in Monasticism

Dowry of a Postulant Monk

To enter into the Self-Realization Monastic Order, I needed a dowry. A dowry was, traditionally in the olden days, property or money brought by a bride to her husband on for marriage.

Monastic tradition, nay mandate, was that young monks were to produce a dowry at the time of entering the Order.

Here I was young, dreamy-eyed idealist, ready to dip deeply into my bank account and plunge headlong into a Hindu-inspired monastery in Southern California. The dowry was my monetary price of entry into postulant training–the 12-18 months bootcamp for young monks entering the Order.

postulant dowry

My dowry receipt upon entering the monastic order

I handed over $825 cash to Brahmacharini Bertha and was handed back a hand-written receipt showing:

$300 Dowry
$500 Medical
$25 Return Fare
$825 total

What was my dowry money to be used for? My receipt shows $300 for “Dowry”. I don’t recall what that was actually for. Nor, did I care at the time. All I wanted was to be a monk. The $500 “Medical” was to pay for my four wisdom teeth to be removed. Prior to entering the Order, as a postulant monk, I was required to undergo physical exams by medical doctors and a dentist. I had a clean bill of health. Except, the dentist recommended that I extract the four impacted molars, all my wisdom teeth. After three to four months in the Order I did get my four wisdom teeth removed at the Dentist. (Those wisdom teeth extractions were the worst medical experience of my adult life. So far, I suppose if that’s was my worst I should count myself lucky!).

The $25 “Return Fare” was the estimated cost of a return train ticket–should the Order or I determine I was no longer “fit” for monastic life. (Eventually, 14 years later, that was the case. I write about my experience of driving away from the monastery in the last paragraph of my post: Darshan: Mind-reading Saints).

Acceptance letter into postulant monk training program

Acceptance letter into postulant monk training program

Also, prior to entering the Order as a Postulant Monk I donated my pickup truck to the Hidden Valley Ashram. They could use my truck more than me. The monastery had vehicles that could be borrowed, with a completed Car Request form signed with one’s spiritual counselors’ approval.

My acceptance letter, dowry receipt, and these recollections seem strange to me now. I wonder what possessed me to join an ashram–a monastic order–, to follow a guru, and to believe that my meditations was sure to lead me to enlightenment.

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  1. I’m smiling because the dowry system upon entering into religious life is as old as the hills……I’m referring to monks before 1000 AD, as well as the cloistered convents that women went to in order to dedicate their life to prayer…..I’ve not known of a system that did not have it….when I entered the (Catholic) seminary we gave no ‘hard dollars’ but had a list of things to buy (and yes, to get teeth fixed — in my case 6 fillings!). Bottom line for me: nothing of what you experienced seems at all untoward for entrance into a monastic situation! would love to know if others may disagree!! Emilio

  2. @Emilio: Thanks for sharing your insights. Sounds like you “bought” your dental work with your own cash seminary let you keep. Whereas, SRF Order asked me to hand over the cash and then I had to buy my tooth extractions. Seems all the same in various flavor.

    How did you find out about this blog? Do you have your own site? Tell me about yourself: are you still in religion? etc.

  3. I have a serious question. My nephew has spent the past year and a half hoping to get invited to become a novice. He really believed he was going to become one but we received a (happy to our family) phone call, that he was asked to leave for one to two years to perform some tasks before they considered inviting him. One is to get a clean bill of health as he has had some health issues. I have wondered if it could also be due to money issues. Any thoughts? His parents really want this, he, as an college educated and brilliant young man wants this, the rest of us are terrified for him.

  4. @ecowarrier: Thanks for asking.

    Are these assumptions I inferred from your comments correct?
    1) Your nephew is applying for acceptance into the “Monastic Order of Self-Realization Fellowship”;
    2) You, his parents and other family are not sympathetic to “Self-Realization Fellowship” nor it’s monastic order.

    If my assumptions are correct:
    a) I would not try to dissuade your nephew from his interest in Self-Realization Fellowship (SRF) nor from his interest in the monastic order. That will probably only make him want it more–forbidden fruit.

    b) I wonder what your motivations are for hoping he doesn’t join? What are your own and your family belief systems/religion about deities, supernatural entities, afterlives, and so on? SRF is a church of “all religions” so they say. SRF tries to emphasize the “essence” of religion: relationship with god, etc. through meditation and doing good works.

    c) SRF makes a gazillion extraordinary, supernatural claims, but so do most other religions. Exposing people to clear, critical-thinking, and scientific method is one of the best ways to counter or question so-called “truth” claims of any religion and of those who make supernatural claims.

    Let me know your thoughts or give me more info and I’ll let you know my thoughts.

  5. Thank you so much for your response and advice. To answer your questions, we have no issues with SRF in general. Living in LA for as many years as we have has exposed us to many belief systems. However, we do have issues with what we feel is a cult like existence for very young and inexperienced men. To shut these people off completely from the rest of the world and cut them off from their family feels dangerous and manipulative, especially by following a path that is built on what seems to be an obvious lie. But, as you state, most other religions are based on similar beginnings. Those of us who are worried about him have beliefs that run from Atheist to Agnostic and his brother, who is also concerned about him, is Buddhist. We truly have not issues with meditation and good works. We simply feel that it is very easy to manipulate someone through constant meditation and isolation from family and friends.

  6. @Ecowarrior: I understand your concerns. It is easy to be manipulated. I got taught the hard way, and the last several years got more clear that skepticism and critical-thinking are vital and valuable. You might be interested in my post 21 Great Reasons to Think and Be a Skeptic.

    We all benefit from practice of critical-judgment and reason: especially with the media, group-think, religious and/or supernatural claims. My parents (dears did their best) raised me to be a good Catholic and to be a conservative republican. Like their parents taught them. They had the answers, supposedly. Later I sought answers in SRF and in meditation, the magical “Self”.

    Thanks for sharing your concerns. Hope he changes his mind after being outside SRF for awhile. Let me know if you have any questions about any of my posts.