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Sannyas

 Lake Shrine - Sannyas Title

 

 Brother Anandamoy with new initiates

Swami Anandamoy Giri (front row, center) with new initiates into the Swami Order, flanked by Swamis Achalananda Giri (standing on left) and Vishwananda Giri (standing on right), at the SRF International Headquarters, 2006.


Sannyas: A Life of Monastic Consecration

 One hundred years ago, in July 1915, Paramahansa Yogananda was initiated into India’s ancient swami monastic order when he received the vows of sannyas (renunciation from the world) from his guru, Swami Sri Yukteswar, in Serampore, India. This event not only marked a turning point in the life of the twenty-two-year-old Mukunda Lal Ghosh — who at that moment became Swami Yogananda Giri — but presaged his influence on the awakening global spirituality of the 20th century and beyond, not least because of the monastic tradition he established as part of his lasting legacy.

The ancient Swami Order to which Paramahansa Yogananda belonged thrives today in Self-Realization Fellowship monastic communities, consisting of monks and nuns from countries all around the world. As depicted in AWAKE, the documentary film on Yoganandaji’s life (released in 2014), this monastic order sustains the global growth of SRF and helps the wider dissemination of yoga among all nations.

Nuns gather in the Gyanamata Ashram

Nuns gather in the Gyanamata Ashram at Mother Center for a special commemorative ceremony for Lahiri Mahasaya. Community life in the monastery includes daily practice of group meditation and serving the worldwide spiritual and humanitarian work of Paramahansa Yogananda.

In describing the monastic order he founded, Paramahansaji wrote: “For myself, such complete renunciation as a monk of the Swami Order was the only possible answer to the ardent desire in my heart to give my life wholly to God, uncompromised by any worldly tie….

“As a monk, my life has been offered in unreserved service to God and to the spiritual awakening of hearts with His message. For those on the path I have followed who also feel called to complete renunciation in a life of seeking and serving God through the yoga ideals of meditative and dutiful activities, I have perpetuated in the Monastic Order of Self-Realization Fellowship/Yogoda Satsanga Society of India the line of sannyas in the Shankara Order, which I entered when I received the holy vows of a swami from my Guru. The organizational work that God and my Guru and Paramgurus have started through me is carried on…by those who have dedicated their lives to the highest objectives of renunciation and love for God.”

 

 “I Become a Monk of the Swami Order”

By Paramahansa Yogananda
(Extracts from Autobiography of a Yogi)

“Master, my father has been anxious for me to accept an executive position with the Bengal-Nagpur Railway. But I have definitely refused it.” I added hopefully, “Sir, will you not make me a monk of the Swami Order?” I looked pleadingly at my guru [Swami Sri Yukteswar]. During preceding years, in order to test the depth of my determination, he had refused this same request. Today, however, he smiled graciously.

“Very well, tomorrow I will initiate you into swamihood.” He went on quietly, “I am happy that you have persisted in your desire to be a monk. Lahiri Mahasaya often said: ‘If you don’t invite God to be your summer Guest, He won’t come in the winter of your life.’”

“Dear Master, I could never relinquish my wish to belong to the Swami Order like your revered self.” I smiled at him with measureless affection….

Paramahansa Yogananda and Sri YukteswarTo allot the Lord a secondary place in life was, to me, inconceivable. He is the sole Owner of the cosmos, silently showering man with gifts from life to life. There is but one gift man may offer in return—his love, which he is empowered to withhold or bestow....

The following day was one of the most memorable in my life. It was a sunny Thursday, I remember, in July 1915, a few weeks after my graduation from college. On the inner balcony of his Serampore hermitage, Master dipped a new piece of white silk into a dye of ocher, the traditional color of the Swami Order. After the cloth had dried, my guru draped it around me as a renunciant’s robe….

As I knelt before Sri Yukteswar, and for the first time heard him pronounce my new name*, my heart overflowed with gratitude. How lovingly and tirelessly had he labored, that the boy Mukunda be someday transformed into the monk Yogananda! I joyfully sang a few verses from the long Sanskrit chant of Lord Shankara:

Mind, nor intellect, nor ego, feeling;
Sky nor earth nor metals am I.
I am He, I am He, Blessed Spirit, I am He!
No birth, no death, no caste have I;
Father, mother, have I none.
I am He, I am He, Blessed Spirit, I am He!
Beyond the flights of fancy, formless am I,
Permeating the limbs of all life;
Bondage I do not fear; I am free, ever free,
I am He, I am He, Blessed Spirit, I am He!

