in Monasticism

Food was a seductive pleasure of celibate monks.

At 10:00 P.M. the Monks’ Refectory walk-in pantry and refrigerator was locked. The fruits, nuts, and groceries were only to be consumed according to a strict daily quota for each monk: 2 bananas, 2 apples, 2 tablespoons of yogurt, 1 glass of milk, and so forth. Seasonality impacted quotas: peaches, plums, and watermelons, in the late Summer, and when bananas or other foods were going to spoil the quota was increased or posted as “OS”, meaning “open season” or all you could eat. This was a community of ascetics obsessed with food.

No wonder–with the many rules and restrictions around diet–that highly coveted food stuffs were hoarded. Occasionally, the monks were allowed to go to the market and bring home “personal” items.

Last thing to go: food

In the refectory’s over-stuffed “personal” items refrigerator were rich and sweet perishable foods, such as Jiffy, crunchy peanut butter; organic, raw cream; Smuckers jams, clotted creams and jellies. When a monk opened the “personal” freezer door out fell tubs of ice creams, flavors of chocolate, vanilla, rocky road, mocha chip, Cherry Garcia, or Chunky Monkey.

Seeing initials marked in black Sharpie pen on-top of a food container was supposed to warn a hungry monk, “Don’t touch my grub. This food is mine!”.

We often joked: Somebody could leave a $20 bill on the kitchen table, every monk would pass by, and nobody would touch it. But, leave an unmanned package of chocolate chip cookies on the counter top, and within minutes the sweet morsels would disappear, and all that would be left was empty torn wrapper. Monastics were efficient at rationalizing contradictions. “Borrowing” another monk’s personal food was… well… it just happened, quite often and uncontrollably.

Virtually everything a normal, healthy guy (or gal) craved was “renounced” when he took monastic vows. Food, particularly sweets, provided monks with an outlet after days and years of deprivation, meditation, and prayer.

Excerpt from Give My Thy Heart: An Introduction to the Monastic Order of Self-Realization Fellowship–

Diet: The diet in the ashrams is simple but ample. Renunciants eat no meat, fish, or fowl[1]; nor are they permitted to smoke or drink alcoholic or stimulating beverages[2]. (Use of drugs in any form, except for medication temporarily prescribed by a doctor, is of course strictly forbidden). Balanced meals are prepared according to general rules for good nutrition, but the subject of diet is not given undue importance[3]. Three meals are served daily at regular hours–except on Sundays[4], which is a day of partial fasting.

1 Self-Realization Fellowship requires monastics, and recommends to it’s followers, lacto-ovo-vegetarianism.

2 Indian Chai Tea, made with black tea, was a particular favorite among the monastics. Chai, made with black tea, was served at most special events such as Monastic vow ceremonies, commemoration ceremonies honoring one of their gurus or saints, and anytime the monks could whip up a cup or pot of the deliciously sweet, spicy brew. Coffee was seldom served or seen in the monastery. I heard of senior monks who brewed coffee in their bedrooms using personal coffee makers. These monks were considered rogue, but apparently senior enough monks were beyond reprimand of the rules.

3 The “subject” of diet may not be given undue importance. But food and eating it was certainly the most discussed topic in the monastery, aside from the emphasis on spiritual/religious concepts and activities.

4 Sundays in the ashram/monastery had another set of rules around diet, and lack thereof. I plan to write a separate post about Sundays in the ashram, that will include descriptions of the fasting and austerities.

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  1. Sounds like a perfect breeding ground for eating disorders. The guru often exhorted his followers to never ever overeat. But, he apparently enjoyed his food very much and was rather fat. Devotees have an explanation for this: he allowed himself to enjoy food since that was the only thing that would keep him from melting away into the infinite and keep him here; he was so advanced. This is nonsense, of course. He simply had unresolved food issues. Controlling food and “playing mother” is another way a leader can control the minds of his followers.

  2. @uwsboi14: Yes, the monks during my 14 years in the SRF monastery eating disorders. Lots of greed and overeating. Vegetarian was one of the few sensual pleasures that monks could indulge.

    Gurus control sexuality too. The Guru wants followers to be attached emotionally only to him, the Guru.

    Don’t indulge in lower, animal, dirty pleasures of the flesh the Guru says.

    All the while, it’s likely that hanky-panky goes on behind the ashram curtain and the Guru’s seem to always have the attractive young females (or young boys) kept close at hand to “assist” with Guru’s “special dispensation”.

  3. “Special dispensation” lol, too funny

    Swami Vidyatmananda (John Yale) and Bill Moses, journalist for the Los Angeles Times, paid the guru a visit. Below is an excerpt of Vidyatmananda’s description of that visit.

    “As this very long interview, together with the lunch, came to an end, Bill and I prepared to take our leave.

    “Oh, no. You’ve only heard about my work, now you will see some of it.” [exclaimed Yogananda] Space was made and a scene ensued that made me think of life in the court of some oriental potentate. The entertainment was given by about a dozen or twenty adolescent and pre-adolescent boys, barefooted and wearing gym outfits. They proceeded to do a series of yoga postures such as Bill and I had never seen before…”

    “The whole thing struck me very unpleasantly. Was this something I should have to accept in becoming an adept of Indian religion? I asked myself. I hoped not. What we had witnessed struck me as intensely unaesthetic and moreover carrying with it an unmistakable odor of eroticism.”


