SANYASA – ITS MEANING AND NECESSITY
Sanyasa is accepted by a spiritual person to devote the entire lifetime for the study, spiritual practice and realization of the Truth. Sanyasa can be accepted at any stage in a person’s life. It can be accepted at a very early age during the student life (brahmacharya ashrama), it can be accepted during the grahastasrama (family life) or in the vanaprastha asrama (retired life). Sanyasa accepted at any stage has its own importance.
Sanyasa is a lifestyle where there is no binding relationship. It is a unique mental state where one feels that no one is dependent on him and he is also not dependent on any one. A sanyasi is not expected to perform the duties of the other ashramas like grahasthasrama and vanaprastha ashrama. They have their own set of discipline and rules for their life style. For example, begging is not allowed in any other asrama, but it is allowed for the sanyasa ashrama. Sanyasa ashrama involves a lot of travel and they spend most of the time practicing Brahmavidya. They eat only to stay alive. Therefore, when they approach, people in the worldly life help a sanyasi save his life by giving them quality food.
Sanyasa ashrama needs the three basic qualifications. They are viveka (Knowledge), vairagya (discrimination between the permanent and temporary) and mumukshutva (anxiety to know the Truth). It is the mental attitude and qualification which makes a sanyasi more than his appearance. The rules observed in the ashram help one to improve these attitudes and lift them to the next higher stage. There are two types of sanyasa namely vividesha sanyasa and vidvat sanyasa.
Vividesha sanyasa is said as the first stage of sanyasa. It involves mostly student life. Ninety percent of sanyasis are vividesha sanyasis. When one has viveka, vairagya and mumukshutva one can accept sanyasa regardless of age. Vividesha sanyasis are expected to perform selfless action. It helps them to have chitta shuddhi (purity of mind) and chitta ekagrata (one pointedness of the mind). They manage scriptural study, spiritual practice and along with it they perform selfless action. They can be said as sadhakas (practitioners of jnana). Some students spent their entire life time as vividesha sanyasi. They perform karma yoga to the maximum extent. The gurus in the ashramas teach them scriptures and help them do spiritual practices.
Vidvat sanyasa is an advanced stage in sanyasa. Here the students are mostly sadhakas with scriptural knowledge. They might have attained this knowledge in their family life or retired life by approaching the right guru, reading and understanding the scriptures. They have done shravana and manana in the earlier stages. However, they do not have the right atmosphere or time to practice nididhyasana. They find difficult to establish in Self knowledge due to their viparita bhavana (existing impressions). Hence they accept sanyasa, stay in an ashrama, and practice the attained knowledge. They are in their advanced stage. A jnani who takes sanyasa is called vidvat sanyasi.
Sanyasa is only a choice. If a person has the three basic qualifications, he can continue in the family life or retired life and attain liberation. They must be capable of balancing the family life, their studies and practices. Practice of dharma (right conduct) helps one to study and understand scriptures. However, when one indulges in worldly activities his mind gets distracted. Most of his time is spent to maintain and protect himself or to protect his belongings and loved ones. Therefore, scriptures say that sanyasa is not compulsory but an easy way to attain liberation.
Brahma vidya is the ultimate knowledge. It is not a religious study. It is the knowledge about the Self. Any person who has an intense desire to know the Truth is qualified to know it; he need not compulsorily be a sanyasi. Many people are hesitant to know the Truth because they fear of being labeled as a sanyasi by the society and family, and will be deprived of family and worldly life. It is a ridiculous belief which is prevalent in the society and it should be overcome with right understanding. One should not be pushed in to the sanyasa lifestyle; if so, it does more harm than any good to the person who accept sanyasa and he takes advantage with his status and harm the society. In modern days, sanyasa is considered as a privilege, or a status or a convenience or accepted without any other option. If the attitude behind accepting sanyasa is not pure Brahma vidya, then it will shatter that person in multiple ways.
Sanyasa has a deep meaning in spirituality and it is the highest in spiritual order. It is a life style with discipline and renouncing mental attitude. In fact, the mental attitude is more important than the mere life style. If sanyasa is accepted without right understanding, taken in a hurry, or if it is seen as a scapegoat for any problem in life, then it does more harm to the person who has accepted sanyasa and he is harmful for the society as well; and hence scriptures give more importance for the mental attitude to accept sanyasa. Sanyasa is a renouncing attitude which comes to a spiritual person who finds the material life less important than his goal, to understand the Truth. However, scriptures say that sanyasa is not compulsory to know the Truth. It is a life style accepted by people who have the right mental attitude and necessity.
Sadhana (practice) is very important to know the Truth. Only practice gives liberation and not the lifestyle. Hence to practice in a disciplined way a person accepts sanyasa. Every sanyasa ashrama has very strict set of rules which are to be followed by their inmates. Ashramas expect the sanyasis to maintain internal (mind) and external (body and surroundings) purity. They are ordained to perform nitya karmas (daily duties) like maintaining their own cleanliness, helping in ashrama duties, pooja etc. They are prohibited from involving in kamya karmas (actions done to quench their desires), nishida karmas (prohibited duties like cheating, drinking alcohol etc) and prayachitta karma (karmas done to get positive results, they are expected to accept life as it is). A sanyasi is barred from any action that binds him to the worldly life. Even after entering the sanyasa lifestyle if a sanyasi indulges in material life, then in the first place what is the need for him to accept this life style? If a person finds it difficult to live as a sanyasi he can very well stay in the worldly life and practice vairagya till he attains it. Scriptures do not compel one to accept sanyasa. That is why it is imperative to stress the need of the three basic qualifications viveka, vairagya and mumukshutva. Many people accept sanyasa in a hurry. They are ignorant about the importance and necessity of the sanyasa life style. When sanyasa is accepted without maturity it is repented later. A sanyasi without viveka, vairagya, or mumukshutva does not do any good for himself or for the society. An immature sanyasi is a blot to the society. In modern times it is common to see many such immature sanyasis. They stay in sanyasa ashrma and involve in many binding actions which harms the society. They consider this highly respectable order as a privilege. An immature mind easily slips to tamas (inertia). One can very well live in the middle of the society and have family life and uplift the society by their knowledge even without accepting sanyasa. If sanyasa is accepted then its strict rules and lifestyle must be accepted. If one has the right mental attitude then it is good to accept sanyasa, else one can remain in worldly life and train the mind for goodness by scriptural studies and spiritual practices. One can understand the importance of the Atma and the illusionary nature of the world by reading and understanding the scriptures. A balanced spiritual and worldly life helps a person to find internal and external peace. Understanding life is more important than accepting a particular lifestyle.