The Glory of SanyAsA

Sri Gurubhyo Namaha

This is a talk given by Swami ParamArthAnanda on Guru PurnimA day. I have transcribed it on the day of SanyAsA sweekArA of the Sringeri Jagadguru Sri Sri BhArati Teertha Mahaswaminah. Most of the text is verbatim from Swamiji’s talks. Any errors are mine.



Guru PurnimA is a day of SanyAsis, so therefore I would like to talk about the glory of sanyAsA. Throughout the year, while teaching GitA classes, I am talking about the glory of grhasthAs off and on.

Sannyaasah karmayogashcha nihshreyasakaraa vubhau

Tayostu karmasannyaasaat karmayogo vishishyate – GitA

Krishna says a grihastha is superior to sanyAsis.  And in the sixth chapter, 

Anaashrita Karma Phalam, Kaaryam Karma Karoti Yah

Sa Sannyaasi Sa Yogi Cha, Na Niragnir Na Cha Akriyah – GitA

There also Krishna glorifies grhasthAshrama. In fact most of the time, in the GitA shAshtra grhastha is glorified. Doing this constantly, I may myself get into a doubt whether I have taken a wrong decision [laughs]. Therefore, once in a while you should give me an opportunity to glorify sanyAsA; but don’t worry, at the end I will tell something nice for you also.

In the Vedic culture, sanyAsA is kept as the ideal for every human being.The ideal, the ultimate goal of every individual is supposed to be sanyAsA. That is why in the VedA it is said, Brahmacharyam samApya grhi bhavet, grhi bhootvA vani bhavet, vani bhootvA pravrajet. Everyone has to go through four AshrAmAs, and the final Ashrama through which one ultimately reaches MokshA or the Lord is only SanyAsA Ashrama. Keeping the four Ashrama pattern alone, they started BrahmacharyAshrama in early age of 5th or 7th year, and even marriage was conducted in very early age, almost child marriage was prevalent ; this was kept because all the four AshramAs were supposed to be gone through. If we have got only two AshramAs, a person can get married at the 30th year and 40th year, because afterwards, the only destination is death. Thus if grhasthAshrama and brahmacharyAshrama alone are there, late marriage is OK, but since they wanted four Ashramas to be gone through, he or she was married at 13,14, 15 so that they can enter vAnAprastAshrama when their organs are reasonably intact. From this it is very clear that the fourth AshramA or the sanyAsAshrama is the ideal, the ultimate goal of Vedic culture. No doubt, they talked about the glory of other AshrAmAs also. BrahmachAri is glorified in several places, GrhasthA is glorified as a pillar who is the only Ashrami who gives BhikshA to the other three AshrAmis who live on BhikshA alone, VanAprasthAshrama is also glorified and so is SanyAsA. But when it comes to a comparison, our ShAshtrA is very clear that SanyAsA alone is the superiormost AshramA.

The Shruti says – “nyAsah eva atyarechayat”, sanyAsA alone excels other AshramAs. That is why, when it comes to offering respect or prostrations, VedA is very clear, all the AshramAs may be great, when it comes to NamaskAra, all the other Ashramis, irrespective of their status, should offer namaskAra to sanyAsi alone. The grhasthA may be the richest one in the world, he may the emperor of a huge kingdom, the sanyAsi may be sitting under a tree without any setup, but still the emperor has to come and do namaskAra to this poorest person. From this it is very clear that, in our tradition, tyAgA or renunciation is considered to be the ultimate ideal, we may acquire any number of things, but our culture does not respect possessions or positions, our culture respects renunciation alone. Most of the heros of our culture, most of our models, are only tyAgis or those who have renounced, that are glorified.

This SanyAsAshrama is of different types based on the nature of renunciation – kuteechaka, bahudhaka, hamsa, and parahamsa – four types of sanyAsA are talked about based on the nature of renunciation, because in renunciation there can be gradation, in the AshramA also there is gradation. Of these four grades, the greatest and the highest sanyAsA is supposed to be paramahamsa sanyAsA, which is the renunciation of everything. In the other sanyAsA a person may retain the sacred thread. Kuteechaka and Bahudhaka sanyAsis continue to have the sacred thread and therefore some rituals. Similarly a SanyAsi who wants to do social service, he has not renounced karma totally, thus he is also considered to be a lower grade sanyAsi according to shAshtrA because he has still got interest in something.

