Swami Kriyananda has produced another watershed work for Ananda — a small book entitled Sadhu Beware! with the subtitle, “A New Approach to Renunciation.” He wrote it to provide guidance to the developing monastic order in India, but it is applicable to truth seekers anywhere — single, married, or monastic.
This book clarifies the subject of renunciation and sets a direction for Ananda’s future. Its few short chapters provide one of the clearest, most practical road maps for the spiritual path that we have ever read.
Renunciation — the first duty of every soul
Kriyananda makes it crystal clear that renunciation should be practiced no matter what your circumstances might be.
The first duty of every soul is to release the hold that ego consciousness has on it. All spiritual practices are subservient to this one supreme obligation…I address ego-transcendence as the first, and indeed the only, challenge on the spiritual path, whether one be a renunciate, a householder, or living for God in some other way.
Ego transcendence means to transfer the sense of “I” from the body/personality to the soul, and to realize that in our larger self, we are a part of everything in existence. Over many, many lifetimes, we reach the point where the soul is no longer interested in enclosing itself in the ego — and we merge, finally, into our Infinite Self.
Humility is self-forgetfulness
Kriyananda begins with the topic he considers the most important — humility. True humility, he says, is not self-abasement; it is self-forgetfulness.
The traditional paths of yoga give us different approaches to self-forgetfulness. A bhakti yogi, one who follows the path of devotion, can become so focused on God or guru that he ceases to think about himself. Similarly, a karma yogi can become so focused on serving, without any thought of receiving anything in return, that he becomes more or less oblivious to the little self.
Kriyananda, however, takes the subject deeper. He shows that the essence of humility is to give up, even subconsciously, the desire to refer things back to oneself. Ultimately, humility is to have no desire for an identity separate from God.
Ways to diminish self-focus
Sadhu Beware! gives thirty-two extremely helpful techniques to diminish self-focus and develop self-forgetfulness. Paraphrasing a bit, here are a few examples:
1) When people fail to give you credit for something you did, say nothing. In your heart give the credit to God.
2) When people praise you, give the credit to God.
3) If someone has a good idea that you’ve already had, let it go.
4) If someone scolds you for something you didn’t do, say nothing.
5) Never place yourself, mentally, in competition with others.
6) Never belittle anyone.
7) Don’t feel badly when you make a mistake — God is the Doer.
The last of the thirty-two techniques deserves to be read in full:
Don’t let your mind play with the thought of where and how you fit into any picture. Don’t toy with flattery by entertaining it even lightly in your mind. Reject sternly any thought of self-importance, self-praise, self-justification, or blame. This subject is as important for you as your own salvation, for your spiritual liberation depends on release from ego-consciousness.
These simple but profound thoughts will help us enjoy our own unimportance.
Sexuality: one of nature’s strongest forces
Kriyananda also discusses sexuality and how to work with the creative force. You might wonder, “What does this have to do with ego-transcendence?” He explains:
To the extent that men and women find their unity on a lower level rather than in God, what they receive from each other, in varying degrees, is egoic in nature.
Paramhansa Yogananda defined ego as the soul identified with the body and personality. To overcome ego-consciousness, we must resist those pulls, such as sexuality, which increase body-identification.
Sexuality is one of nature’s strongest forces. Many biologists view the attractive force between male and female as the primary motivation for all behavior. Whether we are married or single, we need to learn to work with this powerful energy.
Suppression doesn’t work
In Sadhu Beware! Kriyananda emphasizes that suppressing the sexual force does not work, even in traditional monasteries with strict rules about behavior. He writes that with suppression, “the ego is held temporarily in abeyance but will break out anew, like a disease, when circumstances permit.”
Suppression is like putting a lid on a pressure cooker. Even though the heat of sexual desires may wax and wane, unless we remove the repressive lid from the pot there cannot be permanent relief. Rather than simply capping a boiling pot, we need to reduce the heat (of sexual desire) and re-channel the pent-up energy toward soul freedom.
Transmutation — a conscious effort of will
In other words, what is needed is not repression, but a conscious effort of will to transmute energy from lower to higher forms of expression. All of the techniques given in Sadhu Beware! for transmuting the sexual force involve using the will to counterbalance and re-direct its intensity. Here are a few examples:
1) Be ever mindful of your thoughts — sexual attraction starts in the mind.
2) Watch the flow of your attention. If you are beginning to focus on a person, picture, or scene, look away impersonally.
3) When you feel your energy going out to anything, internalize it. Realize that the source of joy is within yourself. Try never to get excited about anything — not even a meal that you expect to enjoy.
4) Try to be controlled in your physical contact with the opposite sex. “Touch,” he writes, “is the principle channel of sexual magnetism.”
He suggests that devotees, assuming they are intent on diminishing the ego, try to avoid the practice of embracing, which has become a common form of greeting in our society today. Try, instead, to greet others in a more dignified manner such as the namaskar used in India. As people begin to understand the deeper meaning behind the namaskar (my soul bows to your soul), they not only accept it, but even come to prefer it.
Practice with joy and freedom
Techniques to channel the sexual force should be practiced with a sense of joy and freedom. For married couples, what may be a comfortable level of self-control for some might seem repressive for others. The best standard is to feel that you are making a sustainable effort to direct your energy toward freedom from ego.
“Those who tithe, thrive!”
Money is another powerful attraction we need to channel properly. Kriyananda writes that, “money strengthens ego-identification by increasing one’s sense of power and importance.” The attraction to accumulating money and possessions draws the energy down into the lower chakras, where the ego-consciousness grows stronger.
The techniques he gives to counterbalance this downward flow help increase the feeling of non-attachment. For example, if you are attracted to having possessions, then buy what you want, but give it away. If you are attracted to wealth, then make money but give it away.
Giving it back — to God, or to help other people — keeps that energy moving upward and expanding. Over the years, we have seen that those who tithe, thrive!
Don’t run around in rags
At Ananda Village we have evolved certain practices that help counteract attraction to money. Members receive modest wages and are responsible for their own housing, food, and other living expenses.
We try to live on a simple level, but also accept that people have different definitions of simplicity. Individuals also have varying karma regarding money — some have a considerable flow of resources, others not — so we’ve left financial choices up to each individual.
Certain practices have been very, very important in helping develop expansive attitudes. One example is that wages are determined according to need rather than position. In many cases a supervisor earns less than the people under him or her. At Ananda we are free of the delusion of judging a person’s importance by how much money they have.
Kriyananda is very clear, however, that simple living does not mean that everybody should run around in rags or pretend to a kind of false poverty. It means to fulfill your needs but be disciplined about having excessive desires.
A person once asked Kriyananda, “What is Ananda’s mission?” He said, “Ananda’s mission is to equalize the world on the spiritual plane.” In other words, we’re trying to create an alternative to the material consciousness and egoic awareness of this world. Our approach to money and finances is one example of this.
Worthy of study over and over
Sadhu Beware! is a book worthy of repeated study. It would be very helpful for all of us to regularly review the techniques, and try to figure out how to best apply them to our own behavior patterns.
If we work diligently on true renunciation, the renunciation of ego, and get more into a flow of self-forgetfulness, we will feel a great increase of contentment and joy.