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Chapter Two: Sannyasa Dharma

Necessity for sannyasa

Sannyasa is an absolute necessity. The mere desire to remain aloof and alone shows that there is an advaitic inclination in you. Every moment you should be ready for sannyasa. The very longing for sannyasa shows that there is growth of spirituality.

The Bhagavata says that fire is not so dangerous as the company of worldly persons and worldly things. Even a cobra is not so very dangerous as these deluded people.

Sannyasa has its own glory and splendor! Sannyasa is extremely necessary. One may say, “I do not need orange-colored robes;” still sannyasa is necessary. Sannyasa has its own psychology. All arguments against it are false! The Mundaka Upanishad will tell you how necessary sannyasa is. The world has not produced a greater genius than Shankara, the greatest sannyasin! Why did Ramakrishna Paramahansa take sannyasa? Sannyasa is necessary though you may have advaitic realization! Totapuri, Ramakrishna’s guru, though he had advaitic realization, took sannyasa. Why did Madana Mishra take sannyasa? [More about him later.] Yajnavalkya had the highest realization, but why did he take sannyasa? The world has not produced a greater sage than Yajnavalkya. Study his instructions to his wife, Maitreyi in the Brihadaranyaka Upanishad.

Sannyasa destroys all worldliness, all evil samskaras, and establishes you in advaitic meditation. You must come out of your house and fix the mind on the supreme lakshya, Brahman. You must meditate without any break. Then only can you have the choice either to take or not to take the orange robe. But never say, “I have no attachment, I am a mental sannyasin.” You will weep afterwards. Study the Mundaka Upanishad. If sannyasa is not necessary why should there be the four ashramas? Were the makers of such rules mere fools?

How can you understand the glory of sannyasa while remaining in the world amidst temptations and attractions, lust and attachment? How can you know the glory of the destruction of Maya and the realization of God?

How, then, can you know the glory of sannyasa? The attachment to men and women, friends and relatives, money and gold, has to be ruthlessly burnt down to ashes. All the so-called duties of the world have to be kicked away for the sake of that glorious state of self-realization! The Mahabharata proclaims that for the sake of self-realization even the whole world should be renounced without hesitation.

If you have real manliness, you must break the chains of earthly bondage, the bondage of birth and death, old age and disease, hunger and thirst! That is courage! That is heroism! That is manliness! Do not be cowards, start now! Fight for the sake of that state of absolute freedom or kaivalya-mukti!

What is the use of fighting for social and political freedom, when everybody is locked up in the jail of ego and delusion? What is the use of beating the air thinking it is a drum? But so is all this activity and business of life in the world which is only an airy nothing when compared to the glorious truth of self-realization! What is the use of working in an office with a slavish mentality, which is but the outcome of ignorance? The pay you receive in the offices is only a bait in this world of Maya! How much have you eaten, how much have you drunk, how much have you enjoyed, how much have you slept? Is there an end for this?

Remember that all that you see in this world and get attached to is the object of your own imagination! Open your eyes! All this is Pure Satchidananda! All this is undivided and immortal Consciousness. Where is father, where is mother, where is wife, where are children? Where is the world? Where is society, where are nations? You are moving and breathing in the mass of Universal Consciousness. Wake up now! There is no way in this world to get eternal happiness and supreme satisfaction! You do not know where lies the real cause of misery and suffering. You do not know where lies the source of real knowledge and bliss. You are sunk in ignorance. Assert now your real birthright, the freedom of self-realization!

It is better for you to throw off everything now itself and be as a beggar! Then alone will you become the richest man! The Upanishad emphatically declares: “Yo vai bhuma tat sukham.” You cannot have real happiness in this world! The real shanti, the peace which the mind is hankering after, is only in the Bhuma. Bhuma is unconditioned, beyond time, beyond space and causation. Bhuma is freedom, freedom from the trammels of flesh, freedom from the tricks of Maya, freedom from the plays of delusion. Bhuma is perfection, beyond all limitations. Bhuma is Infinite Fullness. Bhuma is Brahman, the Eternal Absolute! You will have to remember all this constantly. You will have to write this and read this, talk of this and preach this, meditate on this and live in this, understand this and realize this! “Yo vai bhuma tat sukham!

A blow to the worldly-minded

Sannyasa and Vedanta–whether Advaita, Vashishthadvaita or Dvaita–always go hand in hand. One does not become complete without the other. Wherever there is real sannyasa there is practical Vedanta. Wherever there is practical Vedanta there must be sannyasa of the highest type. Sannyasa without Vedanta or parabhakti becomes fruitless. Vedanta without sannyasa becomes a mere intellectualism. When sannyasa and Vedanta melt into one there crops up a sage of supreme wisdom. Sannyasa empties the individual of the ego and the negative phenomena, and Vedanta fills it with positive truth. Sannyasa without Vedanta remains empty, and does not serve its purpose. Even so, Vedanta without sannyasa becomes essenceless, and loses its meaning. Vedanta cannot be grasped without emptying the ego through sannyasa and sannyasa becomes a waste without getting at the supreme ideal through Vedanta.

One has to be completely dead to the narrowness and the delusion of the world if he is to live in the grandeur and the beauty of life in the Spirit.

Realization of the Absolute is not a talk, is not a play, It is the most difficult and the hardest of all tasks. It demands the price of one’s very self! Will you pay it? It demands your individual life. It demands your ego; it demands your very being as the cost for self-realization! If that is everyone’s goal, if that is every one’s ideal, should not the more experienced impart that secret to the lesser ones? Should not every child in the cradle be initiated into the mysteries of existence? Let the world cease to exist! Let all become sannyasins and Vedantins! Let there be no more creation! Let there be no more procreation! Let every son and every daughter be taught the truths of renunciation and knowledge of Brahman! Only then does life become fruitful! Only then man becomes a real man!

Let every father take the example of Uddalaka! Let every mother take the example of Madalasa! Let every wife take the example of Chudala! Let every husband take the example of Yajnavalkya! Let all children, the sons and daughters, take the example of the four Kumaras! Then only can life be perfectly lived.

