Retention of Semen: Why is it required?
Retention of semen is so essential in progressive human life that it is simply astounding how the whole endeavor of modern civilization is based on discharging it as much as possible. Semen retained in the body goes upwards to nourish the brain, rendering the body robust and the memory and intellect sharp. Determination, optimism, confidence, will-power, fixed intelligence, noble character, photographic memory, and shining good health are all fruits of conserved semen. It is said that the four Kumaras were unwilling to adopt materialistic activities because they were highly elevated due to their semens’ flowing upwards (urdhva-retasah). (SB 3.12.4)
Scientists have analyzed semen to be amazingly rich in hormones, proteins, vitamins, minerals, ions, enzymes, trace elements, and other vital substances. By nature’s arrangement, this substance, when mixed with the ovum, is sufficient for the procreation of a new body. By nature’s arrangement also, if it is not used for procreation but is kept within, it nourishes the body and brain in a way impossible for any tonic or dietary aid to emulate. The current craze for vitamin and mineral supplements is an attempt to make up for self-imposed deficiencies. Most people don’t know that they are passing out their very life energy with that essential bodily fluid. If semen is lost, all bodily and sensory functions are weakened. Repeated loss of semen spoils the determination and clear, sattvika intelligence necessary for spiritual understanding. However, if semen is retained in the body, there develops what Ayurveda refers to as ojas, a vital fluid that gives strength, luster, enhanced mental abilities and immunity to diseases, and slows the aging process.
Scientists cannot prove or disprove this, but it is observable in the brightness of yogis and the dullness of those who regularly “spill their brains out.” Retention of semen, then, is ultimately meant for the evolution of the human being to higher levels of spiritual consciousness. Simply by retaining semen in the body, one develops a tendency towards greatness.
On the other hand, those who are addicted to discharging semen become petty and bestially lusty. The disastrous fruits of their promiscuity await them. They will be forced to devolve into lower species of life. Even in this life, excessive seminal loss can lead to physical and mental weakness. As the body ages, vitality and the will to get things done ebb away, and perpetual tiredness sets in. The pills and intoxicants people take to artificially keep them bright and active further add to their physical and mental degeneration. As premature old age sets in, their exhausted bodies cannot resist the dozens of diseases which proceed to ravage every cell in their organism. For such persons, the all-too-common senility comes as a relief. Shrila Prabhupada: “The more one enjoys in youth, the more he suffers in old age.” (SB 4.28.1)
Shrila Prabhupada: “Wasting semen is also illicit sex.” (SB 7.12, Introduction) “The faculty to discharge semen is the cause of death. Therefore, yogis and transcendentalists who want to live for greater spans of life voluntarily restrain themselves from discharging semen. The more one can restrain the discharge of semen, the more one can be aloof from the problem of death. There are many yogis living up to three hundred or seven hundred years by this process, and in the Bhagavatam it is clearly stated that discharging semen is the cause of horrible death. The more one is addicted to sexual enjoyment, the more susceptible he is to a quick death.” (SB 3.26.57)
Therefore, brahmacaris are trained not to squander their semen. They must resist the temporary feeling of gratification that is bought at the cost of their own life energy.
Unfortunately, almost all devotees coming to Krishna consciousness never had such training—rather, the opposite. And for those who regularly discharged semen, it will be difficult to stop the downward flow. But we have to try. Shrila Prabhupada: “Everyone should be taught to be very careful not to discharge semen unnecessarily. This is very important for all human beings.” (SB 7.11.8-12) Here are a few hints that will help.
First and foremost: don’t think of women. Lustful thoughts provoke activity in the sexual glands. If we think of sex, we shouldn’t be surprised if we suffer a nocturnal discharge.
But even a devotee seriously striving for brahmacarya may nevertheless be tormented by sex dreams. In the waking state he can control his mind with good intelligence, but in dreams low desires deeply ingrained in his subconsciousness may become manifest. The real cure for this is complete purification of consciousness by devotional service, but as this may take some time, the several physical factors that affect the retention of semen may be taken into consideration.
It is important not to excessively raise the internal heat of the body. Ayurveda describes internal heat as a condition of excess pitta (bile) that is associated with the mode of passion, experienced as heat in the body generated by a passionate mood or by eating hot rajasika food such as that with much chili powder. Ayurveda also cautions putting downward pressure on the genitals by packing the stomach with food.
Diet and eating habits, therefore, are very important. Transcendentalists should eat simply (See section on “Eating” under “Health”) and moderately. By overeating, more energy is taken into the body than it can use, which tends to make it come out in the form of seminal discharge. And an overly filled belly exerts pressure on the genitals, causing a tendency towards seminal discharge.
Avoid sleeping with a full belly—a yogi practices not eating at night. The last meal should be taken at least 2-3 hours before sleeping. The food should be light and easily digestible. Even hot milk should not be taken immediately before retiring, but about half an hour before. Rich, heavy, fried, spicy, and sweet foods heat the body, so be cautious with them, especially at night. Sour foods (such as sour or acidic fruit and yogurt) and bitter foods should be avoided at night, as should sweets, cheese, and thick milk preparations. Milk that has gone even slightly sour should not be taken at night.
