Question: To achieve self-realization, or love for God, do I need to give up all my possessions and live in a monastery or ashram?
Jagad Guru: No. As Krishna makes clear in the Bhagavad-Gita, one can be in the world and yet not be of the world. In other words, if one is engaging in so-called worldly activities in the spirit of karma yoga—motivated by love for God and others-—then their activities become spiritualized, and their wisdom and spiritual love will grow endlessly.
It doesn’t matter if you’re a businessman, homemaker, politician, worker, farmer, police officer, construction worker, yoga teacher, or anything else. No matter what your occupation or interest is, you can apply the principles of karma yoga to your life. You can serve people in whatever position you are in. Whether you are a street-sweeper or a businessman, it doesn’t matter. What matters is your attitude of selfless service. The spirit of karma yoga is a spirit of caring for the well-being of all people, our country, and the world.
I have students from all walks of life, and it is my hope that all of them, regardless of their age, gender, religious or political beliefs, occupation and so on, will try to apply the ideals and principles of karma yoga to their personal life and work.
Back in the 70’s, the common perception was that one could only be a practitioner of Bhakti Yoga if they lived in a temple, wore Indian dress such as saris and robes, shaved their heads, and gave up all their material possessions, jobs, family, etc. and moved into an ashram or temple. There’s nothing wrong with that, but I teach my students that instead of withdrawing from the world and living in a temple or ashram, they should integrate into society and practice karma yoga and bhakti yoga within the context of their living regular lives in society.
I’m not saying that one should never spend time in a monastery, ashram, or temple-type situation. If approached with the right attitude, understanding that one is entering into that institution in order to increase one’s spiritual understanding, being careful not to hand over the responsibility for one’s own spiritual well-being to the group, then it can be helpful.
That is the original yoga system of learning and living. You live for a while as a student, you learn, and then you leave the ashram or monastery and try to apply in your life the spiritual values, practices, and principles that you have learned.
But everyone is different. Some people feel the need for living in such a situation and others would rather not. Either way can work.
But for myself, I try to teach and encourage people to turn their homes into temples where they can have morning and evening times for meditation, wisdom, and prayer within the privacy of their home. They can have their friends and family members congregate, meditate, and study yoga scripture together.
My goal is to convince as many people as possible to turn their hearts into temples—where they can meditate and worship the Supreme Lord within their hearts constantly.
People are mistaken when they think that God is only in the church or the temple or the mosque. The Supreme Lord expands himself as the Paramatama, the Lord in the Heart, of every living being. Therefore, we can be worshiping God in the temple of our hearts every day, every moment.
So, we try to make it so that individuals can take the information, the knowledge, and the techniques and the practices, and apply them to their own life, and not need to join an organization. We’re not criticizing organizations or temples or mosques or churches. But the Science of Identity Foundation teaches something different: what’s most important is not joining a church or a religion or a group—what’s important is applying the techniques, practices, principles, and spiritual understanding to your own life and your own relationships.
Most of my students are married with families. They work, have businesses, or are involved in the community in different ways. They do their best to apply the teachings to their own lives. Some of them are successful in their spiritual development and others are not so successful. Everyone is different. But one thing is the same: each individual must take personal responsibility for him or herself.
“My goal is to convince as many people as possible to turn their hearts into temples—where they can meditate and worship the Supreme Lord within their hearts constantly.”