Once we are sincerely seeking God, and the longing for truth becomes stronger than the call of the material world, God sends a guru. When we feel that we can give our life to the spiritual path and the guidance of the guru, we become a disciple. When we become a disciple, life may change in profound ways, but it doesn’t go away. Life is still there, in all its glorious complexities, and we still have to engage in it. The challenge of discipleship is not doing what the guru asks of us, it is doing what the guru asks, EVERY DAY. The challenge is living our discipleship.
Ananda Village offers a month-long course called Living Discipleship, and I had the extreme privilege of participating with eight remarkable souls from Portland and other Ananda communities. The program is required for those who plan to be residents and encouraged for all kriyaban disciples. We took the good – natured teasing about being live disciples and the inevitable comments about the alternative: dead disciples. But we all knew it was the verb we were there to focus on – living and applying discipleship to every part of life.
The course takes place (for now – things are always changing at Ananda) at the Ananda Meditation Retreat, away from the busier scene of Ananda Village. The setting is remote, quiet, beautiful, inspiring, and nurturing to the sensitive inner searching that the program is designed to encourage. (If you have an opportunity to visit the area, make the extra effort to see the Meditation Retreat, located about 6 miles from Ananda Village.)
The program is full – it is not a slow paced, quiet retreat from the world. You commit to being away from your “normal” outer life patterns, to enable a deep focus on the inner life patterns that are needed for discipleship. Much like turning off the car radio helps you focus on finding an unfamiliar address on a dark road; turning down the input from outer demands frees energy that is not usually available – so a larger commitment can be made to the work at hand.
The work we engaged in was to joyfully use the tools and techniques the guru has given us for Self-Realization. We had classes on the four techniques taught by Paramhansa Yogananda: Energization, Hong-Sau, Aum and Kriya, all taught by long-time devotees whose lives are examples of discipleship in the deepest form. Kriya is required for the course – we were all familiar with the techniques. But this was detailed review and group practice; a rare opportunity for busy disciples who are constantly engaged in the demands of life.
We also went deeply into various aspects of yoga we can use to awaken devotion, expand awareness, focus energy, and purify consciousness. All those things we know, as disciples, that we should be doing regularly but often barter away in the market of worldly demands. So we had long sessions of hatha yoga postures and discussions about attunement and renunciation. We studied the Festival of Light (a ceremony performed every week at Ananda Sunday Services), and we explored the attitudes that can get us into trouble or bring us closer to freedom on the spiritual path.
We chanted and did healing prayers with the great enthusiasm and joy that comes when you really commit time and energy to doing it. And we served; giving our energy into the infinite flow of divine energy that makes Ananda possible.
We had the opportunity to hear about the work Ananda does worldwide, the karmic lessons learned from 12 years of legal battle, and the financial workings of an ever expanding spiritual work. These classes were joyful and inspiring as well – far beyond what you might expect of “nuts and bolts” topics. But the question, “How does all this really work?” is a normal and expected one. Living discipleship means having a daily, practical understanding, not just an airy fairy hope that all will work out in the end.
And then (yes, there is more!) we had 4 ½ days of group seclusion. Due to the festivities of the Fourth of July weekend, our seclusion was shortened a bit. You may conclude that the seclusion was a reward, after a demanding, and somewhat exhausting, 2 weeks. I have to say it felt a bit like that to me, too. But seclusion is how we make the outward lessons become inner reality.
The true work of discipleship is inward – the outward struggles are really not all that important in the larger picture. The purpose of studying and learning the teachings of Self-Realization is to take that understanding within. As disciples, we have asked our guru to help us – not to understand and be able talk about everything in great detail, but to actually become Self-Realized and completely free from delusion.
So seclusion is a break from outward activity, but it isn’t a break from the work our guru has charged us to do. Our seclusion in the program included group meditations and group meals, but we had several hours during the day to use as we felt inspired. And we were in silence – blessed, sweet, grace-filled silence. Paramhansa Yogananda said, “The Lord comes not in outward noise, nor when the mind is agitated, but in inner silence. His very being is silence. In silence He speaks to the soul.”
When I’m asked if the Living Discipleship program was “fun”, I’m caught. I can’t say it was fun, like swimming in a cool river on a hot day is fun. The inner realities I struggle with, after almost 30 years of discipleship, are not minor battles – they are intense and messy. My spiritual muscles got a workout! But the memories of the time in the Living Discipleship program are also filled with laughter, friendship, joyful, intimate communion with my guru, and deep gratitude for the gifts we have been given on this path.
I encourage you to look at the Living Discipleship program if you are a kriyaban and serious about moving forward in your spiritual growth. Mangala heroically coordinates the program and would be happy to answer your questions. Write to her at Mangala@expandinglight.org.
My apologies for the long post. Next time it will be short and sweet.
In divine friendship,