What is a Vow?
In any tradition or religion, a vow is a sacred promise, an oath or holy pledge, a commitment or undertaking that is for your highest benefit, an agreement between you and God. In yoga, you are finding God within yourself, as your Self, thus your vow is between yourself and your Self.
Taking vows is not promising something to someone else, not even to Swami Nirmalananda. It’s a holy promise to your own Divine Essence, a commitment to draw closer, dive deeper and to progressively live more and more fully in God. You do this with Swamiji so that you get her guidance and support in deepening into your Self.
In our five levels, the first two levels begin with you making a commitment, not a vow. Only after you’ve done the preparatory studies and inner work at these two levels are you ready for a holy vow. Levels 3 & 4 are reversible vows, meaning you can continue for as long as it works for you, and then be released from your vow if you want to turn your attention elsewhere or cultivate a different lifestyle.
The permanent vow, often called a profession or covenant, does not come until you’ve already been through the inner process. Your lifestyle and your mental/emotional habits have been uplifted and transformed, so the outer process is a confirmation and empowerment in what you already know.
Ancient & Modern
In the most ancient times in India, very few people took vows. Most lived a deeply spiritual lifestyle within their family and society, which was centered around the revelations of the sages and the holy rituals that divinized daily life.
As time progressed, people’s attention was drawn more toward external things, so the sages took their complex rituals with them as they moved out to forests and caves. Many of them had families, so they took their families with them. A very small percentage of people wanted to devote their life to the process of divinization, so they left their homes and families in order to seek what the sages had. These renunciants were the first swamis.
The process became more formalized, with the sage Adi Shankaracharya founding four different orders of swamis, around 850 CE, in four geographical areas of India. These orders continue today, along with many others founded by other great masters.
Swami Nirmalananda is a member of the Saraswati order of swamis, who are also called sannyasis, named for their initiation ceremony — sannyasa. As a swami, she can make other swamis. Only a swami can make other swamis. To support yogis who have a deep calling to the inner quest, she has created our five commitment levels, so there are clearly defined stairsteps toward this initiation for those who want it. Many will find a spiritual lifestyle that works for them at one of the earlier levels.
To create these levels, Swamiji studied what has been working for other modern teachers and their communities. From India, through Australia, Europe and the USA, different yogic teachers and masters have created variations on the traditional vows of poverty, obedience and celibacy. Additionally, some of them have provided both formal and informal ways to take vows.
In addition, Swamiji describes, “I’ve been inspired and educated by the most committed Svaroopis, as they have consulted with me about how to respond to the Divine Inner Call while they continue to fulfill their commitments to others.” These vows maintain yoga’s cherished traditions, values and goals while making them available in our modern and Western world. The levels define a spiritual process that unfolds organically for every seeker, thus giving a map wherein you can find your location and chart out your next steps.
"Where do I live? What about work and money? And free time?"
You may live where you live, with the same people you currently share your life with, and continue to work where you work. Yet you will change. That’s already happening or you wouldn’t be reading this.
You do not need to move into the Ashram. Most people find they do want a period of Ashram residency as they deepen, thus it becomes available at the later levels. As a vowed yogi, you continue to be responsible for yourself, for your life decisions, for your finances and family relationships. These vows are not a way to run away from your life or escape from the world. Instead you will come to celebrate all the dimensions of life and manage the challenges more effectively.
At each vow level, you enjoy the support of special programs with the other yogis sharing the same sadhana (practices). Many of these programs are free, plus some levels have exclusive retreats and conferences available, which do have tuition and housing/meals fees.
Your free will is not being taken away. It becomes freer! As you progress through the steps, you begin to see more clearly, which makes you able to make your decisions more freely, which makes them more powerful. Swami Nirmalananda is working to empower you and to set you free. Yet that freedom must be found within a context of self-discipline and respect for others. It is ultimate freedom, but in a world of limits and limitations.
What are the Levels?
