“Here I lay at Thy feet
My life, my limbs, my thoughts and speech.
For they are Thine; for they are Thine.”
— Paramahansa Yogananda
There are four stages of monastic life in the Self-Realization Fellowship monastic order, representing a gradual deepening of one’s commitment to the renunciant life and the monastic vows. These stages are not of any fixed length. Rather the spiritual growth of each monk or nun, and the readiness of that renunciant to dedicate himself or herself more fully to this life, are always considered on an individual basis.
The first stage, or postulancy, usually lasts for two years. Postulants follow a monastic routine that includes group and individual meditation, spiritual study and instruction, and service in whatever areas are assigned to them. The postulant program is designed to give the renunciant a fuller understanding of the monastic ideals and way of life. Its emphasis is on helping the postulant to develop the attitudes and habits that will assist that renunciant in deepening his or her spiritual life and attunement with God and the Guru. This first stage of monastic life helps the renunciant to gauge the depth of his or her desire to embrace the path of renunciation, and at the same time allows those responsible for the renunciant’s spiritual welfare to give guidance concerning his or her suitability for monastic life.
At the end of the postulant stage, if both the postulant and counselors feel that he or she is suited to ashram life, the postulant will be invited to take the Novitiate Vow. With this vow, renunciants pledge in a more formal way to live by the fourfold monastic vow of the Self‑Realization Monastic Order as long as they reside in one of its ashrams. During the novitiate period, the novice is expected to demonstrate a growing understanding of monastic discipleship by his or her application of the principles learned at the postulant stage.
If after several years the novice has demonstrated a sincere desire and ability to dedicate his life wholly to seeking and serving God as a monastic of the Order, he or she is invited to take the vow of brahmacharya. (Brahmacharya is a Sanskrit word referring to the discipline and self‑control of one’s thoughts and actions for the purpose of achieving union of the self with Spirit.) This vow signifies the disciple’s intention to remain a monastic in the Order, living by the vows of simplicity, celibacy, obedience, and loyalty to the end of life.
After taking this vow, monks are referred to as a brahmachari and nuns as a brahmacharini. Use of the family name is dropped and within the ashram the monastic is addressed by title and first name — for example, “Brahmachari John” or “Brahmacharini Mary.” A brahmachari or brahmacharini understands that he or she may be asked to assume greater responsibility in the ashram — perhaps training as a temple service leader, taking on special assignments, or serving in other capacities as directed by those responsible for guiding the monastic spiritually.
The final vow of sannyas represents the renunciant’s total, lifetime commitment to God, Guru, the Paramgurus, and Self‑Realization Fellowship; and to the SRF monastic vows and ideals, which he or she pledges to observe faithfully as a monk or nun of the Self‑Realization Monastic Order. It signifies the monastic’s inner determination of soul to set aside all lesser desires in order to live for God alone, and with unconditional dedication and loyalty to serve Him through the path of Self‑Realization Fellowship. The sannyas vow is taken only after many years of living the monastic life, and after the brahmacharis or brahmacharinis have proved to themselves and their superiors in the Order that they are ready to make this final commitment. The vow corresponds to that taken by members of the ancient Swami Order in India. When the monk or nun becomes a sannyasi or sannyasini, he or she is given a monastic name of Sanskrit origin, signifying a particular spiritual ideal or quality to exemplify or attain. Monks who have taken this vow are addressed as “Brother” (or, in India, “Swami”). Nuns are addressed as “Sister” (or in India, “Mai”).
With the complete dedication of one’s life and being to the Divine, the sannyasi strives ever more diligently for perfection of character, of service, and, above all, of love for God. He or she assumes a sacred responsibility to exemplify the high ideals of Paramahansa Yogananda’s teachings and society; and, through that example, to inspire and encourage others in their divine quest.
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