Preaching to nondevotees should generally not be about celibacy, but about the need to become Krishna conscious. If they take up Krishna consciousness then everything else will follow. Newcomers to Krishna consciousness are sometimes discouraged by so many restrictions, especially those on sex. They should be encouraged to chant, take prasada, and associate with devotees. If they want sex life, that is not forbidden—in the grihastha-ashrama. On the other hand, if a young man is ready to be a brahmacari, by all means encourage him.
At least among committed devotees, preaching about celibacy must go on. Shrila Prabhupada: “The whole world is engaging in this vagina problem. These things should be regularly discussed. This is kirtana. If these things are not discussed in our movement, then everything will grow weak. There should be one class after another. Everything is in the books.” (-Told by Satsvarupa dasa Gosvami)
It is undoubtedly difficult to promote celibacy in a world atmosphere where everything is related to sex and women. The whole world today is absorbed in gross sense gratification, of which the ultimate expression is sex. Moreover, so-called scientists and doctors openly state that losing semen is not harmful to health.
If people ask why we are celibate, we can explain to them that it is a prerequisite for self-realization. The mind must be controlled, but it never can be if it is agitated by sex indulgence. One cannot be a transcendentalist, whether a yogi, jnani, or devotee, without being celibate. (Bg. 6.14 purport)
Celibacy has been accepted by priests and monks in leading Hindu, Buddhist, and Christian traditions since time immemorial. Jesus, Buddha, Shankaracarya, and countless others accepted the vow of celibacy. Celibacy is not an old-fashioned, cranky idea, but a dynamic, vital principle for achieving a success so sublime that ordinary people cannot conceive of it at all.
Furthermore, the practice of celibacy has not been limited to the sphere of religion. As Dr. R.W. Bernard notes in his book Science Discovers the Physiological Value of Continence: (-1957, Health Research Labs, Mokelumne Hill, California)
“The greatest intellectual geniuses in both ancient and modern times led continent lives, and there is yet to be recorded one individual who freely expended seminal fluid who ever amounted to anything. In most cases, individuals who have achieved have been forced by necessity to abstain from sexual indulgence, as Cervantes, who wrote Don Quixote while in prison, or Dante who wrote his Divine Comedy while in exile. Milton wrote Paradise Lost when blind and when he did not indulge in sex. Sir Isaac Newton, active in intellect until the age of 80, led a continent life from birth, and so did Leonardo da Vinci and Michelangelo, both of whom retained their creative genius (until) an advanced age.”
Other famous celibates include Pythagoras, Plato, Aristotle, Spinoza, Kant, Beethoven, and Herbert Spencer. Many other philosophers, artists, and scientists have preferred to sublimate the sex drive so as to increase their creativity and concentrate their energy on intellectual pursuits.
This stands as evidence against the standard Freudian objection that celibates become frustrated and should therefore be allowed to indulge.* It is true that restricting the body without being able to control the mind could lead to psychosis. Without developing a higher consciousness, celibacy will be torture. But many non-celibates also suffer frustration, anxiety, or physical disease, caused directly or indirectly by sex. Celibate or non-celibate, the real problem is sex.
Furthermore, those with knowledge of the laws of karma understand that indulgence in sex entangles the conditioned souls ever more deeply in material bondage. The ultimate solution, then, is neither to accept nor reject sex, but to rise above it altogether to come to the spiritual platform. A fully Krishna conscious person can be fully celibate or can have a dozen children, but either way his consciousness is never contaminated. But for the neophyte transcendentalist, sexual agitation is a major disturbance in his meditation on the Absolute Truth.
Therefore, aspiring devotees who are capable of doing so are advised to remain completely celibate—if they can control their minds. Otherwise, devotees may get married and engage in restricted sex during part of their lives.
Nevertheless, sex is risky. Even within marriage, if sex is engaged in at the wrong time, in the wrong place, in the wrong consciousness, or without having undergone the required purificatory rituals, both man and woman become punishable by the laws of nature. Yet the pushing of sex desire is so strong that, even knowing all this, we become impelled to commit sinful acts. Kama esha krodha esha. Therefore it is best to remain brahmacaris, strictly avoiding contact with women so as not to be victimized.
Devotees must be convinced of the necessity of sense control. We must know that sense control is in our real self-interest. Without becoming free from sense gratification, especially sex, no one can achieve perfection in Krishna consciousness. Brahmacarya is that essential training and practice in sense control and detachment, through which perfection is finally attained. We must be determined to follow the principles of brahmacarya, otherwise we cannot make any progress.
In preaching, another approach is to explain the deleterious effects of sex, animal slaughter, gambling, and intoxication on society. Crime, war, floods, droughts, famine, cancer, AIDS, and multifarious other problems are scourging the world. Learned professors write big scholarly treatises suggesting how to overcome the problems, but the problems remain. People do not know that they are reaping the poisonous harvest of sinful activities, especially of cow killing and illicit sex. However, even a hundred years ago, sense control was considered a virtue and excessive sense indulgence a vice.
It was only after “Man from monkeys” Darwin and “Let loose” Freud that the old barriers collapsed. Free sex flourished. Gradually, divorce, “living together,” unmarried mothers, birth control, abortion, and homosexuality—all formerly banned and considered despicable—became socially acceptable. Nowadays austerity for spiritual advancement is considered despicable. The resultant society is a disaster, and getting worse. Now even child abuse and incest have become everyday affairs. The materialists express their horror, but probably after some time they will legalize and encourage these types of sinful activities as well.
It is quite possible because the whole society is made up of varna-sankara—children begotten in lust. John Lennon observed that, “Most children are born over a bottle of whisky on Saturday night.” The degraded consciousness of such unwanted by-products is unimaginable. Born in the mode of ignorance, they are totally blind to the necessity of sense control. They are constantly involved in all kinds of abominable activities, considering them quite normal, and never for a moment imagine that the reactions to sinful activity are the cause of all chaos in human society.