Paramahansa Yogananda and Rajarsi Janakananda

Paramahansa Yogananda, with hands upraised, blesses his beloved disciple, James J. Lynn, on whom he had just bestowed sannyas, and the monastic name of Rajarsi Janakananda; SRF-YSS International Headquarters, Los Angeles, August 25, 1951.

How the Swami Order Came to the West

Before Paramahansa Yogananda’s passage to America in 1920, other pioneer swamis from India, such as Swami Ram Tirtha and Swami Vivekananda, had briefly visited America and spoken about Yoga and Vedanta in the West. Swami Vivekananda and his brother disciples of the Ramakrishna-Vedanta Society had even initiated a few Westerners into the sannyas life in the late 19th century on an individual basis. But it was Paramahansaji in the 20th century who organized a system of monastic training, succession, and inter-generational propagation in monasteries such as had not been seen before.

Indeed, Paramahansaji’s specific mission of spreading the ancient meditation science of Kriya Yoga in the West and worldwide was integrally related with his historic expansion of the Swami Order in America. The monastic roots of Yogananda’s Kriya Yoga mission go back to the meeting of his guru, Sri Yukteswar, with Mahavatar Babaji, founder of the Kriya Yoga lineage in modern times. Babaji had first ordained Lahiri Mahasaya, a householder and family man, to begin the process of publicly teaching the Kriya science, which had been lost for centuries. Sri Yukteswar, like his guru, Lahiri Mahasaya, was also a householder (though widowed)—up until he met Mahavatar Babaji at a Kumbha Mela in Allahabad in 1894. Sri Yukteswar related that meeting as follows:

 Sri Daya Mata and Swami Shyamananda

Sri Daya Mata drapes the ocher cloth of sannyas on Swami Shyamananda, Mother Center, 1970.

“Welcome, Swamiji,” Babaji said affectionately.

“Sir,” I replied emphatically, “I am not a swami.”

“Those on whom I am divinely directed to bestow the title of swami never cast it off.” The saint addressed me simply, but deep conviction of truth rang in his words; I was instantly engulfed in a wave of spiritual blessing.

Babaji told the new swami: “Some years hence I shall send you a disciple whom you can train for yoga dissemination in the West.” That disciple, of course, was Paramahansa Yogananda, as was later confirmed personally by the Mahavatar to Paramahansaji. By making Sri Yukteswar a swami before sending Yogananda to him for training, Babaji thus ensured that the principal transmission of Kriya Yoga in the West and worldwide would be accomplished by consecrated renunciants of India’s ancient monastic tradition.

Sri Shankaracharya Bharati Krishna Tirtha with Sri Daya Mata

His Holiness, the Jagadguru Sri Shankaracharya Bharati Krishna Tirtha of Gowardan Math, Puri, with Sri Daya Mataji at Self-Realization Fellowship International Headquarters, Los Angeles, March 1958.

After the establishment of Self-Realization Fellowship international headquarters in Los Angeles in 1925, Paramahansaji gradually began to accept for training men and women who came with the desire to devote their lives wholly to the search for God. With the arrival of Sri Daya Mata, Sri Gyanamata, and other deeply dedicated early disciples, the hilltop ashram at Mt. Washington became home to a steadily growing family of renunciants, in whom he instilled the spirit and ideals of the monastic life, which he himself had embraced and so perfectly exemplified. The Guru also gave to his closest disciples—those to whom he entrusted the responsibility for the future of his mission—specific guidelines for the dissemination of his teachings and the continuance of the worldwide spiritual and humanitarian work he had begun. Today, that same in-depth spiritual counsel and discipline that he gave to ashram residents during his lifetime are being passed on to new generations of monks and nuns.

Thus, through Paramahansa Yogananda, the ancient monastic Swami Order from India put down deep and lasting roots in America. In addition to initiating qualified Westerners, Paramahansaji modified the orthodox tradition in another way: by giving the same sacred vows of sannyas and positions of spiritual leadership to women as well as to men, an unusual practice for his time. In fact, the first disciple of the SRF monastic order to whom he gave swami vows was a woman—Sri Daya Mata, who later served as the spiritual head of SRF/YSS for more than half a century.

It was during Sri Daya Mata’s presidency that the senior head of the Swami Order in India—His Holiness the Shankaracharya of Puri, Swami Bharati Krishna Tirtha—was the guest of Self-Realization Fellowship during his groundbreaking three-month visit to America in 1958. This was the first time in the history of India that a Shankaracharya (apostolic successor of Adi Shankara, eighth-century reorganizer of the Swami Order) had traveled to the West. The saintly Shankaracharya had a profound regard for Sri Daya Mata, and gave his formal blessing on her further expansion of the Swami Order in SRF ashrams that Paramahansa Yogananda had begun at Babaji’s behest. After returning to India, he stated publicly: “I found in Self-Realization Fellowship the highest spirituality, service, and love. Not only do their representatives preach these principles, but they live according to them.”