Sannyasa and Vedanta are the only lifegiving teachings. All other teachings are mere play of words. Never think you are unfit for self-realization, that you are unfit for sannyasa or Vedanta. This cowardly nature will not leave you if you do not exert to know the truth as it really is. Better aim at a lion and miss it, than hunt a jackal and catch it. Better aim at sannyasa and Vedanta and fail in their practice than live a worldly life and succeed in it. Remember, O remember that you are born for this Supreme End, not for anything else!

May you all empty yourselves of the ego through sannyasa and may you all fill yourselves with the truth of Vedanta!

Glory of Sannyasa

The glory of sannyasa is indescribable,

Yajnavalkya embraced sannyasa!

Shankara embraced sannyasa!

Ramakrishna, Mandana Misra, too.

Even Europeans are sannyasins;

Mr. Nixon and Dr. Alexander also;

And several others, too, have taken to sannyasa!

Even some great men of India

Have not understood

The glory of sannyasa.

It is a great pity indeed!

Let them have their own way;

But we are the children

Of the great four Kumaras,

Dattatreya and Shankara!

O ye aspirants bold,

Who are equipped with the four,

Who have nivritti-tendencies,

Come, quick! Be quick!

Waste not life any more!

Supreme glory of sannyasa

Can you imagine a greater karmakandi, a follower of pravritti marga, than the great Mandana Misra? He was the greatest votary of karma. He argued with Sri Shankaracharya for days together on the point that sannyasa is not necessary. He wanted to establish that we can attain mukti or salvation by karmamarga and that nivritti is not absolutely essential. But at last Sri Shankara defeated Mandana Misra and he also became one of the four disciples of Shankara. When such a mighty man became a sannyasi, are you not convinced that sannyasa is necessary?

You are not treading the path of the Vedas as Mandana Misra did. He was an ideal householder who knew the four Vedas, who was devoted to his elders, who walked in the footsteps of ideal grihasthas like Yajnavalkya and others. Even he took sannyasa!

What are you doing? In the name of duty you are leading a servile life all the twenty-four hours of the day. Your days are too short. You want thirty hours in a day. Do you call this life? Do you call this life? I call this suicide, blinded by ignorance!

O man! Wake up! Walk in the footsteps of your forefathers, the great Seers! This world is full of miseries and tribulations. The more you think there is joy in it, the more are you deluded! The more you forget your soul, the more are your miseries.

If you cannot live a perfect life in the world, kick aside the world mercilessly. Take refuge in the Self. Practice tapasya. Purify your mind. Serve and love others with a divine bhava! Now you are ready for sannyasa. Become a paramahansa sannyasin and attain the jivanmukti state.

The knowledge of Brahman should be taught to those who have purified their hearts by practicing the sadhana-chatushtaya, who are well-versed in the shastras, who possess faith, who are centered in Brahman, and who have duly practiced the vow of shirovratam. Shirovratam is the well-known Vedic vow mentioned in the Atharva Veda. This obviously means the head-vow, the vow of sannyasa or renunciation. This is the ceremony in which the head is shaven.

Sannyasa is necessary for attaining self-realization. Even in the preliminary stage one should join the ascetic order, as this voluntary renunciation while yet a neophyte will qualify the aspirant for Vedantic study.

The sruti says: Yadahareva virajet tadahareva pravrajet: “One should leave the house the very day dispassion dawns in him.”

The sannyasi is free from all kinds of worldly distractions, ties and attachments The garb puts a check on the aspirant from going astray or doing evil actions. When there is internal change, when one is ready for entering the fourth ashrama of life, why should he be afraid of putting on the orange-colored robe? Why should he say, “I have given coloring to my heart”? It is a sort of timidity and hypocrisy. Vasanas (subtle desires) still lurk in his heart.

Sannyasa has got its own glory and advantages! The freedom of a sannyasin can hardly be described. Only a sannyasin can entirely cut off all connections and ties. Though you have colored your heart, still all the members of your family will cling to you like leeches till the end of your life. You cannot entirely eradicate moha or infatuated love and attachment for your family. When you fall sick you will be tempted to go to them for their help and vice versa. The old samskaras will get a new life and moha will bind you with stronger chains once again. It is only when you take sannyasa that they will leave you free. They will leave all hopes which they had in you. Only then will you become dead for them. They will not approach you again.

If you like seclusion, if you are free from raga or passion, worldly ambition, karmic tendencies and attractions of this world, if you are reticent and serene, if you have disciplined yourself while remaining in the world, if you can live on simple food, if you can lead a hard life, if you have a strong constitution, if you are not talkative, if you can remain alone without company and talk, if you have a meditative temperament or reflective nature, if you can bear all the difficulties in the spiritual path, if you can lead a difficult life of an ascetic till the end of your life, if you can bear any amount of insult and injury done to you, then you can take to the path of renunciation. Only then will you be benefited by embracing sannyasa. You should actually lead the life of a sannyasi in an ashram for one or two years before taking sannyas itself. Otherwise you will find it extremely difficult to tread the path. For a man of dispassion, discrimination and strong will, this path is all joy and bliss.

May you develop real thirst for release from the bonds of samsara! May your hearts be filled with love of the Atman alone! May you develop real vairagya and enter the illimitable kingdom of eternal bliss!

What do scriptures say about sannyasa?

The Narayana Upanishad says: “Not by works, not by progeny, not by wealth, but by renunciation alone is immortality attained!”

“There is no hope of immortality through wealth,” said Yajnavalkya to Maitreyi in the Brihadaranyaka Upanishad.

Manu says in his Smriti: “Of all dharmas, ethics and morals, the knowledge of the Self is the highest duty of man. That is the foremost of all sciences, for through that one attains immortality. After ten births one gets the knowledge of the Veda, after a hundred births one gets good character and conduct. After a thousand births one gets the knowledge of Yoga, but only after a crore of births does one get the love for sannyasa. In this dharma called nivritti, the fruit is called Final Emancipation. That knower of Brahman who gives fearlessness to all creatures and takes sannyasa, attains the world of light and splendor. He who gives fearlessness to all creatures, attains fearlessness in the end.”

