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Lahiri Mahasaya: His Advice About Sannyasa

Lahiri Mahasaya on Renunciation - Sannyasa

Q: I have read that Lahiri Mahasaya said no one should become a sannyasi. Is that true? If so, why did he say it?

Lahiri Mahasaya told his disciples that they should never become a Dasanami Sannyasi–a member of the Swami Order of Shankaracharya. The reason was purely yogic.

To become a member of that order, a ritual known as the Viraja Homa is performed. It is not a symbol, but a powerful ritual that alters the subtle bodies and karma of the person. Its purpose is to break all ties with this world. It transmutes the person’s worldly karma into spiritual karma.

This sounds very desirable, but if the person was mistaken in taking up sannyas and finds himself unable to continue it, his subsequent life will be chaotic and miserable because he has no positive karmic store on which to draw. He will be a failure in both his social and personal life, adrift like a broken cloud in the sky. A terrible fate!

But what has been done cannot be undone in the sense that there is no reversing of the effect of the Viraja Homa. At the same time, what has been undone cannot be done–that is, the karma that was wiped out cannot be restored. Practically speaking, there is no place for such a person in this world.

The tradition of sannyasa

The Shankara Order is very modern in the annals of Sanatana Dharma and India. The dharma shastras describe the way sannyas should be taken. It was done solely by the will of the individual. Though it might be preceded by a final performance of the daily rituals of a Sanatana Dharmi, the real sannyas was the simple declaration of intention to leave (or never enter) the householder life and departure for the forest and lifelong tapasya (sadhana). In modern times this was done by the renowned Swami (“Papa”) Ramdas of Anandashram. He simply had some cloth dyed gerrua, put it on and declared that from thenceforth his name was Ramdas, and walked out of his house never to return.

Sri RamakrishnaSri Ramakrishna’s story

Sri Ramakrishna told a story about true sannyas. One day a man found his wife very depressed. When asked why she was so sad, she told him that she was about to lose her brother who was married; that he was going to become a sannyasi. “How do you know he’s going to become a sannyasi?” asked her husband. “Because he is carefully setting all his affairs in order, getting everything all straightened out and arranging things so he can take up the monastic life” was the reply.

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Abbot George's Reflections on Monastic LifeWhen I was very young there was a television program called The Big Picture. Most people live in The Little Picture with small ideas and small goals, all short term.

But some live in The Big Picture, considering their life as a whole extending through many years, realizing that the small aspects will be forgotten, but the overall character of their life will determine their future beyond this world as well as within it.

Having this perspective, I wanted to be a living sacrifice, a living offering to God! I wanted to be able to stand unashamedly before the face of God and truthfully say: “Behold, I have forsaken all and followed Thee.” To be like Christ, not just in glory but in living sacrifice, like him, “who for the joy that was set before him endured the cross, despising the shame, and is set down at the right hand of the throne of God.” This was my aspiration–the aspiration of monastics throughout the ages.

An undivided heart

Monastic life is a life of undivided loyalty to the One. Jesus Himself warns us that “no man can serve two masters: for either he will hate the one, and love the other; or else he will hold to the one, and despise the other.” The religious egotist considers himself wiser than Christ, Whose words he tactfully ignores utterly. He knows better! He can certainly please himself and please God. (Ah, but Jesus spoke about serving!)

Those who love cannot run the risk of despising their Beloved and clinging to their own egoic god. How often we hear statements about what God “does not expect” of us and what “does not matter” to God. The problem is, when most people say “God” they really mean their ego “god,” that of course expects and cares about nothing that does not serve its own desires.

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