As a spiritual counselor, I find that the problems most often brought to me concern marriage and male-female relationships in general. Many commentators, indeed, believe that the greatest present-day threat to civilization is the steady breakdown of the family unit.
For years I myself have sought keys that, if used, would unlock doors to harmonious relationships. My desire has always been not only to teach, but also to make that teaching practical. At Ananda I’ve tried to develop a pattern of family life that would satisfy the spiritual needs of our age. And I am happy to say, too, that we have many wonderful couples living in this community and a measure of harmony in family life which people often praise. But so far no actual pattern has emerged—no leadership, no clear example that says, “This is spiritual marriage in the New Age.”
About two years ago I began telling my close friends, “I feel a change coming. I don’t yet know what it is, but I believe it is there waiting to happen. God has something new in store for me and for Ananda.”
I’d already done almost everything I’d set out to do in life. My inner life, too, seemed in many respects to have reached a point of balance: I felt a deep inner freedom, a joyful sense of attunement.
What, then, did these new feelings mean? Was my mission over? Was I being called to a life of seclusion? Or to another plane of existence altogether? Indeed, I felt strongly that my life, literally or in its present phase, had ended. I was tired of everything, yet not because of disappointment over anything I had done. I knew the work had been good. Rather, I was tired in the sense that my inner guidance was blocking my energy from going any further in the old direction.
But it seemed to me that what awaited me was less an end than a beginning: not death, but rebirth. Specifically, I felt a need to develop more of an intuitive, loving flow in my life; less project-orientation, more people-orientation; less teaching on a mental level, more sharing on a heart level; less theory, more direct experience.
A year ago in November I took a sabbatical leave from my work at Ananda. Mounting pressure from this unfulfilled guidance had taken its toll on my body. Someone suggested a Caribbean cruise, and I decided to give it a try, fully expecting to be bored. In fact I was bored—thoroughly But I needed to be if I was to get mentally into neutral gear. The cruise accomplished this aim.
The question remained: Would I now be able to get into a new gear?
I rested at Ananda and tried to enter the inner flow that I clearly felt to be my new direction. But others here, accustomed to relating to me in old ways, repeatedly sought to involve me in further projects.
Worse still, they sent me unedited transcripts of classes I had given on women, money and marriage, saying, “Are these all right to publish in book form?” Of course they weren’t! So I ended up writing How to Use Money for Your Own Highest Good and How to Spiritualize Your Marriage. But inside I was becoming desperate. I was being dragged back into working with my mind instead of my heart.
Last February, in an effort to find that new gear I was looking for, I accepted an invitation to Kauai, in the Hawaiian islands. The decision proved fateful, for here I received the grace of an inner, positive transformation.
This needed direction came as a result of a seemingly chance meetrng with someone in whom I found already highly refined those very qualities that I so longed to develop in myself. It happened one morning after I prayed deeply to God in the aspect of Divine Mother for the grace to be able to change myself. Two hours later, I visited an art shop to see if they would be interested in carrying some of my photographs of Kauai. The young lady in charge rose from her seat to examine my work. Immediate recognition flashed between us. As we have put it since then, our souls met. Afterward, I couldn’t even recall what she looked like; a deep sense of her inner being crowded out all other impressions. It was almost as if she were, in some uncanny manner, a part of myself.
In the magnetic influence of her presence, I soon found a vibrant joy rising from my heart chakra to the Christ Center (the seat of spiritual vision between the eyebrows). The changes of which I had dreamt began to appear spontaneously within me. Most astonishingly of all, the reality of our relationship continued, for each of us, as a growing awareness within ourselves.
What did it all signify? Of one thing I felt certain: to accept the blessings while turning my back on their source would be ingratitude. God had come to me through this channel. He must surely intend the channel itself to be a part of whatever changes He wanted for me now. If nothing else, my soul-friend and I were meant to work together. Each had something important to gain from the other, something that had never come, and probably never would come, to us by any other means.
In my search for keys to marital harmony, it hasn’t helped that for all of my adult life I’ve been a monk. For there is an element to teaching that no amount of words can convey. One can teach everything about painting except how to become an artist! One can teach everything about mathematics except what it was that made one man, out of millions, an Albert Einstein. To convey inspiration—without which there can be no true understanding—it is necessary to share experience itself, not merely ideas about experience. It is in the silences, in the pauses between words, that the deepest insights are shared.
I have been, and still am, very happy in my monastic calling. I could remain in it perfectly contentedly the rest of my life. It represents for me, moreover, the tried, the safe and sure path.
