In our monastic order, a monk can only take lifetime vows once they become a sannyasin. Until then they are under short term vows that must be renewed every two years on the auspicious occasion of Guru Purnima. Today our postulants all gathered in the Guru Temple to renew their four vows of humility, purity, obedience and confidence. Below our the introductions to each vow.
HUMILITY IS THE STATE OF profound maturity in which the soul, immersed in the depths of understanding and compassion, radiates the qualities of mildness, modesty, reverent obeisance and unpretentiousness. There is an analogy in the Saivite tradition that compares the unfolding soul to wheat. When young and growing, the stalks of wheat stand tall and proud, but when mature their heads bend low under the weight of the grains they yield. Similarly, man is self-assertive, arrogant and vain only in the early stages of his spiritual growth. As he matures and yields the harvest of divine knowledge, he too bends his head. In the Tamil language this absence of pride or self-assertion is known as pannivu. Pannivu also means "jewel." In the Tirukural it is said that "Humility and pleasant words are the jewels that adorn a man; there are none other."
PURITY IS THE PRISTINE and natural state of the soul. It is not something which the monastic attains as much as that which he already is, and which becomes evident as the layers of adulterating experience and beclouding conceptions are dissipated. Purity is clarity and clearness in all dimensions of being. It is innocence as opposed to familiarity with the ways of the world. It is for monastics the observance of chastity, called brahmacharya. In Tamil purity is given its fullest expression in the term tirikarannasutti, which means "purity in mind, speech and body." These three--also called thought, word and deed--convey the fullness of the ideal of purity.
OBEDIENCE IS THE STATE OF willingness and cooperation in which the soul remains open and amenable to enlightened direction. For the monastic it is an unbroken pledge of trust in and surrender to the satguru, the guru parampara and the mystic process of spiritual evolution. In the Tamil language this definition of obedience is expressed in the term taalvu enum tanmai, which denotes "the quality or state of humble submission." Obedience does not consist in blind submission and yielding to authority, nor in weakening our own will that it may be dominated by the will of another. Yet it is, in another sense, submission to a sacred purpose and the divine authority of the Second and Third Worlds. It is, for the monastic, an inner quality that allows him to remain consciously tractable and responsive.
CONFIDENCE IS THE STATE of trust in which the sacred teachings and sensitive or personal matters are not divulged to others. Spiritual matters must be protected and preserved by those to whom they are entrusted, never wantonly or indiscriminately revealed. When we confide in another, we do so with the assurance that sensitive and serious information will not be inappropriately disclosed. In the Tamil language confidence is known as rahasiyam, meaning "secret or mystery." Confidence as applied to these Sacred Vows does not mean "certainty," "a belief in one's abilities" or "self-confidence." Rather it is a confiding, a trusting and a relying upon. It is the controlled sharing of privileged teachings or information that should not be disclosed, but held in confidentiality. In its most simple form it is the keeping of a secret. Confidence for the monastic may be defined as wisdom in handling information.
It is always interesting to look at the order of presentation of a great spiritual work. Gurudeva’s first installment of the Trilogy (Dancing With Siva) as Bodhinatha has pointed out, speaks first of the Soul – Chapter one is not about God – but the Soul. It is a shock in a way – a wakeup call and a catalyst to take stock of who we think we are and where we think we are going before approaching the subject of God.
Thiruvalluvar has a similar “wake up call” in His Tirukural – He does put God first – but ahead of all the virtues of man and the presentation of all spiritual laws he puts rain! – the importance of rain (second chapter). Who would have thought of that? And when you give it a little attention it is so obvious! So – first we have God and then rain. Without these two – life as we know it cannot exist so why start listing virtues and the power of character without life. Then there is chapter 3 – What in the mind of this great Saint, is the third most important element on Earth? What is absolutely necessary for the sustaining of life? – We have God, then we have rain, then we have Chapter 3 “The Greatness of Renunciates”.