This is certainly not an age when one’s spiritual aspiration should be hidden from others. The influence of worldly delusion is widespread and powerful. This is a time when people need to “stand up and be counted”—a time for active participation in the outer struggle of light against darkness.
What is needed today is a spiritual army of souls demonstrating—not militantly or aggressively, but with sincerity declared—their commitment to higher values, to God, and to a firm rejection of worldly values.
Just consider a modern street in the pulsing heart of any city, with crowds rushing here and there bent on the business of profit, acquisition, and involvement with desires. In any such crowd there may be a few people whose thoughts are focused on higher goals. But who, on beholding that crowd, would gain any inkling of the fact?
It is time, certainly, for those few who know from within that there is a higher way of life, to demonstrate clearly, in some outward manner, that they have a more valid goal than mere absorption in materialism and ego-consciousness.
A renunciate order in which people demonstrate their commitment not by shouting their beliefs, waving flags and banners, or in other ways campaigning outwardly, but simply by the garb they wear—this, surely, would be a minimal way to “stand up and be counted.”
Why a new renunciate order?
In my new book, A Renunciate Order for the New Age, I propose a new model of renunciation for this new age of energy. I also propose to open the path of renunciation to all those, whether married or single, who deeply yearn to know God. Both women and men may become swamis and couples may work together toward that goal.
The monastic order of swamis in India was reorganized many centuries ago by the first, or adi, Swami Shankara. The age in which he lived, Kali Yuga, was far more materialistic than the age in which we live today. People weren’t nearly so mobile and their mental horizons were narrowly circumscribed.
To find God, or to realize the Divine Presence in one’s life, was almost impossible for those who were not specifically devoted to spiritual progress. Those who lived in the world, who engaged in profit, and particularly who were married and had families, simply could not expand their horizons to include the divine search.
The old way was right for those days, when mankind’s awareness was much narrower. In modern times, matter is known to consist only of vibrations of energy. People’s thinking is more fluid, more intuitive, more centered in principle than in outer forms.
Renunciation, as practiced in the past, no longer appeals to people in this age of greater freedom of thought and consciousness. It is more uplifting nowadays to concentrate on the positive aspects of renunciation. Burn up all attachments—to home, for instance—but concentrate positively on the complete absence of ego itself. Be humble, but not self-abasing; instead, see God as the true Doer of everything.
The old method of renunciation was world-negating; the new one is samadhi-affirming. One’s concentration, in other words, is on the joy of soul-freedom in God.
It is now possible, in this age of increasing enlightenment, to emphasize such positive aspects of renunciation as soul expansion; the inner freedom of simple living; greater mental and spiritual clarity through sexual moderation or, best of all, through complete sexual abstinence; and the sheer delight of discovering joy within oneself.
Freedom from ego consciousness
During Kali Yuga, most people could not comprehend that the ego really has no existence except in its fleeting dream-reality. Today, however, people are able to understand, at least intellectually, that our separate reality is but an illusion and that we are all, in truth, but a single reality. It is thus easier for people today to focus on ego-transcendence directly instead of approaching it indirectly through non-attachment and strict non-involvement with the material world.
The real delusion to overcome is the bondage of ego-identity. The true goal of renunciation is to help one to rid himself of that self-limiting identity. Freedom from ego-consciousness, therefore, is the primary direction I envision for true renunciation.
More important than working on specific desires, attachments, and outwardly directed delusions is the work we do to eliminate our sense of separatness from the great Ocean of Life. All who would become worthy of the kingdom of God must expand their ego-consciousness to the vast Self of which the ego is but a little part—a mere grain of sand on a vast beach surrounding the ocean of cosmic consciousness. All must seek infinite self-expansion. As Paramhansa Yogananda wrote in his great poem, Samadhi: “Myself in everything enters the Great Myself.”
The stages of renunciation
To become inwardly sure that you are ready for full sannyas, or complete renunciation, you should first go through the stage of preliminary renunciation— brahmacharya, if you are single, or tyaga, if you are married. Men who practice tyaga are known as tyagis; women, as tyaginis. Single men are called brahmacharis; women, similarly, are called brahmacharinis.
Married people may often do better to wait until they are past the child-rearing years before embracing the stage of tyaga. How long should a couple wait before they commit themselves to a life of tyaga? It should not depend only on age. Young persons, too, may be ready. But all must prove themselves—to others as well as to themselves—before taking this step.
The vows of brahmacharya and tyaga are vows truly, and not mere resolutions. You must have sufficient conviction to be able to say, “I am sure, now, that this is the direction I want to go, and I will build my life around it.”
