Nityananda Sampradaya/Rudrananda Pantha Commitment Ceremony

By Swami Khecaranatha

“There are Thousands of Paths to God, Choose One and Become a Master of it.” — The Dalai Lama

Why Take Vows of Commitment?

The Sanskrit word for vow is vrata, derived from the verbal root vrn, “to choose.” The purpose of taking vows is to express conscious choice. It is your declaration of intention, the commitment that opens you so that you can receive Divine Grace. Taking vows is about openly declaring what you hold as sacred. By taking vows you commit to freedom, and while there is often fear associated with making a commitment, it is, in fact, commitment that frees you.

GuruyogaThere is a tendency to be involved in all kinds of activities in life, and the effect is that not much ever takes root in one's core being. Our lives consist of multiple problems—of pain, pleasure, points of view, having too many options—and they all complicate our existence. Everything in our life experience, concerning spirituality or anything else, is usually a matter of “shopping around for the best deal.”

We all make hundreds of choices in our lives, particularly in regard to our sense of discipline, ethics, and our spiritual path. There are numerous disciplines available, taken from many types of traditions and philosophies. You may try to combine all of them, and find that some might conflict while others work together harmoniously. But in doing so, you are constantly “shopping,” and that is really the basic problem. By taking vows of commitment, you end your shopping spree in the spiritual supermarket. You decide to stick to a particular brand because it has worked for you. When you take vows in a practice you are committing yourself to that path. You are affirming, “I know there are thousands of paths to God. I choose this one and will become a master of it.”

Our Practice Comes From an Ancient Tantric Tradition

By taking formal initiation through the Nityananda Sampradaya/Rudrananda Pantha Commitment Ceremony you are committing to a path that emerged from the inner practices of the ancient Tantric adepts over two thousand years ago. There is a tremendous power inherent in our practice and lineage. That power resides in an unfolding, living spiritual force passed from heart to heart, generation after generation.

Mark Dyczkowski, a preeminent Tantric scholar/practitioner, recently stated emphatically that our practice embodies the ancient teachings of Tantric Shaivism. In fact, he said it demonstrates the highest of those teachings identified by Abhinavagupta, the most renowned of all the Shaivite masters. Abhinavagupta called the highest practice Anuttara Trika Kaula (Anuttara means “none higher,” and Kaula means “energy,” or “force”).

Mark declared that the Trika (Tantric) practice that focuses on the use of energy (particularly through śakti transmission) to uncover the Supreme Consciousness within is the highest practice discussed in the ancient scriptures of Tantric Shaivism. He stated that our practice is the practice of Anuttara Trika Kaula. It is by Rudi’s grace that this practice is available to each of you. Although he did not study scripture, Rudi’s practice and teachings, uncovered from within himself through commitment, are a perfect expression of the most sacred of the Tantric Shaivite practices.

The Value of Making a Choice

Once you take vows you have said, “I seek no alternative.” You vow to enter a discipline of choicelessness—because you have made your choice. Perhaps, at first glance, this approach may seem repressive but it is only possible to find freedom when there are no side tracks or exits. Usually you tend to look for solutions through something new, something outside yourself. Commitment to your spiritual growth through a particular path is working ever more deeply within, without escape routes.

Taking vows is an expression of freedom because you are no longer bound by uncertainty. The commitment ceremony represents a decision to focus. Acknowledging that the only real means to unconditional joy and fulfillment is  through transforming yourself, you take vows to affirm your spiritual aim and the path you have chosen. Ultimately, taking vows is a total commitment to the God who dwells within you as your Self. The commitment ceremony marks the beginning of an odyssey of dedication.

You have to recognize the sacredness of your experience. It has to be found on the intimate level of your everyday existence. There are no scapegoats. When you take vows you become responsible to yourself, for your own liberation.

The purpose of taking vows is to make the unwavering declaration that you are going to do something. You commit yourself to yourself, no longer thinking that some divine principle that exists in holy scriptures is going to save you. It is very personal. But at the same time there is a sense of belonging: You belong to a tradition and practice in which people work together toward the same goal of liberation. Participating in a ceremony like this expresses your sense of coming home to your own awakening, through this practice. It is a reflection of the aspiration to turn your individual life toward freedom.

Taking vows is a deeply personal matter. It’s not required, so it’s a request that rises from your own heart—to acknowledge the sense of coming home and the desire to live a life of greater consciousness. In taking vows you profess your own longing and expose your vulnerability. Taking on the precepts of the practice is a beautifully reckless act, in which you make nearly impossible promises and express your willingness to have life act upon you in ways you won’t be able to control.

You offer yourself, asking nothing in return, but trusting that if you make this gesture of intention towards Life, God will respond by lifting and carrying you along. To make this gesture is to declare your love of Life and to move from the prison of your own small story into the effulgence of a Divine Life.

The Nature of This Ceremony

The vows taken during this initiation focus primarily on your personal commitment to living a spiritual life, but do include commitment to this practice. As you go through the ceremony, learning the vows and discovering your own understanding of them, you may react with a certain panic. This arises because you do have a powerful impulse to commit to the vows, but don’t entirely know what they signify or what it means to take them on. Then you realize that you’re embarking on a process of deepening and learning to love the vows themselves. For the rest of your life these vows will be questions, and for the rest of your life you will be maturing into the full understanding of them. And so you invoke the spirit of inquiry, exploring deeply what each vow might mean rather than signing on to a predetermined set of rules for living.

Taking the precepts is meant to enrich and enlarge our lives, not to narrow them. The vows aren’t meant to serve a habit of feeling inadequate or of monitoring every thought and intention. This is a practice of generosity for  you and for others. The meaning of your vows arises from an exploration of  your own sense of integrity—and you understand that this is a lifetime practice.

It’s a process that’s paradoxical, frustrating, magical, and sometimes messy. Just like life. You accept that you’ll make mistakes along the way, but that doesn’t stop you from trying. This is the lotus in the fire, and it’s a process full of transformation, tears, doubts, sacrifice, service, and surrender—as well as joy, freedom, gratitude, and devotion.

Fortunately you have help, because you also take refuge in your practice, your teacher, and the lineage. For some people, this happens the first time they walk into the meditation hall, when they feel they’ve come home. For others, the sense of homecoming grows slowly over time with deepening practice, as they become more and more intimate with their own true nature. This is the ultimate homecoming—immersion into the heart of God.

The intent of spiritual vows is to develop the discipline to follow the teachings all the time. It is so easy during a weekend retreat to follow the practices, open your heart, and make commitments. However, to really have a conscious life of freedom you must be able to continue this even when you are in difficult situations, faced with the grip of your own ego and the prison of the veils of duality.

In that regard, making vows, especially when witnessed in public by your teacher, can be invaluable because it engulfs you in your own commitment—allowing you to recognize when you are able to follow through with your intentions and when you slip into old patterns and tensions which are not conducive to a life of freedom. By strengthening your resolve and awareness, vows can help you maintain your practice and develop discipline.

Vows of commitment to a particular practice and teaching deeply connect you to the energy and the inspiration of the teacher. I am unconditionally devoted to those who are dedicated to their spiritual freedom and I have designed this ceremony for students who want to declare that intention. However, since there have been a number of cases in which people have taken the initiation and soon thereafter stopped doing our practice, I only want those who demonstrate a serious commitment (time involved here isn't the only measure) to participate in this ceremony. Please understand that your decision whether or not to participate does not change what I give, only what you receive.

Why Wouldn’t You Take Vows of Commitment?