Paramahamsa is supposed to be one who has renounced everything. And this parahamsa sanyAsA is itself supposed to be of two types, one is called vividhishA sanyAsA which is taken for studying the scriptures, vividhishA means desire for knowledge, committed to knowledge. Other sanyAsis may do service etc., may not be committed to the study of scriptures, shAshtrA allows sanyAsA for such people also. If a person wants to take sanyAsA for serving the society, he can take , but it will come under kuteechaka bahudhaka etc., but paramahamsa sanyAsi must be interested in scriptural study – shravaNa mananam alone. If a person has no interest in jnAna yoga, scriptural study, then he should not take to parahamsa sanyAsa but he can take other kinds of sanyAsA.

This vividhishA sanyAsA is a means to go to the next grade of sanyAsA called vidvat sanyAsA. VividhishA sanyAsA is known as jnAna-pradhAna sanyAsA. In this sanyAsA, a person is not interested in anything except the committed pursuit of self-inquiry. It is a means to the end – vidvat sanyAsA. In vidvat sanyAsA, he doesn’t pursue knowledge since he already has jnAnam, and thus vidvat sanyAsA is tyAga-pradhAna sanyAsA. In that, he doesn’t hold on to anything, even the abhimAnA that “I am a jnAni”, that is also to be renounced. As a vividhishA sanyAsi he is a pursuer of knowledge, as a vidvat sanyAsi he has attained knowledge, but even in that knowledge he has no abhimAnA –

Ajnana Kalusham Jeevam. Jnanaabhyasat Vinirmalam. Krutwa Jnanam Swayam Nasyet. Jalam Katakarenuvat

                       – Atmabodhah.

Even the abhimAnA that “I am a jnAni, I am a sanyAsi” should be given up. Thus the aim of vidvat sanyAsA is total renunciation, while vividhishA sanyAsA is for committed study of scriptures. Thus vividhishA sanyAsA is means-sanyAsA, jnAna pradhAnam, while vidvat sanyAsA is end-sanyAsA, which is tyAga-pradhAnam. According to our scriptures, vividhishA sanyAsa is the ideal means in life and vidvat sanyAsA is the ideal end that one can think of. VividhishA sanyAsA, a sanyAsA in which a person is committed to knowledge, and vidvat sanyAsA, a sanyAsA in which a person renounces everything is the ideal end.

Why do we say so? What is the logic behind saying that vividhishA sanyAsA is the ideal means? If we analyse we will find that this sanyAsi who has renounced everything, who is committed to knowledge, this sanyAsi is the closest model to Brahman which he is pursuing. For Brahman, the ultimate truth, the Ultimate ParamArthika satyam, for such a Brahman if we want a vyAvahArika empirical model, then a sanyAsi alone is a model for Brahman. How? Because Brahman is free from all actions, Brahman is duty-free [laughs], that is Brahman is free from karmas. Similarly SanyAsi is one who does not have any duty at all, if at all he has got any duty, owning up of the duty-free Brahman as oneself is the only duty the vividhishA sanyAsi has. Thus he is duty-free even in the empirical world. First of all, he need not earn, which is the biggest thing, the most difficult thing, for which alone the whole life is spent right from LKG onwards, the goal is how to choose the ideal degree for which job opportunities are more and for which there is more income. Half of the lifetime is gone for udara-nimittam, earning, and how to invest it properly, bothering about inflation etc. The biggest freedom of a SanyAsi is no more thinking of inflation, the only inflation he knows is the inflation of the stomach caused by BhikshA eating [laughs]. No earning duty, and no duty of propitiating the spouse either, no duty of raising children, all these botheration of family duties, social duties, what functions to attend and what kind of dress to wear for each, all these botheration are not there. Morning kAvi (ochre robe), evening kAvi, etc., even he need not bother about hairstyle. Thus being duty-free like Brahman, sanyAsi can easily own up that I am Brahman, because he is externally duty-free just like Brahman is duty-free internally. Thus, freedom is one common factor between Brahman and SanyAsi.

Secondly Brahman is defined in scriptures as one free from all relations – asango hi ayam purusha. Similarly sanyAsi is one who also says, who also is asangah. Because at the time of sanyAsA he breaks all relations, no more relations, no more sangah, no more sambandhah. Thus Brahman is asangah, sanyAsi is asangah, Brahman is karma-muktah, sanyAsi is karma-muktah.

