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Chapter Two
The Dilemma

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 case, married.

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;(1) 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 your indifference.”

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


  1. See, for example, God Is for Everyone, chapter 7, and another book, Religion in the New Age.
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Autobiography of a Yogi

A Renunciate Order for the New Age

Nayaswami Kriyananda

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