Karma Sannyasa

Swami Satyananda Saraswati, Bangalore, 23.1.82

Grihastha sannyasa, which I prefer to call karma sannyasa, is not a new order which I am introducing. It is very old. There are four traditional ashramas: brahmacharyashram, grihasthashram, vanaprasthashram and sannyasashram. When you are not content with grihasthashram, you want to get out of it so you can be born spiritually. But if you cannot get out of it, the alternative is to live in it with a different awareness and a different philosophy.

In the olden days, husband and wife used to retire to the forest. That was known as vanaprastha. These days it is not practical or even possible for most people to do this, but once spiritual awareness develops it is possible to continue in grihasthashram, but with a higher philosophy. That is called karma sannyasa.

Attachment and detachment

During grihasthashram you are involved in karma, and these karmas create more karma. They create samskaras to which you are bound because of anasakti or involvement. It is possible to associate with our family, our children, our responsibilities and obligations, either with total attachment or with detachment. However, we have only been taught to base our associations on attachment. Nobody has ever shown us how to live with our relatives, discharge our duties, solve our problems and interact with our family members, friends, wealth, money and property with detachment. The art of living a detached life is called karma sannyasa.

Detachment is not something that can be developed just by thinking or through any other intellectual process. Unless you have some experience which changes the quality of your mind, you cannot understand what detachment means. In order to understand anasakti, vairagya, sannyasa or detachment, you need more than just an intellectual process. You must have a different quality of mind. And for that purpose, the mind has to be trained and educated.

Intellectually you know that nothing belongs to you and that all is temporary. You may say it every day, but because there is so much mamata, 'mineness' and attachment, whatever happens to someone else affects you too, because you relate yourself to the happenings.

Once there was a sadhu and a mussulman living next door to each other. One day the sadhu heard his neighbour crying. He went to the mussulman and asked, 'Why are you crying?' He sobbed, 'Maharaj, my goat is dead.' The sadhu said, 'So what? Sooner or later everything has to die.' He explained that crying would not bring the goat back and he was able to pacify his friend.

After three months, the sadhu's cow died. He became so miserable that he did not come out of his kutir for many days. His friend the mussulman wondered what had happened and he came to investigate. He entered the sadhu's kutir and found him in deep depression. He asked, 'What has happened to you?' The sadhu replied, 'My cow is dead.' The mussulman remembered how he had been consoled by the sadhu's wise words when his goat had died, so he said, 'What if your cow is dead? Every being has to die.' The sadhu interrupted, 'Go away from here, I am thinking about my cow and I don't want to hear your words of wisdom.' The mussulman replied, 'But when my goat died, you consoled, me with the same wisdom.' The mahatma got angry and shouted, 'That was all right for your goat but this is my cow.'

Developing a new philosophy

You see, this is a very simple thing that we experience every day in our lives. When the sadhu was talking to the mussulman he had a different quality of intellect which he did not have when his cow died. In order to practise detachment or anasakti, you don't have to abandon karma, the elements or materials. You have only to develop a philosophy, and through that philosophy, you can have a different relationship with everybody. But, to have that philosophy you must have an experience.

You may read the whole of 'Yoga Vashishta' but if an accident takes place in your family, you are definitely going to feel it, because the 'Yoga Vashishta' has not brought about a fundamental transformation in the structure of your awareness. It has only enlarged the scope of your intellect. At the most you can say, 'Oh, life is temporary', but still you will be struck by the disaster. What is required is a transformation in the realm of awareness, anubhuti or experience, and that can be brought about by the practice of dhyana yoga, self-introspection, mantra and similar techniques.

Living as a part time sannyasin

Karma sannyasa is very important for every householder. It is the same as vanaprasthashram. Even if; you are not able to accept the idea of karma sannyasa, you can at least practise it for fifteen days every year. What harm is there if you behave like a sannyasin in your family, if not each day of the year, at least for fifteen , days?

How do you practise it? Sannyasins have a special way of living which was codified in the vedic tradition. Regarding eating, sleeping, walking, friendship, attachments, detachments, attending to deaths, births and marriages, there is a way they have been taught, If a grihastha lives the same life for at least fifteen days in a year, he will understand his grihasthashram and have a greater vision of the life he is leading.

