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Devotion, renunciation, and rebirth in the Ramananda Sampraday.

Introduction

The practice of renunciation and adoption of the ascetic lifestyle can be traced back to the earliest periods of history in the Indian sub-continent, and they continue up through present day. They comprise one of the more intriguing aspects of the religious life, for they are inherently contradictory to fundamental elements of human existence, such as self-preservation, sensual fulfillment, and procreation. Self-preservation has biological roots, based in the necessity of survival in order to produce and protect offspring for the continuance of a species. It can be seen in plants spreading roots in search of nourishment and in animal and plant colorings and odors to ward off predators. In more complex life forms, animal parents will put their own lives at risk to protect their young. In humans, the issues of self preservation, procreation, and fear of death become even more complex and are powerful motivators for much of what we do. Philosophers such as Thomas Hobbes and John Locke have suggested these as the bases for concepts of social morality and cohesion. However, ascetics approach these issues in ways that question and even negate their ultimate value and importance.

Renunciants, by the nature of their chosen vocation, have long stood as antitheses to a material-seeking approach to life that has been a dominant aspect of urban societies, and this is especially true with respect to males. While females in most societies are evaluated less on their material production than on their looks, health, and/or ability to produce and care for offspring, males have typically been evaluated on their physical, intellectual, economic, and material accomplishments. Since renunciant traditions have been a primarily male undertaking, the very existence of male ascetics has been especially challenging to materialistic societies. In the latter, males who possess proficiency and prosperity tend to attain power and position, while those who have or accomplish little materially are regarded as useless, unable, and unworthy. Yet, it is in this latter direction that ascetics and monks have traditionally endeavored to move. For renunciants, it is not one's material accomplishments but one's material abstention that has greater value. Moreover, material rejection and austerity are not only elements of the path but are often integral to the goals of the renunciant and the monastic life. (1)

In the Hindu (2) renunciant traditions, ascetic practices (tapasya) are presented as requisite for perceiving one's true nature as Atman, or individual soul or Self, as well as for facilitating knowledge and realization of the Absolute. An important aspect of the Hindu tradition that has a great deal of influence on the practice of asceticism is the belief in the transmigration of the soul from lifetime to lifetime, referred to herein as "rebirth." As will be explained below, this provides both context and justification for the kinds of tapasya that are undertaken. The Hindu Epics and other texts are replete with stories of ascetics, yogis, yoginis, and even divinities performing various tapasya to obtain these otherworldly, as well as worldly, goals. (3) For example, Parvati, a female form of the Divine and consort of Shiva, performed extreme asceticism (ghor tapasya) by fasting for thousands of years to gain both ascetic power and Shiva's favor. Nearly all the ascetic and monastic traditions in Indian history have drawn on the practices of previous groups as they developed their own unique sets of tapasya and other religious undertakings, collectively referred to herein as "sadhana." Over the millennia, various combinations of yoga, tantra, (4) and tapasya have been utilized with the ultimate goal being Self-realization and liberation from the cycle of birth and death. Among contemporary Hindu renunciant orders in which this lifestyle can be best seen is the Ramananda Sampraday ("religious order"). Early on in its development, the order crafted its own approach to the practice of asceticism, adding devotionalism (bhakti) as essential to both the path and the goal. In this way, Ramanandi ascetics demonstrate in their beliefs and practices an approach to life that integrates renunciation, asceticism, and devotion as all parts of the path to the Divine. The order and its approach to these concepts will be the focus here. (5)

