Monday, November 23, 2009

Nayaswami Initiation, Assisi, Italy

Dear Everyone:

We are writing to you from Assisi, Italy, although by the time many of you receive and read this e-mail, we will already be home. We left last Tuesday and will be back in time to share Thanksgiving dinner with you.

We came here for one purpose: to be initiated by Swamiji into the new renunciate order he is starting. It is a reformation of the ancient swami order, described in Autobiography of a Yogi. Master was initiated by Sri Yukteswar into that order. Master later initiated Rajarsi Janakananda, Daya Mata, and others.

Swamiji was too new on the path to take initiation into sannyas (as it is called) from Master himself, so a few years after Master’s passing, Daya held a ceremony and many of the monastics in SRF became swamis. It was then Swamiiji took the name “Kriyananda.”

This new order is of “Nayaswamis.” “Naya” means “new,” to indicate the new spirit for Dwapara Yuga.

The old order, founded in Kali Yuga, the Age of Matter, had to be concerned about the form of things, with many rules about what a swami could and could not do. Since many of those rules relate to conditions long gone—for example, swamis are supposed to travel only on foot, never to handle money, not to own property, to move every three days to avoid forming attachments, to beg for their food—most are honored now in the breach.

The Nayaswami Order is defined more by consciousness. In Dwapara Yuga, this Age of Energy, as Swamiji explains in his book, the real purpose of renunciation, which is to renounce the ego, not merely the things that the ego desires, can be approached directly. His book is full of specific suggestions for how one goes about doing just that.

In the old swami order, the swamis took names ending in “ananda,” which means “bliss.” So the names mean “bliss through....” whatever specific aspect of the divine is the name itself. “Kriyananda” means, “bliss through the practice of Kriya,” or, since the word “Kriya” also means “action”, “bliss through action,” which is to say through service. It is an ideal name for Swami Kriyananda, since he is deeply dedicated to both meditation and service.

In the new order, Swamiji decided that the “ananda” tradition need not be followed, that simple names would suffice. Practically, this means that all of us who have taken initiation have kept the spiritual names Swamiji gave us. Or, in the case of David, kept the spiritual name Swamiji has always liked for him, which is, David, which means “beloved of God.”

So we have become “Nayaswami David” and “Nayaswami Asha.” When addressing a “Nayaswami” the “Naya” doesn’t have to be included, but that is the title. For all of us who have known each other for so long it is hard to imagine suddenly addressing us differently, so please, behave as you always have and let this unfold naturally.

Many of you have asked us if we will be different when we return. The answer is, “We certainly hope so!”

Even though we don’t expect that our duties will change, this is a milestone of infinite importance. Yes, long ago we gave our lives to God and have done our utmost to live up to that aspiration. Still, taking a vow, such as the one Swamiji has just given to us, makes more dynamic to our consciousness the direction in which we are heading and the means to arrive at the divine goal. Because many of you have asked, we have included at the end of this letter the vow for the Nayaswamis.

Even though this is a vow of singular devotion to God, Swamiji decided that marriage, in itself, is not an obstacle to complete dedication. As you will see in the vow, it includes affirming a divine attitude to one’s life partner.

In addition to the Nayaswamis, this order also includes a stage of renunciation before that, Brahmacharya (single renunciates), and Tyaga (married renunciates). Those vows are also included.

Even though this order is being launched from Ananda, it is not defined by Ananda, but transcends all sectarian or organizational boundaries and is open to sincere devotees of all paths. In his book, Swamiji invites all present swamis who may be inspired by this new expression to contact him if they wish to become nayaswamis.

If any of you, after reading Swamiji’s book and the enclosed vows, feel inspired to take this step, or to talk about what it means, please contact us. The nature of this renunciation is that you must step forward and ask to be accepted. Usually at Ananda, one waits to be invited, but in this case, one must declare for oneself that this is your intention.

Swamiji carried out the initiation in a simple, but profoundly moving way. Everyone was invited to witness. In fact, a recording, and probably also a film of the ceremony will soon be posted on the internet. A few photos are posted here. Even though this had all the sacredness of a Kriya Initiation, there was no reason to keep it private. In Kriya, a technique is offered that you have to be prepared to receive. In this case, one is witnessing the dedication of others, but not being asked oneself to do something that you are not prepared to do.

Swami did the ceremony in English so that it could be understood around the world. They have a simultaneous translation system here with individual headsets so those who don’t speak English could hear it in the moment in their own language.

Depending on the group being initiated, Swamiji gave the vows also in Italian or English as appropriate. Several groups were all Italian speakers, so no English was needed.

There were three groups, corresponding to the three vows: Bramacharya, Tyaga, and Nayaswami.

In addition, for the first two, he also offered a postulant vow, the same words, but understood to be only for a year, to try it out. The Nayaswami vow is only a life vow. Brahmacharya and Tyaga is, in a sense, the “postulant” stage for Nayaswami.

Swamiji asked to have the whole room arranged in a circle around a fire bowl. The area in front of the altar was left open. Swamiji sat in a chair at that side of the circle with his back to the altar, so when we looked at him we were also looking at the pictures of the Masters behind him.