In the Yajnavalkya Smriti it is said: “Of all works, like sacrifices, rituals, control of senses, harmlessness, charity or study of the Vedas, this one thing is the highest duty: that one should seek the Self through Yoga. A Brahmana should not marry, he should observe brahmacharya, and, keeping his power of purity, should directly take sannyasa after brahmacharya. Seeing that samsara is essenceless, he should seek to get the nectar of immortality.”

The Brihadaranyaka Upanishad says: “Desiring the state of the Self, one should renounce. Established in Brahman, one attains immortality.”

Yajnavalkya said to Kahola: “He who passes beyond hunger and thirst, beyond sorrow and delusion, beyond old age and death–Brahmanas who wish to attain that Self, overcome the desire for sons, desire for wealth, desire for the world, and live the life of mendicants.”

The Jabalasruti says: “The wanderer, with renunciation, with colored cloth, clean-shaven, desiring nothing, the pure, the faultless, the holy, the beggar, becomes one with Brahman.”

The Mundaka Upanishad says: “They who practice tapas with faith in the forest, the peaceful men of wisdom, who live on bhiksha, who are above passion, depart through the passage of the sun to where that immortal Purusha, the Imperishable One, abides. Having scrutinized the worlds that are attained through action, a Brahmana should arrive at dispassion and indifference. For the sake of this knowledge, let him go, fuel in hand, to a spiritual teacher who is learned in the srutis and established in Brahman. Those who have ascertained the meaning of the Vedanta knowledge, the earnest seekers after truth, with natures purified through sannyasa yoga, they all, in the region of Brahman at the end of time, are liberated beyond death.”

In the Vishnu-Smriti it is said: “The householder cannot attain even by a hundred sacrifices what state the sannyasin will attain by living properly even for one night. Purified are hundred families of his ahead, and purified are three hundred families of his of the past, in whose line even a single one takes to the path of sannyasa. The sun trembles when he sees a sannyasin, for he feels that the sannyasin will break the surya-mandala with his force of the soul and attain immortality.”

Rishi Jabali says in his Smriti: “The difference between a householder Brahmana who is learned in the four Vedas, who has performed a hundred sacrifices, and a sannyasin who has renounced, is like that between a mustard seed and a mountain or between a glow worm and the sun.”

The Angiras-Smriti says: “Sixty families of the past and sixty families of the future are raised to immortality by one Brahmana who utters the words, ‘sanyastam mayaa.’ [“I renounce…”–part of the mantras recited when taking sannyas.] Sins acquired through family, sins acquired through karma, are all burnt up by the fire of sannyasa, even as a straw is burnt by forest fire.”

It is told in the Mahabharata: “Even if a person merely wears the ochre robe, he is fit to be worshipped.” Such is the glory of sannyasa.

Rishi Atri says in his Smriti: “One sannyasi is far superior to even a thousand brahmacharins, a hundred vanaprasthas and even a crore of grihasthas. The Lord has two forms: moving and unmoving. The moving form is the sannyasi and the unmoving is the idol worshipped in temples.”

Sri Krishna says to Uddhava: “I am sannyasa among ashramas.” “Only the man of renunciation with knowledge attains Brahman, and none else.” “Action is for the pravritta, the man of the world, and wisdom is for the sannyasin who has risen above worldliness.”

These are the concluding sentences of the Mundaka Upanishad where renunciation and emancipation are extolled: “He who strives by these means, possessed of knowledge, enters into the abode of Brahman. Attaining that state, the seers who are satisfied with knowledge, who are perfected souls, free from attraction, tranquil in mind, attaining that which is universally present, those wise devout souls enter into the All itself. As the flowing rivers in the ocean disappear leaving their names and forms, so the knower, being liberated from name and form, goes to the Supreme Purusha who is higher than the highest. He who knows Brahman becomes Brahman. In his family no one who is ignorant of Brahman arises. He crosses over sorrow. He crosses over sin. Liberated from the knots of the heart, he becomes immortal.”

The views of Shankara on sannyasa

Shankara says that the Atman should and can be realized only through knowledge and not by ritual. He positively asserts that, on the dawn of knowledge, karma [worldly action] naturally and necessarily ceases to function. Karma of any kind is, according to Shankara, a hindrance to final emancipation of the soul, and the performance of karma involves one in the cycle of samsara. It is only Brahmajnana that rends asunder the knots of ignorance and bestows moksha on the soul.

Sannyasa is absolutely necessary, whether it be vividisha-sannyasa or vidvat-sannyasa. Without perfect renunciation it is impossible to pursue the path of Brahmavidya. The qualifications necessary for taking sannyasa are:

1. Discrimination between the One Eternal Substance and the appearance of ephemeral phenomena.

2. Dispassion for the enjoyment of things existing either in this or the other world.

3. Possessing the six-fold wealth, viz., tranquillity of mind; control of the senses; cessation from all worldly activity; endurance of the pairs of opposites, like heat and cold, pleasure and pain, love and hatred, etc.; faith in the Vedantic truth as inculcated by the spiritual texts; power of concentration of mind.

4. An ardent yearning for liberation.

Shankara is of opinion that it is foolish to cite instances of Janaka and others who did not take sannyasa but possessed Brahmajnana. Such instances are quoted by householders who are unwilling to leave their attachments, for there is no reason why they should stick to household life after attaining knowledge. For knowledge by its very nature is against all senses of worldly duty and activity.

The sannyasin can find adequate leisure and freedom from the distractions of life. Renunciation is desirable even to those who have not attained jnana–“Avidushaapi mumukshunaa paarivraajyam kartavyameva.” Only the sannyasin can devote the whole time for meditation. Householders cannot give themselves up completely for meditation. The very word “household” signifies pravritti which is concerned with the world of appearance.

Without abandonment of the concerns of worldly life, knowledge cannot be pursued with unabated vigor and devotion. It does not mean that the sannyasin undervalues human society and discards all men without helping them at all. As the life of a sannyasin is meant only to reach the highest Reality, and as he has already passed through the lower stages of spiritual evolution, he may appear to be not working for the rest of humanity at large; but it is to be borne in mind that he exercises a silent and unnoticed but powerful influence for the good of the public. That itself is the service he is rendering to the society and that is the highest and the most beneficent service that one could ever do to man. One who is intent upon realizing the peace, the bliss, the One Without a Second–Shantam, Shivam, Advaitam–is the most powerful and the useful friend of the world!

