The meaning of sannyasa is not what most people make it out to be. Sannyasa is not turning into an old man with a long beard. All those who leave their native homes and go abroad also take sannyasa in a way. They have let go of their attachments. The meaning of sannyasa is sacrificing oneself for the sake of something. Sannyasa means dedication; it does not mean renunciation. In the dictionary, the meaning of sannyasa is not tyaga, renunciation; it means samarpan, surrender. It means trust. Nyasa means to place yourself in a trust. If you allocate a certain amount of your money to help the poor, you have placed it in trust; it has been dedicated. That is what sannyasa means.
The question should not arise whether or not sannyasa is necessary. One who has faith in sannyasa should take sannyasa and one who desires a householder life should live that. It is not as if you cannot attain God in householder life or that only sannyasins attain God.
One does not take sannyasa for the sake of attaining God. The aim of sannyasa is not moksha. The only aim of sannyasa is seva, selfless service. This is the aim of sannyasa because a sannyasin is not limited by circumstances. No condition can create pressure on a sannyasin. If someone asks me for a bribe today, I can ask him to go to hell, but a householder cannot do this because his work will come to a standstill. Sannyasa is such a life in which one cannot be a slave to circumstances. A sannyasin is the master of his own life. Today I can leave this place and go anywhere, for the circumstances do not come in my way. In the path of seva, one must make sure that circumstances do not become obstacles. Therefore, sannyasa must be considered the path of seva.
The life of sannyasa is the life of growth. If Narendra had not taken sannyasa, he could not have become Swami Vivekananda. There were many circumstances in his life that were obstacles on his path. The moment he took sannyasa, he removed the barriers that stood before him. Barriers are subjective; they are in your mind. A householder is bound by them, but not a sannyasin.
As far as devotion to God is concerned, or worship, prayer, pilgrimage, satsang and self-study, a householder can practise them and so can a sannyasin. So, to ask whether or not sannyasa is required is unnecessary. Sannyasa is a path adopted by people in different ages to work for the welfare of humanity. There are many sannyasins working in the cities today who are able to guide people on the path of growth. There are many negative influences in the cities and people can easily go down the wrong lane there. The sannyasins guide and take you from the inauspicious path to the auspicious path.
It is said that the path of sannyasa is like the razor’s edge.
Those who consider the path of sannyasa a razor’s edge should leave sannyasa. They are not worthy of it. Sannyasa is an easy path. If we know how to drive a car, it is very easy for us. If someone does not know how to drive, he’d better not even touch a car. There are people in whom the desires are mellow and there are people who have intense desires. The second category of people should not take sannyasa. However, for some rare people this may not be the case, such as Tulsidas or Surdas.
There is no difficulty in sannyasa. Sannyasa is ananda, bliss. That is why sannyasins have the suffix ‘ananda’ in their names. I have even lived the life of a beggar blissfully. In Varanasi, I would spread a cloth, place an aluminium bowl on it and people would drop alms in it. At night I would go off to sleep on the verandah of a temple. There was such bliss in that. From many people’s perspective, that would seem like suffering. In my eyes, it was completely blissful. In sannyasa life, whatever condition you live in, you should remain contented.
Every individual has a different standard. When children go to study in a school, they all go to the same school but they belong to different standards. And even within the same standard, every child has a different category of intellect. Similarly, we have all evolved through eighty-four hundred thousand life forms and we are all at different stages of evolution. Every person has his own experiences, his own speciality. Someone is tamasic, ignorant and dull, someone is sattwic, pure and luminous, and someone is rajasic, restless and active. Sometimes a person may appear to be rajasic and tamasic on the surface; he may appear to be very wicked and passionate, but somewhere within him the light of sattwa wants to manifest. It is not able to manifest because the lid of tamo and rajo gunas keep it covered. So when he goes to a sadguru, reads an inspiring book or a certain event takes place in his life, that lid flips open. For some this happens through a catastrophe such as the death of a dear one or loss of wealth, and there are those whose lid opens when they visit a sage or saint.
No one becomes a sannyasin; it is an internal feeling. It manifests from within. In the forties when I was in Rishikesh, there were very few sannyasins living in the ashram. All kinds of people would arrive with the idea of sannyasa, but run away within days. They realized that here no one would ask them whether or not they had eaten or taken a bath. Out of a thousand, maybe one stayed back.
The main task of sannyasins is to take people to the path of dharma without any coercion. A sannyasin speaks of wisdom, atman, God – he speaks of all that is positive and uplifting. Who other than a sannyasin will speak of these things? Until the minds of individuals in society do not go towards these subjects, crimes will not be curbed. Your mind is constantly under stress; it is thinking about money twenty-four hours long, you get angry, you go through social struggles, but when you hear the words of a sannyasin, your mind finds a bit of rest and ease. The sannyasin brings balance to society. This is necessary. A sannyasin has nothing to do with politics or sects, he is engrossed in contemplation and is concerned with only one thing: what is appropriate and what is inappropriate under the prevalent circumstances.
Sannyasins are the barometers of an age. They travel everywhere, so they are able to perform this role naturally. Therefore, do not think that one takes sannyasa for moksha or God-realization; sannyasa is taken only for serving society and requires immense dedication.
A solitary path
The most important quality in sannyasa is alakh niranjan, “I am a solitary traveller.” A sannyasin does not think that someone will feed him, nurse him when he is sick, look after him in old age or be with him all his life. If someone thinks of these things, he should not take sannyasa. Sannyasa means strength.