Nayaswamis sat in the first circle of chairs, those taking the Tyaga vow in the next row, then those taking Bramacharya. Each group sat in turn in front of Swamiji, recited their vow, then knelt in front of him for a blessing. After the blessing, he placed a scarf around the neck of each new initiate: gold for Bramcharya, turquoise for Tyaga, and blue for Nayaswamis. The postulants received white scarves.

For Swamiji, too, this was a momentous occasion. He told us later, “I have been thinking for years about how to do this.” It has taken him until now to feel the time was right. The preface to his book, also included at the end of this e-mail, tells just a little of how profound the moment was when he decided it was time to launch this order.

All the initiates were dressed in white. There were 53 people initiated, counting all the various levels, representing 10 countries: Italy, Germany, Austria, Switzerland, Holland, Russia, Croatia, Slovenia, United States, Belgium.

With all those who had come to witness the ceremony sitting in a circle around the initiates, the room was filled to the walls. We meditated for an hour together before Swamiji came, so by the time he walked in, the temple was supercharged. He was radiant in his blue robe. To look into his eyes was to look into Infinity.

Some of those he initiated, Swamiji has known for decades. Others he has known only a few years or has barely met. Yet his expression never varied as he blessed each one and placed the appropriate color scarf around their necks. He was the living expression of infinite, unconditional love, offered in full measure equally to all beings, limited not by the divine outpouring, but only by our ability to receive.

For the Tyagis and the Bramacharis, the ceremony consisted only of the vow and the blessing. For the Nayaswamis, he added a fire ceremony.

Each of the soon-to-be Nayaswamis was given a small container of ghee. Instead of facing Swamiji, as the others did to recite their vows, Swamiji had us face the fire, which blazed an exquisite orange. Even though the scarf we were given was blue, the orange of that fire linked us to all the swamis that had gone before.

The vow has seven sections, and after each one, Swamiji paused while we each placed a spoonful of ghee into the fire. At the end of the vow, Swamiji asked us to make a full prostration—a “true pronam” he called it—facing the fire.

He had not told anyone that this full prostration would be part of the ceremony, so the element of surprise made it even more dramatic. Naturally already we were doing our utmost to offer ourselves into that fire, to burn up and purify everything that stood between ourselves and the perfect fulfillment of the vow we were repeating. Now, suddenly, we were stretched full length in front of that fire, expressing as much as a body can, a state of complete surrender.

Twenty people took the Nayaswami vows. Since many of you know many of them, here are all the Nayaswamis: From America: Jyotish, Devi, Padma, Hriman, David, Asha, Durga, Vidura, Vijay Girard; From Italy: Uma, Miriam, Lila, Kamala (Linda) Lockhart Lakshman, Mary Mintey, Shivani, Arjuna, Kirtani, Anand, Magdalena (an Italian woman we met for the first time). Linda became “Nayaswami Kamala”; all the rest have kept the same names.

A couple of weeks ago, Swamiji took part in an ecumenical peace conference in the nearby city of Assisi. (Ananda is in the hills about 20 minutes outside of town.) He wore his blue robe, as is his custom now. He mentioned this new renunciate order and afterwards a Catholic priest asked him, “How many people are there in this new order?”

In his usual unpretentious way, Swamiji answered, “Just one, me.” Now, of course, that is no longer true.

Much love, and many blessings to all of you from,
Nayaswami David and Nayaswami Asha Praver

Preface to: A New-Age Renunciate Order

Renunciation has ceased to command the respect it once had. Spirituality is on the rise, but many convents and monasteries stand empty. What people want now is a path where Spirit and Nature work in harmony, not in opposition to one another.

Timeless principles, however, are not created by popular vote. Truth simply Is.

Renunciation remains the heart and soul of the spiritual life. The problem is not with the principle itself, but the way it has been misunderstood and wrongly practiced. Renunciation has become defined by what you give up, or, even worse, by what God takes away.

True renunciation is not a loss, it is an expansion to Infinity. Joy and renunciation are two sides of the same coin. To suppress the ego is not the same as transcending it.

The origin of this book is auspicious. A miracle healing was needed before it could be written.

There has always been something mysterious about Swami Kriyananda’s health. His body seems to be a battleground where the forces of Light and Dark meet. The battle is not about him personally, but for the work his Guru, Paramhansa Yogananda, has commissioned him to do. The only way to describe it is “Satan tries to stop him.” Often his most creative periods are paired with enormous physical challenges.

Swamiji cheerfully dismisses the trials of his body as merely the tapasya needed to establish his Guru’s work in this world. (Swamiji means respected teacher; tapasya is a Sanskrit word meaning both austerity and devotion.)

Still, the effort has taken its toll. No physical body lasts forever. It is of no consequence to Swamiji whether he lives or dies; long ago he surrendered his life to his Guru.

Especially since he moved to India in 2003, Swamiji has had one health crisis after another. Often he has told his Indian audiences, “I’m not going to live much longer,” hoping to inspire them to act quickly to build the work while he was still there to help them. Certain “readings,” including the ancient Book of Brighu, implied that his 83rd birthday May 19, 2009, might be his last.

