In bygone times, the ideal of renunciation was followed as one of the four stages of life. The ancient sages and rishis of the world plotted the ideal path for a man or woman to follow which would lead to the fullest possible experience of life, culminating in self-realization.
In those times the prevailing atmosphere was far more spiritually orientated and man and his society were more ordered and purposeful. That age was known as the satyuga - the golden age of man. The people of that time bore little resemblance to modern man. They are described as being very tall and robust, free from illnesses and imperfections of body, mind and personality.
Established in spiritual knowledge, they lived together peacefully and harmoniously in enlightened communities. Their lifespan normally exceeded 100 years, and they planned their journey accordingly, to evolve through 4 distinct stages of life, culminating in renunciation and sannyas.
The first stage of life, up to 25 years was called brahmacharya - this was spent in an ashram, under the guidance of a guru. In this stage the young people were educated in the spiritual truths, becoming established in the higher ideals which they would follow as their life unfolded. In those days, education was conducted under the gurukul system, children of all castes and families living with a guru, imbibing the practical principles of spiritual life as they grew up.
From 25 to 50 years, the individual entered the stage known as grihastha - householder. Here he or she lived in the world, married, begot progeny, supported a family and enjoyed all the pleasures of life, together with its pains and disappointments.
The third stage of life, from 50 to 75 years, was known as vanispati - forest dweller. Here the individual retired from the forefront of active life and responsibilities and went into the forest together with his partner. Living a life of contemplation, they gradually detached themselves from the values and objects of the society.
Finally, from 75 to 100 years, the individual adopted sannyas, renouncing personal life, after having experienced its fullness, and setting out alone on the path to highest realisation. Sannyas was the climax of life, when full self knowledge emerged.
Unfortunately, modern man's life follows no such pattern. Today many people's lives are devoid of purpose and a life plan. Ignorant of how to live creatively and harmoniously, plagued by frustrations, tensions and unhappiness, the victim of degenerative disorders and diseases he does not understand, nor know how to cure, modern man is living aimlessly, without a map or a guide. Now the average lifespan has fallen to barely 70 years, with many people collapsing of exhaustion and strain in their third or fourth decade. Today fewer and fewer people are even attaining the age at which the people of old embarked on sannyas. Modern society reflects the level of our personal frustration and unfulfilment. Plagued by wars and conflicts, strikes and social disharmony, drug and alcohol addiction, crimes, marital discord and frustration, psychosomatic diseases such as heart disease, hypertension, and cancer, it seems to be purposeless and out of control. We have individually and collectively lost our way.
It is in this light, that sannyas is being revived as a way of life through which modern men and women can rediscover their lost creativity, balance and inner direction, and contribute most meaningfully to the rejuvenation of society and the expansion of the collective consciousness of mankind.
Because the world today desperately needs true spiritual teachers, Swami Satyananda Saraswati is initiating many seekers of all ages into sannyas, and is training and guiding them towards a higher life in service to mankind. On four continents - India, Australia, Europe and South America, sannyas training programs are underway, and many dedicated souls are finding the fulfilment and inspiration their lives have lacked, in the rigorous training which Swamiji's ashrams provide. These sannyasins are being trained with the mission of bringing the healing sciences of yoga to the world as a universal culture which will herald a new golden era for man.
Swamiji's vision of a sannyasin disciple is that of a dynamic, inspired and creative individual who recognises the real needs of others and labours with endless dedication, but without personal involvement, for the welfare of many. Unlike former times, the sannyasin of today attains self-realization while following an active path in the world, and embodies the higher states of consciousness while participating fully in life.
Sannyas is a stage of life which everyone, irrespective of his goals, aspirations and responsibilities, should adopt for a period of time, to gain mental stability, personal inspiration and a pattern of living which will ensure ongoing spiritual attainment. Sannyas life paves the way to greater self awareness, develops innate creativity and enables one to attain higher consciousness while living a purposeful and inspired life of direct benefit to all. It leads directly to freedom from personal limitations.