Sample Chapter

Sadhu, Beware!

A New Approach to Renunciation
by Swami Kriyananda

Chapter I—Ananda Sangha

In the normal course of events, a renunciate order defines itself by the contrast it forms with society as a whole. A renunciate is, or should be, wholly dedicated to seeking and serving God. Most people in society are dedicated to worldly pursuits and ego-gratification.

In Ananda Sangha this contrast is less definite, for all who join Ananda do so in order to seek and serve God. They should already understand, moreover, their need to transcend ego-consciousness by doing God’s will rather than their own. Whether or not they embrace formal renunciation, the gratification they are taught to seek is not of the ego: It is in God. Thus, within Ananda Sangha the contrasts between those who embrace formal renunciation and those who do not are less distinct. For this reason they need to be spelled out with extra care. For this reason also, much–and perhaps most–of what follows will be useful to all the members of Ananda Sangha.

Years ago, when the distinction between the two groups was not sufficiently clear, I attempted to create a renunciate order. That attempt failed. It failed because the monks and nuns had no choice, given the way our community operated, but to mix freely with one another and, indeed, with the whole community. Segregating them simply was not possible. Human nature, in addition to their own past social conditioning, conspired to make it impossible for them, especially the younger ones, to ignore the natural attraction the sexes feel toward each other. Thus, the ship of renunciation at Ananda Village foundered, as indeed I had feared it might. There was nothing I could do about it. It was the circumstances that dictated the conclusion.

There is something in the air, moreover, in modern times that seems to militate against the monastic way of life. Everywhere–even in India, which is well known for its sadhus or holy men–the trend seems to be away from world-renunciation. In Italy, huge monasteries that once housed hundreds stand empty. People throughout the world seem to feel that God not only can be sought in the family, but should be: that this way is preferable to renunciation of a normal life. Lahiri Mahasaya himself, in the incarnation we know, lived as a householder. Most or all of Paramhansa Yogananda’s most advanced disciples, moreover, were or had been householders.

Is this trend away from monasticism a response to some deeply felt need in society? Until the home life we now know can be more spiritualized, fewer people, I think, will feel the call to renunciation. This feeling has arisen within me after many years of traveling through the world. Wherever I’ve gone, I have heard the same feeling expressed, sometimes consciously, and sometimes indirectly. It seems to me that there will be no serious general movement toward the path of renunciation until this ideal receives wider support. Indeed, too many people today seem to be uncommitted to anything. This lack is suggested everywhere. It is particularly evident in the large number of divorces nowadays.

People must learn to take greater responsibility for their lives. Today, too many think instead that the purpose of human existence is sense gratification and self-aggrandizement.

Ananda Sangha communities have been created to build a solid basis of spirituality for people at all stages of life. Only on such a basis can the superstructure of real commitment to God be erected. Unfortunately, divorces do occur at Ananda also, though not nearly so many as in society at large. There would be fewer, surely, were society in general completely stable. Ananda is a steppingstone to that stability. At Ananda, there is at least a seriousness of spiritual purpose that one rarely encounters in the world. Ananda Sangha has been inspiring people everywhere to develop a life of serious commitment to God.

Paramhansa Yogananda once stated, “If you marry as a necessity, you will have to reincarnate again to reach the point where you can live for God alone.” The key words in that statement are not, “If you marry,” but, “If you marry as a necessity.” What did he mean by that word, “necessity”? Obviously he wasn’t thinking of parental and societal expectations. He could have had only one meaning: “If you marry with the perception that you need human love for your fulfillment.” When I mentioned that the Master’s most highly advanced disciples were householders, it must be understood also that those householders did find God.

Sister Gyanamata was an outstanding example. She came to live at Mt. Washington only after the death of her husband. And yet–as the Master himself told us–she achieved final liberation in this life.

Ultimately, what I think the Master had to mean by his statement was that the devotee must reach the point where he loves God alone, and needs no human being to fulfill his natural longing for love.

The Ananda Sangha communities have reached a point in their maturity, I think, where it may be time seriously to consider creating, within the total definition of the Sangha, an order of renunciates for men and for women.

I doubt that it has ever been possible to develop a flourishing renunciate order within society at large. Renunciates need to define their way of life clearly, lest the differences become blurred with the kind of conditioning that most people accept as the norm. As Yogananda put it, “Environment is stronger than will power.”

It is a lamentable, but unfortunately common, mistake of renunciates to pride themselves on being more spiritually qualified than “householders.” I would like at the outset of this paper, therefore, to emphasize that the only valid definition of renunciation is the renunciation of ego-identification. The renunciate must offer his entire being into the Infinite Self. Only when complete freedom has been achieved from ego-limitation can God be realized. At that point, indeed, there is nothing left to be renounced!

The first quality to be considered, therefore, is the renunciation of ego-attachment.

See Also: Contents  

Return to Sadhu, Beware!