[You can ask your own question here.]
The recent photographs I have seen in the Ananda newsletters show that some of the teachers/swami's wear blue colored clothing. Is this really needed? Why do you need a visual distinction between a Swami and a disciple? Is that not in some way telling others “I am more spiritually advanced than you” and in a way becomes a false ego?
Have you seen Swami Kriyananda’s book, A Renunciate Order for the New Age? If you haven't, you can read it on the internet at www.nayaswami.org. Swamiji wrote the book in the summer of 2009 and launched the order with an initiation in November. The establishment of this Order has indeed changed the “look” of Ananda.
Whereas before you saw people dressed in a wide range of colors, now, especially, on formal occasions, you see a lot of uniformity -- blue (for Nayaswamis), white (for Tyagis), and yellow (for Brahmacharis).
Nayaswamis are those who have taken what is called a “Vow of Complete Renunciation.” (“Naya” means new. The whole order is simply a “new” Swami order.) Tyagis and Tyaginis and Brahmachris and Brahmacharinis are, you might say, “novice” Nayaswamis. There is one more group called “Pilgrim,” which is for those raising families, and for others who want to declare their spiritual intention, but for whom the other vows are not appropriate. There is no specific color for Pilgrims.
One distinguishing feature of this new order is that married couples can take vows without having to separate. The Tyaga vow is for married devotees; the Brahmacharya vow is for single people who are dedicated to remaining single for life.
Now, to the question you have asked, "Does it increase or decrease the ego to dress according to the vows one has taken?"
Ego is always a danger, of course, but the point of making an outward statement is to diminish ego’s hold, not to increase it. The outfit one assumes as a result of spiritual initiation is usually plain, simple, and meant to help one overcome vanity and preoccupation with outward appearance.
It is also God-reminding for the one wearing it. And, it must also be said, a way to protect yourself from the temptation to dilute one's commitment by wrong or careless actions.This will be more true as the Order becomes established and the meaning of the garb is more widely known.
Catholic priests and nuns, dressed in their easily recognized religious habits, are treated differently out of respect for the choice they have made. This bit of distance between them and the world helps them to keep their vows. A life dedicated to God is not always smooth sailing. If it is only done for show, of course it isn't very meaningful. But anything that helps maintain the depth and dignity of one's commitment is a welcome addition.
Yes, to dress in a way that singles you out can also lead to ego if one is inclined that way. But spiritual cowardice is also an obstacle that must be overcome. It takes courage to declare to the world: “I am not living an ordinary life anymore. From now on I live for God Alone.”
When devotees here in Ananda Palo Alto began to take initiation into this Order and assume the dress and sometimes the titles that went along with that, some people expressed to me the same concern you have raised. “Won’t this create divisions and lead to ego?”
My response was to ask questions in return. “Has anyone who has taken these vows acted in a superior way, or treated you with less kindness and respect than before? Has anyone in the Renunciate Order made you, who have not taken vows, feel inferior? Has anyone acted as if there is now an inner circle to which you do not belong?”
The answer I received was exactly what I knew to be true. “No. None of these things have happened. In fact,” my friend responded, “those who have taken vows seem happier, kinder, more inclusive, and even more God-centered than they were before.”
For all these years, Swami Kriyananda was the only sannyasi among us, the only one dressed in a distinctive way. Many of us, however, have longed to make an even deeper commitment. And yes, to separate ourselves even more profoundly from the world and everything it stands for.
Until Swamiji formed this Renunciate Order, there was no way to express that longing. The sannyas stage of life, especially for those of us who are married, and have vibrant spiritual partnerships with our spouses, and therefore no inclination to separate, was beyond our reach.
We are so grateful to Master for inspiring Swamiji to found this Order. To allow us, in many cases, to become Swamis together.
Ananda has always been a place of deep spirituality, but adding these vows has deepened us as individual devotes, and made the community as a whole much deeper in ways we didn’t even know were possible. So even those who have not joined the Order have been uplifted by it.
In the Bible, Jesus is asked how to tell a true prophet from a false one. He said simply, “By their fruits ye shall know them.”
One can look from the outside and imagine all sorts of things, such as: distinctive dress will foster a sense of superiority, rather than humility. But imagination is not the issue here.
The question is, “What is true? What are the fruits?” And the fruits -- speaking both personally and from observing Ananda as a whole -- are not at all bitter, but divinely sweet.
[Questions and answers from other Ananda ministers worldwide can be found on the Ask the Experts page of Ananda.org.]