Some vegetables contain a substance that thins the semen, making it prone to discharge. Worst among them is eggplant. The skin of eggplant is especially bad. Next worst is green chilies. Traditional Shri Vaishnavas exclude chilies, tamarind, and drumsticks (a type of vegetable) from their diet because of their sexually stimulating effect. Carrots, drumsticks, and to a lesser extent beetroot, heat the semen and therefore make it prone to discharge. However, this effect is not very pronounced, and brahmacaris can take these vegetables in moderate quantities.
It is best to sleep no more than six hours at night and minimally or not at all during the day. If one cannot rise early, his so-called practice of brahmacarya is simply a farce. And late nights are bad for overall health as well as for seminal retention. So best is early to bed and early to rise. Sleeping during the brahma-muhurta, at dawn or dusk, or when not really tired, are also dangerous—there’s a high seminal loss risk. When a person is actually tired, his sleep will be deep, and disturbance from dreams will be less likely—another good reason for devotees to minimize sleep.
Some Ayurvedic authorities recommend sleeping on the right side as best for brahmacarya. Next best is the left side, not so good is on the back, and absolutely bad for health and dangerous for seminal discharge is sleeping on the stomach. Sleep with the back more or less straight (not curled up) and with the hands away from the genital area. If you are a light sleeper, try to rest in such a place that you won’t be disturbed. Before resting, pass all water out of the bladder, wash hands and feet with cool water, and dry them.
Constipation is a major factor behind nocturnal emission. If the bowels are not cleared daily, stool and associated toxins accumulate in the rectum or colon. This increases the pitta (heat) in the area and also exerts pressure on the seminal sac, facilitating the excretion of semen. However, straining when passing stool should be avoided, as this also exerts pressure on the seminal sac.
Other points: Bathing with cool (not very cold) water is better than with hot. Or use warm water first to get clean then finish with cold. Bucket bath is more effective than showering to cool the body. Pouring plenty of cool water over the whole genital area may be done as a daily practice. Rinsing the penis after urination removes uric acid that can agitate the sexual gland. Fasting as completely as possible on Ekadashi is supposed to help. There are several Ayurvedic medicines and yogasanas which are specifically meant to enhance brahmacarya, and although Shrila Prabhupada never recommended them, that does not necessarily mean that we cannot use them—although they may not work wonders. Triphala (usually taken as Triphala Churna) is a well-known, inexpensive Ayurvedic medicine that is helpful for many conditions and is good for brahmacarya. Licorice (Sanskrit: Yashti-madhu), taken regularly, can help prevent seminal discharge. However, it is best yo take raw licorice rather than in the form of commercially prepared sweets. Ayurvedic treatment may help if one can find a good doctor and follow his instructions strictly over an extended period of time; but this should not be necessary for most devotees.
At least once, when Shrila Prabhupada saw a devotee shaking his legs while sitting cross-legged, he stopped him. Such leg-shaking is a sign of mental agitation and further agitates the genitals.
In a Bhagavatam class in Melbourne, Shrila Prabhupada said, “If one can just retain his semen up to age twenty-five, the brain becomes so fertile for spiritual realization.” Then, looking around and seeing all the depressed faces, he continued, “But if you just chant Hare Krishna, everything will be alright anyway.” (Quoted by Bhurijana dasa)
It’s Kali-yuga; we’re all fallen. Many devotees have lost semen so many times in their pre-devotional lives that even though they want to, they can’t stop their bodies involuntarily discharging it now. Even serious devotees who are averse to losing semen may nevertheless inadvertently do so, due to external influences on the body and mind, such as residual contamination from pre-devotional life, physical disorders that render the body weak, bodily heat, and subtle contaminations through eating the food of sinful people.
There is no cause for excessive lamentation if loss of semen is not a result of a conscientious endeavor for or meditation on sex. Inadvertent discharge of semen may be as accidental (and undesirable) as, for instance, the loss of a tooth. Considering that the body is always producing semen, occasional spillage may be taken as natural overflow. Shastra gives rituals for physical and mental purification for such accidental emissions, although for ISKCON brahmacaris, bathing and chanting Hare Krishna is sufficient. In such cases, brahmacaris need not be blamed for breaking the principles or not practicing them properly.
Still, the less it happens the better, and brahmacaris, besides engaging in directly devotional practices, must try to control seminal loss by whatever methods they can easily adopt. They should be mindful about what, when, how much and where they eat, their sleeping habits, who they talk with and listen to, their posture while sleeping and sitting, and their overall physical health. They may also take to physical exercises or yoga if it genuinely helps their brahmacari life.
Despite all endeavors, if a brahmacari still loses semen, he may feel disgusted, but should know that it is not a disqualification for devotional service. The real qualification of a brahmacari is that he wants to surrender his life to Krishna and thus be free of sex life forever. Such determination transcends any material conditions, for Krishna helps those who are sincere. Brahmacaris suffering from nocturnal emissions may take comfort in knowing that they are by no means alone with this problem. Let us all chant Hare Krishna and pray for the mercy of Lord Chaitanya, the savior of the fallen.
The following quote from Shrila Prabhupada may be applied to unwanted seminal discharges. “(A devotee) is callous toward incidental occurrences, but he is always alert to execute his duties in Krishna consciousness, or bhakti-yoga. Accidents never deviate him from his duty. As stated in the Bhagavad-gita (2.14), agamapayino ’nityas tams titikshasva bharata. He endures all such incidental occurrences because he knows that they come and go and do not affect his duties. In this way he achieves the highest perfection in yoga practice.” (Bg. 6.20-23)