Sannyas and Religion

Sannyas is not directly concerned with any religion, although religion can lead a person to the path of sannyas. Sannyasins acknowledge the spiritual essence underlying all the world's religions without becoming personally involved in any of them. In sannyas one seeks spiritual realisation directly, rather than through particular beliefs or religious observances. Sannyas concerns the development of the mind and the deeper layers of human consciousness. It is the path most applicable for those who believe in God and for those who have experienced God themselves in order to accelerate their evolution and spiritual realisation Sannyas begins at the point where formal religion ends. At that point, the practice of a religion opens up into the dimension of higher spiritual understanding. For a sannyasin the whole world is one and the same, and if God is anywhere at all, then he is everywhere. For this reason the sannyasin can see no reason to become involved in any particular beliefs, orders, congregations, temples, churches or forms of worship, for these only serve to limit his vision and his mission.

This is the fundamental difference between sannyasins and the monks and priests of the various religions. Whereas a Christian priest and a Buddhist monk owe allegiance to particular traditions and uphold specific dogmas and doctrines, for sannyasins, all temples, churches, traditions and rituals are equally familiar and equally foreign. The sannyasin seeks only to realise the truth directly, by following the instructions of his guru.

Perhaps the best way to explain the relationship between sannyas and religion is to consider the lives of Jesus and Buddha. Jesus himself was not a Christian but a Jewish peasant, and Buddha was not a Buddhist, but an Indian prince who renounced the world. Both were simple sannyasins who realised the highest truth. The religious institutions which bear their names were created after they had left this world. Only then were teachings formulated, dogmas created and orders established. Although religions today are useful forces for social and moral upliftment, and help their adherents to live a life based on values which are individually and socially useful, it is by adopting the path of sannyas that one can go beyond the limitations and precepts to experience the deeper nature of the self directly.

Sannyasins realise the existence of an almighty, all pervading and all knowing force. Some call it God, others call it cosmic consciousness and others still know it as the Self. In renouncing personal life the sannyasin renounces his relationship with any personal God. However, in crossing the deeper layers of his consciousness, he may adopt a symbol, an ishta devata, or personal form of God, to guide him. He may choose Shiva, Kali, Christ, his guru or any other form according to his inclination, but his vision of what God is will both encompass and surpass this symbol.

Many people ask if it is possible to take sannyas and still follow the precepts of their religion. It is, but one soon realises that precepts act only as barriers within which the mind can be kept secure and in order. They may be useful in the beginning but as the horizons of the mind are progressively broadened, this past conditioning is completely engulfed. A sannyasin has total faith in the reality of higher consciousness and faces life fearlessly in the quest for higher awareness. He has no need for the security which religious precepts provide. Having renounced all superficial boundaries, he can freely adjust within any cultural or religious context or lifestyle. In any surroundings his life will be an inspiration to others, while inwardly his mind remains unfettered, concentrated on that which is beyond any precept.

As long as spiritual life is based upon awareness of precepts and symbols one remains within the boundaries of the mind. In order to experience reality one has to transcend these boundaries, because God is beyond the limited, finite mind. To know him, one has to transcend the mind. There are many techniques which lead to the brink where one has to jump over the mind, but no one can teach how to make that jump. Beyond this point there is no spiritual practice to follow and no book has been written on it Only one thing can help, and that is grace. Up to that point others can teach and point the way, but to go beyond surpasses all human power. You alone must find the way.

"Those who are pure in mind, striving through the path of renunciation, come to ascertain clearly the deeper imports of knowledge. They in the end, gain the world of Brahma and, liberating themselves from everything, gain the highest immortality." - Kaivalyopanishad