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A Renunciate Order for the New Age

A Breakthrough in the Evolution of Consciousness
by Swami Kriyananda

Chapter One: My Intention

My intention in these pages is to propose a new model of renunciation for this age of energy. Swami Sri Yukteswar Giri, my paramguru (guru’s guru), described it as such, giving it its ancient Sanskrit name, Dwapara. Having explained this matter already in several of my other writings (notably in Religion in the New Age), I’d rather proceed here at once to my main subject: renunciation in this age of energy.

The monastic order of swamis in India was founded, or rather reorganized, many centuries ago by the first, or adi, Swami Shankara. The age in which he lived was known as Kali, or dark (literally, “black”) Yuga (age). It was far more materialistic than the age in which we live today. Shankara wrote rules and ideals for his renunciate order that were appropriate for those times, when society faced a different set of realities.

People weren’t nearly so mobile then as they are today. Travel, by present-day standards, was very slow. There were no motorized vehicles, no airplanes, no steamships. People’s mental horizons, too, were narrowly circumscribed. To accomplish anything, one’s self-definition, too, had to be narrow.

To find God, or to realize the Divine Presence in one’s life, was almost impossible for those whose lives 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.

In the Christian world, renunciates sometimes went so far as to have themselves walled up in cells, with only little openings through which food was passed. To find God, renunciation of all distractions had, in fact, to be complete, for every attachment to the world needed to be shattered. In India, renunciates were told not to find enjoyment in anything, even in a beautiful sunset. They were expected to go by foot from place to place; never to stay in one place more than three days; and be careful not to regard anyone or any place as their own. “Neti, neti”—literally, “Not this; not that”—was the common practice for the spiritual seeker. It was a way of rejecting everything in the manifested universe as false.

In both East and West it was common—indeed, the practice was honored—for monks to beg their food from house to house; to accept only enough food for one meal; and to carry no money in their purse.

Jesus Christ was a renunciate in this sense. So also was St. Francis of Assisi. And so also have been many Christian saints, who have dedicated themselves to “the imitation of Christ.” St. Francis used to say that he was wedded to “Lady Poverty.” Paramhansa Yogananda, who spoke of St. Francis as his “patron saint,” said, “I prefer the term, 'Lady Simplicity.'” Sri Yogananda’s view of renunciation was much more moderate than what was practiced in Kali Yuga. The old way had been right for those days, when mankind’s awareness was much narrower. Kali Yuga was a time of rigid dogmas amounting to dogmatism, rigid social codes, and a rigid concept of matter itself, which was considered fixed, solid, and essentially immutable.

In modern times, matter has been found to consist of subtle energy vibrations. People’s thinking is more fluid, more intuitive, more centered in principle than in outer forms.

The swami order (unlike Catholic monasticism) did not include women. Indeed, it would not have been appropriate for women in those days to roam the roads freely, as swamis were supposed to do.

Nowadays, although lip service is still given to the ancient practices, most swamis do in fact own a little money and even property. They are not criticized for doing so, provided they use their possessions for the benefit of others. Swamis no longer live in stark poverty. In keeping with our times, their renunciation is, outwardly speaking, more moderate. Inwardly, it is more focused on right attitudes. In this age, mental discipline is understood to be more important than outer, physical austerities.

At the same time, the need of the hour is to deepen this attitude. Freedom from anger, hate, pride, and desire is more important than renunciation of outer, material involvements.

Most of the ancient restrictions are viewed today in the light rather of sacred tradition than of actual reality. Many swamis, if they own property, emphasize the importance of inward non-attachment to it. Few renunciates today wander the highways, where they’d anyway face the risk of being run over by a motor vehicle, or asphyxiated by motor fumes. Most modern-day renunciates dwell in ashrams like their Western counterparts, who live in monasteries. When they travel, they usually go by car, train, ship, or airplane. Were they to beg their food from door to door, they’d very probably be treated as mere panhandlers

Chapter continues . . .

See Also: Contents  Intro  

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