-An ancient secret revealed-
Would you care to know a long-forgotten secret, not even guessed at by the greatest thinkers of the modern era? It’s a simple truth that’s been continuously shrouded by the relentless, disquieting whirlwind of madness presently sweeping over the entire world. It’s this: there is no happier lifestyle than that of a celibate monk! Or, more broadly understood, accepting a simple life, beginning with a lifestyle of celibacy, for the purpose of increasing one’s love for God leads to greater happiness. This path can be taken up by any person in any walk of life. Here, however, we will examine some of the benefits of life as a monk.
Monks aren’t all quiet and distant. The typical image is that of a person living alone in the forest, or away from the commoners, and having no excitement in his expression. That is one type of monk. But there are various traditions imbued with diverse moods. For example, the Gaudiya Vaishnava tradition, which is being carried forward by the International Society for Krishna Consciousness, fosters a mood of joyful song and dance, and colorful festivity, even among its monastic order. Such a disposition reflects the basic understanding that spiritual life is vibrant and celebratory, not staid or stagnant.
-What defines a monk?-
A monk is someone who intelligently, diligently strives for the purest, most enlightened state of consciousness. He takes this to be his primary duty as a human being, and rightly so. He seeks to perfect his consciousness in order to taste the most sublime ecstasy of pure love for God. One does not have to become a monk in order to achieve this, but monk life especially facilitates progress towards spiritual realization. In other words, it is a significant advantage for those fortunate enough to take it up.
True love means love for God, Krishna, the most attractive Personality. In the endeavor to awaken one’s dormant love for God, any gain remains as a permanent asset, and, according to one’s progress, one proportionately revives the divine qualities within himself that have been hidden for innumerable lifetimes. A disciple strives to remember God – His names, qualities, entourage, pastimes, and paraphernalia – at every step. Again, anyone in any stage of life can attain this, but one who accepts the life of a monk seizes the opportunity to focus his full life’s energy on achieving such unadulterated consciousness. A monk is a boon to society. His mere presence reminds others that pure happiness is in giving oneself in devotion to God.
-But today’s world is chaotic, with little appreciation for the pure life. It can’t be possible in this day and age. Or is it?-
In 1966, His Divine Grace A.C. Bhaktivedanta Swami Prabhupada, founder-acharya of the International Society for Krishna Consciousness, performed a great, unprecedented, revolutionary task by re-establishing the monastic order in the midst of the decadent social milieu of modern America. He trained young men, and women too – which is unusual for a traditional ashram setting in India – in the life of a celibate devotee of God, or Krishna. The men especially were encouraged to remain brahmacharies – celibate monks – for life, dedicating themselves exclusively for serving the spiritual master and Krishna. Such a concept had been all-but-absent from Western culture (the Occident) for centuries! It certainly isn’t a popular calling or vocation in modern society, but by the most powerfully enlightening teachings of Srila Prabhupada, which are based on the Vedas, many have enthusiastically accepted the simple, pure, and happy life of loving service to God.
-Is it for everyone?-
According to the Srimad Bhagavatam (an ancient yoga text), training as a monk is indeed for everyone. Even if one can do it only for a week, a day, nay, even an hour, one should submit himself as a humble servant in the ashram of the spiritual master. Even modern youth, who have lived a life of sensual gratification, eagerly engaging themselves in whatever “feels good”, can now take the great fortune to be trained as a monk. It is not ordinarily possible to give up such addictive and deteriorating habits as eating meat, drinking liquor, taking drugs, smoking, gambling, and having illicit sex, but it becomes possible when one learns to regularly chant the holy name of God, eat sumptuous, sanctified food offered to Him with love, rise early in the morning, keep clean, dance in the temple, and live among saintly persons. These purifying activities, meant to uproot the causes of ignorance, are prominent features of the Hare Krishna movement. All intelligent men and women will surely come forward to participate in the Society’s functions. Those who are especially fortunate will accept the training of brahmacarya, celibate discipleship.
