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What Are the Two Paths?

Path to Siva Commentary, Lesson 37

Bodhinatha addresses the misconception that householders should be detached from their family and professional life. Using the Tirukural as a reference he highlights that detachment for the householder means to be detached from one's wealth and possessions enough to be able to do charity. Then he describes key goals of monastic life and the service done by our monastic order, pointing out that the path of spiritual unfoldment, like an oak tree, takes many years to yield results But we should have faith that the ancient methods and path will one day yield results.

Path to Siva, Lesson 37

Unedited Transcript:

Good morning everyone. Today we're reading from Path to Siva, Lesson 37: "What Are the Two Paths?

"In Hindu society there are two ways to live our adult life. We call them the two paths. Most people follow the family path. A rare few follow the monastic path. A married couple has great responsibilities. They create and run a home together. They raise their children as spiritual, well-educated citizens of their nation. They provide support to the young, the aged and the monastic community. The Tirukural summarizes: 'The foremost duty of family life is to serve duly these five: God, guests, kindred, ancestors and oneself.' Married life begins with the wedding ceremony, where vows are taken to be faithful and follow dharma for life.

"Monastics follow a different path. Instead of having a spouse and children, they embrace the whole world as their family. They have two goals: to serve humanity and realize God. They renounce name and fame. Their focus is worship, meditation and yoga, which makes them pure and wise. They inspire and uplift those on the householder path. Some wander or live alone, and others join monasteries. Some are dynamic teachers some are swamis with many followers and others are unheralded hermits. In Saivism most monastics are men, but there are also orders for women. Monastic life begins with vows to stay unmarried and celibate, devoted to God, Gods and guru.

"Most Hindu monks wear orange robes. Others wear white or yellow robes. Some shave their heads, while others have long hair and beards.

The Tirukural praises both paths: 'Behold those who have weighed the dual nature of things and followed the renunciate's way. Their greatness illumines the world' Domestic life is rightly called virtue.The monastic path rightly lived beyond blame, is likewise good.' The key is to choose your path carefully and follow it faithfully."

We have our quote from Gurudeva:

"The two paths-householder and renunciate--every young man has to choose between them. The choice is his and his alone as to how his soul is to live through the birth karmas of this incarnation. Both paths take courage, great courage, to step forward and embrace the responsibilities of adult life."

As I've mentioned before in my talks, I was working for many years with university Hindu students in Texas, Hindu Students Association, they learned a great deal from us of course, but I think I learned even more from them. As to how Hinduism is impacting their lives. And one of the points came up at one of the seminars and it was asked something like this. "We are supposed to be detached from the world but how can we do so if our career is a worldly one such as an investment banker?" That was the question.

So I asked, "Well, where did you hear that you were supposed to be detached from the world?" And the person and also the second person who asked a similar question said there weren't sure where they heard it, but anyway that was what they were supposed to be doing, be detached from the world.

I have a graphic on in in one of my keynotes: there's a group of blue people walking left and this one person dressed in red and he's walking right, being detached from the world.

I came up with the simple way of explaining the two paths which is to reference to the Tirukural. That's why the Tirukural is here. it has a section which is on dharma, which in the Tirukural is called "aram". It's an old Tamil word which means the same things as dharma. The first section is called illaram, which means householder path, and the section after that is call turavaram, which means the renunciate path. And all you have to do is look at the chapter titles, you don't even have to read them. It's nicely laid out. And no where in the household path does it say "Be detached from the world." It doesn't say that. That's in the other one, it's in the renunciate path.

So what's it focused on? Family life, the wife, children, possessing love, hospitality, possessing self control. that's a very important challenge that householders face. I remember one family with two small children, probably around 3 and 5 running around the guru peedam. The father was kind of embarrassed that they were running around so much. I said "Don't worry, that's what they do at that age." And he said "You know, before I was married I had much better self-control. So that's like being peaceful in a peaceful place, right? And that's where we start, but eventually we have to learn to be peaceful where it is not peaceful. So, likewise, it's easier to have self control when you live at home but if you have spouse and two young children it's much harder to have self-control. But that's good, right? You're challenged. So the Tirukural is saying, be challenged and improve your self-control.

The final chapters are very important and there's two of them on charity, understanding one's duty to give and just charity, or Irai. And the final chapter is on fame Pugal...of course in our modern world there's many ways to become famous, some of them good and some of them questionable. But in the Tirukural there is only one, and that's through charity. So it is another way of affirming that charity is very, very important for the householder. It is a way of balancing out having a lot. How do we balance out having all these nice things? By giving some of it away on a regular basis. That's the kind of detachment that we need not from the world in the sense of our profession but from the world in the sense of our attachment to any material objects.

