A friend of ours recently asked, “How can I strengthen my sadhana despite the distractions of being a householder?” To answer, let’s turn to the wisdom of ancient India. The Vedas describe four stages of life: 1) the celibate student; 2) the householder; 3) the person who partially withdraws from outer involvement and hands over most of his responsibilities to others; and 4) the renunciate, or sannyasi, who leaves behind all worldly ties to seek God alone.
Each of these stages builds on the strengths and wisdom gained in the previous one, and each one has its own challenges as well as opportunities. In my life, I’ve passed through the first three stages, and now, as a nayaswami, am embarking on the fourth. In each of them my sadhana, service, and relationship to God has changed. If we understand the opportunities that underlie each stage, we will find continuing spiritual growth throughout our life.
Before Jyotish and I were married, I lived as a single devotee at Ananda for six years. It was a life of spiritual focus and simplicity with few outer responsibilities. I was able to commit myself to long hours of daily meditation and to serve whenever and wherever I was needed.
After we were married, and particularly after our son was born, I had to adjust to the fact that my ability to meditate and serve was no longer entirely under my control. Responsibilities for the welfare of others took precedence over my own needs. After a period of some resistance on my part, I began to appreciate what a tremendous opportunity lay before me to get rid of the ego.
I realized that if I surrendered every moment to God, I began to feel His presence in new ways. If I held the thought that I was acting as His instrument in my service to my family, my relationship with Him grew deeper and more intimate. There was simply less of me to get in the way, and my meditations took on greater depth.
We had a dear friend, Haripriya, who was a direct disciple of the Indian saint, Anandamayi Ma. After living in the ashram for a number of years, Haripriya was told by Ma that she needed to marry to fulfill her karma. When she protested, Ma told her, “It is better to live in the world and long for the ashram, than to live in the ashram and long for the world.”
So, to my friend who asked the question and to you the reader, don’t expect the spiritual path to be the same as you move through life’s stages. If we define sadhana as our total relationship with God, rather than just time spent in meditation, then we see that He has a particular lesson to teach us each step of the way. As a householder, don’t push away personal ties, but don’t become attached to them either. Play your part in God’s dream, but never forget that the only reality is His eternal presence hidden behind all of life’s experiences.
With divine friendship,