Understanding Swamis

In the light of Swami Chidananda's advice about "How to approach a Mahatma" (or Swami)

This guide is an appeal to the many friends of your Yoga Centre’s swamis to guide gently, where necessary, new members who try to have, or mistakenly assume that they indeed have, relationships with us which do not conform to the rules of the stage of life which, in Hinduism, is known as sannyas ashrama.

In so assisting, please familiarise yourself with the following advice re:

Sannyasins (Renunciates)
If you have not read Pujya Swami Chidanandaji’s writings on “How to Approach a Saint,” please do so. The same injunctions, and also the rules now set out herein, apply to your attitude towards swamis, provided, of course, that you respect our rules, customs and traditions.

The life of a swami should be a single-minded striving for the mystical state of enlightenment known as God-Realisation. In so living, the swami is required, by the rules of the Order, to renounce the world, which means renouncing and abandoning its values. During sannyas diksa (initiation into the Swami Order) the candidate repeats a mantra which he/she is required to repeat every day thereafter. The mantra translates, “I renounce the world; I renounce the heavens; I renounce whatever lies above that”. During the ceremony the candidate is symbolically cremated. From the flames there emerges a being who is dead to the world, its interests and involvements, from business to politics, to whatever. If you talk to a swami, you should not raise such subjects.

A swami’s inner duties are ahimsa (harmlessness) and meditation. A swami’s only seva (outer services) are spiritual/religious teaching, spiritual guidance, inter-cessionary prayer, satsang, and offering in spiritual service of whatever siddhis manifest through his/her person. Moreover, the latter services should be a swami’s only involvement in the world or with people: any people.

Therefore, unless you are in physical or mental-emotional distress, you should never introduce into your conversation with a swami anything which draws the swami’s attention towards worldly interests. Your conversation with a swami should consist only of matters of spiritual and religious interest.

Many swamis avoid contact with their pre-monastic families, lest they be drawn into observances of rites of passage such as birthdays, weddings, funerals, etcetera, which swamis, who are trying to sever all connections with earthly life, are not supposed to attend, let alone officiate. A swami may, of course, comfort those who are bereaved, and might attend some event out of ahimsa (so as not to cause hurt to the non-comprehending), and might also do so where a host is convinced that the swami’s presence will be a blessing, but normally a swami should not be in the least interested in, for example, a birthday celebration, whether hers/his or yours, and should meditate rather than attend one.

Swamis never feel left out when everyone is invited except them. Not at all!
They are relieved at not having been put in an awkward position, yet again.
Never try to make a swami your close, personal, socialising friend. Secular socialising is tantamount to trying to encourage them to stray.

The following instructions to sannyasins - broken for only two reasons:
ahimsa and necessity - might help to reinforce the above advice:

“Do not enter the house of a householder. Do not take a meal in his house.”
“Do not write letters to anyone. Do not keep connections with any man of the world.”
“Do not make friends and do not keep company with anyone; even with aspirants.”
“Do not talk of people connected to this body in the previous ashrama (family, before sannyas broke family ties).”
“Do not be influenced by the false changing fashions of this world.”
“Do not mix with social, political or other secular organisations.”
“Do not read newspapers. You have nothing to do with this world or its business of life.”
“Do not have curiosity to know things of the world. Nip all curiosity in the bud.”

Unless there is a definite spiritual implication, you should not invite a swami:
I. to the cinema or theatre;
2. to a party at which the majority present will not be spiritual aspirants and/or the conversation wilt not be kept to matters spiritual & theological by all;
3. business exhibitions, previews of films or theatrical productions, etcetera;
4. twenty-first birthday parties, graduation ceremonies, etcetera;
5. pre-wedding parties, baby showers, etcetera;
6. dinners which are merely social gatherings at which non-aspirants will cause the conversation to drift away from purely spiritual subjects.

You should not give a swami gifts of jewellery, facial cosmetics or secular garments. A swami is required to be clean, well-groomed, and of pleasant appearance, but must not be body-conscious. A swami’s only garments should be unadorned gerua (ochre or orange).

Do not give a swami, or recommend to a swami, a fictional novel, or any visual or audio-visual entertainment, such as a film, which is fascinating fiction but neither mentally uplifting nor spiritually educational

What then, may we give a swami? Food or cash, so that the swami will be sustained bodily, and be sponsored and supported in his/her mission. However, anyone who requests monetary gifts is not a true sannyasin.

Treat every meeting of whatever kind at which a swami is present as satsang, even if you are alone with the swami. A swami should not acknowledge the existence of any other kind of meeting. Tea with a swami, even in a restaurant, is satsang. Dinner, whether at your home, or out, must be satsang. Even in the privacy of your home your conversation should not include gossip, and it is extremely bad form to assume the right to comment with “nudge-wink” familiarity about, for example, someone whose behaviour you know to be regretted by the swami.

When swamis seem to be breaking their own rules
please do not take that as your cue and get into the spirit of things by adjusting your behaviour to the swami’s apparent mood and conduct. Rather, trust that the swami’s extensive training and preparation prior to taking sannyas has included advice about how to adjust her/his conduct to suit a variety of situations as perceived by the swami. Such training has included self-vigilance. For example, there are times when ahimsa (harmlessness; non-hurting) will necessitate some flexibility in the company of the ignorant.

Furthermore, like everyone, swamis have to comply with the state’s and society’s legal and other requirements. They have to attend to their material needs, and, if governing an institution (which most are forbidden to do - swamis are supposed to be wandering mendicants who do not risk becoming attached to places or persons) they have to attend to its management and legalities, etc.

The General Secretary of the Divine Life Society has worn western secular clothes while working on a publication in Germany. At the time of their initiation the swamis at the Sivananda School of Yoga were authorised by their sannyas guru to wear secular clothes among the general public.

As swamis, we may not have favourites; nor should we prefer to be available to some more often than other, equally deserving persons (but, of course, we might be more available to some for personal, informal satsang, because others seldom request it). So, what do we mean when we say that we value our friends and that our wealth is our friends? That God has blessed us by making everyone and all life our beloved family. In trying to see God in all, we have to be non-attached, and so our love has to be impersonal. However, you are not all equidistant from us: you are all equally close to us. We love you all, and see God in you and in your love for us.