History of the Ramananda Sampraday

The Ramananda order of renunciants traces its origin to Swami Ramananda, who lived in the North India during the fourteenth and fifteenth centuries. Tradition has it that he was initially a renunciant in the lineage of Swami Ramanuja (tenth to eleventh century). At one point, in order to further his spiritual growth, he left his monastery in Varanasi to travel and meet ascetics and commoners in other regions of the country. On his return, he was prohibited from reentering the monastery by orthodox members of his order who claimed he had become polluted by associating with householders and members of other castes. He was told that he must undergo a special purification ritual in order to be readmitted. Ramananda refused to do so, saying that all Hindus are equal in his eyes. Consequently, he left the Ramanuja Sampraday and started his own order. Although his main focus was on his renunciant followers, known as vairagis, Ramananda also accepted lay members of all castes, classes, creeds, and backgrounds. For his followers, he placed the primary emphases of life on both ascetic and devotional practices. He believed that a combination of the two is the best approach to obtaining and experiencing both bhakti and mukti (liberation). He soon became a popular religious reformer and teacher attracting many to the life of renunciation and devotion. Among his disciples was said to be Kabir, the famous Muslim poet Sant. (6)

However, the most pivotal vairagi in the subsequent development of the Ramananda tradition was Tulsidas, author of the Ramcharitmanas, a Hindi rendering of the Ramayana epic. As a young orphan boy, he was adopted by a Ramanandi, and after years of tapasya he authored what came to be the most important devotional text for Hindus throughout North India. The Manas, as Tulsidas's most famous writing is popularly known, has ultimately set the tenor for Ram bhakti all over the world. It serves as an important guide for the lay followers of the tradition, providing ideal examples for family and societal relationships, for righteous action, and for selfless devotion. At the same time, it is the text through which vairagis find validation for their renunciant lifestyle, their beliefs and practices, and their understanding of life's ultimate goals. They find in the Manas guidelines for a life based on asceticism, on a belief in rebirth, and on bhakti. Additionally, the text is seen as an inspired and sacred writing, and it is chanted by lay and ascetic alike for its devotional beauty and its spiritual power. As a consequence, it is often one of the only books in a vairagi's possession.

Present-day Ramananda Sampraday

The Ramananda Sampraday currently has the largest number of renunciant members of any Hindu ascetic order, estimated to be nearly one and a half million. At the time of initiation, all vairagis take vows of adherence to the ascetic lifestyle. These include restrictions on food and beverage, dress, occupation, association, possessions, habitation, hair style, and sexual activity. The preliminary vows serve as the foundation of the renunciant life and the basis upon which Ramanandis organizes and engineer their spiritual path. Additionally, they are meant to be constant reminders to vairagis that their lives are not to be focused on sensual pleasures and material accumulation, but on the pursuit of spiritual growth and self-realization. An added assumption within the order is that all who take initiation also make an inner commitment to focus on the path for as many lifetimes as is necessary to attain spiritual enlightenment.

All members of the order are expected to perform daily sadhana of one sort or another, and they typically undertake a variety of methods that are a regular part of the corpus of Ramanandi practice. These include devotional and ascetic performances in various combinations. Early on in one's renunciant life, the guru has an influential role in the particular types of sadhana to be done. However, as soon as a Ramanandi feels he is able to make such decisions on his own, he is encouraged and expected to do so. He is given the freedom to individualize his practices, so that his efforts and undertakings are geared specifically toward his own personality, willpower, spiritual maturation, and desired speed of progress. The degree to which a sadhu--a general Hindu term for all renunciants--makes a commitment to perform a particular ascetic practice or set of practices is seen to reflect his seriousness and resolve to follow the renunciant lifestyle, his gradual relinquishing of attachment to the material world, and his taking charge of his own spiritual progress. Broadly speaking, there are two types of sadhana that Ramanandis undertake. One emphasizes the practice of bhakti while the other focuses on tapasya. Although each vairagi personalizes his sadhana to reflect his own personality and inclinations, most exhibit in their choices varying combinations of the two types.

