Monasticism is living life in preparation for or under religious vows. The goal of life in the view of Vedanta is to realize our true nature as one with God. Each person must decide what path will best enable him or her to work efficiently and sincerely toward this goal.
The path of the lay person usually involves married life. The individuals within the family strive to serve God in each other. Lay people serve society by raising children with sound values and by contributing through their work life. They must juggle the priorities of job, family, and spiritual life and incorporate their spiritual practice into their jobs and family lives.
The path of the monastic involves renouncing family life and adopting vows of celibacy in order to be able to give more energy and focus directly to spiritual practices. Many spiritual traditions have monastics, including Hindu, Buddhist, and Christian. In the tradition of the Ramakrishna Order, the purpose of monastic life is to work out one’s own liberation and to train oneself to do good to the world, along the lines laid down by Sri Ramakrishna, Sri Sarada Devi, and Swami Vivekananda.
Our Convents and Monasteries
The Vedanta Society of Southern California has forty monastic members who run the centers for the benefit of the hundreds of lay members, visitors and general public. We maintain convents for female monastics in Hollywood and Santa Barbara, and monasteries for male monastics in Trabuco Canyon (Orange County), Hollywood, South Pasadena, and San Diego. Other Vedanta centers also have provisions for monastic residence. Some details and requirements may vary at these other centers. Our monks and nuns are members of the Ramakrishna Order of India headquartered in Calcutta, India.
To some extent, each person’s spiritual path will be different and is worked out in consultation with the Head of the Center. The Four Yogas—Karma Yoga, Bhakti Yoga, Jnana Yoga, and Raja Yoga—are blended in a combination suitable to the person’s temperament. In our lives we try to work with concentration yet detachment; worship, work, and pray with devotion to God; study, discuss and contemplate the scriptures and affirm our true nature, and spend time each day in meditation.
Our monastic routine consists mainly of working for the society, meditation, and study (individual study and attending the classes at the center). Our work varies from center to center but includes household activities such as cooking and cleaning, maintenance, gardening, temple duties and rituals. We also do office & computer work which includes running the monastery, convent and society affairs, operating bookstores, a mail-order catalog and a publishing house. After being here some time, one may become involved in lecturing, writing, editing and public outreach. We provide a service to the public by sharing the teachings of Vedanta, and serving God through the many visitors who come.
Requirements to Become a Monastic
Applicants must be under 35 years of age. The reason for this age limit is that the rigors of community life necessitate a younger person who is more likely to be able to adjust physically and psychologically.
Applicants must have at least a high school diploma, be reasonably healthy and pass a physical exam. Six months of celibacy and abstinence from alcohol and drugs are required before joining, and applicants should be free of any debts.
The decision to enter the monastic life is not one to be taken lightly. It is not an easy lifestyle. The qualities needed by the person who will be a success in spiritual life are similar to those which bring success in any endeavor. It takes determination, perseverance, and patience with oneself and others. The experience of community living has been compared to stones rolling around against each other in a drum. You end up nice and polished!
Four things are essential in monastic life:
- devotion to higher ideals
- renunciation of ordinary enjoyment and sensate values
- a spirit of service
- an affinity and zeal for sharing
Stages of Monastic Life
There are several stages of monastic life. The first six months is the pre-probationary period. During this period the Vedanta Society provides room and board in exchange for the work the candidate provides; however, personal expenses, clothing, and medical expenses are not covered by the Society.
The next period is the probationary period which lasts for a minimum of five years. From this point on, the Vedanta Society provides a monthly spending allowance, a yearly clothing allowance, and pays for necessary medical expenses. When the head of the center feels the candidate is ready, he or she may take first vows of Brahmacharya (trial renunciation). It is then another minimum of five years before the candidate is considered eligible for final vows of Sannyas (final renunciation). Often the time period is longer.
We recommend that people interested in monastic life locate near enough to one of the Vedanta centers to attend regularly so that they can get to know more about Vedanta and become acquainted with the people living at the center. This also gives the head of that center and other monastics a chance to know them. Then, if monastic life seems appealing, they can discuss it with the head of the center.
We do have a special program for college students which offers an opportunity to live and work at the Southern California centers for one to six weeks during their school break.
The primary motivation for choosing monastic life should not be to escape something unpleasant. Rather, it should be to move into an atmosphere that is the most conducive to spiritual life. And it is not a path to avoid being busy. There is full opportunity to meditate and study on a regular basis, associate with other spiritual aspirants, and be involved in work that is meaningful.
Ultimately, like everything else, you will get out of the monastic life what you put into it. Those who are successful are those who can give up the more immediate but fleeting pleasures of ordinary life to work wholeheartedly toward the ultimate goal of human existence, God- or Self-realization. The outside world is fraught with many distractions and gives less support to one’s spiritual practice than monastic life. Living in a convent or monastery, one is constantly reminded of the divine nature within and the spiritual ideal.
Serious inquiries about monastic life may be sent to email@example.com.
Note: Swami Sarvapriyananda no longer resides in Los Angeles, and is now head of the Vedanta Society in New York. At the New York Society’s website, you can find more information about his current activities. Many of his classes and lectures are posted to YouTube, including a special feature, a monthly question-answer class. You can e-mail questions for this class to firstname.lastname@example.org. Due to the volume of inquiries, he is unable to respond individually to queries, but may choose to take up a question in the class. Past Q&A classes can be viewed on this YouTube playlist.