But if my inner guidance is correct, I have already gained the main benefits of this calling. What remains is only to deepen them and become more in tune, inwardly. This I can see doing best, as a monk, were I to withdraw increasingly into myself. My teaching would then reflect the consciousness of withdrawal. Ananda itself would come to reflect this consciousness.
My whole life has been offered to Master for his work. Long ago, I decided it didn’t even matter if my salvation was deferred, so long as I might serve him. (Though I might add that service to him has inspired my heart with a constantly growing sense of inner freedom.) So far, his guidance has always been premised on this basic dedication, leading me in the path of service to his work and not of withdrawal from it. But I am free in my heart to go in any direction he guides me.
While meditating lately on this question of new directions, I felt his answer: “It has been good until now, for the work that you’ve done, for you to be a monk. You may continue happily as you are, and certainly with my blessings. But if you do so, you will not be serving the present needs of my work. The world is not now in need of examples of withdrawal. People are suffering and confused. They need relevant guidance in their day-to-day lives.”
“What then,” I asked, “is needed? Where can I serve best?”
“Isn’t the greatest need, as you yourself have seen it, in the area of marriage and male-female relationships? You have wanted Ananda Village to set an example in this area. Is it doing so yet? Will it ever do so, without your leadership and guidance?”
“But Master, I’m a monk! I’ve vowed my life to God.”
“And what are your vows, ultimately, if not to serve Him as He wants?”
“But I’ve never felt the slightest desire to be a husband!”
“What if you were to live as one for a time only, to set an example for others? Your motive is pure: to do God’s will and to serve Him in your fellowman. With such complete dedication, your attunement with Him can only grow. Later, you and your divine partner could graduate to the higher, more impersonal level of union together in God, as was commonly practiced in ancient India.”
“Ah, but I must be sure of your guidance on the deepest levels of my being. Let it touch my heart, Master, not only my head. Let me feel what you want!”
And I did feel it, repeatedly, every time I prayed: an expansive joy, almost greater than I could bear, confirming this guidance. If I rejected the guidance, my attunement lessened. But, once I finally accepted it, my attunement increased amazingly.
The guidance continued: “Why not start a new spiritual order, one for householders as well as renunciates? The renunciate path has been well trod—one might almost say paved! But what about couples? What about families? It is time to offer them a way to come more surely onto the path. Without spiritual stability in the home, civilization itself will perish! Remain a monk in your heart, but draw others, by identifying with them, to the ideals that for so many years have inspired you.”
What I see my divine partner and me becoming in time is like a father and mother to the community and to those connected with it. Parmeshwari has come into the incarnation blessed with deep wisdom, as well as love. Though much younger than I, she has brought out in me qualities that enable me to work in a new and fuller way.
We were married recently in a private ceremony. Our inner guidance, and certainly our hope, is to evolve new guidelines for spiritual marriage, including a clearer understanding of how to combine the path of marriage with that of renunciation. For only by the spirit of renunciation can marriage truly become a path to God.
What, then, about my monastic vows? I feel that, in a very real sense, I have completed them. I have also—again in a real sense—died and been reborn. Reason alone can, I know, be tricky. I would not feel as free in this new direction as I do were it not for the intense blessing it has given me in my heart and soul.
And what about my name? Swami, used as a formal title, means monk. It also means, simply, “teacher.” Many spiritual teachers who haven’t been formally ordained into the swami order are addressed as “swami” by their disciples. In fact swami, in many Indian languages, is also the word for husband. (A Bengali housewife will say, “amar swami;” a Hindu-speaking housewife, “mere swami”—both meaning, “my husband.”) My students and friends could still call me Swami, if they so wish.
I’ve been thrilled to see how supportive the members of Ananda have been in these changes, and how willing to let me seek my guidance from within. Many have spoken of the inspiration they’ve felt from this new direction. Many others have commented on the courage I’ve shown in taking it. If courage is what it takes to act in the face of fear, then I suppose I’ve been courageous, for I’ve certainly had to deal with fear. The fear I’ve felt hasn’t been a fear of public opinion, but rather of doing the wrong thing in God’s eyes.
Meditation, however, has finally resolved this matter for me and dispelled the fear. I feel only blessings now, and deep inner joy in the realization that I have passed what may well have been the greatest test of my life.
Swami Kriyananda is a disciple of Paramahansa Yogananda and the founder, in 1967, of Ananda Cooperative Village near Nevada City, California. His many books include The Path: Autobiography of a Western Yogi.