Bhakti

The most common form of sadhana for Hindus today is the practice of devotion. This is especially true for householders and can be seen in every temple, large and small, in every roadside shrine, and in nearly every home that has an altar or even an image or picture of a deity. The practice of bhakti can be as simple as recitation of a mantra or prayer, the offering of a flower at a temple or shrine, or the pouring of water on an image or Shiva lingam. The practice of bhakti is understood to have value not so much in what is done as in the intention and selfless devotion with which it is performed. When it comes to the sadhana that ascetics undertake, people typically think of various forms of tapasya as opposed to devotional practices. While asceticism is the primary focus of some renunciant orders, especially those that follow the Shaivite path, bhakti is integral to almost all forms of vairagi religious practice. Teachers within the order explain that except for the ego identity with the physical body, the causes of attachments that humans have the most difficult time transcending are emotional. Desire, longing, lust, greed, jealousy, fear, anger, and so forth keep us identified with and attached to our physical existence. Because these are very difficult to simply stop, the key is to redirect one's emotions and emotional attachments from the material world to the spiritual realm. The key is bhakti. Tulsidas acknowledges this in a prayer to Ram:
 As a lustful man desires a woman and a greedy man wealth,
 Make me love you eternally, O Lord Raghnath. (7)


Devotional sadhana, then, is meant to redirect all emotions toward the Divine. The nature and extent of such practices are left up to the individuals, but is it assumed that they will spend the bulk of their daily existence performing some sort of sadhana. Devotion to and love of the Divine using the name "Ram" is central to Ramanandi thinking and practice, and thus its repeated recitation, called Ramnam, is the most common type of sadhana. Repetition of His name over and over, called Ramnam, is the most common type of sadhana. The Manas lauds this practice as one of the highest forms of devotion. Since the text is the order's primary scripture, daily reading from it is also quite common. Although the entire text may be read and studied, individual Ramanandis tend to have favorite sections, such as the verses in which Tulsidas praises the power of the name of "Ram," the chapter that tells of Ram giving his brother Lakshman teachings in the jungle, or the section in which Hanuman burns down Lanka, the abode of the demon king Ravana. Some vairagis commit to memorizing the entire text, a feat that is referred to as "kantasth." Those who become extremely well versed in it may be called upon to give inspirational lectures to the others. One such vairagi became so well known for his knowledge of and insight into the Manas that he was given the title "Manas Maharathi," or "Chariot driver of the Manas," by the order, and this became his primary form of sadhana.

Hindus believe that one can approach God as friend, lover, master, or child. For Ramanandi sadhus, the most common relationship sought is one of Ram as Lord and master. This is best expressed in the relationship between Ram and Hanuman, as depicted in the Manas. Hanuman, an incarnation of Shiva in the form of a monkey, represents the ideal devotee and is believed by Hindus to be the incarnation of both selfless devotion and supreme service of Ram. As a consequence, there are more temples and shrines to Hanuman in India than to any other deity. Additionally, because Shiva is Lord of ascetics and yogis, vairagis see Hanuman as combining the ideal of asceticism and devotion, and they often reveal their desire to identify with Him by referring to themselves collectively as "bandar dal," or "monkey army." Daily bhakti practices directed toward Hanuman almost always include recitation of the Hanuman Chalisa, a forty verse prayer written by Tulsidas. Some vairagis will repeat the prayer 108 times on Tuesdays or on Saturdays, the performance which typically takes between six to eight hours to complete. Some will repeat this practice every day for an entire month. There are also a variety of tantric and other prayers to Hanuman that are done to help enhance one's mental and devotional strength and focus.

Image worship, while almost universal for devotion-oriented Hindus, is not regularly performed by Ramanandis sadhus for several reasons. A major factor is that they tend to see the concept of Ram as having a form (sagun) to be secondary to the concept of Ram as formlessness and transcendent (nirgun). Since image worship of Ram is based on the former, it is seen by many as unnecessary. An additional, and some say more practical, reason is that proper worship of a Ram image entails daily elaborate rituals requiring a variety of ritual implements. Those who undertake this practice must have in their possession all the necessary items. Since many vairagis are wanderers who travel with as few possessions as possible, many see image worship as an unnecessary burden. In the Manas, Tulsidas says that both sagun and nirgun are equally valid approaches to Ram, so many vairagis opt for the latter. However, if one does do sagun worship, the most common image used is not of Ram, but of Hanuman. Here, too, there are several reasons. The first is that Hanuman epitomizes selfless devotion and is seen by most Ramanandis as the ideal which they hope to emulate. The second is that, unlike the performance of rituals to images of Ram that must be done daily and properly, rituals done to images of Hanuman can be minimal, require next to no ritual accessories, and can be done whenever one chooses.

