While we have been talking about sannyas and sannyasins, many people may not be totally aware that sannyasins means collectively, both men and women. Although once, women were excluded initiation and sannyas life they are now very much accepted. Sannyas is open to everyone - there are no exceptions or limitations- only those that are self imposed.
Throughout the ages there have been many female saints and sages although not a great deal has been heard about them. Women like Ananda Mai Ma, the Holy Mother Sarada Devi, Saint Teresa and Mirabai are well known, but there have been many others from the Moghal period, the Christian, Buddhist and Sufi traditions as well as the unsung saintly woman from the village nearby, who heals and inspires, and is revered as an incarnation of the divine mother.
There have also been many female gurus. In fact, in the tantric tradition, it is said that initiation from a female guru is very powerful and very auspicious. In the coming years there will be many female gurus to carry on the sannyas tradition. Female sannyasins will be very much involved in the yoga of the future. Even now there are female sannyasins leading ashrams, female chief disciples and female followers. Nowadays women seem to be more inclined towards a spiritual life than men, and they have many valuable qualities to offer in the upliftment of humanity. There are many women who feel they have a more universal contribution to make to the world beyond bearing children. The institution of marriage and the raising of a family can be a great limitation to such women. On a grand scale a female sannyasin can be the mother of many, preparing beings for spiritual life as she would her own children for a material, worldly life. But of course a female sannyasin does not have to possess motherly qualities. She can also be strong, ambitious, aggressive and fiery. The guru gives positive direction to all tendencies.
When a guru accepts a sannyasin, he makes of him or her a complete and independent being, awakening the inner shakti in a male and the inner shiva in a female. In the course of training all sannyasins are placed in situations that will enable them to break away from their predetermined masculine or feminine roles to discover the true underlying self, and the many potentials that may have been suppressed all throughout life.
As a sannyasin, a woman must be prepared to liberate herself from her conditioned feminine upbringing. She will find herself having to tackle some of the tasks she would have once called a male to do, just as a male sannyasin has to get used to doing his own washing, cleaning and sewing.
In ashram life male and female sannyasins participate in the work equally. Just because a sannyasin is a female it does not mean she will be confined to typing, cleaning and kitchen duties. Her work may involve supervising a department, gardening, operating a machine, writing, editing, teaching, or driving. Just as male sannyasins may have to accept a female in-charge, a female may find herself confronting a few difficulties directing a department that consists solely of male swamis. It is in this way that conditioning is overcome.