Aims and Ideals of Renunciation ~ Paramahansa Yogananda’s Monastic Order

Daya Mataji leads a procession of monks and nuns honoring Paramahansa Yogananda



September, 1951, Self-Realization magazine (photos added)

True devotees rejoice when the call of God brings others into their midst.  So it was with great joy that disciples from the Mother Center looked on as their new sisters at India House took their first vows as renunciates of the Order of Self-Realization on the night of July 24th [1951] in the SRF Church in Hollywood.

Following a period of meditation, the minister spoke concerning the meaning of the vows. Each disciple then took part individually in the simple ceremony which ended with a prayer to God and Gurus, affirming the disciples’ desire to take the vows and asking for spiritual strength to keep them.  Each received a yellow robe, signifying the renunciation of worldly desires and the acceptance of two great responsibilities: FIRST, to find God, and SECOND, to become an example to change others and draw them to God through this path of Self-Realization.   After another period of meditation and a closing prayer, the disciples withdrew in silence.


Since so many have written in to the Mother Center expressing a desire to follow the path of renunciation and to learn more about our way of life, we include here an explanation of the aims and ideals of a renunciate* of the Order of Self-Realization, just as it was given to the disciples taking their first vows.

“The vow which you will be taking tonight is not binding.  It is not the vow of a renunciate—that you will take after you have been here longer.  But it is a vow to live the life as a renunciate as long as you remain here.  If ever you desire to leave the colony you are free to do so unhampered by your vows.  But as long as you remain, your vow will oblige you to live according to the four rules of SIMPLICITY, CHASTITY, OBEDIENCE, AND LOYALTY. 

“We in Self-Realization Fellowship are expected to live simply.  As renunciates we receive no salary, although we are given a little pocket expense to cover most of our needs.  But simplicity implies more than this—it implies a simplicity in all our circumstances.

Sisters (in orange), who have taken final renunciant vows and brahmarcharinis (in yellow)


“The worldly man, working for himself, to support his family and get ahead in the world, finds his life is filled with worries and troubles.  Here we are dedicated to service and sacrifice.  We are free from most of the world’s worries, and bent solely on pleasing the Divine Mother.  Thus in serving we find simplicity also.

“The worldly person lives a life filled with distractions.  Here we try to keep away from constant diversions. While not shunning pleasure, and while taking wholesome recreation from rime to time, still our hearts are set on one thing—on pleasing Divine Mother through service and meditation. It does not matter how long it takes. The true devotee does not come here to experience ecstasy in a great hurry, or to receive favors from God for having renounced something which he has, most likely been only too glad to get rid of! Rather he comes to give of himself, forever, and forever, for the sake of pleasing God. Thus here too, in his purity of purpose and ideals, the true renunciate finds the joy of simplicity.

“Simplicity means harmonious balance in our lives, bringing freedom and peace.  Many are under the false impression that peace can be found by lack of outward activity.  This is not true. What really destroys our peace is our own lower nature, filled with moods, doubts, negation, emotions, anger, and desires.  Positive peace, that peace which lasts forever, and of which you will never tire, will be found only after you have conquered this lower nature and established harmony, through spiritual victory, in yourself.

“Our life is one of service and meditation. If there are times when you are required to serve a great deal, therefore, remember that service is a part of your spiritual life, and that the true spiritual life means more willingness, more desire to serve, as well as study and meditation. Remember the words of the Gita, ‘By works alone Janaka and the ancients attained Me.’

“But do not seek to go only by work. Meditate every free moment that you have.  Ir is extremely important for you to put in time in silence with God.  Your regular periods of group meditation are not enough.  Spend time by yourself. Talk less, to meditate more.

“Remember that poverty, or simplicity, of spirit, is essential also on the path.  Keep humble in all circumstances.  Humility is the greatest virtue in the eyes of God.  It means freedom from the gnawing hunger of jealousy, of desire for position.  What does it matter if you are given floors to mop, bathrooms to clean?  You are working for God, the Ruler of the universe.  The true renunciate does not care whether he is placed in charge of others or given a mop to work with.  All are equally in the service of God. And all are steadily rising in the ranks of Spirit.


Daya Mataji with YSS Swamis (l-r) Krishnananda, Bhavananda, Smaranananda


“All men are seeking freedom, but they do not know how freedom can be found. They think as they indulge their desires, their moods and emotions, they are practicing freedom. But true freedom means being able to act for your own highest good, even against your own present desires, in a way that will bring you ultimate, lasting happiness. This freedom is found, to a great extent, through obedience. Obedience is will power. Willing obedience is itself a form of freedom, for you become master of yourself.

“The few basic rules that we have, if you follow them, will keep you heading in a straight line to the Infinite shores, no matter how many storms of trials you have to go through to get there. In an ordered community all are like parts of a machine, working together. A machine must work in harmony, or it will fall apart. If you have a community, if you have rules, then you must have someone in charge. Obedience to the senior in charge is one of the first rules of spirituality. As Thomas a Kempis wrote in his “Imitation of Christ,” “The self-wise rarely endure humbly to be governed by others: Strong in the wisdom of their own egos, they lose the wisdom of God.”

