Will Sannyasa Change?

Swami Niranjanananda Saraswati

In contemporary times, how do you see the poorna sannyasa dharma? Is there another type of sannyasa emerging?

I have thought a lot about it and I have had the opportunity to discuss this with Paramahamsaji as well, and I don't see that the sannyasa tradition is going to go through a change – no.

Sannyasa tradition will remain constant, should remain constant, because it represents the culmination of human effort to transcend one's being. If sannyasa tradition has to change, then the entire social structure has to change.

Tradition defines life in four groups: one is known as bramacharya ashrama – the studentship; the second is grihastha ashrama – the life of a householder; the third is vanaprastha ashrama – the life of a retired person; and the fourth is sannyasa ashrama – the life in which effort is made to attain moksha – liberation.

All these four stages of one's life are known as ashramas. Ashrama is not the physical location, not a physical entity. Ashrama is a concept, an idea which emphazises “You have to work to become better, you have to work to excel yourself in whatever field you may be.” In life the thinkers have said that there is a natural progression from learning (studentship) to applying professionalism to withdrawal (thinking and making things better) and then – working for evolution.

If you think the sannyasa tradition has to change, in order to accommodate your whims and fancies, then change the three previous ashramas as well. Change the bramacharya ashrama: say it is not of learning, not of studentship. Change the grihasta ashrama as well: say it is not of professionalism, it is not of householder, it is not of this, it is not of that.

I am a traditionalist. I may look modern, I may talk modern, but deep inside I am a traditionalist. Many people in history have come who have tried to change the concept of sannyasa, who have tried to give a different meaning to the concept of sannyasa, but those concepts are not long-lasting. Many people have professed 'neo-sannyasa', but after the death of the founder – finish – back to the old sannyasa! Other people have professed sannyasa to be lived like this or like that. People have experimented, no doubt, but all these experiments have failed.

I do not consider, from my understanding and my studies, that any other form of sannyasa has survived except the traditional sannyasa through the passage of time and different ages of history. One form will come up which will last for ten years, twenty, thirty years, forty, fifty years, but after that the new form loses the meaning completely because it is an invention of an individual's thought, an invention of an individual's idea about the future. It is an invention of an individual's concept about how people should live.

Lifestyle changes. In some places, lifestyle changes very fast. In some places it is very slow. So how much will sannyasa change? People may be able to change it during their lifetime, but it will fall back to the same traditional way after they are gone. Therefore it would be improper and incorrect for me to say that sannyasa is going to take a different dimension in future. No, it will not.

We may modify it to make it easy for you to understand, to imbibe and to live the concept, but that change will never be permanent. If the change is to be permanent, then the entire structure of life has to change.

Therefore it is my firm belief that sannyasa will remain the same. Instead we should try to understand and live the traditional sannyasa more and more, to make it rich with our own understanding, to make it vibrant with our own creativity. We should make it more dynamic by putting our heart and mind into it, but the form should be and always will be traditional.