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Chapter Three

The color orange is traditionally worn by swamis in India. (Actually, and more correctly, the color is gerua, which comes from the earth and is that color, with an admixture of iron which produces a sort of reddish brown.) Orange belongs to a part of the spectrum that denotes, specifically, an outwardly directed energy.

Red we think of as suggesting, in its baser associations, the emotions of lust or anger. In its higher associations (cherry red), it suggests cheerfulness. In both cases, one thinks of the color red as signifying an outwardly directed energy.

Orange, which lies between red and yellow in the spectrum, is associated with the color of fire. Orange is appropriate for the fiery will power one needs who wants sternly to reject temptation in all its forms.

Yellow — the color worn by Buddhist monks in Thailand — suggests the sunlight of wisdom; insight; creativity; and impartial acceptance of things as they are. This, too, is an excellent color for monks. Again, however, what yellow lacks is inwardness. As the sun’s rays shine outwardly upon the earth, so yellow suggests wisdom applied outwardly. It lacks, as well, the softening touch of devotional love.

Green suggests health and happiness, though it can also indicate disturbed emotions (think of its frequent association with envy and jealousy).

Blue suggests calmness, kindness, and an expansive consciousness. Blue should, however, convey warm feeling and should not be, for example, a steely blue. A bright (not dark) royal blue seems to me the perfect shade for expressing the renunciate attitude I have in mind. I show this color on the cover of this book.

Indigo and violet — to complete the spectrum, which we might recall to memory by the acronym, Roy G. Biv (some people prefer its opposite: Vibgyor) — are actually the most spiritual colors when thought of as light. In India, however, indigo has long been associated with the lowest, or shudra caste. Both indigo and violet, moreover, when seen in dim light, appear almost black.

In Western monasticism, brown, black, or white have been the traditional colors, indicating humility, self-abasement, and (in the case of white) purity of heart. Brown and black in themselves, however, express no joy. The egolessness I want to encourage is joyful, not drab or sorrowful, and not focused on sins and sinfulness.

Yogananda once went to an evangelical meeting in Los Angeles. The minister cried out at one point, “You are all sinners. Get down on your knees!” The Master later reported, “In that gathering of thousands, I was the only one who was not on his knees. I would not admit that I was a sinner!”

It is high time for the Christian emphasis on sin to be transformed into a fresh emphasis on man’s potential for perfection in God. As Jesus Christ himself said, “Be ye therefore perfect, even as your Father which is in heaven is perfect.” (Matt. 5:48)

White is a good renunciate color, for it emphasizes purity of heart, and reminds one, again, of the words of Jesus: “Blessed are the pure in heart: for they shall see God.” (Matt. 5:8) White seems to my mind, however, to lack the quality of aspiration which blue can bestow. I would say, therefore, that white should be confined to those beginner renunciates who aspire, first, to rid themselves of all outward longings.

My choice, as the best swami color for this Dwapara Age of Energy, is a cheerful, light royal blue.

Why not, one may ask, the traditional orange? Indeed, that color is ideal for attitudes of fiery self-control and stern world rejection. It is less ideal, however, for attitudes of devotional soul-expansion. Orange suggests an attitude of authority, which is acceptable if one’s first desire is to attain authority and control over himself. It is less acceptable, however, if the color helps to induce an attitude of authority over others, or inclines one to impose his will on them.

In India generally, there has also developed a tendency to treat spiritual authority submissively. Submissiveness is an excellent trait, provided the authority one accepts is rooted in wisdom. It is far from ideal, however, if the teacher himself is lacking in wisdom. We must assume, moreover, that, out of any given number of renunciates even of those who are deeply dedicated to attaining wisdom, not all of them by any means will succeed in that aspiration in this life. Only one who has attained true wisdom is fit to be considered an authority on spiritual matters.

In any case, the divine way always is to invite, not to impose. A truly wise person will never impose his wisdom on anyone. He is an authority indeed, yet what he does is share what he knows with others — and, moreover, he does so only with those who would listen. How many swamis, by contrast, have I heard declaim their “wisdom” as though exhorting people with untested dogmas!

Thus, even if a swami has true spiritual authority, for him too in these days of widespread skepticism, the color orange may be less appropriate than blue. Orange suggests a need to blast away difficulties, whereas people today are more open to instruction when it is proffered kindly, not forcefully.

Blue, then, both for the renunciate himself and for whatever good he may accomplish in the world, seems the most appropriate color. He should view even teaching as a service and a sharing, not as a declamation of ideas willfully imposed on others.

It is time also, in this age of increasing enlightenment, to emphasize the positive aspects of renunciation: soul-expansion; the inner freedom of simple living; greater mental and spiritual clarity through sexual moderation or, best of all, through complete sexual abstinence; and the sheer delight found by one who has discovered joy in himself.

Orange goes with declamation; blue, with sharing, and with an invitation to others to share.

Orange goes with imposition; blue, with sympathetic self-offering.

Orange, when outwardly directed, can induce egotism. Blue can inspire infinite self-expansion.

Are colors — we must ask finally — all that important? Certainly they are not all-important! They do, however, have an influence both subjectively and objectively. It seems wise to cooperate with the natural influences around us, rather than to go counter to them.


Chapter 4: Institutions and the Individual

Autobiography of a Yogi

A Renunciate Order for the New Age

Nayaswami Kriyananda

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