Shankara’s arguments for sannyasa

Becoming one with the devas in heaven is not the highest endeavor of man here. There is something beyond karma, higher than the transitory earthly life, higher than the heavenly enjoyment. Even the devas are subject to the misery of samsara and they are not immortal in the real sense. The srutis declare that Brahman alone is above samsara, above hunger and thirst, etc.

It is said in the Isavasyopanishad, “Only doing karma, i.e., one’s own duty, one should wish to live a hundred years.” The life of man does not extend for more than a hundred years, so that he may take up the path of knowledge after performing karma for one hundred years. The hundred years are taken up by karma. Then, when will one find time for acquiring knowledge before his death? The arguments of the karmakandins are not sound. For there cannot be any motive or desire to act when there is the knowledge of the highest truth. He does not find any use in the performance of karma. When one gets a desire to know the Atman which is free from all the faults of samsara, one does not find any benefit out of actions which he has done or which he has to do. If you say that he does it because it is so enjoined although he sees no good in it, we say it cannot be, for he has known the Atman which is beyond all injunctions. One who knows Brahman cannot be bound by injunctions and rules. Even the Veda is born of him, so he cannot be commanded by the Veda to do any karma. None can be directed by his own words proceeding from his own knowledge. A wise master cannot be directed by an ignorant servant.

The srutis say: “Seek the Atman alone,” “This Atman is Brahman which is Intelligence-bliss,” “Thou art That,” etc. The active self of the Vedic karmakanda is only a means to realize the real Supreme Self. When knowledge of the real Self dawns, there cannot be a false activity.

Knowing Brahman, a person observes self-denial, which is a cessation of all actions. So long as a man is in ignorance he wishes to have something, to do something, whereas in reality he is full and perfect, and therefore he need not be active for any reason whatsoever. This ignorance exists in all beings.

One acts only when there is desire. A desireless man, whose desires have been fulfilled, who has risen above desires, whose desire is the Atman, has no necessity to act. It is not reasonable to ask the question as to why a person who is traveling does not fall into a pit or a mire in broad daylight. If you say that a householder can remain in his state without doing karma after he gets knowledge of Brahman, we say it cannot be, for the householder’s life is based on desire. Sannyasa is cessation from all desires and not merely a change of the order. Therefore it is impossible for a knower [jnani] to lead a householder’s life.

Some may say: “From this it follows that it is not necessary for a knower even to serve his preceptor or to perform tapas.” Householders who are afraid of begging for bread and are afraid of ridicule argue like this through their sharp intelligence. You cannot say that even begging for bread is a binding rule on a sannyasin. That is not a desire and the sannyasin is virtually a mendicant without rules binding him. He is not liable to any kind of command. Even one who does not know Brahman but who is desirous of emancipation should enter into the order of a sannyasin. The sruti says: “Let one live in the order of sannyasa which is a means to the knowledge of Brahman.” Brahmacharya may help one to attain knowledge but it is not the case with a householder. When a means is not properly followed it can never accomplish any object. The heavenly bliss of the karmakandin is only a form of worldly enjoyment. Heaven is only another world. If one professes to have knowledge he cannot do actions, for actions are worldly. The Atman is entirely opposed to action and hence it cannot be an auxiliary to the knowledge of it. The sruti says: “When to him everything has become the Self, who should see what and through what should one see?” etc. This nullifies the meaning of actions in one who has knowledge.

It may be argued that the ignorant, seeing that their obligations are not discharged, cannot turn sannyasins. This is not right, for there can be no obligation incurred before one enters the order of a householder. According to the text, “Let one leave his home for the forest, and become a sannyasin, even if he is a brahmacharin; let him immediately become a sannyasin, either from home or from the forest.” The order of the sannyasin is enjoined even on one who is in the householder’s order.

We read in the Chandogya Upanishad also that in the case of some people performance of agnihotra for twelve days, and subsequent renunciation, is enjoined. As for the argument that the order of a sannyasin is only for those who are unable to perform karma, we say, it is unsound; as, in their case, there is the separate text of the sruti, “He who has discontinued the fire or never maintained it,” etc. If you say that it is immaterial whether one lives in his house or in the forest, we say, it is fallacious. Self-denial alone being the matter of course with him, he cannot stay in the house as that is prompted by desire, and self-denial is mere absence of it. Acting recklessly is entirely out of question with regard to the man of knowledge, for that is known to be the way of extremely ignorant persons.

Therefore the text “Only doing karma, one should wish to live a hundred years” has been refuted by showing that the text applies to the ignorant, and that karma cannot coexist with knowledge.

History of sannyasins

The history of sannyasins starts with the four Kumaras: Sanaka, Sanandana, Sanatkumara and Sanatsujata. These four Kumaras were the mental sons of Brahma, the creator. Brahma created these four Kumaras through his mind and asked them to help him in the work of creation. The Kumaras refused to fulfill his request. They were nivritti-niratas, possessed of absolute renunciation. In spite of Brahma’s anger, they took to the life of nivritti and meditation on Brahman. Brahma in his rage wanted to burn down these Kumaras. But the powerful Kumaras who ever lived in the Supreme Soul, unconnected with pravritti, could not be harmed by Brahma. Such is the power of renunciation and life in the Absolute.

The Kumaras were initiated by Lord Shiva, in the form of Dakshinamurti, into the mysteries of Brahmajnana. Dakshinamurti sat under a banyan tree and taught them jnana by silence. They imbibed wisdom through silence and got rid of their doubts.

Dattatreya is the father of all men of renunciation. We are all the children of Dattatreya. Adorations to Him at all times! Dattatreya’s Avadhuta Gita and his instructions to king Yadu mark out his Supreme wisdom of Brahman. He lived in Brahman and he breathed Brahman. It is rare to find a sage like Dattatreya.