Two days after that birthday, he was scheduled to fly from India to Europe. That morning he had some symptoms of a stroke, difficulty breathing, speaking, and so weak he had to be fed like a baby.

Ordinarily, no one would travel in such a condition. But persevering against obstacles has always strengthened Swamiji, rather than weakened him. Once a project or transition is completed, usually health returns.

But this time it didn’t happen. Even weeks later, at home now in Ananda Assisi, the crisis continued. Rarely had he been so weak for so long. Someone had to be with him twenty-four hours a day.

It was June 6; I was on the afternoon shift. A few friends were coming over in the late afternoon, so when Swamiji went down for a nap, he asked me to wake him in time for their coming.

At 3:00 o’clock he was still sound asleep. Reluctantly I woke him and helped him sit up on the side of the bed. Traditionally, swamis wear orange, but I chose for him a blue shirt instead, thinking the color would lift his spirits. As I was doing up the buttons I said casually, “This blue is so exquisite. You should change the swami color from orange to blue.”

With great seriousness, he replied, “I am thinking of doing that.”

I helped him into the living room, then went back to get something from the closet. When I returned a moment later, he was stretched out on the couch, hands folded across his heart, looking up at the ceiling. I thought he might be dead. In fact, that may be when the miracle happened.

To my great relief, he began to speak, introducing the ideas that are now this book: A Renunciate Order for a New Age. After a few moments, he paused, then quietly, with great force, declared, “This is what Satan was trying to stop.”

From that moment he began to get well.

In the evening he called a group together to talk about the new order. Already he had written most of the first chapter of this book. Just hours before he couldn’t button his own shirt. Now he was launching a revolution in renunciation for the New Age.

“I entered a state of intense bliss,” Swamiij said later, about this sudden change. “I told Divine Mother, ‘I’m ready to go and I am happy to stay.’ It didn’t matter at all to me. When I came out of that state, I began to get well.” When he left Italy a few weeks later, he didn’t even bring his cane.

“I feel ageless,” Swamiji says. “I don’t identify with myself in any way now. It seems God has extended my life in order to do this work. It was a miracle healing.”

In the forty years that I have known Swamiji, his prodigious creativity has been nothing less than awe-inspiring. Books, music, communities, schools, retreats -- a spiritual network that spans the globe. Often in my enthusiasm for some particular expression I have been tempted to declare: “This is it! This is his spiritual legacy.”

Of course, to say that is like defining the ocean by what you can see from the beach.

Still, folly though it may be, I dare to say, in its cumulative effect, A New-Age Renunciate Order may be one of Swamiji’s most important contributions to the bringing in of a New Age. For it gives to truth seekers everywhere the courage, the clarity, and the way to open their hearts to God.

(preface written by Nayaswami Asha)

Renunciate Vow of Brahmacharya

I understand, and fully accept, that the true purpose of life for all human beings is to seek God.

In pursuit of that goal, I offer my own life unreservedly to seeking my Divine Source.

I will retain no ego-gratifying goal in my life, but will strive always, and above all, to please God.

I will look upon life as God’s dream-drama, and also dream-entertainment. I will accept as His gift whatever comes to me in life.

I renounce attachment to things, people, places, and all self-definitions—except one: I will define myself always as a child of God, and will obey whatever guidance He gives me.

I offer to Thee, Lord, my life, my desires, my attachments, and the fruit of all my labors.

Bless me, and strengthen me, that I become ever more perfect in this, my holy vow.
Renunciate Vow of Tyaga

I understand, and fully accept, that the true purpose of life for all human beings is to seek God.

In pursuit of that goal, I offer my own life unreservedly to seeking my own Divine Source.

I will retain no ego-gratifying goal in my life, but will strive always, and above all, to please God.

I will view my partner as a channel of God’s blessing, guidance, and strength, and will strive always to be a similar channel in return.

I will endeavor always, through the love and respect I feel for my partner, to reach out in love and service to all humanity.

I will try never to see anything in this world as mine, but will view everything as a manifestation of God.

I will look upon life as God’s dream-drama, and also dream-entertainment. I will accept as His gift whatever comes to me in life.

I offer to Thee, Lord, my life, my desires, my attachments, and the fruit of all my labors.

Bless me, and strengthen me, that I become ever more perfect in this, my holy vow.

Vow of Complete Renunciation

From now on, I embrace as the only purpose of my life the search for God.

I will never take a partner, or, if I am married, I will look upon my partner as belonging only to Thee, Lord. In any case, I am complete in myself, and in myself will merge all the opposites of duality.

I no longer exist as a separate entity, but offer my life unreservedly into Thy great Ocean of Awareness.

I accept nothing as mine, no one as mine, no talent, no success, no achievement as my own, but everything as Thine alone.

I will feel that not only the fruit of my labor, but the labor itself, is only Thine. Act through me always, Lord, to accomplish Thy design.

I am free in Thy joy, and will rejoice forever in Thy blissful presence.

Help me in my efforts to achieve perfection in this, my holy vow. For I have no goal in life but to know Thee, and to serve as Thy channel of blessing to all mankind.