Is sannyas confined to spiritual knowledge alone or can it be applied practically?
Sannyas means dedication to a particular cause and not to the effect. When we are dedicated to the cause and to the effect both then we are not sannyasins, because then we are affected by the effect of the cause. Sannyas simply means dedication to creating a transformation, whether that transformation is personal, social or global.
There is another aspect of the sannyas tradition. Sannyas is a tradition of monks, not of monkeys. Many times we see that monks begin to behave like monkeys. You find this practically everywhere in society today, but in the actual tradition of sannyas, monks are those who have dedicated themselves to self-upliftment, and to the upliftment of humanity in general, by following a specific path and a specific sadhana, whether it be Vedanta, Samkhya, Tantra, or any other tradition. There are also Jain and Buddhist sannyasins. There are many sannyasins in Hinduism while Christianity also has many types of sannyas.
There is yet another aspect of sannyas which makes it unique- the idea of being universal and not just confined to a particular way of thinking and living, or to a particular philosophy. So, we can say that sannyas means, 'universal dedication for the growth of humanity'. Very few can actually dedicate themselves fully to this path.
The sannyas tradition was radically changed by Sri Shankaracharya. He said that sannyas is for the service of mankind, for preserving the vidya or knowledge, both ancient and modern. However, what is modern today will become ancient after a few thousand years. So he created the sannyas traditions which provided continuity in preserving the knowledge which was beneficial for the development and upliftment of the whole of humanity.
There were many scientists also. We have had sannyasins in ancient India who were scientists. We consider Einstein to be the father of the modern Atomic Age, but before Einstein a whole book was written on the atomic theory by one Indian sannyasin by the name of Rishi Kanada. If you read his book on the atomic theory you will find that it goes much deeper into the principles of the atom than those expounded by Einstein.
Einstein stops where the matter started - with the atom, but this rishi goes further. He discovered that there was consciousness within the atom. It was not just an idea or concept but something which could be proved - the existence of atma (soul) in an atom. We have had many sannyasins who were well known scientists, even the first surgeon, Sushruta. He was the first man to utilise instruments to cut open the human body about 3-8,000 years ago.
So, I am not saying that sannyas is confined to spiritual knowledge. No, it is universal, and it encompasses every type of knowledge whether spiritual, atomic or medical.
I can give you examples of sannyasins who have written books on aeroplanes, who knew about the formation of clouds much before we discovered the principles of water and vapour, oxygen, nitrogen, etc.
The Buddha says we should shun desires, even the desire for salvation. Isn't sannyasa a kind of desire?
Desire represents the core of our being. Desires create motivation, motivation creates action, and action creates fulfilment. This is the link between a thought or desire which develops in the mind, and the achievement for which we aspire in life.
It is said that one must learn to control and transcend every kind of desire, every kind of thought, and every kind of feeling. This is correct in its own way, because all the experiences of thoughts, emotions, feelings, desires and visions are limited to finite mental perception. Because of the extrovert nature of our life, mind, intellect and emotions, there is a greater pull towards the material aspect, the gross aspect. Therefore these inner experiences have been divided into two groups: one gross, and the other subtle; one negative and the other positive.
We cannot overcome any kind of desire; we cannot overcome any kind of feeling or emotion, as long as we are confined to this dimension of matter, but we can transform the motivating energy behind every kind of desire and ambition and make it positive. Rather than it being a selfish desire, we can transform it into a. universal desire - simply transform the quality of it. Then, with this transformation of the quality of energy which controls and motivates life, mind and spirit, we can progress in the spiritual path till we are able to tap the infinite source of consciousness. Once we begin to experience infinity within the finite frame of body and mind, then we attain what is known as 'God-realisation' or 'Self-realisation'.
This saying of the Buddha does not only apply to yogis and sadhus, but to every individual. Take for example, prayer. Generally people pray for happiness. Some even pray for wealth; some for prosperity. That is a selfish prayer because they are asking for some kind of satisfaction or fulfilment of what they lack in their lives. If we lack prosperity, we pray for prosperity; if we lack happiness we pray for happiness, but after its achievement we do not pray.
