Jignasu helps you to understand yourself, your aspirations and desires, strengths and weaknesses. This stage helps the aspirant to cultivate qualities which can be beneficial to inner and spiritual development.
—Swami Niranjanananda Saraswati
The word jignasu means ‘inquiry’. The jignasu aspirant comes to the guru full of intense inquiry, which is mostly at the intellectual level. He inquires deeply and sincerely, but his commitment is as yet head-orientated. He will reflect logically and rationally as to the nature of truth, but he is not yet ready to sacrifice any of himself for it. He can give his head so willingly, but not his heart. He will have to think for a long time and weigh up the pros and cons before he can do that. But he has definitely begun the quest, he is on the road.
The colour of the cloth presented to the jignasu sannyasa initiate is yellow. Yellow is gold without brightness. The glow of the colour yellow represents the dawning of the desire to ‘know’ more about one’s existence. The Sanskrit word for dawn is usha. Usha is also the name of the goddess of knowledge or intuition. Jignasu diksha therefore symbolizes the first opening of the eye of intuition or the dawning of spiritual aspiration. The jignasu sannyasin is like a beautiful fresh sunflower looking up at the early morning sun and wondering, “What is it?” “Does it exist?” “If so, what is my relationship to it?”
A jignasu sannyasin has to find a spiritual base within, which can be done by practising yoga and being regular and sincere in the sadhana received during diksha. One should visit ashrams regularly to keep the flame of inspiration burning alive and bright, and perform seva or selfless service in order to purify oneself for the next stage of unfoldment – karma sannyasa. In this way the jignasu sannyasin will develop inner awareness and bring about the integration of head, hands and heart.
The purpose, aim and destination of all householders should be to purify, train, prove and modify themselves from moment to moment, in whatever circumstances they have been placed.
—Swami Satyananda Saraswati
Those who wish to progress further into the sannyasa system and commit themselves to poorna or complete sannyasa are first given karma sannyasa. Both karma sannyasa and poorna sannyasa are represented by the colour geru and this is the colour of cloth received by initiates of both these stages of spiritual awakening.
Karma sannyasa is specifically designed for people who are still engrossed in the world and who have certain desires, obligations, responsibilities and commitments to family and society still remaining to be fulfilled, but who nevertheless want to maintain a spiritual identity at the same time. The householder follows the path of involvement or pravritti marga, using each and every stage and situation of life as a door into spiritual life. This is the sadhana, and the attitude of a karma sannyasin should be that of a karma yogi: “I am performing this action, not for material gain, not for my personal satisfaction, but to perfect my own self.”
Karma sannyasins have to develop the bhava, or attitude, of an objective witness to everything that is taking place around them. Just like an actor, you perform different roles in the play but do not identify with any of the many parts you must enact. When in the office you adopt the office persona; when at home, the husband/wife and father/mother persona; when socializing, the family persona, etc., etc. While you are acting, your internal consciousness remains detached, and your inner spirit is therefore at peace. Each action should be performed with awareness, with the aim of self-purification in mind.
There are no restrictions of any type in karma sannyasa diksha, no external changes, but the householder becomes aware within and has a clear vision of their relationship with life (and with their husband or wife and family members). You lead a married life as usual, performing your daily duties as before, but when at home or performing sadhana, you are completely detached from your surroundings. The task before you is to maintain inner and outer balance during all the opposites of life. A more objective and elevated view of life is adopted while fulfilling your karmas. Side by side with seeking happiness, one seeks one’s ‘real’ self.
Initiation into karma sannyasa does not prohibit you at all from anything that is related to life, whether it is family obligations, marriage, progeny, work, wealth, property, accomplishments, ambitions, passions, happiness, unhappiness, tragedy, right behaviour, wrong behaviour, positive habits or even negative habits. For all that goes hand in hand with what we call life, and the karma sannyasin has not renounced life. Only the old attached relationship has been renounced and with it, the sense of involvement.
When the householder is not satisfied with the present way of life, he or she can think about karma sannyasa. However, as Swami Niranjanananda says, “You should think very carefully about whether you actually want to take karma sannyasa or not. Do not jump into it because it is something new, for if the body is dirty you will not be able to hide the dirt by wearing new clothes. People will see through your new clothes at any time.”