  4. @Uwsboi14: Great example in your story you quoted. Seems the Gurus, like Yogananda, have a knack for surrounding themselves with sexy youth–ripped young lads or gorgeous young lassies. I’d do the same if I were in their shoes. It’s easier on the eyes, but harder on the…

    Circa 1920-1940s Yogananda was sued by his “best” friend/disciple Brahmarchari Nerode who claimed that Yogananda owed him thousands of dollars AND that the supposedly celibate Yogananda kept a harem of young women living with him on the third floor of his Mt Washington Ashram. The guru was said to bath and wash with his young female disciples, according to Nerode who left the ashram to make his claims. {I believe this story is in the SRFBlacklist, Newspapers and various sources I can’t cite directly at the moment)

    BTW: I’m curious, do you know there are any recent discussions on the SRFBlacklist forum? Are you able to posts comments on that forum?

    Thanks for your comments

  5. @2bidule22: Hoho. The Pope and Vatican Priests Clap for Male Strippers? This video does have the “unmistakable odor”.

    She, the chick holding the “gymnasts” shirts, was tight and ripped too! Some sexy bods for the whole audience-whether gay, straight, bi, celibate:)

  6. @Scott, the only recent posts on srfblacklist are from me from a month ago. The forum’s been annoyingly quiet and a huge percentage of the posts are posts salvaged from the defunkt SRF Walrus forum. There’s tons of information on srfblacklist, but it’s not a place to find other exSRF members. If you want to post something you may have to request access from the administrator, “Greylin”.

  7. Uwsboi14, I used to post in a lot of those forums, some years ago now. the person “Greylin” does not tolerate a deviation from any idea that goes against the point of that forum to denigrate Yogananda, Christianity, HInduism, Buddhism, and so on. I got banned from that place even though I was one of the main contributers in the past.

    SRF is not a cult in the sense it forces people to do things or comparative to Waco or Jim JOnes, etc. Affiliation with SRF is more like affiliation with Yogananda through the writings in the books. YOU can’t get thrown out of SRF any more than you can get beaten up by a turtle. It is our subjective beliefs that create the affiliation, and it rests on considering Yogananda a type of Christ saviour figure.

    50 years of editing writings into modern day format, where previous editions did not even exist – 2004 for example for the SCOC book – betrays a lie.

    Yogananda has been painted very excellently into a kind of infallible character by the SRF. Almost as if he is an avatar.

    Swami Kriyananda, one of the most outspoken advocates for his guru Yogananda, who split from the SRF, not only called himself a swami and not a “brother”, but near the end of his life he needed medication for bipolar disorder (lithium) anxiety (Xanax) and depression (an anti depressant medication) – as well as being a sexual pervert, several failed marriages and divorces, and manipulation. And surprisingly, people who know about this are defending him and taking part on his org.


    Truthfully, the bullshit never ends does it?

  8. @David, I have to respectfully disagree with your statement that SRF is not a cult, even as you compare it to Waco or Jim Jones, etc. People do tend to throw around the word “cult”, but having done my research on SRF these past couple of months and having been a serving, card-carrying member of the organization for 19 years, I can honestly say, it is indeed a cult. I’m in the middle of attending a couple of support groups for ex-cult members in my sincere attempt to leave behind the organization and my obedience to the teachings/guru. Both support groups have confirmed for me my suspicions. A cult does not need to coerce physically or throw people out in order to practice thought reform, indoctrination and mind control. There is so much to this, that I don’t have time to explain myself. This web page should be able to explain my viewpoint for me:

  9. @David: Thanks for sharing your experiences and frustrations with the SRF Blacklist or SRF Walrus forums. I agree with you that the bulls*t never ends and probably, as long as there are fallible humans, will never end. The trouble is when we think there should be infallible humans, eg. perfect beings, gurus or gods.

    FYI/to counter three statements you made in your comment:
    1) “YOU can’t get thrown out of SRF any more than you can get beaten up by a turtle.”
    Many former-SRF monastics and former SRF members have been kicked out of SRF. I personally know several people in both categories. Kicked out means they were asked by SRF to leave the monastery or were forced to stop going to SRF temples/centers. There were numerous reasons why this may occur. That’s not the point here. It’s just that you seemed to imply that SRF is not a “closed system” who welcomes compliant followers and who evicts those who disagree or challenge the SRF System.

    2) Paraphrase “SRF is not a cult because its not like Jim Jones or Waco”.
    I don’t like the word cult. Let’s focus on behaviors… Just because SRF or a psychologically-manipulative group doesn’t have members who drank koolaid laced with cyanide or who were burned alive in a shootout with FBI doesn’t mean that the group is not harmful or dangerous. There are differences in degree but not in kind.

    3) “Swami Kriyananda, one of the most outspoken advocates for his guru Yogananda, who split from the SRF, not only called himself a swami and not a “brother”.
    SRF monks who took sannyas vows were indeed called both Brother and Swami. Swami was more common in India, though. There is no issue with Brother versus Swami. The issue with Kriyananda (J Donald Walters) is that he split (was not compliant) with SRF. Again, another example of a “closed system” or group that kicks out and worse sues and slanders former non-compliant SRF members. Kriyananda is an extreme case in this regard.


  • A Monks’ Ashram Weekly Routine | Skeptic Meditations December 17, 2015

    […] Strict lacto-ovo vegetarian. No alcohol or stimulants were served. Once a month, for a special occasion, Chai Tea was made and served by a monk from India. The cliche about Friar Tuck loving his food is true. One of the few acceptable fleshly pleasures for the monks was food. Sweets especially were relished in great quantities with gusto. However, dessert was officially served only once a week during a lunch. [Read my post Seductive Pleasure of Monks]. […]