Yogis also pray, but for salvation! This is also a selfish desire, but in this desire for salvation the mental and inner attitude changes. It is personal but at the same time it denotes a universal approach, because if I am able to attain sonic kind of realisation it is not confined to my self alone. When you switch on the light, is it confined to the bulb only, or does it spread into the room also? Of course, it spreads into the room as well.
So, once we are able to attain some kind of evolutionary stage in life, that evolution then begins to express itself externally. This is the actual meaning, I would say, of having a positive desire, where we are not only dealing with self-satisfaction, but we are also trying to express that energy or achievement for the benefit of others, A negative desire is for 'myself' alone, while a positive desire is for 'me' and 'others' as well.
In order to explain something to others we need to first have the experience ourselves. Until we have that experience it is not possible to explain. Personal experience is more important than reading intricate philosophies about something which we are not truly able to understand. Therefore, it must be our effort, determination and dedication which can transform a negative emotion or desire into a positive one where we gain the experience and then express it spontaneously for the good of others. One cannot hold onto the experience once it is gained. It has to express its self! That is the law of karma. What one receives one also gives. So even in sannyas desire is there, but it carries within it a universal rather than an individualistic inspiration.
What does renunciation mean and what is its value in daily life?
Take an earthen pot. Submerge it in water. What do you find? A pot submerged in water. There is water inside and water outside. Now, is the water inside the pot different to the water around the pot? It is not. The only difference is that there is an identity, a shape or form holding the water inside and not allowing it to mix with the water outside.
We are the same. We are little pots in an ocean of energy and consciousness. What do we renounce if we want to mix the water with the water, the energy with the energy? IN order to merge the contained water with the water around, we break the pot. This breaking of the pot or of our identity is the renouncing of our ego. When it concerns us as individuals in relation to the universe, the loss or renunciation of ego unlocks the final door allowing for the link of Atman with Brahman.
Different types of renunciation take place at different stages of life. However, in order to renounce something which is very deep, an intimate part of our being, we need to have a different form of consciousness-Somebody in Los Angeles once asked Swamiji "Is it possible to achieve God-realisation in this lifetime?" and he answered 'No'. It was a big shock for all of us present. 'Are we simply wasting our time?' 'What are we doing?' we asked ourselves.
Swamiji continued to explain this further by saying that the experience of God is the experience of transcendental reality, and that in order to have that experience it is necessary to have a transcendental brain and a transcendental mind. If we can develop a transcendental mind then we can own God also, but until then we need to work. Here renunciation of our un-transcendental being takes place. This is the highest form of renunciation - renouncing life! People do It anyway, but only at the end of their lifespan. Renouncing the family? Many people do that also. But to renounce the deeper personality, the limited personality; very few people can do that. Renunciation is only related with our spiritual life. It does not reflect on our day-to-day lives. What can we renounce in our day-to-day life? Our negative feelings and emotions? If we try to renounce these little day-to-day items, we will find that we will have to till in the gap with something else. So on the one hand we are renouncing while on the other we are accumulating.
Therefore, in all the discussions on Yoga, we never use the word 'renounce'. We only say, 'first find out where the mistakes are being made. Then change something within yourself so as you do not make the same mistakes again. Improve yourself and then, once you have improved, hopefully you will keep on improving.'
How do sannyasins control the sexual drive?
There are two methods for controlling the sexual drive. One is control of the mind and the other is control of passion. In the control of mind, if the Sannyasi is sincere and follows the prescribed path, viz., the system of pratyahara and dharana, then in the process of self-purification, of understanding the different manifestations and tendencies of mind, it will eventually become possible for him to gain control over the external distraction of the senses, desires, emotions and feelings.
In Yoga, especially Kundalini Yoga, practices such as the bandhas, mudras, and even asanas have been described as being able to reverse the flow of energy which is used for procreation. Reversing the flow of this energy, according to Kundalini Yoga, leads to the awakening of the dormant brain centres.
