For years, a certain friend
of mine asked me repeatedly to make him a swami. At last I said to him,
“I couldn’t rightly give you that advantage over the leaders at
Ananda.” He dropped the subject, but I myself was unable to do so.
Indeed, this has been, for
many years, my dilemma: I don’t relish being the only swami at Ananda.
It seems only natural that my successor should be a swami also. The
people I’ve found, however, who were the most qualified to lead or
to instruct others, and whom I’ve considered also outstanding examples
of spirituality — the most unselfish; the most devoted to finding God;
the most dedicated to serving Him in others — have been, in almost every
Years ago, I tried to start
a renunciate order at Ananda. The effort failed because the men and
women had no choice, in our communitarian way of life, but to mix freely
with one another. Now, with the community’s growing maturity, it is
becoming more feasible to have separate groups within the larger Ananda
community. More recently, groups of brahmacharis and brahmacharinis — men
and women renunciates — have been forming. I hope that some of them
will in time become swamis.
It has pained me, however,
to think of titles in our work being necessarily attached to positions
of outer importance. Personally, I have always enjoyed viewing myself
as quite unimportant — indeed, as essentially non-existent. My
Guru tried to get me to accept, for the work, the rightness of accepting
mentally also the positions of prominence he gave me. I myself, however,
resisted mental identification with that role. We may say that, in this
matter, I was not wholly obedient, but I think obedience itself must
be tied to understanding. I did understand the need for the positions
he gave me, and tried to fulfill them responsibly. As he himself put
it, “In an army, there have to be captains as well as privates.”
Even so, I always liked, and still prefer, to think of myself
as insignificant. I found a solution to my dilemma in the recollection
that, in any case, God alone is the Doer.
What I’ve particularly
resisted, however, has been the thought of giving anyone a “leg up,”
institutionally, with what should be only a spiritual title. The simplest
answer, I now realize, is to divorce our renunciate order from identity
with any outward position.
There is no good reason to
suppose that those who hold high positions must necessarily be outstanding
in anything but the skills that qualify them for their position. A good
leader may in fact not be deeply spiritual. A person’s degree of spirituality
is for God to decide. In a later chapter I shall discuss institutions
and the individual. I’ve addressed this subject also, over the years,
in others of my writings; it is especially important to right understanding
of the spiritual path. Let me continue the thought here, however, of
a non-institutional renunciate order.
In institutionalism, as in
dogmatism, one encounters many fixed concepts. These include heights
above which it is impossible to rise. For instance, in an institution
there is no position above that of president, chairman of the board,
CEO, or whatever other designation has been given to the top position.
Yet most spiritual people have little interest in attaining high posts.
Their talents may bring them to such institutional heights, but they
have no ambition to achieve those heights. Usually, indeed — or so I
suspect — there is an inward pull away from them, particularly since
prominence so easily brings with it the temptation of pride.
To preserve the renunciates
of this new order from that temptation, I would like to separate the
title, Swami, from outward position in any work — that is to say, from necessary association with a responsible, leading role. This means
that, although a swami may hold such a position, his dedication should
be seen by all, including himself, as a primarily spiritual one.
Thus, I can imagine swamis
living solitary lives (though perhaps only after some time) in caves
or in little kutirs (huts). I can also imagine them not even
following the path to which I myself have dedicated my life. Since Paramhansa
Yogananda was sent, however, to help bring fundamental change to an
entire civilization, I must say that I do visualize all swamis of this
new renunciate order accepting him as their adi (first, or supreme)
guru. They needn’t at all, however, be members of Ananda, of which
I myself am the founder.
The important thing is a
person’s spirit. The new order I envision is based less on outward
rejection of the obvious impediments to enlightenment — desires; worldly
attachments; petty self-definitions (such as those pertaining to caste,
family background, social status, wealth) — and more on positive attainments,
the foremost of which is freedom from ego-consciousness.
I would say that this last,
freedom from ego-consciousness, is the primary direction I envision
for true renunciation.
It must always be understood
that what this renunciate order will emphasize is direction,
not fixed attainments. Sin itself, my Guru used to say, is only error.
People, in their quest for bliss, seek it first in countless mistaken
directions. They suffer, try a new direction, fail, then try again.
Only after many incarnations do they come to understand that the bliss
they’ve so long been seeking is simply not to be found in mere things,
or people, or positions, or worldly fulfillments such as pleasure, power,
revenge, fame, or some other of the myriad will-o’-the-wisps mankind
seeks. It is to be found only in communion with God. Paramhansa Yogananda
used to say, “A saint is a sinner who never gave up [trying, that
is to say, to attain oneness with God].”
Fixed rules belong to Kali
Yuga. Fixed rules can be (and often are) broken. The true path to God
is directional; it does not consist of fixed and absolute regulations.
The important thing is that one’s true direction be upward, not downward:
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.”
And he often told people, “God doesn’t mind your faults. He minds
The path I propose is not
absolutist. It is directional. 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.
Chapter 3: Colors