Sannyasa is easy; you do not need any education to take sannyasa. In ancient times, in the vedic period, the age for sannyasa was accepted as seventy-five and above. At that age, people would leave their homes and set out for a life of renunciation. Even the kings would follow this dictum. They had seen the world, and vairagya, non-attachment, was natural to them, bhakti was natural to them. A persons mind changes at the age of seventy-five. However, this vedic tradition of sannyasa did not last for long, because the fact remains that sannyasa is such a vritti, tendency, that it can manifest at any age within a person. It is not necessary to wait till you are seventy-five.
People like Shukadeva and Sanat Kumar were born with the sannyasa instinct; they had the bhava, propensity, for sannyasa from the day they were born. There have been many other such great men and women. At the age of eight, Shankaracharya experienced the sannyasa bhava. Lord Buddha experienced it at the age of thirty-six. Lord Mahavira ran away from the altar at his wedding to take sannyasa. Therefore, the thinkers in society advocated that the tradition of sannyasa be open to everyone.
When someone takes sannyasa at a young age, however, they have to deal with many things which one does not need to deal with during old age. For example, I no longer need to deal with desire or attachment, but if a boy or girl of ten, fifteen or eighteen comes to sannyasa, there is much they have to unravel. Towards this end, all ashrams from the times of Buddha, Mahavira and Shankaracharya have ruled that the first condition of sannyasa is to cut off all bonds. If you can cut the bonds of the mind and the body, the external and internal bonds, then come to sannyasa life. If you cannot, then do not come. This is the first rule.
When a young boy or girl comes to the sannyasa ashram, they are not taught asana, pranayama, dharana, dhyana and the Bhagavad Gita to begin with. The first thing they learn is to cut off bonds. After accepting sannyasa, one no longer has any connection with family, race or religion, whether external or internal. One is pure, satchidananda spirit, not the body. Such a person, who can free the spirit from the bonds of society and desires, may take to sannyasa life. This is the first condition, and it eliminates 99.99% of people, in the same way that a sieve separates chaff from flour.
You want to take sannyasa and also say to your father, Father, I am well. These days I look after the accounts office. It does not work. Sannyasa is not a job; in a sense, it is suicide. Until such time that you cut off your head, you will not get a new head. If you want to save your old ways and also take sannyasa, you will have neither, everything will finish. If you want sannyasa, you will have to get rid of the old mind.
In the first step of sannyasa, this elimination takes place. After that, the aspirants stay in an ashram and help to run it. In some ashrams people are fed the whole day through. All sannyasins join in this activity and they do the same work the whole day through. In Rishikesh there are many such ashrams; they run hospitals, schools, Sanskrit classes, and so on. The Swaminarayan sect in Gujarat runs colleges. Sannyasins are able to perform the varied duties well because all their ties have been cut off. Their mind is now at one place; they do not call their parents. This is not enforced either. The bonds of the world, maya and mind cannot be cut off forcefully. A light awakens and one realizes, I am Swami Satyananda. Who is Swami Satyananda? This body is not Swami Satyananda, it will go to the grave. Who then is Swami Satyananda? Who am I?
Sannyasins realize that they cannot evolve by living in the world. One may earn money by living in the world, enjoy the company of the opposite sex, satisfy desires, look after ones comfort, but one cannot know oneself. If someone wants to know himself while living in the world, he will have to be a very special person, like King Janaka or Ramakrishna Paramahamsa. Not everyone can do this.
It is possible to realize God while living a material life, but for most people this is a principle, not the reality. If your mind is running after wife, children, promotion and legal cases, which mind will you give to God? You have only one mind. If you had two minds, this would have worked one mind in the world, the other with God. Surdas has written:
Udho man naahin dasa-beesa
Eka huto so gayo Shyaama sanga kaun araadhai eesa.
(The gopis say) O Uddhava, we do not possess ten or twenty minds. The only mind we had has gone with Shyama (Krishna), who now should worship the absolute God (that you speak of)? There is only one mind, whether you focus it on God or in the world.