Even though Brahman is relationship free, the beauty is that Brahman is behind everything supporting everything, it is sarva-AdhAram, asangatve api. Similarly sanyAsi also doesn’t relate to a particular person, a particular father or mother, but at the same time the sanyAsi is also related to, he is the supporter of, the whole creation. He does not belong to anyone, at the same time he belongs to everyone. Nothing belongs to him, at the same time everything belongs to him.

matsthaani sarva bhootaani, na cha matsthaani bhootaani, – Gita

aham asangah, aham sarvagatah. 

Thus sanyAsi belongs to all, Brahman also belongs to all.

And finally, Brahman does not depend on anything for security. And a sanyAsi also does not depend upon any particular thing for security , he does not have a bank balance, a house or anything. He finds security in himself – abhayam pratisthAm vindate. Not only he finds security in himself, the beauty is he gives security to others, and the irony is that the other person who feels insecurity is a very rich person. With all the richness he feels insecure, and this sanyAsi is a absolute pauper and yet he feels secure and also gives security to the richest person in the world. Therefore sanyAsi also depends on himself Atmanyeva Atmana tusthah, and Brahman also is sve-mahimne pratisthitah.

Therefore in all these four respects, there is similarity between Brahman and sanyAsi – (1) Brahman is free, sanyAsi is free, (2) Brahman is relationless, sanyAsi is relationless, (3) Brahman belongs to everyone, sanyAsi belongs to everyone, (4) Brahman depends upon itself for security, sanyAsi depends upon himself for security. And therefore, sanyAsa Ashrama is ideal for gaining Brahma-jnAnam, because when the teacher says “You are Brahman”, there are so many common features, that the sanyAsi says “Yes, that is correct indeed.” The understanding glides into his brain naturally. However, without sanyAsa, the Vedantic student may ask “Me? Am I Brahman? Are you telling me or someone else?”, thus one finds that one can understand Brahman objectively, but owning up of Brahman produces some resistance. Therefore sanyAsA is ideal means [laughs and says – “Don’t worry I will come to you (grhasthAs) later”].

Then similarly, sanyAsA is the ideal end also, because tyAga or vidvat sanyAsA which is tyAga-pradhAnA is the ideal end, because in renunciation alone I own my swAmitvam, my mastery. A sanyAsi gives up everything which will be snatched away by time later. Most of the things we possess will be snatched away by kAlah, time.

KAlah kreedati gacchhati Aayuh.
Aayur nasyati pasyatAm pratidinam yAtikshayam yauvanam
pratyAyAti gata punardivasA kAlO jagatbhakshakah.

KAla, time or death, will snatch away everything. Except one thing, the only thing which KAla cannot snatch away, that is the AtmA, other than the AtmA everything else is subject to loss. The VedAntin’s approach is this – when things are snatched away from me, the pain is intense. When the very same things are given up by me, my pleasure is intense. In loss there is pain, in giving away, there is happiness.

I have heard some people saying, this is a common thought that can come to anyone. One lady was telling that she was visiting some temple, and while moving about in the temple, she lost her golden ornament, bangle or chain or something. Then she felt very bad that someone had stolen the ornament, and she was upset. Then she took a vow, “O Lord, if that ornament comes back to me, I will offer it to you.” Now, because of the grace of the Lord or luck or whatever, she got back her ornament. Then she was very happy, and she gave the ornament to the Lord. Now, she is very happy. When the ornament is lost also, she did not get the benefit of wearing it, when the ornament is given to the Lord also, she did not have the benefit of wearing the ornament. As far as the benefit of wearing the ornament is concerned, it is the same whether it is lost or given to the Lord. But in the mind, there is a great difference. When it is lost, there is sorrow, but when it is given away, there is joy. Thus, from this, we come to an very important idea – in loss also, I am without an object and in giving up also, I am without an object. In loss there is pain, in giving up there is pleasure.

Thus VedAntA says – time is going to take away everything from us. And if we are going to hold on to things, when they are taken away the pain is going to be intense. Thus, even before time takes them away, what do you do? – Call the kAlam, you call it yamah, BhagavAn or whatever may be the name, and you tell that – even before you snatch, I am handing over everything to you. When those things go away in time, I am not going to feel pain because I have already handed them over to KAla devata. Each has been bequeathed to KAla explicitly and willingly saying – ” this object belongs to KAlah, that object belongs to KAlah”. And thus, when youth is snatched away by time, I just tell Yama DharmarAjA – “Yes indeed this belongs to you, please take it”, similarly old age comes, people and relations go away or whoever or whatever goes away, they have already been earmarked for KAlah, or BhagavAn, or Yamah, and therefore a tyAgi is not worried about the loss of anything, including his own body.

nAbhinandeta maraNam,nAbhinandeta jeevanam, 

kAlam eva prateekshate nirdishtam prthako yathA.