Tapasya

Like bhakti, austerities comprise an important part of the Ramanandi lifestyle. Unlike devotional practices, which rarely put one into great physical discomfort, tapasya is meant to test one's physical and mental limits, one's endurance, and one's will power and ability to go beyond attachment to the body and the material world. Enduring physical and mental discomfort and pain is seen to inspire strength, renunciation, non-attachment, and the ability to transcend self imposed limits that normally slow individuals from progressing on the path to the Absolute. In the early Catholic monastic traditions in the Mediterranean, some extreme forms of asceticism were practiced as well. Examples of this can be seen in the lives of St. Anthony, St. Jerome, and the Stylites. However, the more extreme practices fell out of favor with the Catholic Church, and restrictions were put into place that limited the ability of individual monks to do tapasya of their own choosing. As a consequence, many of the types of austerities that vairagis undertake are now unpracticed and even unknown in the Western religious traditions. Additionally, renunciants in the Western religious traditions typically undertake austerity practices as a form of penance, and this influences what and how such practices are done. Because their belief systems tend to be linear and consist of a solitary human existence, they seldom undertake any austerities that are physically detrimental, and almost never do practices that might end their bodily existence, as this would be considered suicide, an act having extremely negative connotations. Hindu ascetics, on the other hand, do tapasya primarily for mental and spiritual strengthening and to make progress on the path to enlightenment. Their view of this current life as being but one step on a long path affords them greater freedom in their ability to experiment with austerities.

The Ramananda Sampraday recognizes that not everyone has the same ability to undertake physical austerities, so a variety of sub-orders have arisen for those who wish to focus on specific forms of tapasya. Members of these various groups are known as tyagi, mahatyagi, phalahari, naga, and other names depending on the particular austerities they undertake. The actual length of practice, type, and intensity of tapasya that one performs is decided by the individual vairagi and is said to be a combination of the particular attachments that the individual is seeking to overcome and the degree to which the individual can handle the particular form that is chosen. A Ramanandi who is overly fond of eating, for example, may decide to focus on fasting, while one who likes to socialize may decide to practice long periods of silence. It is important to emphasize that a Ramanandi teacher does not force tapasya on disciples but rather encourages them to place restrictions on themselves, for any disciplinary practice is considered to be most effective and fruitful when it is self-imposed. The reason for this is that restrictions imposed by others may be followed but resented. Ramanandis consider such practices as not only lacking in benefit, but sometimes even harmful, since they may lead the performer to resent the ascetic life completely. However, self-imposed disciplines give practitioners the freedom to push themselves as much or as little as they choose. Successful completion of such austerities inspires a sense of fulfillment and empowerment. As Ramanandis becomes accustomed to self-imposed forms of tapasya, this may lead to subsequent undertakings that are more intense and more physically and psychologically demanding. In this way, the vairagi takes personal control of his own spiritual growth and his relationship with the Divine. Those who commit to a particular tapasya for an extended period are usually looked up to and respected for their will power to do so. Such commitments help foster both personal identity formation as well as an affinity to, and an identity within, the broader ascetic community.

