Army Life and Sannyasa

Lieutenant Colonel O. P. Bisla, VSM, Bihar Regiment

A peep into the life schedule of sannyasins at Sivanandashram, Monghyr flashed back my personal experience of life as a recruit at Jat Regimental Centre Bareilly twenty six years ago. It is surprising to see how strikingly similar is the functioning of the two disciplines. I will try to draw a comparison on some of the salient features of the two apparently opposite looking lifestyles - sannyasa aiming at ahimsa, peace of mind and super-consciousness and army cherishing the aim of achievement of expertise and efficiency in killing.

Post Initiation training at ashram and training of recruits

The initial stage of sannyasa and army life is characterized by very hard training with a view to inculcate physical and mental discipline before specialized training is given. The day begins at 6 a.m. after morning breakfast in both schools and activities continue until 5:30 or 6 p.m. In the army the stress is on the PT Drill, weapon or field craft training, and games. Sannyasin training lays greater stress on taming and disciplining the mind through asana, pranayama and karma yoga.

During the period of recruit training which lasts approximately 9 months, a recruit is not allowed any leave. He is also not allowed to leave the lines. He is issued a uniform. His day ends at 10 p.m. with the sounding of lights out bugle when he must go to bed. Very similar are the sanctions in the ashram. Except for the colour of the uniform, it would be difficult to tell inmates of one from the other at lunch or dinner time when we see them standing around in queues with their plate and mug or sitting around the kitchen eating their meals. Incidentally, the recruits in the army are also given a close head shave after recruitment. During this period the ustad or guru is the god for trainees of both schools and he is obeyed literally. In fact this continues forever in both disciplines - with a minor variation in the army where after training a sepoy has to serve under orders of different superior officers.

Maintaining discipline

The basis of success in both army and sannyasa is individual discipline. The ideal of discipline expected in both is also more or less of the same content. In the former it is inculcated partly through mental training and partly through body control. The training aims at finer body development and coordination which is necessary for sustained physical hard work required of an army man. Since body and mind are so closely related, control of body is instrumental to development of departmental discipline. Drill training is another method utilized for inculcating instant obedience and thus mental discipline.

In sannyasa the basis of individual discipline is self-control or mental discipline which is developed and sustained through strict spiritual living and hard work. In the army the sustenance for discipline is provided through provision of instant and on-the-spot punishment which is available to the leader for the man management in his command.

The method used for enforcing self-control is also surprisingly the same in both disciplines - keeping men occupied twenty four hours. In the army it is not uncommon to keep the men digging and filling up trenches on some excuse to keep them occupied so that they have no time for idle thoughts.

Cultural values

While the life of a sannyasin is undeniably that of the highest spiritual living and a model of service before self, the values aimed for in army culture are more or less the same - simple living, uprightness and truthfulness in conduct, optimum functional efficiency and service before self. An army man, for the greater part of his service, is posted in high altitudes or field areas where he lives a simple and celibate life, next to nature separated from his family. One may term it forced yet life remains sex free.

Army still functions on faith and respect for the spoken word. Most of the orders in the army, however important they be, are still given orally. Lakhs of rupees drawn for the pay of men by officers still continue to be handed over to the subedar majors for keeping without even getting a chit as receipt. Army men's devotion to duty is exemplary. He has no quarter for his family or personal problems when he is called for duty. He must leave. Most of the army men are not very money minded. It is a truth though readers may find it difficult to believe that few army personnel can tell you details of their pay. Even though the reason to some extent lies in the foolproof system of maintenance of pay accounts whereby everyone's pay keeps getting credited to his account every month. Consequently, they have no worries on this account and they think less about it.

An army man is trained as a killer, yet he remains a good man at heart. He does the killing also as a part of duty, without any ill will. An example from army annals during the Bangladesh war of 1971 may exemplify this. Indian and Pakistani armies were thirsty for each other's blood when the war was on. But as soon as the Pakistani Army surrendered, the same evening the Indian Army officers entertained their erstwhile foes in their mess and discussed the war events. This was not liked by our countrymen when reported by the press. Naturally this aspect of an army man's character is not understood by them.


Self-realization is attained by a sannyasin through a progressive spiritual sadhana over a number of years which culminates in death of the ego and illumination of the atma. The moment of truth for an army man comes during war. Like a flash comes to him the realization about the transitory nature of life, when he sees his colleagues dying and understands he may not be alive the next minute. I had this experience during war. I can vividly recollect the feeling of detachment I had developed for every worldly thing including my wife and children. I could see the same experience playing on the minds of my men who would come and deposit the gold ornaments and other costly items they had confiscated from the enemy. They knew it meant nothing when they were not certain of their own life. Such experiences can be vital in spiritual progress if their spirit or seed can be preserved. At least the opportunity for this is there for every army man.


From the similarity of life situations undergone by the sannyasin and army man, it would not be wrong to suggest that there would be great similarity in the personality structure of the two. Every mortal cannot fit into such hard lifestyles. It is not uncommon to see a number of recruits and sannyasins deserting their cadres when they find these disciplines too hard to live by. Army could benefit immensely by drawing upon the training tools of the sannyasins. They can easily substitute the training of yogasanas and pranayamas for the existing PT. This would give them not only healthy bodies, but also spiritual minds whereby they could overcome the existing problems of discipline as every man would be disciplined through self-control and not through fear of punishment.