He knows kAla is the one who is going to take away everything, and he holds on only to one thing which kAla can never take away, that is AtmA. And therefore no feeling of insecurity and he can challenge to YamA – “Hey yamA, if you have got any courage, come and take away the AtmA” – yasya brahma ca kṣatraṁ ca ubhe bhavata odanaḥ, mṛtyur yasyopasecanaṁ ka itthA veda yatra saḥ” – AtmA is KAlakAlah, and therefore yamA cannot touch me. And therefore what is the ultimate tyAgA, it is giving up of everything which can be lost or taken away, and holding on to one thing which cannot be snatched or taken away. Thus this finding security in the unsnatcheable and not leaning upon anything that can be snatched is called parahamsa paarivrAjyam, which is vidvat sanyAsA. And this sanyAsA is the ideal of Vedic culture, and naturally these sanyAsis do not possess anything of their own, and do not belong to any part of the country or the world, and therefore what is there life – paritah vrajanam, moving all over. Why? Because if they [such sanyAsis] stay in one place, they may get attached to that place, or even if they are not attached, the people of that place may attached to them, and therefore their duty is constant movement.

And this movement will help the society also, and it will teach an important lesson. Because they will see a sanyAsi who is always happy inspite of not having anything.

moolam taro kevalam Ashrayantah
pAnidyavam bhoktum amatrayantah
kanthAmiva shreemapi kutsayantah
kaupeenavantah khalu bhAgyavantah

shayyA bhutalam ajinamvAsah
kasya sukham na karoti virAgah

We see a person – he doesn’t know what is his security tomorrow, in his old age what is his insurance, there is neither life insurance nor medical insurance, relations are not there, in the last moment nobody knows whether there will be even one person to give him a sip of water, thus his future seems bleak. But even though he doesn’t have anything to claim for himself, we find that he seems to the happiest person, the most relaxed person. Seeing such persons, all other people will begin to think – It looks as though we don’t need things for joy. If we need things for joy, the sanyAsi must be the most miserable person. Similarly it looks as though we don’t need anything for security, because if things are needed for security, sanyAsi must be the most insecure person, since he has nothing or nobody for himself. For grhasthAs even with everything there is the worry that whether the children will take care of them [laughs]. Now here, there is no such question at all.

And therefore, the sanyAsi moving about in the society is good for the people because the people will know that – things we can have, that is OK, but things we don’t need for security, for peace, for fullness, we do not need anything. For survival, for life, for shareera-yaatra-maatram, for such physical needs, food clothing shelter, are OK, but for the inner needs such as love, fullness, security etc., they are not at all necessary. The Shruti enumerates all the gradations of ananda from manushyananda to brahmaji’s ananda, and it says – Shrotriyasya chAkAmahatasya – all these anandas are available for the person who doesn’t possess anything. Thus sanyAsis play a very important role in the society, in fact they are ideals for the society, they are models for the society. Of course among sanyAsis also there may be fakes and all, since in anything there can be duplicates. Even in RamAyana kAla, in the treta Yuga, sanyAsa has been abused – RAvanA himself has done that. Thus it is not a surprise that such people exist in today’s age also. But still, the shAshtrA says that the sanyAsi should be respected without enquiry.

DurvrttovA suvrttovA murkhah pandita eva vA
kAshaya danda mAtrena yati pujyo na samshayah

Don’t enquire into his character, don’t see if he is learned or not, is he a sanyAsi- then yati pujyo na samshayah – he is worthy of worship. Thus a sanyAsi serves as a model, he moves about, this is the original tradition. Now there are lot of changes in the society, varNAshrama dharmAs have changed, and therefore sanyAsa dharma is also changing, but the original ideal is that he moves about.

And when he moves about, it is said in the shAshtra that for four months of the rainy season he should not move about – varshAshu ekatra samvishtam vasetvarshAsu means rainy season, chaturo mAsAn grAmeva nagarevA ekatra samvaset – he should stay in one place during the four months of the rainy season because moving around may be difficult, and also because there are lot of insects also come out from the earth during the rainy season, and he may step over them, and thus to avoid that also, he is supposed to stay in one place, with permission from the people who live in that place. He says – “I would like to stay, if you have no objection”, because no place belongs to him, and every place belongs to the world therefore he seeks permission. And the society also, in those days, had respect for SanyAsis, and therefore they immediately jump at that opportunity and say that “We would be very happy to provide you everything, and we have a request, during these four months stay, at least teach us something, we would like to gain jnAnam from you. We will give you BhikshA, you should give us jnAna bhikshA” – thus, parasparam bhAvayantah.