Ghor Tapasya and Rebirth

Some sadhus are inspired to push their physical limits to a far greater extent, such as fasting for long periods, vowing not to sit for years, vowing to live under no shelter of any sort, or rejecting the use of all traditional forms of cloth, including cotton, wool, silk, and linen. (8) These and other such extreme practices are generally referred to as ghor tapasya. Although relatively few vairagis undertake such austerities for extended periods of time, these forms of sadhana are seen as powerful and effective practices that can rapidly propel one on the path to realization. Within the order, there are standardized patterns and practices, but many vairagis modify and individualize their particular form of tapasya to specifically suit their own inclinations, strengths, and attachments. Consequently, some who undertake ghor tapasya may continue the specific practice to the point that it results in a serious or permanent degradation of the physical body even to the point of death. This is a difficult concept to comprehend for those whose values and understanding of life are based in contemporary Christian and Western secular thinking. Even those who consider themselves religious would likely reject any positive aspects of such practices. Generally speaking, those who believe that humans have but a single life during which they can gain salvation see any actions that "unnecessarily" endanger that life as spiritually harmful.

Thus, ghor tapasya must be understood with the context of the broader Hindu view of human existence, of which rebirth is but a part. According to most Hindu schools of thinking, the reality of the individual is the Atman, the Self that is eternal. Each physical existence is but one step on a long path that leads through countless births and deaths until one reaches the ultimate state of divine realization, which then results in liberation. Each step on the path brings lessons to be learned. While death is simply a movement from one particular step to the next, one should not hasten that end simply to avoid the one's current lessons and experiences, no matter how difficult and painful they are. This is suicide and the Sanskrit term for it is "atmahatya" (literally, "soul killing"). It is not only considered wrong but extremely hurtful to one's path to self-realization. However, if the lessons to be learned in a particular life involve the need to be able to renounce attachment to the physical body, then one may do forms of sadhana that will in fact hasten the end of a particular physical existence. In this context, the actions are not considered to be atmahatya, since the practices are not done to avoid living or as a rejection of life. Instead, they are done to progress on the path to eternal life. Vairagis are frequently reminded by their teachers and teachings of the transitory nature of the body and the permanent nature of the Self. The focus of all one's energy, then, is to be on Self-realization and on doing whatever is necessary to progress on that path. As previously mentioned, the key factors here are the beliefs in rebirth and in spiritual enlightenment as the ultimate goal of life. Attachment to any transitory aspect of reality, including one's body, will ultimately prevent one from reaching that realization. Therefore, it does not seem improper at all to vairagis that one will undertake forms of tapasya that may well lead to an imminent end of one's current physical existence. Any type of sadhana that accomplishes the goal of physical or mental transcendence and spiritual realization is seen as a valid practice. This is so even if the practice results in permanent bodily damage or demise. The body is a vehicle with which to reach enlightenment. We should drive it hard and not worry about the consequences on the vehicle, for once we succeed, the vehicle has served its purpose and can be discarded or exchanged. As a vehicle, the body is not something to which we should be attached. For vairagis, if one's intention is reaching the Absolute, then one not only has the right but the duty to perform whatever actions necessary to further progress toward that end.

As a young sadhu living in the Himalayas many years ago, I was visited by a Ramanandi a few years my senior. He had heard that a brother vairagi was living in the valley and stopped at my cottage to spend a a day or two in preparation for his planned journey into the higher mountains. We spoke together as he prepared for his onward trek. When I asked him about his plans, he replied that he was going to perform tapasya in a cave with which I was familiar in the mountains north of my home. Since it was November, the cave was nearly fourteen-thousand feet elevation, and that area would soon become covered by snow, I asked him how long he planned to stay. He smiled and replied, "Jab tak" ("Until then"). I immediately sensed that he may be planning a one way journey. While together, we talked about sadhana, non-attachment to the physical body, and the need to use the former to achieve the latter. He was quite clear in his intention and resolve to push his current physical body as much as possible in his attempt to transcend attachment to it. He departed a few days later with a smile and a contented look on his face. The following Spring, I received word that the Indian military stationed in that area of the mountains had just found the body of a young sadhu in the cave.