Sannyasa is a very powerful tradition. It does not just mean geru clothes. It means: “I am a solitary traveller, I came alone and I go alone. No one can move me from my path.” That is the vision that a sannyasin comes with. He knows the script that he has to follow and follows it. He does not care if he has to die tomorrow. He knows that whatever has to happen must happen.
It is not appropriate to attach any religion with sannyasins, for they do not have any religion. They may have been born into a religion, but they do not have any religion. They are always non-sectarian. Therefore, we must read the teachings of every saint and learn about them. The biggest definition of saints is that they do not belong to any one individual, but to all. They do not consider any one person as their own, but all as their own. Notions such as ‘This is my nephew; that is my mother’ does not apply to saints. For them, all are their own whether you call them disciples, devotees or followers.
Paropkara, helping others, is the basis of the life of all saints. They are not born to help their own souls, but to help others. If you have a family, you will work for your wife, children and parents because you have to, for you are the support for their survival. However, when you become a sannyasin and work as doctor, lawyer, writer, painter, engineer, teacher or speaker, who are you working for? After all, Mother Teresa belonged to a religion, but people did not associate her with a religion. Saints are not recognized by their religion, but by their genius. If a piece of diamond drops from someone’s pocket, you will not identify with a religion or sect. If you do not identify differences in diamonds or even currency notes, then why do you see differences in the virtues of saints? No, we should not differentiate between saints.
Shankaracharya was initiated in the Shaiva tradition and used to worship Shiva. After he established the Sringeri matha, he argued for the philosophy of advaita, non-duality; he did not speak of the Shaiva philosophy. He fell seriously ill when those who opposed him cast an abhichara mantra on him, a mantra intended to kill someone. That was when he went to the banks of the Narmada and began the worship of Devi, Shakti. He prayed to Devi from the bottom of his heart and created the 103 verses of Saundarya Lahari. So, even though Shankaracharya was a propagator of the advaita view and was initiated into the Shaiva tradition, at the end of his life he sought the shelter of Shakti.
Shankaracharya worshipped Shakti because it needs to be done. Even when this ashram was established, I had to decide on its presiding deity. Wherever I opened an ashram I had to decide on its presiding deity according to the energy of that place. So I decided that the shakti of the Rikhia ashram is tulasi. I accepted Tulasi as the ishta here. What is the difference between Tulasi and Sharada? I saw her in the form of Tulasi, you may see her in the form of Sharada, Amba, Radha or Kali. The form is different, but the essence is one.
Shankara and Shankaracharya are two different personalities. Normally people don’t know this fact. When we chant the Vedic Shanti Mantras, we say Shankaram Shankaracharyam Keshavam Badarayanam. Two names are mentioned here. Adi Shankara was a great personality who won over all of India. He was a very powerful sannyasin who left his home at the age of eight, left his guru’s abode at the age of sixteen and died at the age of thirty-two. In such a short time he was able to re-establish vedic dharma across the country. After Adi Shankara came Shankaracharya who was a learned teacher and wrote commentaries on various scriptures. These are non-sectarian and deeply philosophical commentaries, and are considered classical works all over the world.
Let me speak a little about Swami Niranjan also. Everyone sings praises of the guru; Swami Satyananda likes to sing the praise of the disciple.
Swami Niranjan came to Munger at the age of four. I told him to go back home to his mother. How was I to keep a child of four in the ashram! So he again came back at the age of six and remained there. He was in Munger from the age of six till ten. And how he would trouble me! He and Swami Gorakhnath would pull apart everything in the ashram: tape recorders, typewriters, duplicating machines. If asked “What are you doing?” they would reply, “We are trying to learn what it is.”
At the age of ten I took him to Ireland with me and left him there. The conditions there were very difficult. He used to live in the Catholic community, so the Protestants would round him up on the streets and tell him that he should not live there. I asked him to tell them that he would continue to live where he was, but would go to their school to teach yoga. So now the Catholics said, “You cannot live here, for you go to the Protestant school.” They would print graffiti on the walls of his house: ‘Yogi bear lives here.’
Ireland was a great test for him; it was a very sectarian country. That was his training ground; he learnt how to live among people of different mentalities there.
Swami Niranjan has renounced for the well-being of humankind. He is my successor because he is capable. I chose him at the age of four and trained him without telling him that he would succeed me. He can communicate more easily with the people of today. He knows how to talk with them and his personality is suited for that. He can think the way young people think today and I think the way people used to think fifty years ago. Now he may also retire because there must be some end to one’s duties and obligations.
Sannyasins should lead the life of Swami Satsangi. They should remain happy while imparting knowledge and doing their duties. A sannyasin should serve all.
The entire credit of the creation of Rikhia chapter goes to Swami Satsangi. She is the actual founder of this institution in every way, monetarily and administratively. It is her dream. Everything you see here is the maya of Swami Satsangi. In the first few years she worked very hard building and learning about rural life. Then Bihar School of Yoga and Sivananda Math came forward to assist her. When Swami Satsangi first came to Rikhia she was completely ignorant of rural India and rural life, but since she was living here with me, naturally she had to attune herself to these surroundings. She has a very strong personality. She calls a rose a rose and a spade a spade. A person who shoulders responsibility should be very strong. Of course, after me, she will carry on the work of Sivananda Math in Rikhia very well.