We trace our ancestry from Lord Narayana. From Narayana was born Brahma. From Brahma’s mind was born Sage Vashishtha, the reputed embodiment of wisdom, the spiritual preceptor of the kings of Ayodhya. He gave us the Yoga-Vashishtha, the transcendental guide-light to humanity. Vashishtha’s son was Sakti. From Sakti was born sage Parasara. From Parasara was born Vyasa, the great Badarayana, or Krishna-Dvaipayana, who divided the Vedas, and wrote the Mahabharata. Vyasa’s son was the ideal sage Sukha Deva, who gave the Bhagavata to Parikshit. Suka was initiated into sannyasa by Lord Shiva himself. Read the Suka-Rahasya Upanishad. You will find that Suka was initiated into the Mahavakyas by Sadashiva at the request of Sri Vyasa Maharshi. The blood of Suka-Deva is said to run in the veins of Gaudapada, the famous advaitic metaphysician, the father of Advaita Vedanta. Gaudapada initiated Govindapada into sannyasa, who, in turn, initiated into sannyasa Sri Shankara, the wondrous giant of Indian philosophy and religion. Shankara’s name will be remembered as long as the Divine Names of Rama and Krishna will last in this world. But for the timely incarnation of Shankara the upanishadic wisdom would have sunk into oblivion. Glory to the greatest sannyasin, Shankara, the “Loka-Shankara,” who showered the rain of peace all over the land!

The famous disciples of Shankara, Sureswaracharya, Padmapada, Hastamalaka and Trotaka became the disseminators of upanishadic and Vedantic knowledge all over the four quarters of Hindustan! Glory to all of them! Among the later sannyasins, Sage Vidyaranya ranks the foremost. He kept up the light of Advaita even in the midst of political bloodshed and suffering in the country. Next to Shankara and his direct disciples, none is so famous in the history of sannyasa and Vedanta as Swami Vidyaranya, the disciple of Swami Shankarananda. The commentary on the Bhagavad Gita written by Shankarananda is a boon to the sannyasins. It is specially meant for the sannyasins. It is purely a sannyasic interpretation of the Gita.

There are innumerable sannyasins at present belonging to one or the other of the four centers established by the four disciples of Shankara–at Sringeri, Dwaraka, Badrinath and Jagannath Puri. They are called Dasanami sannyasins, i.e., sannyasins with ten names. The credit of vigorous insistence on the necessity for sannyasa goes solely to the adorable advaitic sannyasin, the glorious Shankara!

Glory, glory to the sages, the gurus, the sannyasins, who have opened our eyes from sleep, who have widened our hearts, brightened our intellects and immersed us in Supreme knowledge!

Modern sannyasins

O ignorant man, who is fully immersed in worldliness! Just hear this interesting story and wake up from the long slumber of ignorance!

Even some Europeans have understood the glory and freedom of sannyasa and have embraced sannyasa. Mr. Nixon, M.A. (Oxon) who was a Professor in Lucknow University became a sannyasi–Sri Krishna Prem. He was a scholar in Sanskrit and Hindi. He did kirtan and danced in divine ecstasy. He was the author of famous books such as Yoga of the Bhagavadgita, Yoga of the Katha Upanishad, etc. He gave impressive, forcible speeches in English and Hindi also.

Mr. Alexander I.M.S., who was in the Medical College, Lucknow, became a sannyasin. He stayed in Uttara-Brindavan along with Sri Krishna Prem.

Sri Swami Tapovanam, the lion of Vedanta, a Brahmajnani, the author of several Sanskrit books, the crest-jewel and beacon-light of the Himalayas, lived in Uttarakasi. Even the biggest officers sat at his lotus feet to learn Vedanta.

Sri Malayala Swami, a great Sanskrit scholar, a Brahmajnani, thrilled the whole of Andhra Province with his lectures and spiritual instructions. He elevated the people of the entire Andhra. He was the author of several spiritual books in Telugu. He conducted a beautiful ashram at Yerpedu. He also held spiritual conferences. He was the spiritual king of Andhra.

Sri Swami Ramdas spread his spiritual influence from Anandashram, Kanhangad throughout the world. His books are a treasure for the world. He was a dynamic yogi and bhakta.

Sri Swami Omkar had two ashrams, one in Totapalli hills and another in Waltair. He did great work in America also.

Sri Swami Rajeshwarananadaji founded the Upanishadic Vihar in Kalahasti. He was the founder of Satchidananda Sangha in Madras. He was assisted by Dr. Sri T.M.P. Mahadevan, M.A., Ph.D., of the Madras University. He did great spiritual work. He was an orator and an author of several spiritual books.

Many cultured young men from Bengal have renounced the world and joined the Sri Ramakrishna Mission and are doing great spiritual work here and in various parts of America and Europe. Apart from the great direct disciples of Sri Ramakrishna Paramahansa, Sri Swami Madhavananda, Swami Nikhilananda, Swami Yatiswarananda, Swami Sasvatananda, Swami Sharvananda, Swami Tyagishananda, Swami Vireswarananda, Swami Ranganathananda and several others are torch-bearers of Divine Wisdom.

Sri Swami Yogananda did great spiritual work in Los Angeles. He was an orator. He was the founder of Self-Realization Fellowship.

A barrister of Gujarat became Swami Advaitananda. His articles appeared in various magazines. He was a dynamic yogi and a sage.

Swami Swayam Jyoti founded an ashram in Chota Udaipur and started a Gujarati Journal, the “Utthan.” He did great work in Gujarat.

Swami Purushottamanandaji, who lived in Vashishtha Guha, Himalayas, did silent spiritual work.

Swami Karapatri has been a too well-known and famous figure to need introduction. He lived the life of an ideal sannyasin. He conducted great yajnas for the peace of the world.

Sri Swami Suddhananda Bharati from South India was a jewel among sannyasins. He was a king among poets. He was the author of several important books. He was a yogi and anubhava-jnani. He radiated his Brahmic effulgence from the South.

The names of Swamis Vivekananda, Rama Tirtha and Dayananda can never be forgotten. They have become world-famous figures. Sri Ramakrishna Paramahansa was a sannyasin, and was a synthesis of the different conceptions of spiritual realization.