-Sounds like a heavy sacrifice. Does a monk get to experience intimacy ever again?-
One may quickly reject the idea of taking on saffron robes, shaving his head and living with all men, thinking that he won’t get the intimate contact of the opposite sex that’s so vital for feeling whole and complete. Let us first address the preconception that conjugal union between man and woman leads to contentedness. There is a common idea that “romance” and sexual “love” is a requirement for all persons to be emotionally, psychologically well. Let’s see how this notion holds up under closer inspection.
Every living soul that has a material body has been placed in this universe of material elements where everything is in constant flux. This is due to misuse of one’s minute degree of independence, or, said differently, the foolish desire to imitate God. Along our sojourn through the cosmos, as we associate with varieties of groups and societies, we develop our desires accordingly and thus take on various types of bodies among millions of species. We may sometimes be an animal, sometimes a demigod, a fish, an insect or a plant. We are born and die again and again, only to repeat the cycle, dressed up in a new “costume”. In every species we may find ourselves as male, or as female. But in all cases we are the same living entity, the same person who we’ve always been underneath the whole drama. So, in any form of life, if I develop an attachment to the body of the opposite sex and fan the flames of that arousal, do I come any closer to my actual identity? Have I considered that the soul in that female body is the same in quality as me, i.e., not actually of a different “gender”? If we accept this reality, then on what plane of existence does our actual fulfillment lie? In the ultimate analysis, our real, everlasting union is with the Supreme Soul of all souls, that Person who actually provides us companionship, love, intimacy and perfect wholeness. That Person is Krishna.
-Ok, sure. But what about relationships in this world, before passing on?-
Socially, a monk experiences a variety of fulfilling relationships with his brothers in the course of his maturation. At first, he learns to be a submissive servant of those who are farther along the path than he is. He nurtures the spirit of menial service to the spiritual master, to seniors, and accepts their teachings with faith and devotion. He learns to be friends with his peers, other men who have also taken up the path of enlightenment. Then, when he becomes a little grown up in spiritual life, he gives his knowledge and training to newer men. In this way, he simultaneously learns to be a student, a servant, a friend, and a guide. In all these relationships, his thirst for closeness and unity is nurtured. Moreover, he gradually becomes self-disciplined and strong in his conviction that love of God is the only true goal of life.
In truth, there is only one eternal Divine Couple in all of existence – the Supreme Absolute Truth, Sri Krishna, and His feminine counterpart, Srimati Radharani (Her name indicates one whose worshipful mood is unequaled). All others, including all the men and women of this Earth, are meant to partake in Radha and Krishna’s (Hare Krishna) amorous affairs by assisting in Their pastimes of love. In other words, our enjoyment is secondary – we enjoy through Their enjoyment – yet with nothing wanting. In the spiritual stratus, the servant and the master are the same, meaning, the enjoyment is supremely relishable for both parties.
The point is this: Conjugal romance is not really necessary for fulfillment of the human existence. For those who can accept that the gain achieved by personal development of love of God will carry one beyond the enjoyment of mundane “love”, the path of monkhood can be seriously considered. Besides, Krishna is the superlative lover, unapproachable even by the most alluring seducers and seductresses of this little planet. Even if one is not strong enough to maintain life as a monk, or even if one may be attached to the comfort of hearth and home, any amount of training will propel one toward becoming a sane, responsible, and enlightened member of society. Then, later in life, drawing from his prior experience living as a brahamacari monk, one will be prepared to return to a simpler, austere mode of living and approach the time of death with dignity.
-Isn’t separation from women artificial?-
According to the great spiritual scholar (brahmana) and political adviser Chanakya Pandita, the true education of a boy begins by training him to see all women as “mother”. The boy becomes accustomed to addressing and treating all women as his mother. This is the beginning of brahmacari education. One’s natural kindness towards his own mother is expanded to all women, young or old, emphasizing their role as merciful caregivers and givers of higher knowledge (one’s mother is his first guru).
