Householder (and related topics)

Gummuluru Murthy gmurthy at MORGAN.UCS.MUN.CA
Wed Aug 20 13:38:56 CDT 1997

On Tue, 19 Aug 1997, Ramakrishnan Balasubramanian wrote:

> Gummuluru Murthy wrote:
> >As far as I know, there is no mention of sannyasa *ashrama* as such in
> >upanishhads, either as a requirement for a jnani or as a way of life
> >at a young age. Even in Bhagavadgita, there is no mention of sannyasa
> >*ashrama* as a superior way of life (for attaining jnanam). In fact,
> >Krishna chides Arjuna when Arjuna says he wants to take sannyasa and,
> >Krishna is the All-knower.
> The sannyAsa Ashrama is mentioned in the jAbAla upanishhad quoted by
> shrI sha.nkara. It is also mentioned in the nArada parivrAjaka
> upanishhad. The latter's title itself should make that clear. After
> having pointed out these two already, merely asserting that there is no
> mention of sannyAsa Ashrama, without even looking at these sources is
> throughly unreasonable.

I signed off this debate a few days ago, because there is no
transmission of information or knowledge either way. I am not learning
anything from the debate and, from the tone of the debate, no one is
getting wiser either. When a debate reaches such a stage, it is, in my
view, better to abandon it in a Forum like this (advaita-l with reverence)
where the objective is to learn rather than have the ego-gratification of
having the last word.

Shri Ramakrishnan, in his recent posting on the topic, addressed a few
comments directly to me. Although I signed off this debate earlier, after
due consideration, and at Shri Lalitha's command, this is the response.

Shri Ramakrishnan accuses me of being unreasonable in not referring to the
NAradaparivrAjaka (Npu) and JabAla (Ju) upanishhads. I would like to refer
to my earlier posting and particularly the first sentence given above. I
repeat it here again

"As far as I know, there is no mention of sannyasa *ashrama* as such in
upanishhads, either as a requirement for a jnani or as a way of life at a
young age. Shri Ramakrishnan uses only part of the sentence in coming to
his accusation. I am quite aware of JAbAla and NAradaparivrAjaka
upanishhads and the other samnyAsa upanishhads, where sannyasa ashrama is
discussed. In the two upanishhads referred above, there is no mention of
sannyasa ashrama as a requirement for a jnani or as a way of life at a
young age. I quote from Npu below, in a paraphrased form (paraphrased from
Samnyaasa upanishhads by Patrick Olivelle):

NAradaparivrAjaka upanishhad (Npu)

Narada, in the course of touring the entire world, was once in the
Naimishha forest. At that time, Saunaka and other great R^shhis residing
in that forest saw Narada. After greeting Narada and paying homage, they
asked Narada to tell them the way to liberation. Thus petitioned, Narada
said to them:

"After he has been properly initiated, a boy coming from a good family
should wear his sacrificial string and learn all the Vedas, beginning with
those of his own vedic branch, from a single teacher. Then he should live
as a Vedic student for twelve years in obedience to this teacher, as a
house-holder for twenty five years, and in the forest hermit's order for a
further twenty five years. He should complete them successively according
to the rule. He should then study thoroughly the duties of the four types
of students, the six types of householders, and the four types of forest
hermits, and carry out all the activities proper to each of them. Then,
equipped with saadhana-chatushhTayam, he ceases to have any yearning in
thought, word, or deed for all samsaaric things and any attachment to
mental impressions and desires. He is calm, composed, free from enmity,
and a renouncer. He, who while living thus meditating without interruption
on his own true nature, abandons his body becomes liberated." [This
appears also in Ju].

Then in order to get procedure for sannyasa ashrama, Saunaka and other
sages and Narada approached the grandfather himself who stated the
following sequence.

"At the outset, O, Narada, an uninitiated person who comes from a good
family and who is obedient to his father and mother, should undergo Vedic
initiation. Soon thereafter, he should leave his father and find a good
teacher who belongs to a sound religious tradition; who is a man of faith;
who comes from a good family; who is learned, virtuous and honest and who
loves the scriptures. After paying him homage and rendering him
appropriate service, he should inform the teacher of his wish and learn
all the Vedas during twelve years of service.

"Then with his teacher's permission, he should marry a girl whom he loves
and who befits his family. For twenty five years he should carry out the
duties incumbent on a householder, and, wiping away the stigma of a bad
Brahmin, he should beget one son to perpetuate his line.

"After completing the twenty-five years customarily allotted to the
householder's state, he should live as a forest hermit observing the major
restraints for another twenty-five years. Taking no interest in objects
seen or heard of, and sanctified by the forty sacramentary rites, he
becomes indifferent toward everything, attains purity of mind, and burns
away desire, jealousy, envy and egotism. Endowed with sadhana
chatushhTayam, such a man can enter sannyasa ashrama."

Then there is a description of various types of external sannyasis and
other details. Ju is not too different from the Npu. From my reading of
these two upanishhads (I admit I have read only the english translation),
there is no mention anywhere that grihastha ashrama has to be rejected and
sannyasa ashrama has to be taken in order to attain Brahman. Also, I did
not read anywhere in the two upanishhads that sannyasa ashrama is more
conducive to attain jnanam than grihastha ashram.

