[Advaita-l] sanyAsa in shankara vedAnta

Shyam shyam_md at yahoo.com
Thu Oct 1 11:25:48 CDT 2009

As per Shri Bhaskar-ji's request I am reposting my reply below.

Pranams Bhaskar-ji
Thank you for your note - my comments are as follows. 
____________ _
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. 
My response
For the record, I have never emphasized on these externalities nor do I, or anyone including Shankara, consider them crucial. Examples like Bhagwan Ramana and Ramakrishna Paramahamsa will suffice to demonstrate that ochre robes and that whole list of paraphrenalia you talk about is not critical for sarvakarmasannyasa - in fact absence of any indicatory marks or belongings is what characterizes vidwat sannyasa even according to the Shruti - so your erection of a strawman that you continue to beat down throughout your post is quite unnecessary and uncalled for. Forget about the saffron robes you keep referencing in a patronizing manner - in the Mandukya karika, as well as his bhashya, Shankara clarifies that such a vidwat sannyasi "should merely depend on strips of cloth coverings and food that come to him by chance for the maintenance of the body" 
____________ _________ _
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". 
My response:
Bhaskar-ji Shankara in the commentary here says - "Therefore the knowers of Brahman renounce rites AND their accessories such as the holy thread(!) embrace the life of a MONK known as Paramahamsa and LEAD A MENDICANTS LIFE LIVE UPON BEGGING - giving up the insignia of a monk's life prescribed by Smrtis which are their MEANS OF LIVELIHOOD - for those who merely have recourse to that life." What Shankara is saying is that a vidwat sannyasa has to be FURTHER GIVE UP even the minimal accessories that a formal ashrami sannyasi is allowed, and has to resort to living upon begging. Your conclusion of trying to read novel meanings into the term sannyasa is thus totally misfounded. There are vanaprastha ashramis who live in the forest as also tapasvis who adopt sannyasa ashrama but are not Self-knowers - Shankara is differentiating this while defining a vidwat sannyasi. The Shruti itself makes the context clear.
____________ _________ __ 
You write: 
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. 
My response:
Yes - because Shankara here is asking him to even renounce those insignia and the paraphrenalia you alluded to earlier! He is asked to wear strips of bark for clothing and live on the barest minimum of food.
____________ ________
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' . 
My response:
Precisely my point Bhaskar-ji. In Shankara's lexicon samyag darshana is possible ONLY for sannyasis - to the extent that the two become synonymous. And what type of sannyasa he has in mind he makes it amply clear at numerous points in his bhashya. He clarifies it here itself when he says "samyag darshana tat purvakam va sarvakarmasannyasen a" leading to giving up of ALL activities which is vidwat sannyasa.
____________ _________ _________
(b) saNyAsastu pAramArthikaH (geeta bhAshya 5-6) The context here is, 
without observing karma yOga it is very difficult to get paramArtha 
My response:
This is because karmayoga is a preparatory step for attaining chittashuddhi. Without passing high school you cannot do your PhD. And after acquisition of chittashuddhi from karmayoga alone does one in stages acquire knowledge and only then will it even be possible to embrace sarvakarmasannyasa. 
____________ _________
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'. (sarvakAryakAryakar aNa 
cheshtAsu karmasu akarma eva pashyataH samyagdarshinaH) . 
My response:
Bhaskar-ji do you see what Shankara is saying here - What Shankara is saying here is "Only the right seer, the paramarthadarshee BECOMES FIT TO RNOUNCE ALL WORKS" he gives an example here and says the no one after seeing the absence of water in a mirage will drink water - in other words once one is a Knower then ANY FORM OF KARMA should immediately cease.
____________ ________
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. 
My response:
Let us see what Shankara is saying here "And hence - because of this Jnana - he becomes "fit to renounce all works"
i.e. he acquires the necessary qualification for vidwat sanyasa. By no stretch of imagination does this mean the term "sannyasi" means someone who has not physically renounced all actions!
____________ _________ ____
In geeta (5-19) shankara says : idaM tu sarvakarmasaNyAsavi shayaM 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. 
My response:
Please read the next sentence in the bhashya for 6.2 Bhaskar-ji.. ..yaM sarvakarma tat phalatyAgalakshaNam paramArtha saNyAsaM iti prAhuH...karmayogas ya pravrttilakshanasya tadvipareetena nivrrtilakshanena. .etc."On the basis of what common characteristic are identified the two OPPOSED STATES - karmayoga and REAL renunciation? "..

