Designing a life based on spiritual principles is truly a noble endeavour, but also can be challenging if, like most of us, you have to pay your way in the world and still have responsibilities. In fact the crafting of a Yogic life can be a lifetime's work, and we can find along to way that our motivations will be tested time and time again.
When I started on the spiritual path around 40 years ago as a young man of 19, I did not expect to be stuck out in the world, but things happened as they happened. It has taken many years to try and formulate some Golden Rules for living the spiritual life that works best. File this under the broad heading of "my experiments with truth" (Great title of Mahatma Gandhi's rather terse autobiography) and like all experiments, not always achieved. But this is how I aim to live my life as a brahmachari out in the world, and as soon as you aim for this kind of life you will pretty quickly run into your own worst enemy - which is of course yourself!
Life is the most amazing ride, isn't it. Now at my advanced age I can see how brief it is, how time so rapidly flows by like a swiftly running river. I see it with my own children, now grown up and with kids of their own... almost in a blink of an eye. I see it in the gradual diminution of bodily strength and youth. And I see it in culture, the amazing way that famous figures and events get so quickly forgotten about, how things that matter when you are young do not become concerns when you are old.
So, everything changes, everything is transitory and mutable. This is a basic truth of life and can be a source of pervasive melancholy. Is there anything you can hold onto in this world of changes and endings? Yes. Your search for the divine. Your dedication to the great cause. Your determination to follow the path so many others have trodden before you. Your courage, commitment and reverence. With a smile... and not taking yourself so seriously.
Why not do something amazing today and get a bit of paper... or a word document.. and spend some time creating your own rules/guidelines for an ideal golden life dedication to your god? This is not a punishment routine, it's a way of having fun, of being creative and letting in the light.
Brahmachari Sri Tapasyananada's Daily Golden Rule of Spiritual Life
1. Loving Kindness to self and Others
2. Practice of Yogic discipline (Yamas/Niyamas) especially
3 Daily Spiritual Practice especially
4 Care of the body, especially
5) Care of Resources, especially
6) A joyful time
Is simple common sense. The ancients have worked out what to do and their advice is invaluable and very sensible. The Yamas/Niyamas, the dos and don'ts of spiritual discipline, are neatly laid out for us in Patanjali's Yoga Sutras. In this rule of life,the two key practices are peacefulness or ahimsa, and celibacy or brahmacharya. Both involve the heart of the matter: the gentle control of the speeding horses of the senses that pull our chariot along. Brahmacharya in the western world is almost impossible... or just barely possible. But the "just barely" is the great opportunity. Try it! Try it even if your mind habitually boils with desires, images, urges... It's a tough struggle but keep at it. Count your victories, even if 3 days, 5 days, 15 days, 30 days... aim for 108 days and see if you can do it. But only with the consent of your partner, if you are in a relationship. Good luck, it's such a noble battle.
Is what your life should be geared towards, and it will demand sacrifice. There is no getting around this. It's not easy to carve out the time, the space, the practice. But think it over. You've wasted life after life. Are you going to waste this one? Life is brief, as brief as a troubling dream. Born again, dying again, born again... it needs tremendous grit and determination to achieve escape velocity. But do it, try it, repeat it. Constant repetition makes the difficult easy. What seems to be bitter gall (especially if you are missing out on accustomed pleasures) turns into honey. This is the promise of all great spiritual teachers. Your unfailing weapon in this struggle for life mastery is humble prayer. Pray in your own words for help. The energy will come for you, will help you, uplift you, give you wings you never knew you had.
Is what life in the world is really all about: A real failing of mine, I've been careless so many times. But clean house, financial oversight, prudent judgement: You are a steward looking after the functioning of a great temple, your own soul. Sweep it carefully.
This is also vital. Life should make you smile, it's so inherently ridiculous. Find something that gives you joy - playing with your kids, pursuing a hobby, something some practice where you can relax, otherwise you'll explode.
Guide dogs for the blind get let off the leash for walks, it's so sweet to see them joyfully revel in their freedom, so give yourself time as well. If you live in the world you will need some down-time. Family get togethers, evenings with friends, music... whatever it is, life needs a bit of sweetness.
Gardening... music... painting... it's your choice. For me, the relief valve is painting, music... and cooking. I was the sole cook for 200 hungry meditators for many months when I was young, living in ashrams high in the Swiss Alps, and the discipline of preparing vegan food every day, 3 meals a day, never left me, a great great grounding in the beauty and appeal of Sri Annapurna, the Goddess as food.
This blog might give the impression that marriage or partnership is an obstacle to spiritual practice, but in fact it can be the greatest blessing of all. If the marriage is harmonious and love and tolerance rule, then Mother Saraswati has come to stay in your house. If the marriage is prosperous, why the beautiful Mother Lakshmi comes too! If you do not think brahmacharya is for you yet, and you are full of vigour, why that's also OK. Do not be guilty about the physical side of the relationship, it, too can be a great tonic, relief and joy.
A marriage with children is a wonderful crucible for understanding what life is all about. Raising kids is a celestial experience because it is so utterly, deeply grounding. Changing your kids diapers/nappies (as we say in the UK), watching them grow, surviving their teenage rebellion, connecting as adults, it's all an engrossing drama, and the Devi is there at every turn with you. That, indeed, can be your chief spiritual practice - making the path of the householder a golden, golden path.
I want to share with a reply to the only letter I ever sent to a Guru, in this case Gurumayi Chidvilasanda, Baba Muktananda's successor. Words I have always cherished and pondered for over 20 years now. Perhaps today you are meant to ponder them too:
"You live on a very precious planet, so give your happiness to someone else, and then it will come back to you a thousand-fold. You plant a seed of happiness, then you will have a tree of happiness. Fruit, flowers... a huge tree of happiness. Then so many people can come and sit under this tree. You will smell the flowers of happiness... such trust and faith will give you everything."