MahAnArAyaNa upanishhad (Mnu)verse

Shri Ramakrishnan presents the well-known verse from Mnu. This verse also
appears in Kaivalya upanishhad and may be originally from that upanishhad.
I will present the second half of that verse also and the meaning below.

Na karmanaa na prajayaa dhanena tyaagenaike amr^tatvamaanasuh
parena naakam nihitam guhaayaam vibhraajate yadyatayo visanti

Not by work, nor by progeny, nor by wealth, but by renunciation alone,
immortality is attained. That which the seekers attain is higher than the
heaven, It shines beautifully in the cave of the (purified) heart.

This verse does not say anything about sannyasa **ashrama**. This verse
lays down the means for the attainment of Brahman and stresses the
importance of renunciation. I do not think the verse says anywhere that
renunciation is sannyasa *ashrama*. Neither Shri Chinmayananda's
commentary on this verse in Kaivalya upanishhad, nor Swami Vimalananda's
commentary on this verse in Mahanarayana upanishhad says sannyasa
*ashrama* for renunciation. In fact, Swami Vimalananda says and I quote
"... The passage does not imply that work, progeny and gift of wealth are
condemned as futility. To think so would be discarding the evidence of the
Vedas. The purpose of the passage here is to stress the supreme importance
of renunciation for the attainment of divine knowledge. ... The Supreme
Being is realised in the highest heaven as well as in one's own heart. He
is attained by those who study the Vedas, understand their import, perform
duties laid down by them, habitually control the senses, and continuously
practise divine contemplation....."

Thus, while the verse is important in our over-all quest, it is not
relevant to our present discussion as it does not concern itself how
renunciation was arrived at.

Now, I will go to two principal upanishhads (Mundaka and Prashna) where
some actions, which are prohibited for sannyasa ashrama residents, are
discussed in glorified form, which may be viewed as evidence that
grihastha ashrama after all is not the dead-end which Shri Ramakrishnan
and others seem to say.

Prashna upanishhad I.13

Aho-raatro vai prajaa-patih,
tasyaahar eva praaNo raatrir eva rayih;
praaNam vaa ete praskandanti ye divaa ratyaa samyujyam te
brahmacaryam eva tad yad raatrau ratyaa samyujyante

Day and night are, verily, the lord of creation. Of this, day indeed is
life and the night verily is matter. They who join in sexual intercourse
by day spill their life; that they join in sexual intercourse by night is
chastity indeed. [Translation by Radhakrishnan]

Radhakrishnan also comments "It is clear from this verse that brahmacharya
or chastity is not sexual abstinence but sex control. With all their
exaltation of celibacy, the upanishhads recognize the value of married

People may argue this verse may be irrelevant in the context of our
discussion. However, I like to point out that sexual intercourse is a
prohibited item in sannyasa ashrama and this verse says sexual communion
at night (which is a grihastha's dharma) is chastity and is a noble act.

MuNdaka upanishhad III.2.9

Sa yo ha vai tat paramam brahma veda brahmaiva bhavati
naasyaabrahma-vit kule bhavati
tarati shokam tarati paapmaanam
guhaa-granthibhyo vimukto'mr^to bhavati

He, verily, who knows the Supreme Brahman becomes Brahman himself. In his
family, no one who does not know Brahman, will be born. He crosses over
sorrow. He crosses over sins. Liberated from the knots of the secret place
(of the heart) he becomes immortal.

I included this stanza which says "... In his family, no one who does not
know Brahman, will be born..". That is, the one who knows Brahman is in
grihastha ashrama.

Natural process

Further, being a grihastha is a natural order of things, whereas taking
sannyasa ashrama (at a young age, before the various other ashramas are
completed) is not. [I would assume even the staunchest supporters of
sannyasa ashrama agree with that.]. In pure advaita, being a jnani is also
natural. I cannot see how a natural thing like jnanam cannot be attained
by a person who follows a natural order like being a grihastha. As an
addendum, I also cannot see how an unnatural sequence or step need or must
be taken to recognize a natural state like jnanam.

Concluding remarks

As I mentioned before, whether sannyasa or grihastha (to attain Brahman)
is only a red herring. If our mind is ready, in whichever ashrma we are,
we will be blessed with advaita varsha. It seems to me that the Vedic
sages never concerned themselves which way is superior. It is only we, the
mortals, who indulge in these trifle discussions. If the discussions
produce light, it is acceptable because all of us learn something.
However, if the discussion produces more heat, then no purpose is served
and we have fallen back many steps down the ladder.

Let us not put ourselves into pigeonholes which we are doing by saying one
is better than the other. The best thing is to free our mind of such
thoughts. The Mundaka upanishhad verse II.2.3 is the most apt in this

dhanur gr^hiitvaa aupanishhadam mahaastram sharam hy
upaasaanishitam samdadhiita
aayamya tad-bhaavagatena cetasaa lakshyam tad evaaksharam,
saumya, viddhi

Taking as the bow the great weapon of the upanishhads, one should place
in it the arrow sharpened by meditation. Drawing it with a mind engaged
in the contemplation of That (Brahman), O beloved, know that Imperishable
Brahman as the target. [Translation by Radhakrishnan]

Gummuluru Murthy
Yadaa sarve pramucyante kaamaa ye'sya hr^di shritaah
atha martyo'mr^to bhavatyatra brahma samashnute   Katha Upanishhad II.3.14

When all the desires that dwell in the heart fall away, then the mortal
becomes immortal, and attains Brahman even here.

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