Svaroopa® Vidya Ashram offers five levels of commitment, ways to deepen within, under Swami Nirmalananda’s guidance. A formal application and approval are required for each level, along with preparatory studies and practices.
At each level, you have special programs to support you and the other committed yogis. Many of these programs are free, plus some levels have exclusive retreats and conferences with tuition and housing fees.
Shishya means “disciple,” so it begins with your accepting Swami Nirmalananda as you spiritual teacher or as an important teacher for you. In addition, you have completed foundational levels of study in Svaroopa® yoga and meditation. This is an existing level, and has been an important part of SVA’s services since 2011. No vows are required.
Special free programs are available to Shishyas, including in-person events as well as by phone and internet. You choose the frequency and type of your Svaroopa® practices in your day, as well as the retreats and trainings in which you participate. You may stay at this level for the rest of your life or for as long as it serves you.
Click here to complete a Shishya application.
After 6 or more months as a Shishya, you may apply to become a sadhaka (one who practices). In addition to the above, you have taken one or more Shaktipat Retreats and are offering monthly dakshina (donations). This level is not the taking of a vow; instead you are making a commitment to doing daily practice of both yoga and meditation, as well as wearing light colored clothing.
You enjoy a 20% tuition discount on SVA’s local professional trainings. Swamiji gives you a white wristband that says “Do More Yoga,” plus you have the opportunity to attend an exclusive retreat weekend with Swamiji annually. You may stay at this level for the rest of your life or for as long as it serves you.
Click here to complete a Sadhaka application.
After 6-12 months as a Sadhaka, you may apply to become a vratin (one who is vowed). In addition to the above, you have completed a Foundations training and continue your dakshina practice as well as adding 2-3 hours of seva monthly. Preparation includes taking our Vows Preparation Course and getting Swamiji’s approval.for vows.
You vow to meditate daily and to practice the yamas and niyamas, which are studied in the preparation course. This vow may be taken in person or informally from wherever you live. This is a reversible vow, meaning you can decide to change your lifestyle and your relationship with Swamiji at any time.
You begin to wear white by including it in your wardrobe every day, while excluding black and leather from your clothing. Swamiji gives you a white shawl and wristband at your initiation. You enjoy a 30% discount off tuition for SVA’s local professional trainings plus additional special programs are available to you, including phone calls with Swamiji and exclusive retreat weekends. You may stay at this level for the rest of your life or for as long as it serves you.
Click here to complete a Vratin application.
Having completed one year or more as a vratin, you may be interested in taking the classic yogic vow of brahmacharya (celibacy). Special rules apply for married couples. As a brahmachari, you wear yellow and continue to meditate daily as well as practice the yamas and niyamas. Additional studies and Swamiji’s approval precede your initiation, and the level of your dakshina and seva increase commensurate with your new level of commitment. Your vow is completed in a formal ceremony with Swamiji, though it is reversible at any time, depending on your needs.
Swamiji gives you a yellow shawl and wristband at your initiation. You enjoy a 40% discount off tuition in all SVA’s local programs, as well as a private monthly phone call with Swamiji. Additional special programs become available to you, including an annual conference for brahmacharis and swamis. You may stay at this level for the rest of your life or for as long as it serves you.
Click here to complete a Brahmachari application.
Additional studies, seva and personal practice prepare you to become a swami, taking the classical, permanent, lifetime vows of renunciation. You become a member of the ancient Saraswati order. This is available only to unmarried, independent yogis or to married couples where both are becoming swamis. You wear orange, while still providing for your own financial needs and dedicating your life to service. Guru-dakshina is part of your preparation for your vows. Your vows are done in a formal ceremony in India or an informal initiation with Swamiji.
All of SVA’s local programs are tuition-free for you, when space is available, and you enjoy the opportunity to attend special programs, including the annual conference for brahmacharis and swamis.
Click here for more details on the different levels of commitment.
The inner calling is the highest form of Grace, your own Self calling you to look for your own Self.