The purpose of grihasthashram

Most people live the life of a householder, not out of respect or because they think this life has some sort of dignity, but because they are under psychological, emotional or social compulsions. If these compulsions were not there, I don't think we would even like to live this life. That means we do not understand the proper place of grihasthashram in our evolution. Is the life of a householder meant only for wasting the mind on sensual objects? Is it not a stepping stone to realisation? Why was this order created in the Vedas? What was its purpose? Was it progeny? Was it pleasure? Or was it self-realization?

Grihasthashram is a stepping stone. It is not an end in itself. From grihasthashram you should step into vanaprasthashram or what I call karma sannyasa. When should you step into vanaprasthashram? At the age of 56, when you have your first heart attack? Or at the age of 76, when you have been completely squeezed of everything? No, the moment you realise that grihasthashram is the means and not the end, and that within the involvement of life you must develop a deeper and higher, more perpetual, enduring and abiding awareness, immediately get out! Ask your guru for a geru dhoti, a spiritual name, a philosophy to live by and a goal.

Make your life meaningful

A karma sannyasin has a goal. A grihastha has no goal, he's just living. Provident fund, property, wealth, educated children- they cannot be the goal or the destiny. A karma sannyasin has one goal, not two, and the destination is one. There cannot be two destinations as far as the total cosmic existence is concerned. Every being, sentient or insentient, mobile or immobile, whether vegetable, mineral, mammal, reptile, human, rakshasa or deva, is just moving towards one destination and that is called perfection. That is called poorna or paramatma tattwa. You may call it God, nirvana, vaikuntha or kaivalya, but it means the same thing. Destination is only one, and when that goal is given to you by your guru, you are a karma sannyasin.

When you put on the geru dhoti, remember this colour represents dynamism- dynamism not towards external life, but towards your sadhana, your quest into spiritual life. Geru is the colour of vairagya, dhyana and anasakti, but this colour does not represent your passive psychology. It symbolises your dynamic approach to your goal. You must have two geru dhotis, and when you come back from the office or factory, put away your dress or coat and pants and take your geru.

Transform your mind

If you can't do this, I have another suggestion. Go to any ashram, not with your family, but alone. Shave your head completely, put on geru, sleep on the floor, eat only once a day, practise complete brahmacharya (in thought, word and deed), and live like a poorna sannyasin- no smoking, no transistor radio, no newspaper, no politics, no business, no market, just one thing- your sadhana. Your guru will tell you what to do- japa, likhit japa, read 'Yoga Vashishta' or 'Bhagavad Gita', or practise asana. If he doesn't tell you anything, just work in his kitchen or garden.

Even if you only live the life of a sannyasin for fifteen days, it will enrich you with very deep and abiding experiences, and it will create a new type of mind, personality and man. Then, when you return to grihasthashram, you will see things with different eyes. There may be births and deaths, marriages, conflicts and quarrels, but you will be able to attend to them as a different person.

Accepting a new way of life

When I spoke about karma sannyasa a few years ago, people did not understand it, but now more and more people are beginning to accept this philosophy. What I want is that seekers accept this role. You do not have to wear geru to the office; it is not necessary. When you are a karma sannyasin, you must play the role of a perfect householder and a part time sannyasin.

A philosophy is necessary, a goal is necessary and two geru dhotis are a must. You must also have a spiritual name, because the name your parents have given you relates to your body and to your religion, culture, family and race. But atman has no religion or race and your name should be related to your atman. My name is Swami Satyananda, and the day I took this name, my destiny changed. All that was written in my astrological charts has not come true, not because the astrologer was wrong, but because my whole destiny changed. The moment you enter into a new philosophical area, the moment you begin to assert your spiritual willpower or the moment you get into a new way of thinking, your destiny begins to change.

Karma sannyasa must become the order of the day, and it should revive vanaprastha. Don't wait until you turn 55 years of age. Even while you are married, in grihasthashram you can be a karma sannyasin.