Life Without Sex?
Still, Piper is quick to admit that celibacy isn't for everyone. In her case brahmacharya evolved naturally out of her spiritual practice; in fact, she never actually took a formal vow. Rather, she explains, brahmacharya chose her. "I think being able to say to oneself simply and clearly that brahmacharya is not appropriate for one's particular circumstances shows a lot of self-knowledge and spiritual maturity," she says. "I would recommend trying brahmacharya to anyone who feels like trying it, but I would not recommend it to anyone who finds it really difficult. From what I've seen, making a vow to practice brahmacharya is practically asking for some gigantic tidal wave of sexual desire to come rolling in and toss you out to sea."
And that's exactly what critics of strict celibacy say is the problem with it: Denying such a primal instinct is just asking for trouble. The recent revelations of sexual misconduct and subsequent cover-ups in the Catholic Church are only the latest, most visible evidence of sex in supposed bastions of celibacy.
Many spiritual traditions-from Christianity to Hindu yoga to Buddhism-have been ripped by scandal when spiritual leaders preached chastity to their followers and yet secretly sought out sex, often in ways that produced heartache and trauma for everyone involved. As Feuerstein sees it, "The ascetic variety of brahmacharya is pretty much out of the question for most people, for 99.9 percent of us. Even those who want to do it, I feel, are by and large incapable. If sexual energy doesn't come out one way, it comes out some other way, often manifesting in negative forms."Celibacy's Dark Side
Residents of the Kripalu Center for Yoga & Health in Lenox, Massachusetts, have had firsthand experience with the perils and pitfalls of celibacy. For its first 20 years, all Kripalu residents-even married ones-aspired to practice strict brahmacharya. While preaching such celibacy to his disciples, however, Kripalu founder Amrit Desai secretly solicited sex from a number of his female students. And Desai's behavior, when it finally came to light, sent the organization into a massive tailspin and a period of deep soul searching. Desai was asked to leave Kripalu, and the organization carefully reconsidered its attitudes toward sex, celibacy, and brahmacharya.
"In the early days we were so focused on celibacy-we held it as such a central value-that we created a charge around it," says Richard Faulds, chair of Kripalu's Board of Trustees and a senior teacher. "Brahmacharya was overemphasized, and to the extent that we enforced it as a lifestyle, we created dysfunction. People have a tendency, when they're having such a basic urge denied, to express it in some other, less-than-straightforward, inappropriate ways."
As a result, today only new arrivals to Kripalu's resident program are required to practice celibacy, and they are only encouraged to continue the practice for a maximum of two years. "Celibacy really helps people heal and become physically vibrant, and it also shows you all of your dependencies," Faulds says. "We've found if people practice celibacy for a year or so, they really strengthen their sense of self. But our experience, looking back, is that celibacy is not a healthy long-term lifestyle for most people."