[Advaita-l] sanyAsa in shankara vedAnta

Bhaskar YR bhaskar.yr at in.abb.com
Thu Oct 1 00:58:06 CDT 2009

Hare Krishna

The below mail has been written by me to the Advaitin group.  Since here 
also same topic is there for discussion, I am forwarding it to the 
prabhuji-s of this list.  Sri Shyam prabhuji has already replied to this 
mail, if he wish, he can post that mail  here, so that prabhuji-s of this 
list also would come to know his view points.

Hari Hari Hari Bol!!!

// quote //

Hare Krishna

Sorry for the very belated mail...was bit busy coz. of pitru paksha & 
navarAtri :-))

I am happy to note that advaita stalwarts like Sri Sastri prabhuji, Sri 
Sadananda prabhuji, Sri Subbu prabhuji, Sri Sunder prabhuji have already 
expressed their opinion on the subject issue. I dont have much to say on 
this subject...But, let me make an attempt as I promised this earlier :-)) 

I've changed the subject line to present my perspective on the subject 
matter. It appears that in the on going discussion some of the 
prabhuji(s) having the notion that saNyAsa means some sort of mendicant 
life of a certain order of monks which recommends wearing ochre clothing 
(kAshAya vastra), holding danda, kamandala, tonsuring head and living on 
alms etc. I am afraid, by over emphasizing on these external appearances 
of a saNyAsi we are forgetting the very significance of the vedAntic 
concept of saNyAsa. Ofcourse, shruti also endorses the above 'style' of 
living of saNyAsis. For example in mundaka (1-2-11) it is said that 
those who devote themselves to taps and shraddha in the forest with self 
control and wisdom and living on alms (bhaikshyacharyaM charantaH) and 
unblemised by desire, they go through the solar door (sUrya dvAreNa can 
also be called as 'devayAna' mArga) )to where the immortal purusha (amruta 

purusha) of undecaying nature dwells. 

This type of saNyAsa is for those who renounced the house-holder's order 
as directed by the smruti texts and this style of living and final 
destination is more or less common to both vAnaprasthi-s and 'official' 
saNyAsi-s :-)). But point to be noted here is this type of smArtha 
saNyAsa is quite different from the 'paramahamsa saNyAsa' or paramArtha 
saNyAsa enjoined elsewhere in the upanishad. For example bruhadAraNyaka 
(3-5-1) : 'Knowing this Atman, brAhmaNa-s transcend longing for offspring, 

wealth and worlds and live on alms'. Shankara's bhAshya on this maNtra is 
quite interesting. Here he says : for there may be reasonably a 
pArivrAjya (i.e. going away from home, a saNyAsa), 'other than that which 
belongs to the knowing person, and is of the nature of transcending all 
desires. To elaborate this point, shankara continue to clarify who is 
paramahamsa saNyAsi : "The pArivrAjya which is of the nature of 
transcending the desires (eshaNa-s) is ancillary to the knowledge of 
Atman, for it is of the nature of renunciation of the desire opposed to 
the knowledge of brahman, and desire is only in the sphere of avidyA". It 
is clear from this bhAshya vAkya that shankara talking about paramahaMsa 
pArivrAjya-s who have, by the aid of knowledge, transcends the avidyA 
kruta 'eshaNa-s'. And shankara concludes in this same bhAshya : OTHER 
THAN THIS, there is a pArivrAjya in the form of an Ashrama (an order of 
life), 'a' means to the attainment of brahmalOka and other fruits of 
action. It is in connection with this saNyAsa that wearing yajnOpaveeta 
etc. are enjoined and that the linga ( the uniform, like wearing a saffron 

cloth, carrying shishya vrunda, kamandala (a water pot) and other items 
pertaining to this particular order) is enjoined". 

It is quite evident from the above that a paramahamsa sanyAsi does not 
have to live under a 'formal' saNyAsa flag and might not 'necessarily' 
have characteristic marks of a particular Ashrama. Shankara in all his 
bhAshya works quite explicitly explains what is paramArtha saNyAsa or 
sarvakarma saNyAsa. Following are few examples :

(a) saNyAsena samyagdarshanena tatpUrvakena vA sarvakarma saNyAsena 
(shankara in geeta bhAshya 18-49)..Here it is said that saNyAsa is nothing 

but 'samyagdarshana'. 