A disciple is like an open pot; the rain showers fall, and by and by this pot is filled up…. It must be remembered right from the beginning that you are not only to expect the nectarine showers to fill up the vessel. At every moment of your life, all your efforts must go into two things, cleaning the vessel and repairing the leaks.
—Swami Satyananda Saraswati
The word ‘disciple’ comes from the word discipline. A disciple is therefore one who is ready and willing to pass through any discipline that is laid down by the guru, and that will help one progress along the spiritual path. The disciple has accepted the guru as his or her dearest friend, master and guide. Their souls are bound together in a deep spiritual bond, a profound love which is beyond all emotional relationships and which cannot be described in words. The disciple has perfect trust in the guru because he has walked the path before and has completed the long journey. Only such a one can be the perfect guide along the way. Whatever the master says the disciple is ready to follow obediently, without question. The disciple is one who has realized that the mind is ruled by the deceptive tricks of maya, or illusion, and therefore lays it at the guru’s feet in surrender, knowing it is of no use.
Regarding householders or karma sannyasins, Swami Satyananda says, “Householders must always remember that the life which has been ordained for them, the path which they are destined to follow, the family in which they live, the children they have, and the responsibilities they face, are stepping stones to discipleship.”
When the sense of commitment is strong and you know that your direction is not going to change in the future, that the motivation and commitment will always be the same, it is the time to take poorna or full sannyasa.
—Swami Niranjanananda Saraswati
The Sanskrit word ‘sannyasa’ is derived from two roots, sam, which means ‘perfect’, and nyasa, which means ‘setting aside’, ‘abandoning’ or ‘surrendering’. Sannyasa therefore literally means ‘perfect surrender’. Traditionally the correct word is actually ‘samnyasa’. Nyasa also means ‘trust’. The sannyasin owns nothing of his own. He has given all he has, body, mind and soul to the guru. Everything is now used for the guru’s mission and the good of others. Nothing is his; he is only the trustee, even of his own gifts and talents. The sannyasin follows the path of non-involvement in the things of the world, or nivritti marga.
The colour for sannyasa is geru. We belong to the Dashnami Order (the largest order in India), which was established by Adi Guru Shankaracharya in the 8th century AD. The geru robe represents that parampara, or tradition. It is the external symbol which maintains the ideal and order of the parampara. Geru is somewhere in between orange and ochre and symbolizes fire. Just as fire can consume anything, whether good or bad, it signifies that the mind of a sannyasin has to be like fire, unaffected by raga and dwesha, attraction and repulsion, the opposing conditions of life. The fire of sannyasa burns up all the samskaras, karmas, desires, attitudes and ambitions, so that the sannyasin can rise up from the flames in perfect surrender, like the mythical Phoenix, leaving behind only the ashes of the former individual self.
A sannyasin’s life is an endless stream of initiations into ever deeper levels of one’s own being. With each successive diksha, the inner mystery is slowly unveiled. Sannyasa initiation implies that the disciple dedicates oneself to the service of the guru and to following his guidance. In some initiations sannyasins perform their own funeral rites. This is symbolic of cutting past conditionings, old ties and erroneous ways of thinking. In many traditions the guru gives a mala (rosary), a kamandalu (gourd), a danda (staff) and geru robes. Some sannyasins shave their head, others let their hair grow long; it all depends on the particular tradition. Great souls like Swami Ramdas took no formal initiation at all. He simply dived into the Kaveri River and got his own robe. Ramana Maharshi just left home and started his sadhana of ceaseless inquiry into, “Who am I?”
In the words of Swami Satyananda, “Sannyasa diksha is for those who are determined to live a different type of life, independent of the normal beliefs, scriptures, canons, institutions and organizations. They live by their own philosophy, their own faith, free from the maya of attachment and desire. They are a different breed of humanity altogether, which depends neither on emotional relationships nor any kind of security. They care nothing for social ‘norms’ and are prepared to renounce the world in toto! In them the sense of mumuksha, or the desire for complete liberation, is very strong. They long to get out of the wheel of existence, not to be reborn again.”
The word rishi means ‘seer’. Rishi sannyasa is for those who are eligible for poorna sannyasa but are married with children of their own. Their duty to their respective partners and the souls they have brought into the world is still to be completed. The dharma has to be followed. However, due to their lifestyle, sadhana, devotion to guru and sincere aspirations, their children have imbibed spiritual samskaras from them and have thus, quite naturally, been integrated into the tradition. The whole family follows the same ideals and has the same guru, forming a powerful spiritual unit. Ideally, their home is like a mini-ashram where they all evolve along the spiritual path together under the guidance of the family guru.
