies and administration, by their disposition to a life of meditation and simplicity, and ... by the influence of their relatives with the powers of state and church. In the latter half of the period in which they ruled [800 AD onwards], the clergy were as free from family cares as even Plato could desire [for such guardians]... [Clerical] Celibacy was part of the psychological structure of the power of the clergy; for on the one hand they were unimpeded by the narrowing egoism of the family, and on the other their apparent superiority to the call of the flesh added to the awe in which lay sinners held them...."[70] "In the latter half of the period in which they ruled, the clergy were as free from family cares as even Plato could desire".[70]

“Greater understanding of human psychology has led to questions regarding the impact of celibacy on the human development of the clergy. The realization that many non-European countries view celibacy negatively has prompted questions concerning the value of retaining celibacy as an absolute and universal requirement for ordained ministry in the Roman Catholic Church” [71]

“The declining number of priests in active ministry, the exemption from the requirement of celibacy for married clergy who enter the Catholic Church after having been ordained in the Episcopal Church, and reported incidences of de facto nonobservance of the requirement by clergy in various parts of the world, especially in Africa and Latin America, suggests that the discussion [of celibacy] will continue” [71] Catholic Churches developed the less well-known institution of chaste marriage.

Hinduism[edit]

A sadhu by the Ghats on the Ganges, Varanasi, 2008

In Hinduism, celibacy is usually associated with the sadhus ("holy men"), ascetics who withdraw from society and renounce all worldly ties.

Celibacy, termed brahmacharya in Vedic scripture, is the fourth of the yamas and the word literally translated means "dedicated to the Divinity of Life". The word is often used in yogic practice to refer to celibacy or denying pleasure, but this is only a small part of what brahmacharya represents. The purpose of practicing brahmacharya is to keep a person focused on the purpose in life, the things that instill a feeling of peace and contentment.

The Vedic literature, Srimad-Bhagavatam, reject from its very beginning kaitava-dharma or false philosophy, thus it frankly speaks about the principle of material life, and it does have a meaningful relation to celibacy. Srimad Bhagavatam does not establish broad terms destined to fulfil the demographic expansion of mundane religiousity.

Lord Rishabadeva instructed his 100 sons in this way:

pumsah striya mithuni-bhavam etam
tayor mitho hrdaya-granthim ahuh
ato grha-ksetra-sutapta-vittair
janasya moho 'yam aham mameti

The attraction between male and female is the basic principle of material existence. On the basis of this misconception, which ties together the hearts of the male and female, one becomes attracted to his body, home, property, children, relatives and wealth. In this way one increases life's illusions and thinks in terms of "I and mine." (Srimad Bhagavatam 5.5.8)

According with the Yajnavalkya-smrti, as quoted in Srimad-Bhagavatam (6.13-14) (A.C. Bhaktivedanta's authorized commentary), bramacarya means celibacy:

karmana manasa vaca
sarvavasthasu sarvada
sarvatra maithuna-tyago
brahmacaryam pracaksate

"The vow of brahmacarya is meant to help one completely abstain from sex indulgence in work, words, and mind – at all times, under all circumstances and in all places."

There are eight aspects of brahmacarya, as described in Sridhara Swami's commentary on Srimad-Bhagavatam 6.1.12:

smaranam kirtanam kelih
preksanam guhyabhasanam
sankalpo ‘dhyavasayas ca
kriya-nirvrttir eva ca

One should not:[citation needed]

  1. Think about women.
  2. Speak about sex life.
  3. Dally with women.
  4. Look lustfully at women.
  5. Talk intimately with women.
  6. Decide to engage in sexual intercourse.
  7. Endeavor for sex life.
  8. Engage in sex life. (SB 6.1.13 Purport)
  9. Encourage other's lust.

One who practices brahmacarya is called a brahmacari. In the varnasrama system, the brahmacari-asrama is the first of four, namely, brahmacari, grhastha, vanaprastha, and sannyasa.

