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  • Writer's pictureAshok Kumar Burra

What is Sanyasa?

Bhaja Govindham – 14th Sloka (Verse) in Sanskrit:

“Jatilo mundi lunchithakeshaha

Kashayambara bahukrutha veshaha

Pasyannapi cha na pasyathi moodaha

Udhara nimittham bahukrutha veshaha”

Explanation of this Sloka: “One with ‘Jata’ or ‘Jada’ (braided hair – dressed in the form of 3 or more helical strands), another with a shaven head, one more with long hair, some other one dressed in Saffron, all play different ‘characters’ in their life to fill their bellies. These kinds of dupes or fools are blind though they can see actually.”

This sloka in ‘Bhaja Govindham’ written by Sri Adisankaracharya swamy is about ‘Sanyas’ or ‘Sanyasam’, the ultimate way of life out of the four ‘Varnaashramas’ as described in Hinduism. As Hinduism is a way of life to be precise, it describes the life of a human into four ‘ashramas’ or stages. They are:

  1. Brahmacharyam, is the first stage in which the man stays away from all the pleasures to have his education and gain knowledge,

  2. Grihastashram, is the second stage in which the man marries a woman and lives with his family, taking responsibilities,

  3. Vanaprastashram, is the third stage in which the man with his wife goes on the pilgrimage, after leaving the responsibilities to his grown up children,

  4. Sanyasashram, is the fourth stage in which the man leaves his wife with his children, and goes on forever in search of salvation.

These four stages are considered to be ideal for any man. But nowadays we rarely find any Hindu following these way of living, due to the social conditions. But anyway depending on the social conditions and the circumstances, one can still follow the sanyashram by staying among the family members. This sloka explains the meaning in a different and right way.

Though these four Varnashramas have their definitions, these should not be taken as binding. Without our mind and heart involved in what we are doing, all these four varnashramas make only some show instead of what they are really meant for.

To go deeper into the meaning of ‘Sanyasam’ or ‘Sanyas’ the great spiritual master of ancient India, Sri Adisankaracharya Swamy explains as follows with this sloka in Bhaja govindam:

‘Sanyasam’ or ‘Sanyas’ does not mean quitting the physical world. Sacrificing the bonds and affections which are deeply bounded with this world is ‘Sanyas’. ‘Sanyasi’ is not the one who is the loser in this world. Sanyasi is the one who wins over himself.

When the heart is being filled with bonds and affections, leaving the people and objects physically is not an indication of ‘Sanyasam’. It is an image of the person’s double mindedness. Similar to leaving the food while being hungry, leaving the water being thirsty, so also keeping this ‘Sansar’ or ‘Sansaram’ (all worldly relations, pleasures and desires) in mind and accepting ‘Sanyasam’ is similar.

There is no place for the everlasting desires in the mind of a real Sanyasi. He who is not fond of the name and fame in the society is a ‘Sadhu’ or ‘Sadhuvu’. So Sanyasi can go around in this world in anyway. A Sanyasi can cut his hair. A Sanyasi can have his head shaven clean. A Sanyasi can have long hair. But all those who look like this and who roam like this are not Sanyasis.

To assume that all those who wear Saffron attire are Sanyasis, that everyone who wears Khaddar is a patriot and that everyone who is in Kakhi dress is a savior of peace and security, is wrong.

Hypocrites are present in the society in all the times. These are cow-faced tigers. These are milk-faced venom pots. Though they apparently seem to be pious but in the real sense they are very dangerous. These people are those who can’t see though they can see.

Then why is this attire necessary? Sri Adisankaracharya swamy says that this is only for filling their bellies (to earn their livelihood). Those lazy people who can not earn by working hard adopt simple means of living.

These people who assume to get results without hard work are like the worms in this society. They slowly eat away the morals in the society.

This kind of double-minded people who are the obstacles to the path of spiritual development, not only blow off their spiritual radiance but also fill their surroundings with spiritual darkness.


Read the next part here – Everything that glitters is not Gold

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