(b) saNyAsastu pAramArthikaH (geeta bhAshya 5-6) The context here is, 
without observing karma yOga it is very difficult to get paramArtha 
saNyAsa. For further details we can refer bhAshya in the 5th chapter 8th 
& 9th verses...Here shankara explains paramArtha saNyAsi as 
'paramArthadarshee'. Here shankara clarifies that this paramArthadarshi 
have the adhikAra of 'sarvakarma saNyAsa'. (sarvakAryakAryakaraNa 
cheshtAsu karmasu akarma eva pashyataH samyagdarshinaH). Here sarvakarma 
saNyAsa does not mean popularly known saNyAsa, shankara clarifies here 
though from the vyAvahArik point we could see the 'indriya cheshta', it is 

sublated (bAdhita) by the real jnAna and hence whatever appears as 'karma' 

to us (loukika-s) it is 'akarma' only for the jnAni. In geeta (5-19) 
shankara says : idaM tu sarvakarmasaNyAsavishayaM prastutaM and continues 
in geeta (6-2) : yaM sarvakarma tat phalatyAgalakshaNam paramArtha 
saNyAsaM iti prAhuH...again it is clear here that both paramArtha saNyAsa 
and sarvakArma saNyAsa are one and the same and paramArtha saNyAsa is 
nothing but paramArthadarshi. 

(c) aksharOpAsakAnAM (meditation on the immutable) nivrutta sarvaishaNAnAM 

(who have renounced all desires) saNyAsinAM paramAthajnAna nishTAnAM 
(steadfast in the knowledge) dharmajAtaM prakrAntaM upasaMharati (geeta 
bhAshya introduction to 12th chapter 20th verse)...Here also shankara 
implied that paramArtha jnAnanishTe is nothing but paramArtha saNyAsa. 

It is clear from the above references that according to shankara saNyAsa 
in the real sense is nothing but samyagjnAna (the right knowledge). Here 
the right knowledge itself, has been labelled as 'saNyAsa' par excellence 
(paramArtha saNyAsa. One can also refer here shankara's commentary on 
18th chapter 49th verse for further details. Now the question is what 
would be the state of mind of this paramArtha saNyAsi?? geetachArya 
himself clarifies this and says : possessing a mind unattached to 
everything, self controlled, void of all desires, he attains the 
accomplishment of perfect actionlessness through saNyAsa. As said above, 
here shankara in his commentary explains that saNyAsa is EITHER right 
knowledge OR the renunciation of all actions through that knowledge. And 
what exactly is this 'internal renunciation' of all actions?? again, Lord 
himself explains this in 5-13 : having mentally renounced all actions the 
self controlled embodied one rests happy in the fortress of nine doors, 
himself doing nothing and engaging no one else in any action. Can we say 
this declaration of geetAchArya pertains ONLY to people who are in suffron 

clothes?? NOWAY, the knower of that truth would think that he is doing 
nothing while he sees, hears touches, smells etc. he would always bear in 
mind that ONLY the senses function on their objects. (geeta 5 - 8 & 9 
verses) irrespective of his Ashrama. And this jnAni's jnAna consists in 
relation to action in such a way that : he sees inaction in action, and 
action in inaction, he is the wisest of all men, he has a poised mind and 
he alone has done all that had to be done (geeta 4-18). Shankara in his 
bhAshya explains thus : the wise one sees action in inaction, and inaction 

in action, seeing that all thought of action, means of action etc. are in 
the field of avidyA alone, since engagement in action or desisting from it 

both depend on the doing agent (kartru), and never affect the Reality of 

Now the important question is, is this state of mind, is this samyag jnAna 

is restricted to ONLY people in a saNyAsa Ashrama?? The people who wear 
ochre cloth, running Ashrams and parading with n' no. of disciples 
(shishyakOti) are the ONLY custodians of this Atma jnAna?? If someone 
says 'yes' to this question than it is really strange and regrettable that 

they have completely misconstrued the very ideal of saNyAsa 'as taught' by 

our shankara bhagavatpAda. Here point to be noted that for paramArtha 
jnAni, paramahamsa parivrAjakatva can come naturally without any effort of 

his own!! But this does not mean jnAni should invariably take formal 
saNyAsa & follow the Ashrama rules religiously!! As said earlier, even 
after jnAna, he may continue to be in his respective Ashrama or may opt 
for vidvat saNyAsa like yAjnAvalkya or he may became atyAshrami like 
vAchaknavi or samvarta. So, there cannot be any hardbound rule for that 
jnAni to insist on the formal saNyAsa. 