What you can do while living in the world, however, is to prepare for the day when vairagya awakens in you and you have perception of God. Most people get married at twenty-five, retire at sixty, and then travel about or do similar things. Where is God in your life? To realize God you do not have to do anything, you only have to know yourself. God is within. This is the truth; know just this much. Idol worship, visiting temples, prayer, worship, etc. are fine. They have to be done to appease the mind, because our religions prescribe them. But God is within. It has been said:
Sarva niwaasee sadaa alepaa tuhe sanga samaaee
Puhupa madhya jyon vaasa vasata hai,
mukura madhya jasa chhaaee
Vaise hee Hari vasai nirantara,
ghatahi khojahu bhaaee.
He lives everywhere. He remains untouched by all. He permeates you. Just as fragrance dwells in the flower and the image in the mirror, the Lord lives within you eternally. Search for him within your own self.
God is verily within me, and God is also outside me. Jita dekhoon, tita Rama. Wherever I look, there is Rama. The essence of God is subtle, and it is beyond the scope of the senses, mind, dream, wakefulness or death. That effulgent God is within us. Grihastha ashrama is the preparation for this realization, and sannyasa ashrama is its postgraduate stage. Therefore, nothing remains in sannyasa ashrama.
What happens in our ashram? We make buildings, prepare food, teach the kanyas, thats all. But when a sannyasin performs a task, he must do it with the feeling that he is serving the Almighty. The feeling that one is an accountant or in-charge should not be there.
There are many traditions of sannyasa in India. Among them the Dashnami tradition to which we belong is very strong. Dashnami sannyasins live freely and independently. We do not take the governments help; we are not dependent on its monetary help or support. We build our own life. A sannyasin must always remain self-reliant.
Besides Dashnami, there is the Vaishnava tradition. Vaishnavas are largely found in Puri, Ayodhya and Mathura. They are called sadhus. The third sannyasa tradition is Udasi, founded by Guru Nanaks son, Srichandra. There is another sect of Brahma Kumaris. They are a very strong and honest people, not hollow. In this way, many are working for the cause of sannyasa.
All the sects of sannyasins in India live like a donkey without its owner. No one controls them. They do not live in ashrams by profession. What kind of a sannyasin is he who is controlled by someone? Such a person cannot be a sannyasin. A sannyasin controls himself. He must decide for himself whether or not he wants to drink poison, smoke, have attachments. Society cannot tell a sannyasin what he should or not do. He must decide for himself, only then is he a sannyasin.
Sannyasa is a very big tradition of this country and it will remain that way because it is not dependent on the support of the government. Sannyasins do not live to please or be pleased by anyone. We do not want anything from anyone. We are not a religious sect, we are not interested in spreading religion. I used to visit so many different countries, but I did not convert anyone to Hinduism. Why should you change someones religion?
A sannyasin should remain completely independent. If he does not like it somewhere, he should be able to just pick up his bags and leave. Kabir has said,
Mana laago mero yaara phakeeree men
Jo sukha paavon Raama bhajana men,
so sukha naahin ameeree men
Premanagara men rahani hamaaree,
bhalee bani aaee sabooree men
Haatha men kundee bagala men sonta,
chaaro disi jaageeree men
Aakhira tana yaha khaaka milega,
kahan phirata magarooree men.
My mind is engrossed in the life of a recluse. The pleasure that lies in the chanting of the Lords name does not lie in riches. Listen patiently to all that people say, the good and the bad, and live a life of simplicity. I live in the city of love, my contentment gives me happiness. All I possess is a yoga danda and a water pot, and I move about everywhere. This body will become one with ashes, why then do you assume pride?
Whether a sannyasin lives in a palace or hut, he should live like a recluse. You might have read the life stories of Ramakrishna Paramahamsa, Swami Vivekananda and Anandamai Ma. There have been many others like them. My guru, Swami Sivananda, was a big doctor, and even after establishing such a large ashram, he lived simply. There are many examples of such ideal sannyasins.