Celibates living in an ashram could find life more stressful and challenging than those of men and women living outside and working hard to make a living. This happens when brahmacharis (celibate monks) are so caught up in their services that they hardly take out time to relax with the other ashram residents. The ashram then becomes an ‘office’ and on Sundays when the whole world recuperates after a weeklong of hard work, a brahmachari may work extra. Its seven days a week, 365 days a year schedule for some monks. Some may succumb to the pressure and develop chronic fatigue syndrome. The threat is real and how do monks cope with these pressures?
Human beings have four unique needs: Physical, Mental, Social/Emotional, and Spiritual. Physical needs refer to our bodily maintenance and caring through adequate rest, exercise and diet. With expert resident doctors and a team of four devotees round the clock caring for sick members, this need is met for most. Mental needs are fulfilled when mind expansion activities take place and a sense of achievement is experienced by a brahmachari. This is achieved through learning of sacred scriptural verses, or taking up some challenging services. Spiritual needs are addressed through a rigorous morning programme of prayers, chanting and classes. The struggle for many brahmacharis is in meeting the Social/Emotional need of wanting to share affection and deep friendships with each other. For many living outside who struggle to meet their spiritual needs, the social needs are relatively easily met. For celibate monks living in an ashram it’s the social need that when unfulfilled can upset the life balance.
The brahmacharis at the Chowpatty ashram spend some time daily talking to each other and developing friendships. This isn’t done in a formal sense but intuitively the monks realize the importance of this need and take out time from their busy schedules to have heart to heart conversations and sharing of realizations with each other. Radhanath Swami has given us a list of ten golden instructions that can help monks remain happy and enthusiastic while serving in the renounced order. The tenth of these instructions is, “Most important is that our brahmacharis develop great love, trust, and personal friendships with one another- to be the servant of servant of servant”. These instructions are based on scriptural advice given in sacred Vedic texts of upadeshamrita, a fifteenth century book on dealings with devotees, “Offering gifts in charity, accepting charitable gifts, revealing one’s mind in confidence, inquiring confidentially, accepting sanctified food and offering them are the six symptoms of love shared by one devotee and another”( upadeshamrita, text four)
One day few of us celebrated Radhanath Swami’s birthday in his room. He gracefully accepted our appreciations and then told us the best gift we could give him is if we can somehow take our lunch together daily. He then spoke for over forty five minutes on the blessings of the Lord that we attract by coming together for lunch. I remember feeling then that this doesn’t make so much sense. I wondered we are so busy and have so many things to do. But as if anticipating my scepticism, he revealed, “even if you think this doesn’t make sense, please follow this advice of mine with faith, simply because I am saying.” I did follow the advice and today five years since that meeting, I realize how wonderful it is to come together and happily dine with other monks. This brings us closer to each other and the bond becomes stronger.
Thus emotional/social needs of monks are taken care of by our individual willingness to make it a priority.