“There are a lot of misconceptions about the brahmacharya ashram in our society. The first is that a brahmachari (student monk) is meant to remain a brahmachari forever. And if a brahmachari decides to (inevitably) change ashrams to get married or to even simply not wear saffron cloth anymore, this is considered a “falldown” and that somehow the man was weak and could not control his senses.”
‘”I’m unsure how this misconception became so notorious (even in India!), because traditionally the brahmacharya ashram has always been a phase of life. For a brahmachari to remain a student monk forever is like expecting someone to remain in college forever.”
“Traditionally, the boy would go to the place of his guru (gurukula) to receive training to be austere, sense-controlled, responsible, learned, and deeply connected to God. When his guru had considered that he had satisfied his studies – traditionally at the age of 25 – the young man would have a beautiful ceremony called samavartana, which is one of the 10 major samskaras, or landmarks of life. In this ceremony, there is a particular ritual that is very beautiful and intimate – the guru would actually bathe the feet of this young man to signify the guru’s love and respect for how much the young man has grown and become worthy to move forward in life and in the world. Actually, when the boy had graduated from the gurukula and had not gotten married – this in-between phase – he would be called a snataka brahmana, which literally means “one who has been bathed,” in reference to this beautiful ritual in the graduation ceremony. Krishna Himself was a snataka brahmana for a time. This all shows that the brahmacharya ashram has been a fundamental and natural part of spiritual and Vedic society for thousands of years. This also means that a man would not become a brahmachari to *avoid* marriage but in fact to become *qualified* for marriage, to prepare himself for a lifetime of austerity, service, responsibility, sense-control, and godliness as a husband and father. Marriage is a privilege“.
“What a strange misconception that a brahmachari to transition to another phase of life is a “falldown.” I am now married to a man who had been a brahmachari for eleven years here in New York City. He was an exemplary brahmachari and Radhanath Swami’s personal servant for many years. He became deeply learned in sastra (scripture), served and shared Krishna Consciousness in many settings including NYU and Columbia, developed deep and lasting friendships with other godly men, served the Lord on the altar beautifully, refined his sensitivity to serve by personally serving Radhanath Swami, he learned how to cook, do his own laundry; he slept on the floor, wore the same simple type of clothes (in the same color!) year after year, had the same simple haircut (bald!) year after year, and deeply imbibed austerity, simplicity, and service. Ghanashaym was deeply satisfied as a brahmachari.”
“He began to sense a natural shift in his life and realized that he needed a change so as to keep growing. When Ghanashyam asked for permission from Radhanath Swami to pursue a relationship with me, he told me later that this was a “falling up,” certainly not a falling down. I had never told him about the samavartana ceremony (which I had learned about in my studies in the Mayapur Academy) but on his own he had the idea to have a kind of ceremony, a graduation to mark his conclusion of his time as a brahmachari. In our society it’s such a weird and awkward transition for a man to change from saffron to white cloth. One of the rituals in the samavartana is that the man is handed white cloth by his guru (or a senior devotee) – he then goes to another room to change and comes back in that white cloth. When Ghanashyam had his graduation ceremony, he was glorified for his years of service, handed a beautiful silk dhoti and kurta, and when he returned to the templeroom he offered his prostrated respects to Srila Prabhupad and Radha Murlidhar and all of the devotees present. Everyone cheered! Then everyone took prasad (lovingly made by Divya!)”
“After this happened at The Bhakti Center, whenever a brahmachari wanted to transition to wear white/the grihastha ashram, Radhanath Swami has instructed, “Do as Ghanashyam has done,” and a tradition began. I believe that this should be a standard in our ISKCON society.”
“What’s more, I am seeing less and less men taking the step to be a brahmachari in the West – and while of course by nature it is tough to be a brahmachari in America, it is so crucial. One sannyasi put forth a thesis that the “mother cell” of a powerful and godly society is the brahmacharya ashram. If a man can be sense-controlled, sensitive, responsible, and oriented for service to God and others, then he will bring this with him to his marriage and to his children, which creates a stable and happy family. Stable and happy families are the building blocks of a strong society.”
“I can certainly attest to Ghanashyam’s training as a brahmchari creating a powerful foundation for our marriage.”
“I would hope that men are not shying away from this ashram because of the confusion or misconception that they have to remain a brahmachari forever, or that if they decided to get married there will be judgment and shame. Even cutesy teasing and jokes about a man’s transition from brahmacharya to grihastha undermine the beauty and shakti of this “falling up.” Ghanashyam has certainly never held space for anyone to ever joke with him about his transition, or for anyone to doubt the beauty of becoming a dedicated and loving husband”.
“I would hope that as a society we mature in our understanding of the phases of life – the ashrams – and honor the special landmarks of each one.”
“If one day God blesses me with a son, I would encourage him to become a brahmachari, to put on saffron. And if Ghanashyam and I attend his samavartana, I would certainly feel an overwhelming sense of pride that our son has fallen up.”