Shankara's clarification on this point in geeta bhAshya (commentary on 
2-10 & introduction to the geeta verse 2-11) is worth noting. Here 
bhAshyakAra says, jnAni can perform his pUrvAshrama duties 'even' after 
the dawn of jnAna just for the sake of lOka saMgraha like janaka & 
bhagavAn krishna etc. but we should not read much into because jnAni 
transcends the very notion of kartru, karma & kriya. 

And in geeta bhAshya 4-19 shankara says : yastu prArabdha karmA san 
uttarakAlaM utpannAtma samyagdarshanA syAt, saH sarvakarmaNi prayOjanaM 
apashyan sa sAdhanaM karma parityajatyeva, saH kutaschit nimittAt "" karma 

parityAga asaMbhave"" sati karmaNi phale cha saNga rahitayA svaprayOjana 
abhAvAt lOkasaMgrahArthaM pUrvapat karmaNi pravruttOpi naiva kiMchit 
karOti jnAnAgnidagdha karmatvAt tadeeyaM karma akarma eva saMpadyate"" 
shankara says here, he who engaged in action due to the influence of 
prArabhdha, later on become saMyag darshi (self-knowledge) and he surely 
renounces all karmas since he does not find any purpose in it. But for 
some reason, if this renouncement of actions is impossible (karma 
parityAga asaMbhave) he still continues to engage himself in action for 
the sake of lOka saMgraha but without any attachment to those actions and 
their results. 

Here shankara could see the possibility of ' karma parityAga asaMbhavata' 
in some cases of jnAni...there might be plenty of reason for this, 

(a) if this jnAni is a King & due to his sarva karma saNyAsa his own 
people may suffer because of lack of proper leadership
(b) if his own responsibility is not completed
(c) if he is physically not fit enough to practice the rigors of saNyAsa 
(d) if there is dependents like aged parents 
(e) if there is no concurrence from the better half:-)) ( this is my 
excuse for not taking saNyAsa :-)) atleast I've someone to blame for my 

(I am just maintaing vyAvahArik status of the jnAni to cite the above 
examples...kindly dont argue 'for the jnAni where is the question 
responsibility, relation etc.:-))

So, above circumstance may not allow a jnAni to take formal saNyAsa & in 
these cases, a jnAni may continue to be their in gruhasthAshrama and can 
do 'regular' karma without any notion of katrutva bhAva. So, saNyAsa is 
NOT the must even after jnAna coz. his jnAna would burn away all his 
actions...(jnAnAgi dagdha karmaNaH)...shankara further clarifies this in 
geeta bhAshya 5-19 by saying : pravruttena chet lOkasaMgrahArthaM 
nivruttena chet jeevana mAtrArthaM taM, jnAnAgni dagdhakarmANaM. 

And finally, in chAndOgya (2-23-1 concluding sentence) bhAshya, which 
myself & sri Sastri prabhuji quoted earlier clearly gives a 'clean chit' 
to gruhasthAshrama jnAni to whom pArivrAjyaM is 'artha siddhaM'. Though 
shankara himself states in this very bhAshya that this is not to show the 
importance of any Ashrama and its respective phala, it is worth to note 
that shankara declaration that by default a gruhasta jnAni would get the 
status of pArivrAjyaM. 

With this we can conclude that paramArtha jnana is NOT AT ALL a sole 
property of A FORMAL SANYAASI....And contextually there are several 
meaning to the word 'saNyAsa' in shankara's bhAshyAmruta. 

Hari Hari Hari Bol!!!

PS : In the next mail, I shall try to clarify how a karma yOgi can be a 
saNyAsi & what exactly the result of karmaphala tyAga rUpa saNyAsa and 
what is smArtha saNyAsa and vividishA or mumukshu saNyAsa. I think with 
these topics, we can cover the whole concept of saNyAsa in shankara 
// unquote //


More information about the Advaita-l mailing list