"According to Vedic principles, the first part of life should be utilized in brahmacarya for the development of character and spiritual qualities." (SB 3.22.19)

Brahmacarya is thus student life. It was traditionally rigorous, disciplined, and austere. It is a life of cultivation, of preparing for the future. In all asramas devotees are cultivating Krsna consciousness, preparing for the examination of death. But the brahmacari period is specifically meant for training: training in how to control the senses and subdue the mind; training to be a grhastha, vanaprastha, and sannyasi. This training is by submission to, service to, and friendship to the guru. (SB 7.12.1)

In terms of varnasrama principles, the highest standard of brahmacarya means the vow not to marry but to observe strict celibacy throughout life. (SB 7.12.7) This is called the brhad-vrata ("great vow"), or naisthika-brahmacarya. "Naisthika-brahmacari refers to one who never wastes his semen at any time." (SB 3.24.20) "The word maha-vrata-dharah indicates a brahmacari who has never fallen down." (SB 6.17.8)

Prahlad Maharaj, the Vaisnava devotee of Lord Nrisimhadev had prayed:

om namo bhagavate narasimhaya
namas tejas-tejase avir-avirbhava vajra-nakha
vajra-damstra karmasayan randhaya randhaya
tamo grasa grasa om svaha; abhayam
abhayam atmani bhuyistha om ksraum.

"I offer my respectful obeisances unto Lord Nrsimhadeva, the source of all power. O my Lord who possesses nails and teeth just like thunderbolts, kindly vanquish our demon-like desires for fruitive activity in this material world. Please appear in our hearts and drive away our ignorance so that by Your mercy we may become fearless in the struggle for existence in this material world."

Unless one is completely freed of all material desires, which are caused by the dense darkness of ignorance, one cannot fully engage in the devotional service of the Lord. Therefore we should always offer our prayers to Lord Nrsimhadeva, who killed Hiranyakasipu, the personification of material desire. Hiranya means "gold," and kasipu means "a soft cushion or bed." Materialistic persons always desire to make the body comfortable, and for this they require huge amounts of gold. Thus Hiranyakasipu was the perfect representative of materialistic life. He was therefore the cause of great disturbance to the topmost devotee, Prahlada Maharaja, until Lord Nrsimhadeva killed him. Any devotee aspiring to be free of material desires should offer his respectful prayers to Nrsimhadeva as Prahlada Maharaja did in this verse. (SB 5.18.8 Text and Purport. See also 5.18.10 and 14):

yadi dasyasi me kaman
varams tvam varadarsabha
kamanam hrdy asamroham
bhavatas tu vrne varam

"O my Lord, best of the givers of benediction, if You at all want to bestow a desirable benediction upon me, then I pray from Your Lordship that within the core of my heart there be no material desires." (Text SB 7.10.7)

Celibacy is also the natural state of a pure and advanced devotee of the Lord. This principle of having a superior taste depicted in Bhagavad-Gita as param dristva nivartate is clearly expressed by the great Saint Sri Yamunacharya:

yad-avadhi mama cetah krsna-padaravinde
nava-nava-rasa-dhamany udyatam rantum asit
tad-avadhi bata nari-sangame smaryamane
bhavati mukha-vikarah susthu nisthivanam ca

"Since my mind has been engaged in the service of the lotus feet of Lord Krsna, and I have been enjoying an ever new transcendental humor, whenever I think of sex life with a woman, my face at once turns from it, and I spit at the thought."

It is also advised by the avatar of Lord Visnu, Devahuti-suta-Kapiladev that the attraction to the opposite sex is the cause of material captivity:

yopayati sanair maya
yosid deva-vinirmita
tam iksetatmano mrtyum
trnaih kupam ivavrtam

The woman, created by the Lord, is the representation of maya (and also shakti which is the prime force of the material existence, and while its true that the female body is considered to opposed to liberation of men from worldly ties, the converse is also true for female saints; and its also clear that at the atman level, the woman and man are the same and therefore it will only be half truth to state that women are only the maya, as everything that is not brahman is maya. The maya is the false sense that women are only the female body, while in reality the woman and man and everything is necessarily manifestations of brahman(or krishna for Vaishnavs). All humans are actually atman, which have no gender), and one who associates with such maya (Maya is not only the female body), by accepting services must certainly know that this is the way of death, just like a blind well covered with grass.