Then we move over to the renunciate section. That's where we get this idea of detachment from the world. It says, "Impermanence of all things." Renunciation, knowledge of truth, eradication of desire. So those are qualities that a monastic needs to cultivate. If the householder tries to cultivate it, it doesn't work. It's in conflict with family dharma. Of course a householders life is not one that's unchanging. It changes through the four ashramas. And the busiest time of life is of course raising the children. Once the children are raised which is generally by one's 50's, there's more time for religions practices. And then once one retires, no longer working to earn money, there's even more time for religions practices. So religious practices, less involvement with world naturally happens when one is older in those stages of family life.

As is mentioned in the Path to Siva lesson, monastics have two goals: To serve humanity and realize God. Two goals, to serve humanity and realize God. How do monastics server humanity? Well there is a variety of different ways and different monastic orders have different activities of emphasis. Not all the same... for example, the Ramakrishna order, in India, the monks themselves run hospitals, orphanages and schools. Even in Singapore they have an orphanage, but they don't do that in USA , it's a different culture. In the USA they just teach, teaching Vedanta. But they are very busy in these types of activities. There other monastics to the same thing, hands on, feeding the poor, providing medical care. The monks themselves do that.

Well Gurudeva chose other areas of service for us, he felt that those activities I just mentioned were more in the realm of family life, particularly in the west. There's no need for Hindu monks to become involved in running orphanages, hospitals and schools in the west. So he gave us two other kinds of services. So I will read that from the Saiva Dharma Shastras. "Hinduism Today is a public service of our monastic community to strengthen all hindu traditions and to uplift and inform followers of dharma everywhere. Every Hindu order has it's public serve, be it padasalas, hospitals, eye clinics orphanages, schools or feeding centers. Hinduism Today is the primary form of public service designated by me for our mathavasis." In case anyone forgot that.... "It was during a world tour through Singapore, Malaysia, Mauritius, Reunion, Africa, India, Nepal, Sri Lanka and other countries that I realized Hinduism had not global voice and no network of communication. The Hinduism in Durband had no idea what was happening with those in Columbo. Those in London had no connection with Hindus in Canada. Thus I was divinely directed by inner orders from our Yogaswami Kailasa Parampara, by my Satguru in this life to fulfil a crying need to create a future national network that would interconnect all Hindus into one invincible front." Nicely written isn't it.

So that's our primary form of public service. And we do put a lot of energy into it to maintain the quality, both in terms of writing and in terms of graphics. we have some of the berst photographers in the world do our work and some of the best Hindu Artists do our work too. It's very high caliber all the way around and that's one of the reasons it is so highly respected. The publications in India don't come up to that standard at all. And then we have a second area of public service. Hindu Heritage Endowment is a public service trust which seeks to establish and maintain permanent sources of income for Hindu Institutions worldwide. So that's a secondary area. We don't put as much energy into that as we into Hinduism Today, but it's an important activity and it is slowly growing in the background, getting larger and larger, doing more and more service.

Then as I was preparing for this talk I ran into an interesting statement which I though i'd read for the benefit of the monks present. "Those entering the serious life of sannyasa must be prepared to follow the traditional path of unrewarded sadhana through the years apart from dear family and friends. Such is the way to reach the truth of yoga. It takes many years for the soul to thus ripen and mature." "Unrewarded sadhana..." an interesting phrase, it's a bit like trying to grow and oak tree and look at it every day, you are disappointed about how fast it is growing, right? But if you come back ten years later, you'll see some difference. You come back 20 years laters and it's looking pretty good. Come back thirty years later, it's getting very impressive.

So Gurudeva's point is that even though one is on the monastic path, it's not a fast path. Spiritual unfoldment is a slow process, and therefore, even though we put in say, a year of extra sadhana doing more than we usually do, we don't necessarily see any immediate results. So that's what Gurudeva means by "unrewarded." It's rewarded in the long run, but in the short run, we don't see the benefit, and then we wonder, "Is this working?" So we need a longer time frame. And we need confidence that these practices have been working for thousands of years and there is no reason it shouldn't work now. It's like the oak tree. You put it in the ground, if the soil is reasonable and it gets enough water, it knows what to do. So spiritual unfoldment is the same. The spiritual practices do work, but they are slow.

Thank you very much. Have a wonderful day.

Photo of  Gurudeva
Monists, from their mountaintop perspective, perceive a one reality in all things. Dualists, from the foothills, see God, souls and world as eternally separate. Monistic theism is the perfect reconciliation of these two views.