Ahymsin Newsletter: Yoga is Samadhi
  AHYMSIN Newsletter, Issue - April 2013  

Vanaprastha Vows

by Joanne Sullivan (Divya)

On 9th March, 2013, the day before Swami Veda Bharati took his 5-year vow of silence at the sacred fire, he initiated 4 women into vanaprastha vows.

Dr. Stoma Parker, in a panel discussion about the “Four Stages of Life” on Friday, 8th March, spoke of the vanaprastha vows and how these vows had affected his life.  Stoma had taken the same vows several years earlier.

He said that this important rite of passage takes place before Agni, the sacred fire, which is regarded as a living presence, not just the element fire. Agni is the first word in the Vedas—the Rig Veda, to be specific— and is often called vrata-pati, the protector and witness of the vows.

Stoma said that vanaprastha vows can serve as a preparation for sannyasin vows and have moved him along in the inner work of loosening his worldly attachments. Stoma also touched briefly on sannyasa, whereby a person has reached the point of saying one’s own funeral ceremony in the sacrament of renunciation. He also spoke about how one’s relationships and attachments change. “It is not that one erases one’s love for those in one’s life. Rather, in sannyasa, the vows of a monk or a nun, all relationships are raised to the level of family,” he said.

I asked each of the four ladies who took vanaprastha vows if they would like to speak about their experiences with this ceremony.  Helen Choe of Korea took lifelong vanaprastha vows. The others took 3-year vows. They were Caroline (Karuna) Thomazeau of France, and two Americans, Lori Beron of Minneapolis, and Pat Layton, currently of Milwaukee. All were generous in their sharing. Here is what they wrote or said.

Helen Choe

Helen Choe of Korea is a loving senior teacher in the Himalayan Tradition. She has received training to give mantra initiations and, in addition to being an initiator, she serves on AHYMSIN’s Adhyatma Samiti, the Himalayan Tradition’s worldwide spiritual advisory committee. Helen has participated in many silences, including 90-day and shorter silences, both at Swami Rama Sadhaka Grama and at Sadhana Mandir, the mother ashram up the road founded by Shri Swami Rama.

When asked about her vows of vanaprastha and how it felt different, Helen replied that it was very much the same because she had been living in a manner that led to vanaprastha for many years. She went on to share a very telling dream that she had when she was a girl in middle school.

The dream took place in a great desert. She was all alone. She had fallen face down in the sand in complete prostration and began shouting “help me, help me!” She became utterly exhausted.

Then she heard the swoosh of silk robes nearby. Looking up, she saw an old white-bearded man with long white hair and dressed in white. He gave her his hand, helped her up, and together they walked in the sand for some time. She noticed that it was unusually easy to walk in the desert in this dream. Normally, walking in sand is difficult, but this felt almost effortless. She and the old man walked together hand in hand through the desert for quite some time.

Walking, they came upon a very grand palace. They went inside where there were many people having a party, all wearing masks. She enjoyed the party, but then noticed that the old man had disappeared. She looked for him and then, opening a window, she saw him off in the distance, walking alone in the desert. She quickly left the party and ran to him, taking his right hand, and they continued walking together through the desert.

After that dream, although she was very young, she felt that the dream was an indication of her future and that the old man must be God. She set her vision to become a nun. But after she graduated from high school, her mother died and all that changed. She felt that she had to prepare herself to help her family and set out on a practical course. Her desire to become a nun fell away. She met Mark, her husband-to-be. They married and raised a family together, two daughters and two sons.

Then in 1989, she met Dr. Usharbudh Arya, later to become Swami Veda Bharati. At their first meeting, Helen suddenly remembered her childhood dream, and it became clear to her that the old man in her dream was not God. It was this man before her, Dr. Arya. She took initiation from him and kept going with her sadhana. She was an early graduate in the TTP, the Ahymsin Teacher Training Program, one of many initiatives created by Swami Veda.

“I live this life quite naturally,” said Helen “and it is also comfortable and natural to my husband and children.” Helen remarked how much she loved being at SRSG even when Swami Veda was not in station. “I feel the complete hospitality here. It is as if I am a small baby and the whole sadhaka family wants to take care of me. It fills me with joy to be here. This is Mother’s house,” she said. The night air was fresh and vibrant and held us in a blanket of warmth and light as we walked.

Helen Choe is a centre leader in Korea.

Caroline Thomazeau (Karuna)

When asked her reflections on her vanaprastha experience, Caroline sent me this note as a humble gift. She truly exuded soft treading on Maatri Bhumi, Mother Earth, for the duration of her stay. It was as if she was breathing in from her toes all the way out her crown again and again the lessons that Agni instilled in her through the Guru’s love. The following is her genuine wish to convey a way in—the way in that was bestowed upon her at the vanaprastha ceremony.

“At the feet of the Himalayan Masters, come to the sacred fire. Come closer to the edge of the fire pit and long after the fire ceremony has been celebrated, feel the warmth underneath your feet. Feel how gently, softly it rises through your entire body, soothing and energizing you with Agni. Feel it in your heart as it dwells in plenitude, ever expanding the love received earlier, ever expanding the blessings to everyone near and far in Reverence for blissful and peaceful harmony, ever transforming itself as we take one step further, guided by Swamiji’s immense love and compassion for all.”

Lori Beron

Lori sent me this note:

“The vanaprastha ceremony was powerful, beautiful and auspicious, especially since Swami Veda went into 5 years of silence the next day on Shivaratri. Since my children are grown, there is a natural inclination towards simplifying my life and caring more about community and the earth. The more I meditate and practice yoga, the less I need to see outer fulfillment. Swamiji tells us to face our fears and so one of my insecurities is to overcome family/societal expectations to be in a relationship. As I let go of the ‘needs’ I feel the strength and blessings of the Himalayan Tradition assisting me.

“I was surprised by my interview with Swami Veda. His voice and presence were commanding and powerful as he inquired how we would handle certain situations reminiscent of ‘The Wizard of Oz’ where the great and powerful wizard spoke to the shaking scarecrow.

“In all, this is an opportunity to strengthen my practice, my emotions and meditations with the powerful blessings of Swami Veda, the Himalayan Tradition and the ancient Vedic fire ceremony for this 3-year commitment.”

Pat Layton

This is what Pat said when I asked her the same question about vanaprastha vows:

“I just feel that at my age I want to construct my life in one direction to intensify my practices. SVB said earlier ‘how are you people preparing for death?’

“I felt that to make a vow in front of the whole sangha, it would always remind me of the vow that I took. At one point in the ceremony he asked each of us to make an individual sankalpa. I cried in my room beforehand and was afraid I would cry the whole time. As soon as I sat down at the havan, it felt like I stepped into an environment of purity and clarity. The idea of anxiety or awkwardness never entered my mind. As soon as I sat down, it was a feeling of total equanimity. I don’t think I’ve ever felt that before in my life. It was such an atmosphere of purity. I think vanaprastha is important, especially for many of us who are getting older. It was transforming. My sankalpa had to do with my speech and it has made me very conscious of how I communicate with and about other people. I want my words to be sweet. I don’t care anymore about being witty or sounding intelligent. Chitta prasaadanam is what is important now.”

Editor’s Note:

Helen Choe, Caroline Thomazeau, Lori Beron, and Pat Layton took the Vanaprastha Vows during the 2013 Sangha Gathering.

There are also other articles and pictures in this edition of the newsletter about the 2013 Sangha Gathering.

In addition, for more about the gathering in words and pictures, please read Rajini Prakash’s article at http://www.ahymsin.org/docs2/News/1303Mar/13.html

Photos courtesy of Michelle Kinsey and Heung Min Baik