When I was 18, I enlisted in the Israeli army and served for almost 3 years. I didn’t really have a choice in the matter. In order to avoid the potentially violent side of a military career, I volunteered (together with a group of pacifist friends) for a special service that alternates agricultural work with traditional military training.
I spent the first 9 months at a basic training camp. We ran around a lot, in heavy, uncomfortable uniforms that didn’t fit well and ate bad food. Among other things, I learned how to use 3 types of rifles, how to give first aid, and how to respond in the event of a gas attack.
As the service progressed, it became more agriculturally focused and less military. We worked on kibbutz communities in different parts of the country helping to plant, pick, and package fruit: mostly dates and mangos. Gradually we began to peel away the layers of uniform and we gave back our guns. We didn’t need them anymore in our last year. This last year was a time of almost complete freedom. We lived and worked in a kibbutz, wore civilian clothes, and had weekends off.
After working for a while in the dining room and the laundry, I was offered a job in the cowshed. I was a vegetarian, I loved animals and I thought that taking care of them would be interesting. Plus my best friend worked there and we wanted to work together.
My job was to milk the cows once a day and do whatever other maintenance work was needed in the cowshed. There were about 200 cows in the herd, they lived outdoors in shaded yards. They all had names. One cow was called Tamar and I always looked for her.
I slowly learned how things worked. The cows were milked 3 times a day. We looked for signs of ovulation and when they were ovulating, the inseminator would come. With his hand in a glove he would put his hand into the cows and inseminate them, one by one. When a baby was born, they went to a special shed where all the calves were taken care of together. They didn’t see their mothers again until they grew up and started having babies too. The first-time mothers were very resistant to being milked – they often kicked and had to be restrained. When the male calves grew a bit bigger, they were separated from the female calves, and some time later were sent to slaughter. All of this took place every day, matter-of-factly in the fresh air and sunshine. I didn’t think of it then, but none of those cows ever had a chance to have a family life, or choose a mate, to make love.
In the Yoga Sutras, Master Patanjali lists 5 ethical guidelines that are the foundation of the yoga practice. The first is non-harming, the second is truthfulness, the third is non-stealing, the fourth is called Brahmacarya.
Brahmacarya means to understand the potential of sexual energy and not to use it to manipulate others. To respect and acknowledge sexual energy as a creative force and to learn how to channel your sexual energy in a way that will lead you towards enlightenment.
Often the word Brahmacarya is explained as a vow of chastity. My teachers suggest we look a little deeper.
They ask that we look at how we interfere with and manipulate the sexuality and force of creation in other beings. And that we think about whether we want to participate in that.
If we learn how to wisely and sensitively channel sexual energy, Patanjali says we will gain vitality.
Brahmacarya-pratishthayam virya-labhah (PYS II.38)
When one does not misuse sexual energy, one obtains enduring vitality resulting in good health–translation by Sharon Gannon.
A very powerful way to practice brahmacarya is to adopt a vegan diet, a plant based diet, that is clean and not based on sexual manipulation.