Thursday, July 21, 2011

Ask Asha: How Do Others React to the Renunciate Colors?

[This is in response to a previous letter: Do Nayaswami Robes Draw Attention to the Ego? You can ask your own question here.]


Dear Asha,

I was happy to see someone ask about the blue. Last time I was at Ananda (over Easter) I was surprised by my reaction: I really did not like all that blue. Too much blue! It felt unbalancing somehow. It is not an "easy color" in huge amounts, and there were huge amounts of it. It also gave the place a much more cultish feeling, reminding me of Rajneesh followers who always wore red. I've thought about my reaction a lot since returning. I have read "Renunciate Order for the New Age" and am in agreement with the ideas behind it but . . . too much blue! I find myself ever so slightly reluctant to refer people to Ananda -- how are they going to react to all that blue?! I would prefer it to be subtler somehow. Don't know if others feel this way. . .

in love of guru,


Dear LL:

Swamiji decided to found this new renunciate order on the afternoon of June 6, 2009. I know the exact date because he was so weak and ill we thought he was dying and on that afternoon he was miraculously healed. I've written about this in the introduction to the book, A Renunciate Order for the New Age.

As I explained in the introduction, Swamiji was lying motionless on the couch and I thought he might be dead. To my great relief he began to speak, and the subject was the founding of this Order. Within the first fifteen minutes he was talking about what we would wear. You might think this a superficial consideration, but speaking from inside the Order, I will tell you it is not. Declaring to self and others, “This is who I am. This is what I am doing with my life,” is part of renunciation.

Yes, there are some souls for whom the relationship with God is so private, that any outward declaration lowers their dedication. But for most of us, alas, this is not true. The ego resists; the soul does not. It rejoices to embrace its true nature, which in this case is the expansive blue of Christ consciousness.

A few days after that healing a small group of people (all of whom later became Nayaswamis) were talking with Swamiji about wearing blue all the time. In fact, we weren't just talking about the color, we were talking about wearing a specific Nayaswami habit, something long, loose fitting, perhaps even with a cowl!

It would be fine within the rural communities, we said to Swamiji, but what about those of us who live in urban centers? Were we expected to walk around the city of Palo Alto dressed in blue robes?

“We've spent years,” David said, “trying to fit in.”

Swamiji responded very seriously, “Perhaps now is the time for us to stand out.”

He went on to explain, as he does in the book, that Master predicted that very hard times are coming. When that will be, we don't know, but you can just read the economic news, you don't need prophets to make you think something will happen soon.

The reason these hard times are coming, Master said, is that the world is out of tune with God, Nature, and our true selves. Again, just look around. It is obvious.

The purpose of these hard times, Master explained, is to bring people back to God. Not the Catholic, Jewish, or Islamic God. Not the wrathful fundamentalist God, but God within: Self-realization, not as a sect, but as a universal reality.

What is needed is more than just good ideas, or “random acts of kindness.” The world will not be brought into balance by well-meaning, but nonetheless self-affirming egos who imagine they can disregard God and make this world right again by just getting enough other self-affirming egos to... well... cooperate with their plan. They may be sincere, but that method won’t work.

Swamiji felt that the visible example of people who have given their life to God in this new way could help inspire and guide others, especially when times become more challenging. Yes, this is a bold statement, but Swamiji is nothing if not bold!

In fact, at least right now, most of the Nayaswamis, including Swamiji himself, rarely walk the streets of America in a robe. In India, of course, they understand renunciation and delight in seeing the blue robes. Even in Assisi, where so many pilgrims gather, robes of all kinds are a common sight. America, however, is different.

To every specific question from a Nayaswami, “What should I do?” Swamiji has replied, “Do as you feel.” There is no “policy” about this, which is why, among thousands of other reasons, the idea of Ananda being a “cult” is simply ludicrous, even if a lot of people are wearing the same color.

Most Nayaswamis do wear blue most of the time, something robe-like for Ananda events, Western style for everyday. Still, when two or more are out together, it usually elicits comment.

Sometimes the comments are amusing. “What’s with the blue?” is a common question.

In a restaurant when four Nayaswamis were having breakfast together, the waitress assumed from our clothes that we were fans of the Los Angeles Dodgers. She was a fan and was also wearing blue. We saw no reason to correct her so chatted happily about the most recent game.

Once when visiting the Apple Computer store, all the employees were also wearing Nayaswami blue t-shirts (apparently it is a very popular color). The group included Swamiji and about a dozen others, most wearing blue street clothes, although there was a robe-like garment here and there.

(We had long since given up the idea of the cowl, and what passes for a robe does not look exactly monastic, but simple and rather Indian. The design of the robe is still a “work in progress.”)

When we walked out of the store, an employee followed us. Apparently he had felt Swamiji’s unusual aura. Pointing at him he asked, “Who is that man? Is he the Archangel of Apple?”

