What is Sannyas?
Sannyas is defined by A Brief Sanskrit Glossary: “Renunciation; monastic life. Sannyasa literally means ‘total throwing away,’ in the sense of absolute rejection of worldly life, ways and attitudes. True sannyas is based on viveka and vairagya. It is not just a mode of external life, but a profound insight and indifference to the things of the world and the world itself–not the world of God’s creation, but the world of human ignorance, illusion, folly and suffering which binds all sentient beings to the wheel of continual birth and death. The sannyasi’s one goal is liberation through total purification and enlightenment. His creed is Shankara’s renowned Vedanta in Half a Verse: ‘Brahman is real. The world is illusion. The jiva is none other than Brahman.’” Those who follow the way of Sannyas are known as sannyasis (male) and sannyasinis (female).
The ashram of Swami Sivananda, the author of Necessity For Sannyasa, included both sannyasis and sannyasinis. However in his writings relating to sannyasa he usually addresses or speaks of male aspirants because it was very uncommon at that time for women to take up monastic life in any form, especially in the Shankara Order. Anandamayi Ma and Sivananda were almost the only ones who encouraged women to become sannyasinis in the full traditional sense. Some devout women such as my beloved friend Sri Maitri Devi of New Delhi gathered around them women who dressed in white and were sannyasinis in the spiritual sense, but with no official monastic status.
It is very necessary for everyone–especially Western aspirants–to understand that, as I have just said, the foundation of true sannyasa is viveka: realization of the reality of Brahman and the eternal Atman (Self) and disinterest and indifference in relation to all else, especially to the illusory and soul-destroying ways and world of those who do not seek liberation (moksha) exclusively and above all else. To take up monastic life only as an expression of emotional “love for God” or “dedication to God” or as a kind of noble “sacrifice” is an unworthy act, and one that will eventually lead to grave consequences inwardly and outwardly. It is a saddening thing to learn of men and women who after years of monastic life for the wrong reasons abandoning that life and immediately plunging into the follies and corruptions of the world, including getting married within weeks or months of leaving the monastery or convent. Of them it can truly be said: “The last state of that man is worse than the first” (Matthew 12:45). “For if after they have escaped the pollutions of the world, they are again entangled therein, and overcome, the latter end is worse with them than the beginning. For it had been better for them not to have known the way of righteousness, than, after they have known it, to turn from the holy commandment delivered unto them. But it is happened unto them according to the true proverb, The dog is turned to his own vomit again; and the sow that was washed to her wallowing in the mire” (II Peter 2:20-22).
Necessity For Sannyasa
This book is a very great treasure from the pen of Swami Sivananda Saraswati. Sannyas was his very life. So anxious was Sivananda to save and protect others from the sufferings of the world, that if someone even casually mentioned that he was thinking of taking sannyas he would wait until they went to their room, then lock them in, gather all the things needed for conferring sannyas, take them from the room and immediately initiate them into sannyas. I experienced some of this fervor for myself.
I went to India at the end of November, 1962, because I had a strong intuition that either Anandamayi Ma or Swami Sivananda would soon leave the body. (My feeling was right; Sivanandaji left this world nine months later.) About eight months after my arrival in India I took sannyas, becoming Swami Nirmalananda Giri. Both Ma Anandamayi and Sivananda had a part in that.
When I first wrote to Ma in June of 1962, I gave my letter to a fellow yogi to take to her. Fortunately, the letter was read out to her in Bengali by Brahmacharini Atmananda, who wrote down her answer and translated it into English. When she gave the translation to my friend she commented: “Ma considers him a sannyasi.” This was because in beginning her reply, Ma had said: “Write to my friend….” I did not know it at the time, but Ma had three ways of addressing people. Men she called “Pitaji”–Father; women she called “Mataji”–Mother; and monks and nuns she called “Friend.” In Mother As Seen By Her Devotees I had read a complaint that Ma consistently exhibited a marked preference for sannyasis and sannyasinis. (The complainant, supposedly a devotee, called this “a fly in the ointment.”) So I felt pleased that Ma regarded me as a Friend.
I had been told by Dr. Ghosh who was the priest of Gopala in the Ranchi Anandamayi Ashram (which he had built and donated to Ma’s use), that he had once brought some Roman Catholic nuns to meet Ma. The first thing she said was: “Tell them that this body is also a nun.” (Ma always referred to herself as “this body.”) So she was my Friend as well!
One morning in the Sivanandashram satsang Swami Sivananda said to me: “There are two things I want to tell you. From now on spend as much time as you can with Anandamayi Ma. And take sannyas as soon as possible.” Right away I went to Delhi where Ma had just arrived. I received her permission to attend her birthday celebration in Agarpara, north of Calcutta. One afternoon during the celebration I asked Ma if I could take sannyas. She very forcefully said that I should, and approved of my taking sannyas from Swami Vidyananda Giri, a disciple of Paramhansa Yogananda. She went into her room and brought out a large silk chaddar (shawl) which she said I should have dyed gerua and use for the sannyas diksha. At the initiation Vidyanandaji told me: “Your name is Nirmalananda. Normally it means Flawless Bliss, but since Anandamayi Ma’s name was Nirmala, you are to consider that it means the Bliss of Anandamayi Ma.” And so it was.
My last darshan of Sivanandaji was only about two weeks before his mahasamadhi. I had taken sannyas (at his urging) only a few weeks earlier and had come to bid him farewell as I was leaving my beloved India. Throughout the morning satsang he kept looking at me and saying: “Swami Nirmalananda Giri! I am very happy. I am very happy.”
May he bless every reader of this precious book, and may they make him happy in the heaven-world by awakening to the necessity for sannyasa and acting upon it without delay.
Swami Nirmalananda Giri
(Abbot George Burke)