Rishi sannyasa is so called because it reflects and carries on the ancient rishi tradition where the guru or sage lived with his wife in an ashram surrounded by nature. In those days the rishis produced children of a very high spiritual calibre. They did not interact for the mere purpose of pleasure and progeny, but with the sole purpose of producing children with an awakened consciousness of society.
To be a suitable instrument for the higher tantric initiations one has to be very strong and dedicated, and to have become empty from within.
—Swami Niranjanananda Saraswati
Tantric initiations involve direct transmission rather than verbal instructions and are only for those who have advanced far on the spiritual path, whether in this life or a previous one. Often the knowledge is transmitted through a dream or by thought projection. The disciple may not even be consciously aware of this most subtle of transmissions from the guru, but the knowledge flows nevertheless if he or she is a fit receptacle.
There are four types of tantric diksha. Transmission by touch is known as spasht diksha. There is also transmission by means of sight, thought and psychic energy. Initially, when there is progress in the aspirant’s life, the guru uses touch transmission in order to awaken the spiritual energy and give new experiences. Touch initiation is related to the intellectual relationship with the guru. Here the guru is able to awaken the rational understanding of the spiritual process. Through the intellect the spiritual energies are then awakened. This type of diksha requires physical contact in order to convey the guru’s energy into the disciple’s personality.
An emotional relationship involves sight and is known as drig diksha, transformation through sight. Here the guru transmits his power through the eyes. This form of initiation can also be termed ‘bhakti diksha’. It is a state of mind in which the emotions of the disciple are fully in tune with the feelings of the guru. The power conveyed through a mere glance from guru to disciple is enough to explode the disciple’s emotions and make the disciple aware of the spiritual energy.
When the mind of the aspirant is concentrated, the transmission takes place through thought. This generally happens when the dissipation of thought, feeling and emotions has stopped, and the whole mental and subtle personality is in tune with the guru’s personality. Thought transmission awakens the energies of the subtle and causal bodies and purifies the samskaras (latent impressions in the mind), which leads to the experience of internal light.
The fourth form of diksha is by psychic transmission. Psychic awareness of the guru leads to psychic shaktipath. Up to this point, contact with the guru is required. In this stage, however, the guru and the disciple can be miles apart, but transmission takes place because there is a state of perfect unity between them. This stage of fusion is known as ‘ecstasy’ in spiritual and religious language. An example of this is the ‘stigmata’ which have appeared on the palms of many Christian saints, who identified so intensely with the suffering of Christ on the cross that blood began to flow from these wounds. This experience takes place on the deepest realms of the psychic personality, beyond mind and ego.
This is a brief glimpse into the ever-deepening process of diksha. Let us end with a brief synopsis of this process. As soon as one feels even the slightest aspiration or curiosity towards spiritual life, mantra diksha can be received from the guru. This is the base, the foundation of spiritual life; the first tiny spark has been implanted in the soil of the mind, deep within the psyche, ignited by the guru. When this spark begins to glow, the spiritual identity is established with the giving of a new spiritual name having its own unique energy vibration.
As soon as this glow becomes a flame within the mind, and the intellectual inquiry into the meaning and goal of life becomes deep and intense, it is time for jignasu diksha. Once the flame is burning brightly in the heart and the jignasu decides to become dedicated to the path of perfection, while still being involved in the world and its desires, he or she takes the final stepping-stone into sannyasa, karma sannyasa diksha. Those who are sincerely dedicated to the guru and to spiritual life, but who have given birth to other little flames that have still to be nurtured and fuelled, are given rishi sannyasa diksha. They and their family can then progress along the path together as one spiritual unit, helping to keep each other’s flame of inspiration and dedication alive.
Sannyasa diksha comes when nothing can put out the flame of inspiration which burns ever and ever stronger within, not even an ocean of water. There is only one desire remaining, the burning desire to be free! The fire of sannyasa burns up all the samskaras, karmas, desires, attitudes and ambitions. When the ego is largely burnt up, the higher tantric dikshas are given. Then, finally, when the heart is totally purified in the fire of tapas, the sannyasin rises up from the flames in perfect surrender, like the mythical Phoenix, leaving behind only the ashes of the former individual self as it is consumed in the eternal Divine Fire.