It is only sannyasins bold, who have cut off all ties and connections, who are fearless, who are freed from delusion, passion and selfishness, that can do real service to the world. Sannyasa alone can free one entirely from delusion and all worldly attachments.

Glory to sannyasins who are gods on this earth! May their blessings be upon you all!


When women are equipped with the four means of salvation, they are also quite eligible for sannyasa. They are as efficient as men in the field of spirituality. When one is born with sannyasa samskaras no force on the earth can prevent him or her from taking sannyasa. Even if you keep a hundred guards to prevent them from leaving the house they cannot check them. The father of the great Buddha guarded him in all possible ways, but his horse scaled the heights of the compound and took him to the forest. It is only the effeminate, impotent, timid men (who are only mustached women), with no good samskaras, and no spiritual asset, who are spiritual bankrupts, that will cling to things mundane and die like worms. They will speak against sannyasa. He who has understood the glory and freedom of sannyasa, a real child of Sri Shankara, Sri Dattatreya, Sanaka, Sanandana, Sanatana and Sanatkumara, cannot remain even for a day in the pravritti-marga.

Sulabha was a reputed lady sannyasini. She wandered about as a parivrajaki or itinerant woman and had a controversy with Raja Janaka. She was a Brahmajnani.

Sri Gauri Mataji was a sannyasini. She was the president of the Saradamani Ashram. Sri Durga Mataji is the present president of the ashram. She is a graduate.

Sri Omkar-Ishwari was a learned sannyasini. She was a Vedantini. She lived in Rishikesh. She had a small group of disciples; some were males, some were females.

Sri Swami Malayalaswami of Vyasa-Ashram, Yerpedu, Chittor Dt., has many sannyasini disciples.

The late Swami Poornananda of Sivalaya, Rishikesh, a cultured sannyasin of great reputation, had sannyasini disciples.

The daughter of the late Sri Chakravarty of Uttara-Brindavan, Almora, has taken sannyasa.

Even ladies born in rich families, like Sri Sushila Mangaldas of Bombay, do not want to marry and want to follow the spiritual path. This clearly shows that there is a sannyasa tendency in them.

Glorious sannyasinis

The indispensable necessity and the extreme importance of sannyasa can be very well imagined by the fact that it was not men alone but also women that took sannyasa in doing sadhana for self-realization. We know of the existence of sannyasinis, bhairavis and yatiswaris who have been a glory not merely to womankind but to the nation and the world as a whole. The chronicles of Christian mystics teem with immeasurable instances of such renowned all-renouncing nuns who were the examples of fiery aspiration, intense vairagya and supreme tyaga.

In India, the earliest records speak of the renunciation of Maitreyi, after hearing the sublime upadesha by Sage Yajnavalkya. She was permeated with the true spirit of sannyasa. She renounced the world. She is an ideal for all women, for all times.

The names of Sulabha and Gargi are too famous to need elaborate explanation. We hear of the glorious sannyasini Sulabha, the wandering mendicant, the knower of Brahman, conversing with King Janaka of Videha. This is described in the mokshadharma-parva of the Mahabharata. She gives Janaka profound knowledge of the Reality, explains to him the nature of existence and walks away unconcerned with matters of the world. It is told that Sulabha, the dandi-sannyasini, was highly devoted to the religion of final emancipation. She wanted to test Janaka whether he was emancipated or not. She finds countless faults in Janaka and tells him that he is only a lip Vedantin, that he is not emancipated, that his emancipation is only talk, and that he has not renounced attachment. She illumined Janaka with supreme wisdom and left his palace.

The questions put by Gargi to Sage Yajnavalkya in the court of Janaka mark her out as an ideal sannyasini. “If he will answer me these questions, not even one among you will surpass him in discussions about Brahman,” said Gargi to the learned sages assembled in the court of Janaka. How bold should a woman be to question a Brahmajnani like Yajnavalkya! Is this not a sign of absolute renunciation?

The Buddhist and the Jaina order of ascetics had its equal share of world-renouncing nuns as of its famous monks.

Nearer our times, a most brilliant example of a woman sannyasini is that of the great Bhairavi Brahmani who was the tantric guru of Sri Ramakrishna Paramahansa. She was a fiery example of wonderful renunciation, great boldness and courage, that distinguished her out as a fearless yogini. Among the later lady devotees of Sri Ramakrishna, and the holy Mother Saradamani Devi, the name of Gauri Mata should be mentioned. She felt the call for the higher life from her very girlhood and resisting all efforts of her relatives to get her married she renounced home and hearth and became a sannyasini. She wandered about fearlessly in many parts of India and performed severe austerities in the Himalayas, and later on, in Brindavan.

Yogini Mata is another such lady and an associate of Gauri Mata. She was a highly spiritual lady living a life of great detachment and intense continuous sadhana. She had performed the purnabhisheka ceremony of the tantras as well as the viraja homa of the Vedas, both indicative of having renounced the worldly life completely. The present Durga Mata of Saradewari Ashram, Calcutta, is a similar sannyasini.

O devis of the world! Should you not strive for the higher, the grand, the sublime, the only real life in the soul? Is it sufficient if you are satisfied with the petty material necessities of life on earth? Do you remember what Maitreyi said to Yajnavalkya? “What shall I do with that wealth of this whole world if thereby I would not become immortal?” said she to her husband. How many of the ladies of this world will be bold enough to assert this wise saying of the upanishadic ideal of a woman?

To chain themselves with the bondage of samsara is not the birthright of the mothers and sisters of the world. To get stuck up in family, children and relatives is not the ideal of courageous and discriminative women. Every mother of the world should realize her responsibility to awaken herself and her children, her family, her husband, to the true light and splendor of spiritual life. What a glorious mother was Madalasa! Did she ask her children to study up to the post-graduate examination and then seek for some employment? “You are pure, you are consciousness, you are taintless, you are devoid of the maya of samsara.” Such was the advaitic instruction which Madalasa gave to her children when she rocked them in cradle. How many mothers of the present-day world have got the fortune to teach their children such a profound knowledge? On the other hand, the present day mothers would try to crush the spiritual tendency of their children even if it is found in them in a microscopic state! What a sad and pitiable condition of these ignorant mothers! Wake up, O mothers, sisters! Wake up from your deep sleep! Recognize your responsibility! Spiritualize yourselves! Spiritualize your children! Spiritualize even your husbands, for you are the makers of the family! Remember how Chudala illumined her husband. You are the makers of the nations! You are the builders of the world! Therefore spiritualize yourselves! Assert in yourselves the spirit of Sulabha, Maitreyi, Gargi, Gauri-Puri-Devi! Do not be cowardly! Come out of your fleshly homes, the homes of delusion, the homes of vanity!