Furthering the Work of Paramahansa Yogananda

Monastics of Self-Realization Fellowship further Paramahansaji’s work by serving in various capacities — including by touring various countries, giving talks at Convocation, hosting the public at outreach events, doing office work, and counseling seekers on spiritual matters.

Br Ritananda in Neu Ulm Sister Preeti at Convocation

Brother Ritananda addresses congregation in Neu Ulm, Germany.

Sister Preeti delivers an evening talk at Convocation.

Br Jayananda Office

Brother Jayananda informally hosts members during regional retreat.

Sisters Chinmayi and Amaravati discuss an office project with a younger nun.

Br Ishtananda Sister Bhakti offers spiritual guidance

Brother Ishtananda offers spiritual guidance to devotees.

Sister Bhakti offers spiritual guidance to devotees.

Community life in the Self-Realization Fellowship ashrams affords numerous opportunities
for joyous fellowship with kindred souls.

 
Sisters of the order share a moment of laughter Brother Achalananda with the monks

Sisters of the Order share a moment of laughter.

Brother Achalananda with the monks, singing carols at Christmastime, at Mother Center.

 

Invitation

Single men and women who are free of family obligations, and who have a sincere desire to dedicate themselves to finding God and serving Him as a monk or nun in the monastic communities of Self-Realization Fellowship, are invited to contact SRF Headquarters for information.

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Sri Mrinalini Mata Oval Frame

 

“God First, God Always, God Alone”

By Sri Mrinalini Mata
Extracts from remarks by the president of Self-Realization Fellowship to SRF monks and nuns

Dear ones, the past few years have seen such rapid growth of our blessed Guru’s Self-Realization Fellowship; the work is expanding into a new era. So often we have remembered the words Master spoke many years ago to those of us who had come to dedicate our lives as monastics: “When I have left this body, the organization will be my body, and you all will be my hands and feet, my speech.” What a blessed opportunity, what a tremendously freeing experience is this life of consecration. Each one who wholeheartedly embraces it becomes like a glowing atom of Master’s being; each makes a necessary contribution to the whole, through which Gurudeva’s organization can continue to reach out in his spirit of love divine.

The world has so much lost sight of spiritual standards and morals. Those who choose the monastic path do so in response to the soul’s desire and ability to live a life above those ordinary materialistic norms. Though relatively few may embrace monasticism, those who live that life of disciplined striving help to keep the higher values before the gaze of the many. People do feel something different, special, from the purity of a life given to God alone. Abiding by the vows of simplicity, obedience, chastity, and loyalty, persevering in meditation and humbly trying to improve, make tremendous changes in the devotee. Even the little fleshly frame he lives in becomes recognizably spiritualized. Others cannot say what it is, but they feel from that devotee an aura that somehow uplifts them and speaks to them of God. The humble devotee makes no show of it; indeed, he may not even be aware of it.

Sri Mrinalini Mata with nuns

In an informal gathering with the nuns at Mother Center, Mrinalini Mata (seated extreme right) reminisces about her training and discipleship under Paramahansa Yogananda in the early years.

There is no greater vocation — no greater success that one can attain, no greater fame in the eyes of eternity — than to dedicate oneself to the spiritual path. That one who succeeds, that one who serves from the soul, in attunement with God and Guru, silently and unbeknownst to himself changes thousands in the world. One day in the presence of God he can look back and say, “Oh, what Divine Mother and Gurudeva did with that little insignificant life!” The growth of Master’s work these many years is because of those in his spiritual family — the monastic community as well as the many devoted householder disciples — who have dedicated their lives toward becoming living examples of Guruji’s teachings and his spirit.

Master is the life and heart of Self-Realization Fellowship. His spirit is inculcated by our daily life in his ashrams. Master’s monks and nuns learn — in their behavior, in their demeanor, in their thinking, in their entire consciousness, no matter where their duties may take them — always to remember: “I have given myself to an ideal, the same spiritual criterion that lived in my Guru: God first, God always, God alone.” One whose life is truly consecrated to that ideal is someone to whom Guruji reaches out constantly in blessing, someone who becomes a fit instrument he can use to serve others, someone through whose life he can express God-love, God-understanding and caring, the forgiveness of Jesus, the wisdom of Krishna — all of the other godly qualities he manifested so beautifully, so joyously, in his own life. How blessed we are to have the opportunity in these ashrams he founded, not only to work for our own liberation, but in so doing to perpetuate the divine dispensation Gurudeva brought for the liberation of others and the upliftment of humanity.

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