Let us now suppose that Vedanta philosophy has captivated your Arkansas heart and now you're contemplating making it your life. what are the possibilities? Click on the 'Monastic Life' box and you can weigh them for yourself. the first part of 'Monastic Life' addresses the question of what monasticism is: it then discusses Vedanta monasteries and convents--their stages, routines,and requirements. Highlighted in this section is a 'special program for college student' -a highly successful Vedanta Society of Southern California program which offers college students the opportunity to live and work at a monastery or convent for one to six weeks. Clicking the hypertext opens a page which gives details about the student program and the requirement involved- and even provides an application form!
An unusual and popular feature of the 'Monastic Life' section is its interactive 'Talk to a Monastic' page. 'Would You Like To Talk To A Monastic?' the page opens. 'Do you have questions relating to Vedanta Philosophy, Ramakrishna and his disciples, monasticism, or spiritual life in general?' One of the nuns in our Santa Barbara convent answers most of these inquiries. (Inquiries from male college students interested are routed to Vedanta Press/Vedanta Catalog in Hollywood.) The questions often test the limits of one's knowledge and creative abilities. Often the inquirer is directed to contact the Swami at the Vedanta Center nearest to him or her; just as often the monastic responding to the e-mail answers the questions as clearly and judiciously as possible.
The page has proved how truly far-ranging the Internet is: one of the first inquiries came from a young man an Spain who requested information on the Vedanta Center closest to him. Today itself an English visitor who is participating in the 'monk for a month' student program visited the Santa Barbara temple. He had discovered the student program through the Internet by typing 'Vedanta' into his college computer and immediately located the Vedanta Society of Southern California's Web site. Only upon his departure for America did he discover that there was a Vedanta Center in England! He is happily anticipating visiting the Bourne End Center when he returns home.
Not surprisingly, the 'Talk to a Monastic' page has generated a large amount of electronic mail; also not surprisingly, the questions received have ranged from the peculiar to those deeply moving. 'I may not know much,' a young woman from Georgia wrote, 'but I know that understanding is not gamed from books or colleges ... I need some one to tell me what makes life worth living... Your Web site is wonderful, but I fell I'm at a crossroad [sic] and I need more. Actually I don't know what l need-maybe just to make contact with a real person that has realized more of the truth than I have.'
A man in Colorado wrote, 'I am writing out of great hunger [for] spiritual freedom. I have been. seeking God... for many years. I have a desire in my heart to help others and to strive for unconditional love for my brothers and sisters, but I also have a great deal of anger and frustration in my heart and I usually fall far short.... if you can suggest any books that will be a good start, and are simple enough to learn from; I would greatly appreciate it. I will also give you my name and phone number and ask you to please pass it on to anyone you might know in my area.'
In contrast to such vivid earnestness, a woman wrote: 'Is there such a thing as living the monastic life but still having married relationships; including sexuality within that context?' Another person wrote; 'What is your view on the foretold "shift in sciousness" which is supposed to happen very soon?"One person with a philosophical bent required: 'if Atman is pure and the jiva has impurities then what separates them?'
Other questions are more practical: One man, asking about meditation and initiation, wrote: 'How would I go about connecting with the Ramakrishna lineage of spiritual development Another wanted to know if he should make japam if he hadn't received mantra from a spiritual teacher. One couple wrote to ask about information and guidance on vanaprastha; a student in Virginia asked how to study and experience Advaita; another person wrote asking how to integrate Vedanta and Native American spirituality. A young man wrote to say that he was interested in 'becoming more spiritual in daily living. Can you suggest some simple practices' that I can follow?
Some questions are more personal: An Indian student studying in an American graduate school wrote to say that he was suffering from anxiety and depression; he couldn't tell his parents and he' needed someone to talk to. A Catholic monk in Washington wrote asking to dialogue with a Vedantic antic monastic, saying: 'my ... limited experience with Vedanta has been instrumental in deepening my own experiences within the Catholic faith'.
A young Muslim student, originally from Varanasi, wrote from New York where he is working on his Ph.D. in theoretical particle physics. Having studied Swami Vivekananda fifteen years had greatly influenced him, and he wanted to spend a summer a Vedanta monastery, he said. 'It has greatly been my wish to live in company of monks of Ramakrishna-Vivekananda order,' he wrote, 'and learn more about India's monastic heritage, learn meditation, etc.' He further volunteered to help with manual labor computer assistance, etc.
One American sent a. message from Japan, expressing great delight in discovering the Vedanta Society in Japan, the Nippon Vedanta Kyokai, through the Southern California Web site. She wrote in joyful detail about visiting the Center; meeting the Swami, and attending the lecture. (The Nippon Vedanta Kyokai now has their own Web site: http:E//www.bekkoame.or.jp/ vedanta ).
What is especially heartening about the Vedanta presence on the Web is that it particularly attracts (and is attractive to) young people. The world's youth are the most computer literate; they am the ones who spend the greatest time 'surfing the Net'-that is, visiting various discussion groups and Web sites Very nearly all American schools have computer in the classrooms with Internet access. The next millennium will see schools across the globe wired together, thus making the world's 'global village' a virtual reality.
For those of us in the Vedanta movement in America, this fact carries profound consequences. For the movement here to grow and flourish, an influx of young people both monastic and lay-is a necessity. Since' the 60s most Vedanta congregations have seen a 'graying' in 'both the monastic and lay membership that hasn't been adequately balanced by younger recruits. The Web siren call to. young people carries the very real potential to ameliorate' the situation. interestingly, some of the Vedanta Society of Southern California's most promising young-people who have shown a serious interest in monasticism have come via the Internet.