Sanyasi: One who excludes everything that distracts from the pursuit of truth

Sannyasa-yoga/ Topic of renunciation(chapter 5)

Chapter 5 starts with a question by Arjuna. He says: You are, on one hand, praising sanyasa (by sanyasa he means the sanyasa I referred to in the previous chapter, by which knowledge you discover yourself as actionless), and on the other hand, he says, you seem to be praising karma-yoga. Tell me the one thing that will get me moksha, I want to know for sure, says Arjuna…Tell me one thing that will give me moksha, he insists, don’t tell me this is good, that is good, everything is good…

In fact, what Arjuna is asking is what I should be doing. It’s almost as though he’s asking for advice. And Krishna, like a true teacher, refuses to give that advice, but, again, as a true teacher, he puts both in perspective. He says, “A lifestyle of sanyasa and a lifestyle of karma-yoga, both can give you moksha.’’  Let us see what he means by the two lifestyles. The lifestyle of a karma-yogi has been explained over many of the previous posts; it is basically living to fulfil all your priorities with the two fundamental attitudes of:

a) Ishwara arpanam—offering all actions to God

b) Prasada buddhi—accepting all results as prasada from God.

It is the lifestyle of sanyasa which can confuse people because if you look around, there seems to be a whole variety that comes under the sanyasa lifestyle. For example, you will find some people dressed in saffron but they are doing social work, some are dressed in saffron and they are standing for elections, some are living a sanyasi lifestyle but they are in white.  So there seems to be a lot of confusion in terms of what a sanyasi’s lifestyle is about.

Now, the wearing of the saffron robes was an external symbol, a mark of a person who had adopted a sanyasa lifestyle. Nowadays, after Sankara’s time, this would be called the dasanama sanyasa system, where every sanyasi would have a sanyasi name, like Chinmayananda, Dayananda etc. In this type of sanyasa, the person has given up his real name because all previous identities have been given up, and since all previous roles and identities have been given up, he gets a new name. Either that name will be indicative of what the atma is or indicative of the quality a person may have. Like Dayananda, the compassionate joyful one as my teacher is called, because he is a very compassionate person. Ananda is always added because ananda indicates the atma and that’s what every person who knows the truth is supposed to be.

 After that, if you are a dasanami sadhu, you will always be able to identify that because there will be something like a surname, not exactly a surname, but a name indicating a few things about the sadhu. Just as you know that if a person has Tiwari for a surname, he’s from U.P, and if someone has Iyer for a surname, he is from Tamilnadu, these sadhus also will have a surname like Saraswati or Bharati etc which will indicate that he is affiliated to the Sringeri math, one of the four mathas set up by Sankara. Similarly, if you are called Giri, Parvatha etc you are affiliated to the Joshir math, again set up by Sankara. There are about 10 surnames and, therefore, they are called the dasanami sadhus.

[pullquote]You have not yet known the truth but you have worn the robes, you have burnt your boats because in sanyasa there is nothing like reverse gear[/pullquote]

Then you have the Dasa sampradaya; they are followers of Samartha Ramdas . Similarly, you have Kabir-panthis, people who follow the philosophy and lifestyle led by Kabir.There are a few orders along these lines. Like Jainism, which is an offshoot of Hinduism and now, of course, for socio-political reasons, they are claiming a separate identity and minority status. They have two sects of sanyasis–the digambaras, for whom the clothes, ambaram, is nothing but dig, space. They go about as avadhutas, with no clothes, and you have the svetambaras, those who wear only white. The Buddhist bhikshus are another group. Like this you will find a whole gamut, a whole variety of formal sanyasi traditions in India.

Now all these lifestyles have certain things in common and the most important would be the pursuit of the truth. The truth, as it is revealed in the sastras, is to understand that you are nothing but awareness, unlimited by time and space, and you are pursuing this to the exclusion of everything else. You have excluded every other thing in your life so that there is nothing to distract you from the pursuit of truth. This is the lifestyle of a sanyasi. As against this, a karma-yogi’s lifestyle would be one in which you are including everything.

You see this as a pursuit….But the symbolism around sanyasa is the culmination of the spiritual pursuit….

That’s true….In fact, sanyasa, within the formal dasanama sanyasa, is looked upon in two ways. One is called vividisha sanyasa, where you take up to this pursuit of knowledge to the exclusion of everything else. You have not yet known the truth but you have worn the robes, you have burnt your boats because in sanyasa there is nothing like reverse gear; you can’t go back to normal living after taking sanyasa. Because it comes under the formal ashrama dharma. We have seen the varna dharma previously, the class system etc. Similarly there is an ashrama dharma. What is an ashrama dharma? Basically,  human life was mapped into four broad stages:

1)    The first stage was the life of a student where you  had no goals in life other than learning basic education, professional skills etc.

2)    After that you became a grahastha, the second ashrama, a householder, where you married, were engaged in productive work, in the creation of wealth. Therefore, this ashrama was considered very important and most people were encouraged to have it because the production of wealth was considered very important in society for the society as a whole to progress. That’s why in India a lot of young people face a lot of pressure to marry once they finish their education and have a job.

3)     The third ashrama was called vanaprastha during which one retires from an active role in society to a more advisory one. As a grahastha you have an executive role in society. In a vanaprastha ashrama, you still stayed at home or sometimes even left for an ashram where your contact with the family was more in an advisory capacity, you were a friend, philosopher and guide and you gave your advice when you were asked for it and not otherwise.

4)     And the last stage in everyone’s life was supposed to be sanyasa during which you have nothing else to bother about but the pursuit of truth.

In this type of sanyasa system also, you were allowed to skip stages. The Upanisads, the Vedas talk of sanyasa and they allow you to skip stages. Meaning you could be a student, a householder, and then directly go to the sanyasa stage by skipping the vanaprastha stage altogether. Or you could go directly from student life to the sanyasa stage. You were allowed this—it’s something like getting a double promotion in life. You could skip a stage if you felt so inclined. But in all this we are looking at sanyasa as a goal, as a lifestyle to reach a goal. This is called vividisha sanyasa.

On the other hand, we also have something known as vidvat sanyasa. This is sanyasa as an end in itself. A wise person who knows the truth lives a life of a sanyasi whether he wears the robes or not. This is the sanyasa Krishna was talking about in the previous chapter as jnanena karma sanyasa, the one who  has given up all actions by knowledge and has no actions left in him. He already knows that he is nothing but all-pervading awareness. Here, sanyasa and knowledge become one and the same; there is no pursuit of knowledge, this person is living a life of fulfilment because he is already rooted in this knowledge. These are the two types of sanyasa one can have in today’s life.

Therefore, in one case sanyasa becomes a lifestyle, a means to achieve the goal of knowledge and, on the other hand, it is also referred to as the end, the goal, as one who is already rooted in this knowledge.

More of this in the next post…


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1 Comment

    • Sahay

      Good article