When you feel ready to proclaim outwardly your complete commitment to the spiritual path, you may embrace formal sannyas and become a swami. At this stage, renunciates ought to no longer see themselves as men or women. Thus, renunciates of both sexes should be given the same title: swami.
Because this is a new renunciate order, I recommend that all swamis receive, in addition to the title, the designation naya—that is to say, “new.” Thus, my own name would be Nayaswami Kriyananda.
Only God is qualified to judge
What this new renunciate order will emphasize is direction, not fixed attainments. Fixed rules belong to Kali Yuga. The true path to God is directional. It does not consist of fixed and absolute regulations.
Regardless of any future slip in one’s dedication to one’s ideals, so long as the direction of his aspiration is upward, there should be no outward punishment or “demotion” from whatever status he has attained. One is fit to be a renunciate at every level, including that of swami, as long as he shows that his heart is firmly dedicated to achieving final perfection.
Because many of the virtues mentioned here are questions of attitude, one’s worthiness to continue to keep the title tyagi or nayaswami must be left up to the individual’s conscience. There comes a point where only God is qualified to judge.
The important thing is that one’s true direction be toward God, not away from Him. A slip is not a fall, and does not in any way deserve to be condemned. I once said to my guru, “I would rather die than succumb to temptation.” He remonstrated, “why be so absolute? If you keep trying, God will never let you down.”
Why stand up and be counted?
A new order of renunciation would lose much of its spiritual merit were it kept a secret. It is desperately important today for people who long for a higher way of life to be reassured that they are not alone. If there is safety in numbers, there is also the need for reassurance from a sufficiency of numbers.
I don’t say, “Join Ananda.” Rather I say, wherever you are, and whatever your path or stage of life, join this order; embrace its ideals; commit yourself to them in action.
If you are married, discuss this way of life with your spouse. I haven’t asked you to roam the highways like the sannyasis of old but simply to change your attitude toward life. Married couples would admittedly find it difficult—in the streets, or even about the home—to wear the garb of tyaga, but on special spiritual occasions, surely, they can do so.
Brahmacharis, brahmacharinis, and swamis (whether married or unmarried) should be less reticent. To show the courage of their convictions seems to me right, and even necessary. The face they show to the world should normally include not only their eyes, mouths, and noses, but also their life commitment.
A signal to those who share your ideals
Such a social change must be introduced gradually. Paramhansa Yogananda, when in America, dressed in a normal business suit. He demonstrated the differentness of his calling, however, by wearing a scarf—not orange, in fact, but white—covering his chest. In India, he wore the traditional orange garb of an Indian swami.
Although he wanted our daily garb to be normal, he did say that he wanted us someday to wear monastic garb. Has that day arrived yet? Perhaps not in the West. In India? More probably.
Married couples would find it very awkward to wear a special garb except at public spiritual functions. They can, however—indeed, all monastics can—wear something suggestive of their spiritual vocation: turquoise for tyagis; golden yellow for brahmacharis; royal blue for nayaswami.
They could wear shirts or blouses of the appropriate color. When men wear suits, they could wear an appropriately colored handkerchief folded visibly in the breast pocket; women could do the same with scarves, sashes, or something else that is suitable.
The point in any case is not to stand up and be counted by others, but as a signal to those who share your ideals: “You are not alone.” Gradually the signal would become more and more widely known and accepted. The time when it becomes widely respected will be, I suggest, when a monastic might feel free to go anywhere, fully dressed in the suitable garb.
A non-institutional renunciate order
I have tried to make it clear, and want to emphasize again, that this new renunciate order is not my movement. It is not confined to one organization nor is it limited to the members of Ananda. It is intended to stand alone.
Since Paramhansa Yogananda was sent, however, to help bring fundamental change to an entire civilization, I have proposed that all swamis of this new renunciate order accept him as their adi (first, or supreme) guru.
But I don’t want to approach the order to the slightest degree as something sectarian. It should become sufficiently widespread to effect a broad change in society. For I deeply feel that this movement can help to uplift the world.
I state urgently that mankind very desperately needs our new renunciate order. Many thousands of people need, now, to “stand up and be counted.”
|To view Swami Kriyananda’s talk, “The True Purpose of Life”,“click here:
This article first appeared in print in Winter 2009: “Thousands Need To “Stand Up and Be Counted”,” Swami Kriyananda, Clarity Magazine.
Excerpted from A Renunciate Order for the New Age, Crystal Clarity, Publishers.
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