Be you all real sannyasinis, and bring real glory, real greatness, for that is real boldness and courage, that is real wisdom and understanding! A woman is not a woman if she is devoid of spiritual fire in her, if she is ignorant of a higher life in the soul! A woman’s duty is not merely family, her duty is also to transcend family! Her duty does not lie in saris, bangles jackets, powders and scents! Her duty does not lie in getting employment for her children! Her duty is also concerned with the self, the Atman, the Brahman! Such a woman is a real symbol of God, she is to be adored, she is to be worshipped!

Sannyasa ashrama

Sannyasa is the fourth ashrama of life. It is, in other words, the upanishadic life. It is the life of renunciation. It is the last of the four ashramas. In none of these stages should a person grasp at the duties of the other three. He should stick to the dharma of his own particular ashrama.

Ahimsa paramo dharmah” [“Non-violence is the supreme dharma.”] cannot be strictly practiced by householders. It can be practiced by sannyasins who tread the nivritti marga. Real sannyasins do not defend themselves even when their lives are in danger, because, they know that existence is in reality changeless. A sannyasin is one who has no body, and who identifies himself with Brahman or the Atman.

The duty of a brahmachari is different from that of a grihastha, vanaprastha and a sannyasin. The duty of a grihastha is quite unconcerned with the duty of the other three. Similar is the case with the vanaprastha and the sannyasin. One has nothing to do with the works of the other. The brahmachari studies the samhita portion of the Vedas as swadhyaya. The grihastha performs action according to the brahmana portion of the Vedas. The vanaprastha leads a mystic and secluded life according to the sylvan text or the aranyaka portion of the Vedas. The sannyasin contemplates according to the upanishadic or knowledge portion of the Vedas.

The sannyasin is dead to the world and his family. The very color, the very orange robe gives strength and purity. I do not believe those people who say, “We have given coloring to our hearts.” This is timidity and hypocrisy. If there is real internal change, the external change is bound to come. You cannot be a sage inside and a rogue outside. The inner nature will not allow you to keep an opposite nature outside. I do not admit that merely an attainment towards eradication of egoism, sankalpas and vasanas, does really constitute sannyasa. The ashrama-bheda is absolutely necessary. Why did sages like Shankara and Sri Ramakrishna take sannyasa? Why did Yajnavalkya take sannyasa even after realization of Brahman? Where is the necessity for this order at all?

Some people say, “Think for yourself. There is no need of spiritual rules or spiritual initiation.” O ignorant man! How can you think for yourself? If I ask you to enquire “Who am I?” you will think you are Mr. so and so, born of such-and-such a person, with such a height and weight, and having such a name. Is this the enquiry of “Who am I?” Is this thinking for yourself? Ignorant people cannot think for themselves.

Some others say, “We can find out good and evil, right and wrong, by consulting our conscience alone.” No individual will be able to do this by consulting his conscience merely. Conscience will not help you unless you have reached the height of purity and understanding. The impure conscience cannot give right suggestions. The pig thinks that the whole world is full of pigs only, and that it itself is nothing more than a pig. Similar is the fate of those men of little understanding with an impure conscience who try to think for themselves and get suggestions from their conscience. Conscience is one’s own habit and conviction. The conscience of the individual speaks in accordance with his tendencies, proclivities, inclinations, education, habits, passion and the like. The conscience of a savage speaks a language entirely different from that of a civilized European. How can you depend upon this false so-called conscience? The conscience of an aboriginal brute speaks a language entirely different from that of an ethically developed yogi of India. The sense of duty ingrained in the clerk of a collectorate, a car-driver, a scavenger, are all different. There are ten different consciences in ten different persons of the same district. Virochana thought for himself, took guidance from his conscience, and enquired “Who am I?” But with what result? He “realized” that the body is the Self. [See Chandogya Upanishad 8:71-8:8:5.]

The voice of the conscience alone is not sufficient to guide man in his life. Without taking sannyasa you cannot live the life of detachment and renunciation through mere independent thinking and through conscience. The duties of life will be misunderstood without the shastras and the words of the realized persons (apta-vakya). The Lord Krishna says in the Gita: “He who, having cast aside the ordinances of the scriptures, follows the promptings of his desires, does not attain perfection, nor happiness, nor the highest goal.”

Tired with the mundane life of the world, and striving for the realization and correct knowledge of the Self, pondering over the wisdom of the Upanishads which appertain to the science of Brahman, a really wise man should abandon his home and take to the life of sannyasa. Those brahmanas who, declaring protection to all creatures (i.e., sannyasins), leave their homes and take to asceticism, attain to effulgent regions.

Houseless, bereft of the sacred fire, desireless, indifferent and speechless, he should maintain perfect equanimity. Life and death he must not court; like a servant waiting for the receipt of his salary he must patiently wait for the time of emancipation.

Always contemplating on Brahman, non-attached to anything of the world, and desiring nothing both here and hereafter, he should, in the company of his Self alone seek for the bliss of emancipation. He should court peace and live in peace, for peace is bliss, and peace is his ideal.

Meditation is the sannyasin’s duty, meditation is his food, meditation is his life. He lives meditation, breathes meditation. He is ever intent upon the realization of the Supreme Brahman.

By restraining the senses, by annihilating desire and aversion, by extending compassion to all creatures, by seeing the Eternal Being alone existing everywhere, a sannyasin attains immortality.

