[Advaita-l] sanyAsa in shankara vedAnta

Michael Shepherd michael at shepherd87.fsnet.co.uk
Thu Oct 1 05:52:38 CDT 2009

Perhaps we forget the vanaprasthashrama which precedes sannyasa... about
which there seems to be less spoken in the shastra  than about the other
traditional ashrama. A beautifull account ot it is to be found on the
Hindupedia website. Clearly, the mind will be well prepared in that period.


-----Original Message-----
From: advaita-l-bounces at lists.advaita-vedanta.org
[mailto:advaita-l-bounces at lists.advaita-vedanta.org]On Behalf Of Bhaskar
Sent: 01 October 2009 06:58
To: A discussion group for Advaita Vedanta
Subject: [Advaita-l] sanyAsa in shankara vedAnta

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 //

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