What is Sannyas? Why does one renounce?

It has been a long time since I posted anything on my site. I have writing and putting together a PDF file that has information and insights into the Indian monasticism of Sannyas (co-authored with a knowledgeable teacher). It should soon be available on this site for free download. In the meantime, I wanted to put together some preliminary thoughts which includes some or my reflections for choosing this kind of a life. Here it is:

Was there a time in your life when you outgrew your interest in something, or your fascination with someone or some place? It may have come gradually like a fruit ripening and falling off a tree or suddenly like a bolt of lightening that stops you in your tracks. 

Consider how a child loses interest with his toys as he grows up and how a teenager who matures into adulthood is no longer amused merely with hanging out with friends or going to movies. Similarly, over time many of us outgrow certain stages of life, and experience a psychological shift as reflected through the change in our priorities and pursuits. But it can also happen through a rude awakening such as through the loss or separation of someone dear to you. 

Regardless of whether our experience of dispassion is gradual or sudden, the dawning of renunciation is considered by the wise to be a sign of spiritual progress. The Indian Sages advocate the cultivation of renunciation as a means to emancipation from the repetitive cycles of life and death (based on the philosophy of reincarnation).   

Sannyas is the final stage in the traditional means of life’s occupations. It stands for total renunciation. In fact it is the one occupation of renouncing all of life’s occupation. Yet it is said that it not a mere negative ‘giving up’ but the ‘giving up of lower for the sake of the higher’.

Sannyas Ashrama is commonly associated with Adi Shankaracharya’s Non-dualistic Advaita Vedanta tradition and is the culmination of years of Brahmacharya in most monastic orders. The monk or Sannyasi’s new name is a reflection of giving up former identifications. (My name Nirgunananda for instance, is a Sanskrit word denoting the joy beyond all attributes and forms. It represents the non-dual nature of Supreme Spirit and of our own true nature)

Keeping in the true spirit of Sannyas, I have chosen to, and in fact continue to, remain independent without any affiliation to any organization. For now I have moved to live in the Uttarakhand region of Himalayas in India (Thanks to lockdown, I have now lived here for nearly an year now). 

Ashrams and monastic orders have a certain purpose at an initial stage of one’s Sadhana (spiritual training). They help to keep the ego in check as one tends to be naturally rebellious of any spiritual training due to years of living in a self-gratifying manner. With proper training, one learns to renounce one’s worldly attitude of seeking happiness without and for the individual self. However, over time, the ego gets used even to it and finds a means for gratification within such systems. New identities and roles get solidified and one falls back into the comfort zone. 

True Sannyas, or renunciation is to renounce the ego itself. It is about not having such identifications which over time are proven to be only temporary. In earlier days, Sannyasis used to never stay at any one place for too long. When one does make any place one’s home, then identifications and roles take shape, followers’ increase and along with it, one’s comfort level and attachment to place and people.

However, to be a wandering monk in its true purport requires not only a healthy physical body but also cooperation of governments in giving permission for one to move easily. It only seems that with the current world situation where borders are sealed with high alert for terrorism, Pandemic and other negative forces, the life of a wandering Sannyasi just got more complex. So the best thing for a Sannyasi under such conditions is to be willing to move and relocate, as and when opportunities come up, right within the area one lives or wherever there is support for spiritual living. 

Thus many monks tend to move from one monastery to another, or from one spiritual area to another. In the past 8-9 years of taking to such a life, I have always sought to follow the summons of higher forces that has directed me to different Ashrams or spiritual places. While it is true that the purpose of itinerant lifestyle is to break the attachment, it is also important to not lose the overall goal of spiritual progress. Otherwise, merely learning the ‘skills of the trade’ will not ensure success. After all, there are many good Sadhus/monks but only a few of them are spiritually advanced.

Yet one might wonder what is the essence of being a monk and why did I choose to take final ordination as a Sannyasi? It was only after having lived at various monasteries and Ashrams over the years, and having tried out different monastic ordinations, at a preliminary level, that I had decided to take the full monastic ordination of Sannyas (From a philosophical point of view, there are two kinds of Sannyas: First one is the seeker’s Sannyas and the second one is that of one who is stabilized on his spiritual path) 

There is a deeper underlying purpose as to why one takes to a life of Sannyas. Life is inherently complex if we really try to understand it beyond it’s outer phenomena. Many are content in finding pleasures and some others in having a fulfilling career or family. Few are called upon to inquire deeply and fulfill a deeper purpose of finding meaning for oneself and for others. If one has no worldly obligation or interest, then being a monk helps deepen one’s commitment towards a higher purpose.

Sannyasi undertakes to live life with bare minimum possessions and devote one’s time fully to the supreme goal of liberation and well being of all. Ofcourse there are those, who give up family and occupation and take to Sannyas. Instead, in my case I had chosen this path of life not on any impulse but after already living most of my past 25 years in full time pursuit of mental peace and spiritual happiness. In all my reasoning and experimenting I have come to realize that to renounce anything, whether it is our possessions or our erroneous views of life, is true happiness. 

This final occupation of life is motivated with a desire not only be free from the cycles of life and death, Samsara, but also to be of service to mankind as one’s own family. Thus I hope to continue to serve through my writings, and to live a life that can in itself be an inspiration in the discovery of highest truth, free from all religious and sects.

Peace, Love and Health to all,

Swami Nirgunananda

Uttarkashi, Himalayas, India 

July 2020

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