We have no bosses here. For the word “boss” connotes one who is interested only in what he can get out of you, for the business and himself. Here, on the contrary, the senior in charge is interested primarily in how to help you to be better, or how to order things for the benefit of the whole.  The senior works with love and tries to change others by her own example. What beauty, what harmony, what peace will come into your lives if you learn to cooperate with her, if you practice obedience to the rules and to the will of the guru, if you learn to subject your self-will to the soothing touch of humility! What greater happiness could be found anywhere than in this life of humble, obedient service to God and the Masters?

Ma Shya with nuns - Copy_Fotor

Nuns with Sri Daya Mataji and Swami Shyamananda, Head of YSS


“Loyalty, Master has many times told us, is the first law of God.  When you want to go into a building, you can go through only one door, not several at a time.  God has opened this door to you.  He wants you to be loyal to the path to which He has drawn you.  Many tests will come as you progress, to see how strong is your loyalty for God. He wants to know if your love for Him is unconditional. But tests will also come to prove your loyalty to His work. It is easy to be loyal when everything runs perfectly, but that will not be testing your caliber. That is why you will find many things which you cannot understand, many apparent faults and contradictions. Difficulties will be placed in your way, making it seem easier sometimes to change your allegiance. But that is to prove how unconditional your love and loyalty are.  For who of us here is not aware of many human failings in our own mothers?  Yet our love for our mothers is not dimmed.  So must it be with your path to God. If you are true to it, as the vow for marriage puts it, for better or for worse, then you will see beneath the superficial difficulties and understand the spirit underlying this work.

“If your loyalty to God and His work go on undiminished, the day will dawn when Divine Mother will be satisfied with your efforts, and will stoop to pick you up in Her arms of eternal joy.  She has been loyal to you for countless thousands of years.  It is you who have been fickle.  Can you wonder if She wants to be sure this time?  Loyalty is following the rules; living the life; loving one another; being kind to one another and to outsiders. On the contrary, disloyalty is anything which disturbs the harmony which we have here. Gossip, doubt, negation of all sorts are disloyal; also, trying to follow other paths, other teachings.  If you are trying to make this path your own, then follow this and nothing else. It will get you there.  If you do not fail it, it cannot fail you.

“Now let us examine what this work is, so you will understand more clearly what you will be joining.

Daya Mataji with Brothers and Brahmacharis of the SRF Order


“First of all, keep in mind that this is a pioneer work, and we need people with a pioneer spirit.  When the pioneers in this country came west, they left behind them the softness, the routine of the city, for the challenge of the unknown. They paved a way for mankind to follow.  They faced hardships, yes. Their life was a new one, lacking in traditions and set ways of living, it is true.  But in the fresh vitality, the vigor of their pioneering spirit, in their victory over lands as yet unconquered by their race, they gained more than those who remained behind to ‘endure’ the solid comforts of the cities.  For paving the way for a great nation to spread, they earned not only our gratitude, but surely also the blessings of God.  And the strength they gained from the conquest was something more precious to them than the soft comforts of a ‘normal’ life.

“We in SRF are, likewise, pioneers.  We are starting a new work. Many of the joys of an established monastic routine cannot be ours for now.  In many places we will meet with the opposition, as is the case with every new and vital message.  But we are pioneers for a great cause—one which will eventually lift the human race to new heights.  We want pioneers.  We want people who are willing to sacrifice themselves on the altar of an ideal which will better mankind.  This is a work which cannot die, because it does not hold us by mere dogmas, by mere efficiency of organization, but by what each of us receives in his own soul, in communion with God.  You see our beautiful hermitages, our expansive colonies, our vast organization.  You say that it is something to cling to.  But I tell you that if atomic bombs happened to fall on all these colonies, blowing all outward accomplishments into oblivion, still we would gather, and start again to build.  For we have gained something here which we found nowhere else in our lives.  There is such a spirit here, and so many share it, that Self-Realization will spread to the farthest corners of the world.  It cannot be otherwise.

“What a joy is ours here, seeing our own efforts bearing fruit, knowing that what we do individually is helping in a tangible way to spread this teaching to the God-thirsty nations of the world.

“Another blessing of hermitage life is Sat-Sanga, or good company. How much it means to live only with God-seeking souls! How much our own lives are lifted up by that continuous inspiration of other pure examples.

“Greatest of all in our SRF colonies is the contact of God through our gurus. How much more easily this comes here, than it would if we were working only for ourselves, living for ourselves, and among worldly-minded people. What peace of mind attends us here as we see, not only ourselves, but others about us changing and mastering their very selves! That is because we have techniques of meditation, and because Self-Realization has come with a special dispensation, that in this time all who will walk in its light will find themselves more quickly drawn to God.”

*In later years the spelling ‘renunciate’ was corrected to ‘renunciant’


See also~

Paramahansaji on the Importance of his SRF/YSS Monastic Order

“…at the Head…Men and Women of Divine Realization” ~ Paramahansaj

Qualifications for Spiritual Teachers ~ Paramahansa Yogananda