By means of yoga, a sannyasin should comprehend the disembodied Self or the Supreme Brahman which runs through all creatures, good or bad, high or low. The all-pervasiveness of this inner Self which spreads among all living and dead beings alike, is unintelligible to the untrained and uncultured intellects; let the sannyasin witness the majesty of this Existence-Knowledge-Bliss by means of profound meditation.

Him, who has fully witnessed this supreme state of existence, actions do not bind; without this knowledge a man shall revert to this mortal world.

The sannyasin should take refuge in the wisdom of Brahman and the sentences of the Vedanta which treat of the eternal truth. Brahman is the refuge of all knowing as well as ignorant beings. It is the final goal of the aspirations of all who wish to become immortal.

Bereft of all work, indifferent to the pleasures of heaven as factors of embodiment and enchainment, on account of the privilege of witnessing the Self, and by constantly brooding over the Supreme Brahman, the wise sannyasin attains the highest bliss!

Gist of the Narada Parivrajaka Upanishad

One should qualify himself with sadhana-chatushtaya before entering into sannyasa. He must be above the tricks and bondages of samsara. He should develop dispassion towards objects which he sees or hears. He must be encircled by the fence of dispassion from all sides. As soon as disgust arises in the mind for all objects of the world, then one should take to sannyasa without any further hesitation. A passionate man should not take sannyasa. A person who takes sannyasa even when he is being overpowered by passion, goes to the regions of darkness and gloom. Whose tongue, genital, stomach and hands are properly disciplined, that man is fit to take sannyasa. A Brahmana should take to sannyasa even while he is yet a brahmachari–without marriage–for samsara is essenceless. He should try to seek that Essence through renunciation. A man who possesses deep dispassion cannot marry. Works and duties are only for the worldly man; not for the man of renunciation.

As soon as the supreme truth is ascertained, one should abandon his house, family, and take up a staff and leave off his sacred thread and the hairs on the head.

Who is a real bhikshu?

He who is attached to the Supreme Self, who is detached from the non-self, who has no desire whatever, he is a real bhikshu.

Who is happy, whether worshipped or censured, whether praised or beaten–he is a real bhikshu.

Who possesses the bhava that he is the Supreme Brahman, that he is one without a second–he is a real bhikshu.

Who is an abode of tranquillity, self-control, purity, truth, contentment, straightforwardness, renunciation and egolessness–he is fit to be a sannyasin.

Who knows the true import of the Vedanta, who has given fearlessness to all creatures–he is a real bhikshu.

Who never thinks of his past, who never dreams of his future, who is indifferent to the present–he is fit to be a sannyasin.

Who is able to withdraw all the senses within and throw off all sense objects outside–he is fit to be a sannyasin.

Who lives with his prana, as if he had no prana (i.e., as if he is dead)–he is fit to be a sannyasin.

General rules for a sannyasin

Never is desire extinguished by its fulfillment, on the other hand it increases like fire after pouring ghee over it.

Hearing, touching, tasting, seeing, or smelling anything, he who is neither exhilarated nor depressed is said to be a man of self-control.

A sannyasin should shun praise like poison. He should accept censure as if it is nectar. He who is censured sleeps soundly, wakes up soundly, wanders soundly, but the person who censures perishes quickly.

A sannyasin should not argue, he should not denounce anybody. For the sake of the body, he should not create any enmity.

He should not be angry with one who is angry with him; he should be friendly with him who censures him.

Desiring for nothing else than the final liberation of the soul, he should live with his Self as his sole guide.

To feel that the body is the Self is the real hell, is real punishment, is real bondage, is real sin. This is to be avoided with care.

He should not crave either life or death. He should be indifferent to them. He should patiently await the time when he will be liberated.

He should not feel that this is good or that is not good, but take whatever food he gets, and speak the minimum, but truthfully, sweetly, appropriately.

By casting a look on either a baby born just now, or a girl of sixteen, or even a woman of hundred years, he should be unperturbed.

He should be indifferent even after hearing good or bad, sweet or harsh words, which cause sorrow or joy.

Never should a sannyasin even think in his mind to love, hate, supersede, delude, censure or injure other beings.

A sannyasin should not undertake long journeys. He should always spend his time in studying the Upanishads for his salvation.

Sannyasa is open to a brahmachari, a grihastha or a vanaprastha, all alike. One can take sannyasa either direct from brahmacharya or otherwise as he likes.

The sannyasin has no yajnopavita, for he wears the yajnopavita (sacred thread) of Brahmajnana. He is the real yajnopavitin, others are not real yajnopavitins.

The real Brahmana is one who wears the jnana-yajnopavita, and not one who merely wears an external thread.

The sannyasin shines like gold, like the sun, with his orange robe. He renounces the whole universe at a stretch and has nothing to do with anything except the One Self.

The sannyasin is contented with whatever happens to come. He is the most blessed. He has fulfilled his mission of life.

The sannyasin renounces both the world and the Veda, and centers himself in the Supreme Self.

He should not pay heed to words of others, like, “Please come, please stand, please go,” etc. He should not accept gifts from anybody, when it is really not necessary.

If he hears any bad news about his previous wife, children, relations, etc., he should not be moved in his mind. He should not even dream of them at any time.

The sannyasin is a real Brahmana, for he does not know what is meant by the difference between good, bad, sacred, secular, virtuous and vicious, etc., among things of the world.

Seeing that peaceful sage, the celestial beings are attracted towards him. Because he does not have any corporeal sign, he is fit to attain kaivalyamukti.

There should be perfect renunciation (dispassion) born of viveka or discrimination (understanding). The vairagya should not be mild and half hearted. Nothing but the state of kaivalya or final liberation is to be the ideal of attainment.

He who possesses wisdom is a real sannyasin. Wisdom is the sign of a sannyasin.

The sannyasin should be ever intent on advaitic meditation.

Only a jnani crosses over samsara. None else can cross it. The sannyasin should practice jnana yoga for the liberation of his soul.

“That is the Abode of the Supreme reaching which one returns not again. There the sun does not shine, nor the moon. That jnani does not return again, does not return again.” Thus ends the Upanishad.

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Chapters Necessity for Sannyasa

Chapters Necessity for Sannyasa—Editor’s Preface

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