Although the process of renunciation and tapasya followed by most vairagis is in respect to the physical and emotional realms, it is not a rejection, per se, of the material world as much an effort to get beyond one's attachments to it. Most Ramanandi sadhus have very specific goals, but these are in the realm of the non-physical. Hinduism teaches that all thoughts, actions, and deeds have karmic results, their fruits, and these are dependent to a large extent upon the intentions of the doer. Actions done with material goals in mind will lead to material results, positive or negative. Even the performance of sadhana is believed to generate fruits. The intention behind such actions is key to understanding the types of fruits generated. When the intention is for material gain, Hindus generally believe that this will occur, so vairagis discourage such intentions. When the intention is for progress on the path to enlightenment, the fruits tend to be non-physical, in the form of spiritual virtue, non-attachment, insight, wisdom, and love of God. To many ascetics, such results are important attainments in the progression of the ascetic life, for they aid practitioners in furthering the progress toward their ultimate goals. Thus, while the life of the vairagi clearly involves a renunciation of involvement with material possessions, for many it also involves an amassing of spiritual fruits and karmic power that will ultimately be utilized for spiritual enlightenment. Such karma, known as sanchit karma, is believed to get "stored" up from one life time to the next until such a time that the individual is able to focus his or her life on self realization. It is at then that this karma makes it more possible for the individual to progress into the higher realms of realization. Thus, acting with the intention of affecting and improving future lives is integral in the present lives and planning of all vairagis. Why would one whose life is devoted solely toward spiritual realization be afraid or hesitant to undertake any actions that are seen to further one's progress on the path? The only logical answer to a Ramanandi is that the individual may well be attached to this lifetime, and this is not seen as necessarily positive. At the same time, Ramanandis acknowledge that there are those who have specific goals in this lifetime, such as gurus who are actively teaching students or those whose lives are actively and selflessly serving humanity. For such individuals, undertaking ghor tapasya may not be what is right in this lifetime. However, for those whose lives are lived in relative solitude and with minimal or no interaction with others, then such practices are seen as proper action. An important aspect of extreme forms of sadhana that also must be considered is the role that the actual experience itself plays during such undertakings. To a small extent, this approach to sadhana can be seen as similar to those who become involved in extreme sports and consistently push their physical limits. There is a definite psychological lift or "high" that occurs in the process. Thus, what one experiences in such actions is coupled with what one accomplishes through the actions. Consequently, those vairagis who undertake ghor tapasya are often enthusiastic, both from the actual experiences and also because the practitioners see themselves as being on a fast track to transcendence and realization.
 Wealth, pleasure, religious merit, and liberation, none of these are
 my aim.
 Birth after birth, all that I want is devotion to the feet of Lord
 Ram. (9)


Tapasya, Rebirth, and Bhakti

Although the Ramananda Sampraday acknowledges Self-realization as a valid goal for which to strive, vairagis do not necessarily see its purpose to be the ending of the cycle of death and rebirth. Instead, it can also be for the attainment of supreme bhakti, which can only occur once the ego has been overcome. In this context, all the various forms of sadhana, from devotional practices to extreme austerities, are meant to take one beyond the need to be reborn, but not beyond the ability to be reborn. Moreover, Ramanandis believe that the desire to be liberated can be an ego based intention that, by its nature, limits one's ability to reach it. Selfless devotion, on the other hand, involves totally letting go of the ego and placing one's Self under the divine will. Here, the intention of all sadhana becomes devotional, even the most extreme forms. For those vairagis who believe that they will come back an infinite number of times and have no intention of stopping all future births, undertaking and experimenting with extreme forms of sadhana are seen to be products of rational thinking and acting. Self-realization and non-attachment to all transitory aspects of reality free one to be able to practice selfless devotion and service of the Divine eternally. In short, enlightenment is a necessary prerequisite in order to be able to be reborn to selflessly serve the Divine.

