Vows (Part I): Voluntary Poverty – A Perspective

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Over the next three months, I would like to explore the three traditionally Christian monastic vows from a tantric perspective. Now, before you go running and screaming to the hills, be assured that I will not be asking anyone to take the vows of poverty, chastity and obedience. The idea for this exploration was inspired by an article by Joseph Dispenza in the November/December issue of Spirituality & Health magazine. A former monk, Dispenza realized the deeper meaning of his vows only after he broke them and gave up his monkhood. While he briefly mentioned chastity and obedience, the main focus of his article was poverty, which will be this month’s focus as well.

I know that for many of you the idea of poverty is not just an idea – it is a reality. And while I certainly don’t mean to make light of or downplay anyone’s financial situation, the emphasis here is on voluntary poverty. Just wanted to be clear on this point.

In almost every monastic tradition – Christian, Buddhist, Hindu, and others – taking a vow of poverty is one of the cornerstones of monastic life. In Christianity, it wasn’t until the twelfth century that the three vows were formalized by Francis of Assisi. Francis was a man of deep faith and took his vows literally and to great extremes. However, Dispenza points out that the vow of poverty is not just about living on little or no money, but that “at the root of the (poverty) vow is surrendering ownership.” For Dispenza, monastic poverty enabled him “to apply the virtue of detachment to several areas of life: body, mind, emotions, and spirit.”

This idea of voluntary poverty as a practice of detachment struck me as being very tantric. In Tantra, as you all know, the material world is not to be renounced but used as a means to reconnecting with our True Selves. There is no need to renounce our possessions, our titles, our families, our iThings. The potential problem lies in that saying: non-attachment is not not owning things; it is things not owning you. Dispenza would be quick to add that it is not just “things” that can own us, but attitudes and emotions as well.

When the topic of non-attachment comes up, many people picture someone being cold, unfeeling, and uncaring. In fact, true detachment (I’m using non-attachment and detachment interchangeably here) can result in quite the opposite. The famous “Christian yogi,” Bede Griffiths, understood this when he stated:

What Gandhi saw so clearly is that this detachment was not a way of escape from the world but of a freedom from self-interest which enabled one to give oneself totally to God and to the world. (Christ in India, pg. 24)

By recognizing and understanding how the kleshas play out in our lives, we can begin to loosen the bonds of this self-interest. By practicing tattva shuddhi, yoga nidra, and other such practices, we can begin to harmonize our individual selves with our divine selves, enabling us to act and respond in this world with compassionate detachment. We can further this process by taking up a form of voluntary poverty and asking ourselves the following questions:

  • Is this material thing really necessary? Meaning, will it help or hinder my spiritual progression?
  • What thoughts, especially habitual ones, keep me in a loop of self-interest?
  • Similarly, what emotions am I attached to for whatever reason?
  • What would happen to me if I start to untangle myself from my attachments?
  • So, I invite us to look at areas of our lives where attachments hold us fast in the bonds of self-interest. No need to making sweeping changes immediately (unless you want to and have the strength to do so) but just make small changes. Make detachment a part of your daily life and notice the subtle changes in and around you.

    If you would like to share your thoughts on detachment as voluntary poverty or your experiences with it, please do so. We in community look forward to hearing from you!

    Offered by Balipriya

    One Response to "Vows (Part I): Voluntary Poverty – A Perspective"

    1. Aubrey Posted on 05/14/2014 at 9:58 pm

      Oh my goodness! Incredible article! Thank you.

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