The Stages of Renunciation
Sannyas, or complete
renunciation, is not a step to be taken lightly. One must not only be
ready for it: he must also convince others of his readiness. To minimize
the danger of bias — personal friendship, for example, or predilection — a
person should, after successful application to a nayaswami for whom
he feels reverence and respect, be ordained as a nayaswami by three
unrelated persons who are themselves nayaswamis.
First, however, one should
go through the stage of brahmacharya or tyaga: preliminary renunciation. This period should ordinarily last
six years, so that one becomes quite sure inwardly that he is ready
for full sannyas. At this point he should have demonstrated to others
also that he truly places God first in his life, and accepts God as
his only reality.
How long should a couple
wait before they commit themselves to a life of tyaga? I think 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 age and time, I think, should vary with the persons concerned.
Men who practice tyaga are known as tyagis; women, as tyaginis. They should do
their best to adhere to all the principles in this book. But remember,
it is less a matter of specific acts than of the general direction
of one’s energy. Usually, I would say that several years should
pass before a person goes on from tyaga to become a full swami.
Single men may be called brahmacharis; women, similarly, may be called brahmacharinis.
In addition to brahmacharis, tyagis, and nayaswamis, there is another class of members of the Nayaswami Order: pilgrims.
Pilgrims can be parents with young children, or most anyone else
who's qualified to be in the Order but doesn't fit into the
categories mentioned above: couples engaged to be married, for example, or single
people hoping to marry someday.
Those wishing to become tyagis or brahmacharis (or their feminine counterparts) must
first apply to, and be accepted by, a nayaswami for whom they feel reverence
and respect. There is no need for a special ceremony, nor for more than
one nayaswami to ordain them. They should, however, repeat the vows
listed in Chapter Seventeen that are appropriate for the stage they
Married people may often
do better to wait until they are past the child-rearing years before
embracing the stage of tyaga. For one never knows, if children come,
what karma they will bring with them. A parent is obligated to respect
his child’s nature and destiny: his karma, in short. If the child’s
karma is not consciously to follow the spiritual path — I say “consciously”
because all beings, whether they know it or not, are on the path to
God — it would do him an injustice to try to force him to embrace a
way of life for which he is not ready, and might delay his spiritual
progress toward God by creating suppression and frustration, and, then,
a spirit of rebellion.
Once a couple have passed
beyond the likelihood of having children, or have raised their children
to the age of (let us say) eighteen, they are free to devote themselves
completely, if such be their desire, to the spiritual search. It might
be added, moreover, that in cases where a couple cannot have children
anyway, or if they are already committed to freedom from sex, they should
be allowed to become tyagis. In any case, a tyagi couple should make
an extra effort to give their lives wholly to God, to give up sex, and
to seek to express God above all in their lives.
They should work hard to
rise above anger, desire, and attachment (both to possessions and to
one another). They should support one another emotionally, act together
cooperatively, and never allow competitiveness to pollute the river
of their friendship.
They should seek the guidance
of a true guru, or at least of a sincere and wise spiritual teacher.
They should strive always to obey him, or at least to follow sincerely
the voice of their own higher conscience.
They should learn to look
upon every setback in life as a blessing.
When the time comes that
they feel ready to proclaim outwardly their complete commitment to the
spiritual path, they may — with permission from their teacher or from
others more advanced, whom they respect — embrace formal sannyas and become swamis. Because they ought, at this stage, to have
reached the point where they no longer see themselves as men or women,
renunciates of both sexes should be given the same title: swami.
It is no longer fitting for women renunciates to receive the feminine
version of this title, swamini.
Because this is a new renunciate
order, I recommend that all swamis in it receive, in addition to the
title, the designation naya — that is to say, “new.” Thus,
my own name would be Nayaswami Kriyananda.
Names may include the customary
“ananda,” meaning (as I’ve said already) “bliss.” They may
also, however, simply indicate some spiritual quality, thus: Nayaswami
Seva (meaning, service). There will be no indication in the name
as to whether the person is male or female. As to the choice of name,
this can be left to the discretion of the individual, and of those who
initiate him or her.
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.
Because many of the virtues
mentioned here are questions of attitude — and even sexual self-control
is too personal to be ascertained objectively — 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.
I have tried to make it clear,
and want to emphasize again, that this new renunciate order is not limited
to the members of Ananda, which is the community I myself founded in
1969. The order should, however, be given a clear form, and cannot be
encouraged to flourish unchecked like the growth of mushrooms in the
This order has no clear link
to the Ananda system of sadhakas, sevakas, and life members.
It is intended to stand alone. Nor is it by any means inevitable that
people will become nayaswamis simply by virtue of their being leaders
at Ananda. I think the new order must flower from those people who are
New systems inevitably meet
opposition. I can imagine people scoffing at our nayaswamis as mayaswamis!
Let it be. A certain amount of ridicule is good for the soul, and for
the freedom-seeking ego!