In order to protect one’s respectful outlook toward women, the brahmacari student does not become unnecessarily involved with women socially. Men and women who mingle freely create sexual tension among one another. This is a simple fact of nature. Men, especially, are weakened when in contact with women just as butter in a pot will melt in proximity to fire. Their power to discriminate between right and wrong is jeopardized as burning desires envelop the heart. When passions are inflamed, boundaries are crossed, and all kinds of distress ensues. Jealousy, possessiveness, violence, and emotional torture are just a few of the bitter effects of unrestricted mixing of men and women.
The monk understands that what may be pleasing in the beginning (e.g. ogling a woman or touching her) will inevitably yield painful results. Therefore he seeks a different quality of joy free from such reactions. When women are viewed as mothers and separation is encouraged, the exploitive attitude is curtailed and acknowledgement of their true value as spiritual entities can arise. A responsible woman will likewise cultivate the mood of seeing all men as her sons and not put faith in men who are eager to associate with women. Such responsible, self-controlled persons are freed up to pursue a more meaningful goal of life.
Freed from the false glorification and artificial stimulation of sexual appetite, the aspiring monk pursues a deeper sense of wholeness in touch with the Supersoul. He yearns to be rapt in spiritual ecstasy, which far exceeds the so-called pleasure of mundane sex life. The monk-in-training will sometimes feel strong urges to return to or explore a style of music, or fast food, drugs, or association with attractive women. But, as he continues to learn about the infinitely beautiful form of God, His supremely charming pastimes, all the while singing songs with his brothers in praise of Krishna, and engaging all of his energy – physical, mental, and intellectual – in vigorously serving Krishna, he transcends such ephemeral allurements and comes to a level of awareness called sama-darshinah. He sees how all living entities are equal. Any apparently attractive feature exhibited by any living entity is but a faint glimmer of the unlimited splendor of Krishna, the all-attractive Supreme Personality of Godhead. Therefore, love for Him is the supreme love, obtained when one’s love affair with all things material is over.
-The hero’s path-
Every monk is a great hero. Even one who may not become very strong in resisting the allurements of maya cannot be disparaged in any way for his brave endeavor, much as an infantry soldier who goes to fight in a time of need is a hero no matter the outcome. To conquer the unrelenting demands of the mind and senses and strive for complete surrender to the will of God is the most heroic undertaking. The ultimate reward for such a selfless individual is entrance into the unlimited ocean of enjoyable tastes and humors (rasas) in association with the all-beautiful Supreme Friend and Lover, Lord Sri Krishna. Said differently, one returns back home, back to Godhead to live an eternal life of everlasting bliss and knowledge.
Srila Prabhupada explains the path of the spiritual hero in his purport to Srimad Bhagavatam 4.25.25:
“When a living entity wants to enjoy material nature, he is immediately victimized by the material energy. A living entity is not forced to come into the material world. He makes his own choice, being attracted by beautiful women. Every living entity has the freedom to be attracted by material nature or to stand as a hero and resist that attraction. …One who can keep himself steady and resist the attraction of material nature is certainly a hero and deserves to be called a gosvāmī. …By becoming a servant of the senses, one becomes a great material hero, and by becoming master of the senses, he becomes a gosvāmī, or spiritual hero.”
-I may be interested to try it out. Who is a candidate for becoming a Krishna monk?-
Anyone with a sincere desire to dedicate himself to the pursuit of ultimate self-realization, which includes the development of genuine compassion, can submit himself as a student at various ISKCON temples or training centers. These centers may also be termed “oases” within the desert-like atmosphere of the material world. The step of accepting brahmacarya tends to be more easily taken by younger men who are not yet established in the world, who are free from the responsibilities involved with having a spouse, children, mortgages, businesses, and so on. Young men tend to accept the lifestyle adjustments more readily. However, there are many examples of men advanced in age who have become adherents of the codes of monk life and enjoyed success. There is no bar in terms of social class, creed, race or nationality.
Om tat sat.