As an example you have a beggar playing the role of a King - and one can ask what is the common characteristic of this beggar and the Kinig? They both are wearing a crown! One cannot take this to mean a beggar and King are the same. Now one may praise the beggar and say "he looks Royal" - this doesnt make him a King. That is what Shankara also clarifies here with regards to a karmayogi - "that this concession is mentioned ONLY as a commendation or praise "stutyathah" which is NOT to be taken literally! Not sure how you missed reading/mentioning that part!
____________ _________ _________
(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. 
My response:
Once again for Shankara ONLY THOSE WHO HAVE EMRACED SANNYASA CAN BE STEADFAST IN KNOWLEDGE - not the other way around (everyone who is steadfast in knowledge is a "sannyasi"!. .) as you imply. He has made this amply clear in numerous portions - you can refer to my ongoing series for a sampling of these.
____________ _________ ____
It is clear from the above references that according to shankara saNyAsa 
in the real sense is nothing but samyagjnAna (the right knowledge).
My response:
This I am afraid is quite simply a misrepresentation of Shankara's position.
____________ _________ ___ 
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. 
My response:
This is an excerpt from his bhashya in that section Bhaskar-ji.
“…..Even after removing the defects in the organs and the mind, there arises the possibility of acceptance of gifts either for the maintenance of the body or for righteous duties; discarding them as well, i.e. BECOMING A MENDICANT OF THE PARAHAMSA class; nirmamah, free from the idea of possession, becoming devoid of the idea of 'me' and 'mine' even with regard to so much as one's body and life; and for the very same reason, santah, serene, withdrawn; the monk who is effortless and steadfast in Knowledge, kalpate, becomes fit; brahma-bhuyaya, for becoming Brahman…"
____________ _________ _
As said above, here shankara in his commentary explains that saNyAsa is EITHER right knowledge OR the renunciation of all actions through that knowledge. 
My response:
Please reconcile this statement of your with the Br Up bhashya you yourself quote - "Knowers of Brahman renounce their homes and embrace sannyasa" and many many such statement of Shankara. Also see further below.
____________ _________ ___
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. 
My response:
Bhaskar-ji with regards to Geeta verse 5.8 and 5.9 - Shankara clarifies "samyagdarshiinah tasya sarvakarmasannye eva adhikarah"// "the right seer is alone FIT TO RENOUNCE ALL WORKS." If according to your earlier position "Sannyasa IS samyag darshanah and Samyag Darshanah is Sannyasa" this sentence that One with samyag darshanah ALONE is FIT TO RENOUNCE becomes meaningless. I hope the difference is quite clear to you.
____________ _________ __
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 
My response:
Shankara also clarifies here what a sannyasi means -jeevanmatraarthach eshtah - he is sannyasi and his stirrings are meany ONLY TO MAINTAIN LIFE IN THE BODY. Nothing more.
____________ _________ _
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. 
My response:
Once again it is regrettable that you are erecting more strawmen needlessly. Shankara never talks about "running ashramas and parading with a number of disciples" - why are you so keen on de-riding these Exalted Souls and their ashrama - not all Paramahamsas teach or have ashramas and even if they do - they dont need to "parade with disciples" - the latter naturally flock to them, as in the case of the Sage of Kanchi and Bhagwan Ramana. It is unfortunate to hear these type of comments about an institution your own paramaGuru belongs to.
*___________ _________
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. 
My response:
Bhaskar-ji - as a matter of fact it is in this very commentary that Shankara in his bhashya even leaves open the possibility about men like Janaka (still engaged in action) being self-realized - "On the other hand if it is held theey were NOT enlightened the passage may be explained to mean that Janaka and others like him achieved samsiddhi, purity of mind by means of actions dedicated to God."!
____________ ______
"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 
My response:
Here Shankara first of all makes it clear that what he means by sannyasa is to give up everything save the bare minimal "stirrings necessary for the mere maintenance of the body" and (because of the context of the verse) he allows a concession by mentioning "for some reason"...showing that this is an exceptional situation - by no means can this be extended to the innumerable situations and excuses that you allude to by extension. It is incongruous to say he is a "Knower" of Brahman that he knows his Self to be nitya shuddha mukta Atma and then say he feels responsible to care for aged parents and as a King( a Prime Minister in todays' age?!) feels his people will suffer - with this type of reasonings no person can ever take to sannyasa - it will simply be impossible to be a grhastha and not have ANY responsibility or duty. This is repeatedly what Shankara stresses that ONLY to a knower can there be the conviction that by sannyasa he is not being derelict
in his duties. All these seeming "responsibilities" stem from a false belief of an ignorant man that it is "he" and not Ishwara who is taking care of his near and dear ones or his subjects, as the case may be. You do bring about an excellent and very important ethical point of practicality here that permission of a spouse is considered necessary even for a Knower to renounce and Sureshwaracharya makes this quite explicity in his Br.Up vartika (even though Shankara does not say so). 
____________ _________ __
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. 
My response:
Shankara nowhere declares that a grhasta jnani would get the "status of a parivrajyam" - he emphasizes that a grhasta who achieves Self-knowledge has to resort to parivrajyam i.e. renounce his home. In fact in the very section you quote there is a counterobjection - can it not be said that knowledge in association wit the virtuous conduct of a mendicant becomes the cause of Immortality?
To which the Opponent replies - No, because these virtues are indistinguishable from the virtues prescribed for the stages of life. Or, even if it is held that virtues in association with knowledge become the cause of knowledge, then, this can equally be the case with regard to virtues of all the stages of life. The Upanishads declare that Moksha is a result of knowledge. Therefore whoever among the persons following the virtues prescribed for their own stage of life remains established in Brahman he attains Moksha.

