Sannyasa

Swami Niranjanananda Saraswati

Sannyasa is a parampara. Parampara means 'tradition'. It is a tradition of people who leave society to follow spiritual pursuits, who have no ties with society in any way. This was how the concept of sannyasa developed traditionally. It went to the extent where sannyasins were required to perform their last rites before entering the path of sannyasa. Performing the last rites meant that one died symbolically; one had no karmic or dharmic relationship with parents, kith and kin, relatives, friends or society at large. This left such a strong imprint on Indian society that even today legally, officially, a sannyasin has no rights of inheritance, no rights to family property or money; all the legal and social obligations are finished. This is one aspect of sannyasa.

Although it is a parampara, sannyasa is an evolving process. Sannyasa evolves with the life of a sannyasin. There are no fixed parameters, no fixed definitions, no fixed targets which you can claim to achieve. Rather, as a sannyasin progresses in life, the attitude, concept and lifestyle of sannyasa also grows, develops and evolves.To help guide this growth, there are certain rules and guidelines which need to be followed. It is possible to follow those guidelines provided other people don't expect any change to or destruction of their aspirations or attachments.

Most of you who have been coming to India for the last ten years would know that when Paramahamsaji left Munger and established himself in Rikhia, there was a very clear message sent to everybody: "Don't come." He said very emphatically, "I am not a guru, I don't have any disciples, I don't have any dealings or relationship with anyone." People did not like it at that time because they were seeing things from an emotional perspective, through the eyes of attachment. Paramahamsaji had to take that step because in sannyasa there is a commitment to the process of sannyasa. There is a commitment to oneself as a sannyasin and to what is expected of oneself as a sannyasin. You have to deal with the people around you, the people who live with you, who are associated with you, who are attached to you. One has to manage sannyasa in life. Sometimes we cannot understand the system and disciplines because they are alien to our normal beliefs, expectations, desires and the lifestyle we expect to follow.

The traditional approach to sannyasa was absolute separation of the individual from society, but few could follow it. So the propagators of the sannyasa way of life decided that as long as the aim remained the same, it would be acceptable to allow different modifications to the process of sannyasa, which would permit other people to have the belief, lifestyle and discipline of sannyasa. Today we see that many who were not permitted to take sannyasa previously are now being given sannyasa. Females were not permitted in the past, but today the number of female sannyasins is greater than the number of male sannyasins. Formerly only members of a certain caste were given sannyasa, but today everyone is free to take sannyasa.

Sannyasa represents a way of experiencing a connection between man, nature and God. Although Paramahamsaji gave sannyasa to many people and made the process of initiation flexible, poorna sannyasa was rarely given. In my time also I have initiated many but remain very selective about poorna sannyasa. Anybody can take jignasu and karma, but poorna sannyasa is not for everybody because we don't want to adulterate the tradition. We want to provide the opportunity for everybody to understand the tradition and to become part of it, but not to change the tradition. If the tradition has to be modified to the liking of every individual, we might as well not even have it. A road is created according to a master plan. If the travellers on the road say, "No, this is not the right road, we want a shortcut through here, we want the road to go past our house and it must pass this restaurant," then the road will never be built. Whatever the shortcomings and difficulties in coming to the road, the road will always follow a master plan. Similarly, sannyasa will also follow a master plan. It will be according to the master plan which was conceived many thousands of years ago. So poorna sannyasa is not given to many people.

The training and discipline for a poorna sannyasin is different to the training and discipline for other sannyasins. For many, sannyasa means a way to live in an ashram. For many, sannyasa means having and adopting a different identity. For many, sannyasa means some status in spiritual life. Each individual may have his or her own belief, association and relationship with sannyasa. According to that belief and association, you live your life as a sannyasin, sometimes going backwards, sometimes going forwards, sometimes side-stepping situations and times and places and locations. What we do as individuals does not reflect the spirit of sannyasa. But the life that can inspire us to become spiritually enlightened or awakened, if not enlightened at least awakened, represents the spirit of sannyasa.

Many people come to the ashram and suddenly decide they want to take jignasu or karma sannyasa. Why did you decide that? Think about why you took karma sannyasa or jignasu sannyasa. And I can only pray that God may grant you with enough wisdom to keep that focus all the time, without any diversion from or dilution of the aim. You will find it is very difficult to maintain. Definitely poorna sannyasa is a commitment. It is a karmic commitment, it is a psychic, spiritual commitment. If you consider sannyasa in this way, then there are not different lifestyles in sannyasa. How you live externally and what your attitude is internally both have to match. Once they both match, sannyasa can be fulfilled, otherwise it is very difficult.

—Ganga Darshan, December 8, 2000