I wear blue all the time, mostly a slightly oriental tunic and trousers, and people often stop me in the street to tell me how much they love the color. Only when I am with a friend (which often happens) who also wears a blue robe-like garment, do people realize that our clothes have greater significance. When they ask, I usually respond, “We have taken a certain initiation.” If they show interest, I tell them more. Or we say, “We are part of an ashram.”

To children who asked me, “Why do I always wear blue?” I said, “It is a promise I made to God.” We were interrupted before I could say more, so who knows what they took away from that conversation!

Now back to your question about coming to Ananda. Yes, all these years, we have consciously tried to put people at their ease, to look and seem like everyone else. But the fact is, we are not. The commitment to God and Gurus is a radical change from ordinary ego-based living.

David and I came to Palo Alto to lead this colony some 25 years ago. When we first arrived, just the fact of having a guru and practicing meditation was enough to put us on the outskirts of society, either the “lunatic fringe” or the “leading edge,” depending on your point of view. Since then, society itself has moved a great distance toward what we are doing.

Best-selling books have been written now about people and their gurus (positive books). Meditation classes are regular offerings at the local library and the YMCA. Yoga is considered an American sport.

Master came to America to lead a spiritual revolution, not to walk in the middle of a parade. Now that the parade has moved onto our part of the sidewalk, we need to take the next step in the direction everybody is trying to go.

It is not something that I would declare, but I have faith that when Swamiji declares he his responding to Master's guidance. Especially in this instance, considering, among other things, that it came as part of a miracle healing. It is hard to disregard an event like that.

Now people who come to Ananda communities, see us in our Temples, and even on the street, can't help but notice that we have made decisions that set us apart. That was the whole subject of the letter that preceded this one, answering the question, “Won't it increase your ego to distinguish yourselves in this way?”

The answer is “Yes,” if you allow it to, “No,” if you don't. But you can't hold back out of fear of what might go wrong. If you fall, you just get up again.

I do, however, understand your concern. My suggestion is a simple one: tune into the spirit and respond less to the changed appearance of things. It is natural to want things to stay the same as they have always been. However, nothing does. Adjusting gracefully, better still, accepting joyfully inevitable change is the secret of happy living.

And don’t underestimate your friends. Give them the chance, too, to think in a new way. They might surprise you.

It is a growing edge for all of us. But isn't that the whole point?

This is a new spirit of renunciation: expansive, joyful. Gradually, people will get familiar with it and the blue color, instead of seeming like “too much,” will be a reminder to all of God's love and the joy of living for Him.

Nayaswami Asha

P.S. I think it ironic that at this time (July 2011) the picture of me on this letter page is pre-blue! Must get another photo taken!

[Questions and answers from other Ananda ministers worldwide can be found on the Ask the Experts page of]


  1. jackwallace@aol.comJuly 21, 2011 at 7:48 PM

    Asha, you would have made a great lawyer. : )

  2. I so enjoyed your recent answer to the question regarding the blue robes.

    It is a change for many who have been with Ananda for many years but for me as a new disciple the robes have been a comfort. In a sea of new people the significance of the color brings me peace. I trust the person wearing it and have a basis for a relationship with them. I know who to go to should I have a question regarding the teachings. I know who to approach. This has been so helpful to me.

    As Master's family grows larger the robes may be seen as a great help to newcomers. I pray that it is so...

    In Joy,

  3. jackwallace@aol.comJuly 25, 2011 at 7:42 AM

    To clarify my remark about Asha and the law: As her friend, and a fellow Ananda member for 30+ years, what she says is true. However, in speaking ardently for the defense, she does slant facts in her favor, making them not quite the whole truth. This, then, is an elaboration, not a rebuttal:

    It is "simply ludicrous" to suggest that Ananda is a "cult," but only if one has an intimate knowledge of every person involved. To any outsider, Ananda certainly looks like a cult, and that which quacks like a duck usually is. It does not help when Asha says wearing her spirituality on her (blue) sleeve is not something she would innately do, but if Swami says so, that's good enough for her. I paraphrase, but that is the gist.

    We at Ananda bristle when "cult" and "commune" are bandied about. It suggests someone put something in the Kool-Aid to make us act this way. Nothing could be further from the truth. In fact, what makes Ananda so remarkable is how such seemingly disparate souls as us could come together without throwing our minds out the window.

    A God worthy of my devotion does not want (or ask for) blind obedience. In a nutshell, my loyalty to Ananda and Swamiji comes from this.

    Rather than "cult," I would say "family." Yet families have boundaries. Not just anyone may enter. The "blue people" are a family within a family, surrounded not by an impenetrable wall but a simple fence and gate. Sure, there's a lock, but the key can be earned.

    Banding with others without giving one's mind away is tricky, especially when no community will ever be perfect, and human beings inevitably disappoint. It's a risk vs. benefits proposition. Are we better off alone and left to our own devices? For some, the answer may be "yes," but for me it is "definitely not!"

  4. Dear Jack:

    Well and truly spoken and delightful, too. Keep writing! You have talent.

    And if I do "slant facts," as you suggest, then I need to be more conscientious when I write. I'll keep that in mind.


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