And therefore on this AshAda purNima day, the sanyAsis take the chAturmAsya vratam, a vratam in which they decide to violate the general rule that they should not stay in a place for long. During this time, they are supposed to move out of that village or city. And nowadays, they have reduced the four months to four pakshas, because in Veda it is said somewhere – maaso vai pakshah – maasa and paksha are same. All the people of that place come during that time, and they are going to start the VedAntic teaching and to start that teaching they do a Guru pooja.

And all the Gurus of the parampara are invoked – NArAyAna, Brahma, vashishtA, KrishnA, ShankarAchAryA, and one’s own Guru, because it is only due to their grace that one is able to gain this knowledge. And if all the Gurus are invoked, you should have called it Guru poornima, why do you call it VyAsa-purnima? Because even though all gurus are important, VyAsAchAryA is supposed to be the most important one among all these Gurus, a Guru whom even ShankarAchAryA also respects, therefore VyAsAchAryA is kept even in a higher position compared to ShankarAchAryA, because vyAsAchAryA alone brought out the VedAntic teaching and systematized it through his Brahma Sutra. And this VedAntic philosophy is the basis of Indian culture. The culture of a nation or a society depends upon its philosophy. If materialistic philosophy we have, then it will value materialism maximum. If it is a spiritual outlook, then spirit is given importance and materials will become subsidiary. Therefore take dance, or music, or any other form of art, it is the VedAntic philosophy that is reflected, all reflect JivAtmA paramAtmA aikyam alone. Thus, if Indian culture is glorious, the glory goes to philosophy, and if the philosophy is glorious it is because it is given out by VedAntA, and if VedAntA is glorious, it is because it has been systematized by VyAsAchAryA. Therefore VyAsA is as glorious as VedAntA. Therefore we call it VyAsa-pooja. But the worship is not of VyAsA alone, but all the VedAntic teachers are glorified, and seek the grace of all these Gurus to start VedAntic study.

And finally, you may ask the question – “Swamiji you have said that Vedantic study can be easily understood by SanyAsis alone, then what about us grhasthAs?: . Then , we say that, even though sanyAsA is said to be ideal, sanyAsA can be external or internal. External sanyAsA has certain advantages alright, but more than external sanyAsA, inner sanyAsA is important. That is why KrishnA said – jneyah sa nityasanyAsi yo na dveshti na kAnkshati – the one who has handed over everything to the world, including my body, my wealth, everything BhagavAn can take away whenever he wants – tan man dhan sab kuch tera – when you take them, I will not complain, but I will return it with thanks. Thus if that attitude is there, everything belongs to God, nothing is mine ; God has given me, and God has the right to claim anything at any time without prior notice, and when God claims I will hand over without batting the eyelid. If this attitude is developed, even grahasthA is sanyAsi alone.

Nivrtta raagasya grham tapovam [when raaga dvesha is not there, even the house becomes an Ashrama]
Pravrtta raagasya grham tapovam [when raaga dveshaas are there, even the Ashrama becomes a house].

So therefore, you can convert the house itself into an Ashrama, if you put in your mind the attitude that everything belongs to Lord, I am ready to give away to the Lord at any time, this inner surrender. When the GrhasthA has this attitude, it is called surrender; with respect to the sanyAsi, this is called sanyAsA being done externally. Thus, external sanyAsA is called sanyAsA, and what is internal sanyAsA is called sharaNAgatih. Therefore surrender, then you are sanyAsis without kAshAya vastram. And as sanyAsis, you listen to (VedAntA), not for four months alone, and that listening will bless you from vividhishA sanyAsA it will take to vidvat sanyAsA – na karmaNA na prajayA dhanena tyAgenaike amrutatvamAnashuh – this sanyAsA will give immortality. Therefore on this auspicious occasion, let us invoke the grace of all the AchAryas so that we will receive the wisdom and therefore MokshA.

Om Purnamadah purnamidam purnAt purnamudachyate
purnasya purnamAdAya purnamevAvashishyate
Om Shanti shanti shantih.


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