Conclusion

During the last several decades, modernization and technology have influenced many aspects of the Ramananda Sampraday. Ashrams are electrified, many are wired to the Internet, cell phones are commonplace, and most heads of the order have their own cars and frequently move about the country on airplanes as well. The modes of sadhana have also changed, and the percentage of vairagis doing ghor tapasya has diminished. Nevertheless, devotional practices and many other forms of tapasya remain foundational to the lives of Ramanandi sadhus. They define and express themselves, as well as craft their entire existence, by means of the sadhana they undertake. At the same time, since the goal of an increasing number of vairagis is devotion and not liberation from the birth/death cycle, and because they see the material creation not as a source of seduction and attachment, but as an expression of God's love and divine play, their approach to sadhana often shows great enthusiasm. All their undertakings become for them different ways to experience life and gain a greater awareness of God's love and divinity.

Works Cited

Bhagat, M.G., Ancient Indian Asceticism (Delhi: Munshiram Manorharlal, 1976).

Lamb, Ramdas, "Asceticism and Devotion: The Many Faces of Ram Bhakti in the Ramananda Sampraday." Journal of Vaishnava Studies. Vol. 2.4 (Fall 1994): 127-143.

______. "Monastic Vows and The Ramananda Sampraday." In Dealing with Deities: The Ritual Vow in South Asia, edited by Selva Raj and William Harman (Albany, NY: SUNY Press, 2006), 165-185.

______. Rapt in the Name: The Ramnamis, Ramnam, and Untouchable Religion in Central India (Albany: SUNY Press, 2002).

______. "The Transforming Power of the Name: Ramnam from Tulsidas to the Ramnamis." Journal of Vaishnava Studies 2.2 (Spring 1994): 127-146.

______. "Yoga and the Ramananda Sampraday." in Essays on the Theory and Practice of Yoga. Edited by Knut Jacobsen (Leiden: EJ. Brill, 2005), 317-331.

Tulsidas. Shriramcharitmanas (Gorakhpur, India: Gita Press, n.d.)

Notes

1. Since over ninety-nine percent of Ramanandi ascetics are male, male pronouns are used throughout this essay in reference to them. Although females have also undertaken the renunciant path in various traditions (especially Buddhist and Catholic), nevertheless, they remain a small percentage of those who have traditionally chosen the life style. The reasons for this are multiple, diverse, and cannot be adequately discussed within the scope and length of the present study.

2. Because of the current academic problematization of the term "Hindu," I want to clarify that what I am referring to here are all the ascetic orders and traditions throughout Indian history that have looked for inspiration to either Vedic, Upanishadic, Epic, or Puranic sources. As for the Ramananda Sampraday, its members are clear in their identity as Hindu, as are members of all the other major ascetic orders in India today with which I am familiar.

3. See M. G. Bhagat, Ancient Indian Asceticism. (Delhi: Munshiram Manorharlal, 1976).

4. The term "tantra" has many interpretations. My use of it is in reference to those practice that have originated from any of the Indian tantric schools, such as the Kashmir Shaivite, Shakta, and Nath schools or orders. In addition, many other ascetic orders have utilized their own texts that detail tantric practices, which include specific types of rituals, mantra usage, yogic practices to develop siddhis, or powers. These, in turn, are to be used speed up progression on the path to enlightenment.

5. See my works 1994-2007 on the Ramanandi Sampraday as detailed in Works Cited.

6. The term "sant" is used primarily to describe individuals who either influenced or were influenced by the medieval devotional movements in North and Western India for which the formless ("nirgun") concept of the Divine is superior to the concept of Divinity with a form ("sagun").

7. KAmihi nAri piAri jimi, lobhihi priya jimi dAm|

Timi RaghunAtha nirantara, priya lAgahu mohi RAm ||

(Ramcharitmanas 7:130b)

8. KAmihi nAri piAri jimi, lobhihi priya jimi dAm|

Timi RaghunAtha nirantara, priya lAgahu mohi RAm ||

(Ramcharitmanas 7:130b)

9. KAmihi nAri piAri jimi, lobhihi priya jimi dAm|

Timi RaghunAtha nirantara, priya lAgahu mohi RAm||

(Ramcharitmanas 7:130b)
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