Traditional Concept of Sannyas

Swami Narasimha Saraswati laid down the rules of formal sannyas. They consist of the following acts:

Prayaschitta: Atonement for one's acts of unawareness during all births. In essence it is an act looking back on one's mechanical way of functioning and finding that it has led nowhere. Make with shraddha a sankalpa to act in awareness of a higher consciousness.

Ashtashraddha: Funeral rites done to all worldly relations, including; one's previous self. One cuts off totally and irrevocably with one's past.

Virajahoma: Offering oblations to the fire which is symbolic of crossing the river of death.

Gayatripravesa: Entering into the spirit of the mantra or allowing the vibrations of the mantra to saturate the body and mind.

Yeshanatrayatyaga: Putreshana, viteshana, loke-shana; renouncing one's relationship with progeny (future), material possessions (security), attachment to place (one's past).

Bhuradi Sannyas: The sadhak should be choice less. He is prepared to renounce or become inwardly detached from the pleasures of the external world or sensory experience, and from the non-sensual experience of the mind and deeper psychic realms, the siddhis etc. With the mantra: "Om Bhur Bhuvah Swaha Sannyastam Maya", the seeker indicates his willingness to renounce all attachments towards all outer and inner happenings, in other words, to try to be choiceless in all of his dimensions of consciousness.

Shika Sutra Sannyas: At the time of formal initiation sannyasins shave the tuft of hair and remove their sacred thread, both symbols of caste. The act symbolises the readiness of the sadhak to go beyond all barriers towards that consciousness that is unconditioned and unlimited.

Guru Upapati: The sadhak then goes to a Guru who imparts to him the four mahavakyas - "PRAGYANAM BRAHMA" (Highest Knowledge is Brahman); "TAT TWAM ASI" (Thou Art That); "AHAM BRAHMA-SMI" (I Am Brahman) ;"AYAM ATMA BRAHMA" (This Atman is the Supreme). In the "Viveka Chudamani", Shankaracharya says, "Vedantartha vicharana jayate jnanamuthamam" (Gyana arises from sincere contemplation upon the meaning of the Upanishad mantras). The Mahavakyas are meant to fire the aspiration of the sadhak towards finding his own true nature.

Paryankasaucha: Only one's garment is used for sleeping. The bed is kept pure.

Swadharma Vicharai: Constant contemplation on the spirit of sannyas, the goal for which one is initiated, the contemplation of one's inner nature or the true self.


Formal initiation and rituals are for the purpose of purification of the sadhak, to heighten his receptivity to the higher teachings and to serve as a guideline for his pilgrimage on the spiritual path. After this, the sadhaka is on an inner journey which is really uncharted and beyond all rituals. All initiations after this are subtle, internal breakthroughs.