{Note here the opponent clearly implies that establishment in Brahman is
possible for all ashramas - i.e. there is no need for sannyasa - what is
required is jnana AND a life of virtues or mental purity and freedom to remain in whatever stage of life one is in. See how Shankara vehemently demolishes this seemingly "logical" argument by showing that there is NO SUCH THING as a HOUSEHOLDER established in BRAHMAN)

Reply: Shankara: NO, because knowledge required for performance of rites and duties and the knowledge needed for the realization of Brahman are OPPOSED to each other....... ..because the conviction arising from Knowledge and ignorance are OPPOSED to each other. This being so, whoever has got rid of the conviction about differences based on which the injunction about rites and duties come into effect, HE DESISTS from all kinds of rites and duties BECAUSE all causes for this cease to exist as a result of the conviction of the Oneness arising from the vedic texts....and he who has ceased from all rites and duties is spoken of
as one established in Brahman and HE MUST BE A MONK because it is IMPOSSIBLE  for ANYONE ELSE to be so. FOT THE OTHER has not got his conviction about differences removed. because of his seeing hearing thinking and knowing differences he believes "I shall get this by doing this." In the case of such a man who is engaged thus there CANNOT BE ANY ESTABLISHMENT IN Brahman for he is possessed of the ideas arising from his attachment to false transformations which have speech alone as their basis.
____________ _________ _
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. 

My response:
Bhaskar-ji it is one thing to conclude that even though one respects Shankara, one can have one's own intellectual honesty and disagree with, or not consider very important, the Acharya's stated positions on each and everything as Sadananda-ji alluded to - it is quite another thing to try to find ways to read into his bhashyas a message that seems to suit one's line of thinking - a tremendous degree of objectivity is called for and one needs to examine this dispassionately, and with the help of one's Guru, comprehensively. 

Humble pranams
Hari OM
Shri Gurubhyoh namah

--- On Thu, 10/1/09, Bhaskar YR <bhaskar.yr at in.abb.com> wrote:

> From: Bhaskar YR <bhaskar.yr at in.abb.com>
> Subject: [Advaita-l] sanyAsa in shankara vedAnta
> To: "A discussion group for Advaita Vedanta" <advaita-l at lists.advaita-vedanta.org>
> Date: Thursday, October 1, 2009, 1:58 AM
> praNAms 
> 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.


More information about the Advaita-l mailing list