One of the general practices that we teach is brahmacharya asana, where the lower abdominal muscles are pulled and contracted. The practice of mudras such as ashwini and vajroli mudra, and the bandhas, do the same thing. However, the effect of asana and pranayama is not only physical; it is also pranic. Sexual energy is controlled by the apana force which is a downward-moving force in the body.
So, the purpose of contracting the muscles is to stimulate the nerves and pranic channels which go to the lower regions of the body, to send impulses back up to the brain and other centres above mooladhara and swadhisthana. Once the flow of energy or apana is reversed, then one becomes a celibate or brahmachari. This has been the method prescribed for sannyasins.
Passions and instincts are the strongest and most deep-rooted samskaras of the human personality. When the samskaras come to the surface and the instinctive awareness dominates the personality, then there is no power on earth which can control the manifestation or expression of that samskara. At that time one has to be very very strong with a lot of sankalpa shakti (willpower) and iccha shakti (determination) in order to overcome the instinctive or tamasic samskaras.
What is the meaning of the Saraswati Tradition?
According to tradition, Saraswati is the Goddess of Wisdom, Learning and Speech. These are the three attributes of the Goddess. There are various concepts in the Sannyasa Tradition which was restructured by Adi Guru Shankaracharya. There are ten divisions, and each division represents a particular state of being or mind. Each division has a particular duty assigned to it.
Of course, nowadays it is not possible to follow these traditions to the letter, but originally, in order to deal with the growing mental and spiritual suffering, different traditions were assigned different responsibilities, and the Saraswati tradition was assigned the duty of preserving and continuing the propagation of knowledge so that it could be utilised by future generations.
As sannyasins of the Saraswati order it is our responsibility to understand and absorb the many different sciences and systems existing in the world (because as the saying goes 'Truth is one but is called by many names') realising the link between them, and expressing them according to the needs of society.
To say "this path is better than that" is not the purpose or tradition of the Saraswati order. Rather, it is having an integrated approach towards development and achievement in life which it the main purpose.
Why do sannyasins sit on a deer or tiger skin for meditation?
Not only sannyasins, but also spiritual aspirants, whether swamis or householders, can use, and should use, certain types of skins when they reach the stage of higher sadhana. Certain skins are considered to be non-conductors of electrical energy which is generated in the body, during meditation in particular. Our body produces some type of electrical energy, which can be seen through the method of Kirlean photographs.
The aim of yogic sadhana is to generate energy in our physiological system, and to convert that energy into pranic force. This pranic force leads to the awakening of the psychic centres. The purpose of all asana and pranayama is to generate vitality, and when we raise the level of vitality In our system; or the level of pranic energy, the energy which is dormant in the chakras or psychic centres is released and utilised, in advanced techniques of meditation for developing a balance between the field of consciousness and the spectrum of energy.
When we sit for meditation, that pranic energy Is absorbed by the floor, but when we sit on some type of skin, then the properties of that skin do not allow the vital force to be absorbed. That energy is thus retained in our system. So, whether you are a sannyasin or a householder, as long as you are a spiritual aspirant, you can, and should use certain types of skins which are non-conductors of this pranic energy.
What is the difference between a swami and a rishi?
The names 'Rishi' and 'Swami' represent different qualifications of a kind of spiritual attainment. The Rishi tradition is a household tradition which has been revived today as karma sannyas where husband, wife and children can take on the identity of sadhus or spiritual aspirants. They then have a specific goal or direction in life and pursue the spiritual path.
The word 'Swami' is a title given to every initiate into spiritual life, with the hope that one day they can become masters of themselves. The word 'Swami' literally means 'self-master'- 'Swa' means self and 'mi' means 'master'. Only when we have full control over the expressions of life and mind can we become swamis. As long as we are under the sway of the mind and senses and desires, we are not swamis. This is the sadhana of the spiritual aspirant: to become a swami.