Sripad Sankaracarya showed how one must one consider illogical that so called beauty of a woman's body as an argument to stay celibate:

nari-stana-bhara-nabhi-desam
drstva ma ga moha-vesam
etan mamsa-vasadi-vikaram
manasi vicintaya varam varam

Having seen the supposed beauty of a woman's heavy breasts and her thin waist, do not become agitated and influenced with illusion, for these attractive features are simply transformations of fat, flesh & toxins. One should chant this in his mind again and again.

Islamic perspective[edit]

See also: Nikah
Sufi whirling dervishes at Saruhan, Turkey, 2004

Islamic attitudes toward celibacy have been complex, Muhammad denounced it, however some Sufi orders embrace it. Islam does not promote celibacy; rather it condemns premarital sex and extramarital sex. In fact, according to Islam, marriage enables one to attain the highest form of righteousness within this sacred spiritual bond and is as such to be sought after and desired. It disagrees with the concept that marriage acts as a form of distraction in attaining nearness to God. The Qur'an (57:27) states, "But the Monasticism which they invented for themselves, We did not prescribe for them but only to please God therewith, but that they did not observe it with the right observance."

The following sayings about the Prophet also address celibacy:

"There have been people who have come to the prophet and explained how they love to be engaged in prayer and fasting for the sake of God. The Prophet Mohammed told them that, despite this being good, it is also a blessing to raise a family, to remain moderate and not to concentrate too much on one aspect as not only can this be unhealthy for an individual as well as upon society, it may also take one away from God."[citation needed]

Celibacy appears as a peculiarity among some Sufis.[72]

Celibacy was pracriced by women saints in Sufism.[73] Celibacy was debated along with women's roles in Sufism in medieval times.[74]

Celibacy, poverty, meditation, and mysticism within an ascetic context along with worship centered around Saint's tombs were promoted by the Qadiri Sufi order among Hui Muslims in China.[75][76] In China, unlike other Muslim sects, the leaders (Shaikhs) of the Qadiriyya Sufi order are celibate.[77][78][79][80][81] Unlike other Sufi orders in China, the leadership within the order is not a hereditary position, rather, one of the disciples of the celibate Shaikh is chosen by the Shaikh to succeed him . The 92 year old celibate Shaikh Yang Shijun was the leader of the Qadiriya order in China as of 1998.[82]

Celibacy is practiced by Haydariya Sufi dervishes.[83][84]

Meher Baba[edit]

The spiritual teacher Meher Baba stated that "[F]or the [spiritual] aspirant a life of strict celibacy is preferable to married life, if restraint comes to him easily without undue sense of self-repression. Such restraint is difficult for most persons and sometimes impossible, and for them married life is decidedly more helpful than a life of celibacy. For ordinary persons, married life is undoubtedly advisable unless they have a special aptitude for celibacy".[85] Baba also asserted that "The value of celibacy lies in the habit of restraint and the sense of detachment and independence which it gives".[86] and that "The aspirant must choose one of the two courses which are open to him. He must take to the life of celibacy or to the married life, and he must avoid at all costs a cheap compromise between the two. Promiscuity in sex gratification is bound to land the aspirant in a most pitiful and dangerous chaos of ungovernable lust."[87]

Ancient Greece and Rome[edit]

In Sparta and many other Greek cities, failure to marry was grounds for deprival of citizenship, and could be prosecuted as a crime. Both Cicero and Dionysius of Halicarnassus stated that Roman law forbid celibacy. There are no records of such a prosecution, nor is the Roman punishment for refusing to marry known.[88]

Pythagoreanism was the system of esoteric and metaphysical beliefs held by Pythagoras and his followers. Pythagorean thinking was dominated by a profoundly mystical view of the world. The Pythagorean code further restricted his members from eating meat, fish, and beans which they practised for religious, ethical and ascetic reasons, in particular the idea of metempsychosis – the transmigration of souls into the bodies of other animals.[89][90] "Pythagoras himself established a small community that set a premium on study, vegetarianism, and sexual restraint or abstinence. Later philosophers believed that celibacy would be conducive to the detachment and equilibrium required by the philosopher's calling."[91]

See also[edit]

References[edit]

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Bibliography[edit]

External links[edit]