Sarana - Before, During and After
On the day previous to that of sarana (initiation), the prospective disciple is made to fast or allowed to take pure and simple cooked rice. There was also to be a thorough cleaning of the household. This preparation is termed as parikriyā.
When the candidate for initiation was brought before the Saranācārya or the preceptor who administered the sarana, the significance of the four reals, which were one in essence, were explained to him. The secret formula was then taught. The preceptor then began to put parama tattva in very simple terms before the disciple. The topics discussed in this connection are of the following nature:
- ātma jnāna or knowledge of the self
- The relation between individual soul (ātmā) and the super-soul (paramātmā)
- The relation between ksudra brahmānda (microcosm=the human body) and virāt brahmānda (macrocosm=the universe)
- (Very briefly) Yoga physiology, the six psychic centres, the ten vital winds, etc.
- The meaning of jnāna, vijnāna, tadanga and rahasya
- The four vastus and their ultimate unity
- The ways of bhakti
- the way of Guru Sevā
- The prescribed code of conduct for the devotee, including instructions on sadācara (right conduct), moral-ethical precepts, habits and hygiene.
At the time of initiation of people into the faith, Sankaradeva and Madhavadeva alone are mentioned as the Gurus. Apart from the Saranācārya or the Satrādhikār and the initiates, people who have already been initiated could be present on such occasions.
After the sarana
When a man was initiated into the Order, he had to give up his old unclean ways - taking intoxicants, quarrelling with others, keeping animals like pigs, fowl, etc. Cultivation of poppy had to be given up. And although vegetarianism was not imposed on the devotee, the killing of animals was deprecated as a mark of general kindness to living beings.
Water played a big role in the life of a person after initiation to the faith. Water was also venerated as a form of God (jala-rupi Nārāyana). Thorough cleansing of the body with water was an indispensable part of the initiate's daily duty and the morning bath was to be taken in the early hours. When one made water, one had at least to wash the hands and the feet.
A lay disciple had to observe the rules prescribed to him at the time of initiation. He had to attend to the ordinary duties of a householder, but never forget God at any point of time, for that matter. Rāma's name on the lips and duty in hand (mukhe Rāma-nāma, hāte krtya kāma), as the popular saying goes, was to be the householder devotee's watchword. Nārāyana Thākur, a man devoted to the worldly duties as well as to his Guru, was an ideal in this respect.
A lay disciple has his own private chapel, as he could not attend Nām Ghar ceremonials everyday, where he carries on Guru Sevā and Isvara Sevā everyday in the morning and evening.
Whatever crops he raised, and whatever other things he made, was to be considered as offerings to the Lord, the Guru and the bhaktas. When a new crop was harvested, the first fruits were to be taken to the Satra and/or the Nām Ghar and offered to the preceptor and clerics there as a group. When a new house was ready for habitation, the first thing to be done was to perform Hari-Kirttana in it.
Festive occasions like birthdays would invariably involve presenting a sarāi in the Nām Ghar; similarly for occasions such as death anniversaries. Even weddings are solemnized through Nām Kirttana alone.