Why do some sannyasins and yogis shave their heads while others have beards and long hair?
In order to understand this I suggest you read the book 'Sannyas Tantra'. As per tradition, hair represents attachment to the world and to its comforts and pleasures. It also symbolises vanity. Symbolically, shaving means that one leaves behind these attachments, to evolve a new idea within oneself. So we usually say that at the time of initiation people should experience this freedom from attachments at least once in a lifetime.
There is another reason for shaving. There are many types of energy fields which influence the brain directly if there are no hairs on the head. For example, we do not see the spectrum of solar rays; the ultraviolet and infrared, but they are there. If there is hair the rays do not penetrate into the brain because of this thick jungle on the head, but if the head is clean and the jungle cleared, the rays will penetrate into the skin, into the skull and inside the head, creating a type of charge. This is also one theory behind the shaving of the head at the time of sannyas-being free to the influences of the universe and cosmos and learning how to experience and utilise them.
Who can call himself a yogi, and what is the difference between a yogi and a Sannyasi?
A yogi is a person who establishes himself in yoga. Yoga here does not mean the practice of yoga but the concept of yoga, unity. Otherwise, in general usage we can call a person who has today begun the practices of yoga with pawanmuktasana, a yogi, and we could also call a person who has been involved with yoga for the last 30 years a yogi. This is the common usage of the word yogi.
The actual yogi is that person who has established himself in the concept of yoga and who has evolved the vision, the attitude and experience of yoga in his life. In general usage we do not say that a student is only a person who goes to college or high school. Even a small kid, who goes to kindergarten is a student. From the first day you go to school you become a student, and you remain a student until you complete your studies. So, in that sense we could also say everyone who practises yoga is a yogi.
The difference between a yogi and a Sannyasi is that yogis are practitioners of yoga while sannyasins are renunciates. This was the traditional concept of a sannyasin. A sannyasin was that person who renounced the world, society, the family, and went to some far corner of the country or world where he lived in seclusion. He left all his previous attachments and followed a spiritual discipline.
But there is another concept of sannyas, having a balanced personality. If we can accept this concept of sannyas we can try to achieve this balanced personality in all the difficulties and turmoils of life, whether we live in an ashram or whether we live in society; whether we lead a comfortable life, or a life full of struggle. Always be at peace and centre yourself - that is the concept of sannyas today.
What influence does the date of initiation into sannyas have on our destiny?
Whenever we are initiated into sannyas it means that we have left behind our previous worldly ties and have taken a new birth in this very life. It is a tradition with those sannyasins who care to do it to utilise the date of sannyas initiation for making their horoscope and astrological charts. They utilise the date of sannyas as their spiritual birth date, because with initiation another change in the usual pattern of consciousness takes place.
This can be best described by saying that, at first we had a desire to become a sannyasin, and at the time of initiation that desire was fulfilled. The idea of sannyas manifested in our life and the pattern of our consciousness also changed. It may not change immediately. In order to develop a full personality a child has to grow up. We cannot define the personality of a child because it is always changing.
In the same way, when we first become sannyasins, our consciousness still remains the same, but with this new identity, with this new idea that 'I am a sannyasin, I am following a spiritual path, a spiritual tradition, and I'm striving to make my destiny a better one, a perfect one'. This attitude will eventually mould the life of a sannyasin. From an ordinary person they will become a sadhaka.
It has been seen that, in the case of Sannyasis, saints and highly evolved souls, the horoscope made as per the date of initiation is more correct than the chart made at the time of actual birth, because initiation is more an internal process than an external one. A person desirous of taking sannyas has the wish to eventually mould their personality into that of a sannyasin a leave behind all the previous attachments, ways of thinking and living, and adopt a balanced way of thinking and living. If you decide to take sannyas for one year or two years it will not make much difference, but if you truly decide to take sannyas and follow the disciplines of a sannyasin for the rest of your life, then it will make a very big difference in the formation of your personality and the pattern of your consciousness.