Guru Purnima is a day of sanyasis. Therefore I would like to talk about the glory of sanyasa. In the Vedic culture and tradition. Sanyasa is kept as the ideal for every human being. The ultimate goal of every individual is supposed to be sanyasa. It is said in the Vedas that everyone must go through four ashramas or stages of life — brahmachari, grihastha, vanaprastha and sanyasa — and the final one through which one attains moksha or reaches the Lord issanyasa. In the olden days, the people started brahmacharya at a very early age of five to 10 years. Even marriages were performed early. Child marriage was prevalent. This enabled one to go through all the four ashramas. A person could enter vanaprastha when the organs were reasonable intact.
The Vedas glorify sanyasa ashrama. No doubt the other ashramas are also glorified. Brahmacharya is glorified. Grihastha is glorified as giving sustenance to the other three ashramas who live on the biksha of grihasthas. Thereforegrihastha ashrama is supposed to be the pillar that provides support for the other three ashramas. Vanaprastha is also glorified. But our shastras are very clear that sanyasa alone is the superior ashrama. It excels and surpasses all the other ahsramas. That is why when people meet and greet one another, the Vedas are very clear that the people of other three ashramas must first do namaskar to a sanyasi irrespective of status. This means when a rich emperor approaches a sanyasi who is sitting under a tree and does not have any possessions, it is the King who must prostrate to the sanyasi. So in our tradition, renunciation is considered to be the ideal. Our culture does not respect possession or position but renunciation. Heroes in our culture are those who have renounced or sacrificed.
There are four type of sanyasa based on the nature of renunciation which could range from partial to total. The greatest type of sanyasa is paramahamsa sanyasa which is the renunciation of everything. At a lower level a sanyasican have renunciation of everything. At a lower level a sanyasi can have the sacred thread. Thus we can have ‘lower-grade’ sanyasis who have an interest in something. Paramahamsa sanyasa is itself of two types – vividishasanyasa and vidwat sanyasa. Vividisha sanyasa is taken for studying the scriptures. ‘Vividisha’ means a desire for learning. Vividisha sanyasa is a step to vidwat sanyasa. In vidwat sanyasa, a sanyasi is not interested in anything. He has attained the knowledge. He does not hold on to anything – to even the fact that ‘I am a gnani‘. But even in the knowledge he does not have abhimana. So the aim of vidwat sanyasa is total renunciation. The aim of vividisha sanyasa is committed study of the scriptures.
According to our scriptures, vividisha sanyasa is the ideal means in life and vidwat sanyasa is the ideal end a person can think of. Why is this so? The sanyasi who has renounced everything is closest to Brahman (the ultimate reality) which he is pursuing. If he want an empirical model for Brahman, a sanyasi offers such a model. How? Brahman is free from all actions and duties. A sanyasi is one who does not have any duty at all. He is duty-free. He need not earn. He does not have family duties, social duties, religious duties, etc. If at all he has a duty, it is owning up of the duty-free Brahman. Secondly, Brahman and a sanyasi are both relationless. The vedas define Brahmanas one that is free from all relations. At the time of taking sanyas, he breaks all relationships. Thirdly, Brahman is behind everything and supports everything. So also a sanyasi. Like Brahman, he supports the whole creation. He does not belong to anyone. He belongs to everyone. Nothing belongs to him. Everything belongs to everyone. Fourthly, Brahman does not depend upon anything for security. A sanyasi also does not depend upon any particular thing for security. He does not have a bank balance, a house, etc. He finds security in himself. The beauty is he gives security to others. And the irony is the other person to whom he gives security could be a very rich person while thesanyasi himself is a pauper. This vividisha sanyasa is ideal means.
Sanyasa is also the ideal end. Because in renunciation alone we ultimately own up our mastery. A sanyasi gives up everything that will be snatched away by time later. Most of what we possess will be snatched away by time or death. The only unsnatchable entity is the atma. A vedantin’s (spiritual seeker) approaches as follows. When a thing snatched away from us, the loss is intensed. When it is given up or given away by us, the pleasure is intensed. An example is usually given of a lady, who while visiting the temple lost a gold ornament. She thought somebody has stolen it. She felt very bad and was upset. She took a owe that if the ornament were to come back to her, she would offer it to the Lord. As it turned out, she got back the ornament which she offered to the Lord. Then she was very happy. When she lost the ornament, she lost the benefit of wearing it and was very sad. When she gave the ornament to the Lord, again she lost the benefit of wearing it, but this time she was very happy. From this we get a very important idea. In loss, we are without an object. In giving also we are without an object. But in loss there is pain. In giving there is pleasure. So even before time or kala (call it Yama or Bhagwan or whatever) takes away from us, we handover to time. So when things go away, we do not feel any pain. When old age comes, teeth go away, relations go away. A tyagi is not worried about the loss of anything including his own body. He knows kala is the one who is going to take away everything. He holds on to only one thing that kala cannot take away – atma. He can even challenge Yama, because he knows that Yama cannot touch him. So what is the ultimate tyaga. It is giving up everything that can be lost or taken away and finding security in what cannot be snatched. This is calledParamahamsa sanyasa or vidwat sanyasa.
What is the life of such a sanyasi? Since he does not belong to any one family or community, he keeps moving from place to place. If he remain in one place, there is a danger that he may get attached to the people. Also , the people may get attached to him. His life is to teach people. He does not have anything – bank balance, health insurance, etc. He does not know what his security will be tomorrow. Yet he seems to be the happiest person. When we see such a sanyasi, we will realise we don’t need things for joy. If not, a sanyasi must be the most miserable person. We have many things but still feel insecured. A sanyasi does not have anything and yet feels very secured. We need things but not for happiness or security, shastras clearly say pleasure is there for a person who does not possess anything. A sanyasi teaches this by his very lifestyle.
A sanyasi does not move about during Chaturmasya – the four months of the rainy season. He stays in one place because moving about is very difficult. Further, insects come out during this season and if he moves about, he may step on them. He approaches a place and seeks the permission of the people to live there during this period. In the olden days, people had great respect for the sanyasis and jumped at the opportunity – ‘We will give you Biksha. You please give us gnana biksha‘. The sanyasi then takes Chaturmasya vratam wherein he violates the general rule of not remaining in one place. Nowadays since conditions are different the four – month period is reduced to fourpakshas or fortnights meaning two months. During this period, the sanyasi starts Vedantic teaching and for this a Guru Puja is performed. All the gurus belonging to the guru parampara are invoked because it is due to their grace alone that we get the benefit of this teaching. This puja is called Guru Purnima.
Guru Purnima is also called Vyasa Purnima. Why? This is because Vyasa is the most respected of all gurus. Vyasa brought out the entire Vedic teaching systematically. So he gets the most respect. Through Brahma Sutras (one of his works) Vyasa brought out the Vedantic teaching which is the basis for Indian culture – a culture where spiritualism is given importance as opposed to materialism. This is evident in many areas such as dance, music, etc. Therefore if Indian culture is glorious, it is because of Indian philosophy and if Indian philosophy is glorious, it is because it has come out of Vyasa who is as glorious as Vedanta. So on the occasion of Guru Purnima, spiritual aspirants worship all the gurus, seek their grace and begin Vedantic study.
Now the question arise ‘What good is all this (talking about the glory of sanyasa) when I know for sure I am not going to become a sanyasi‘? Even though sanyasa is ideal, sanyasa can be external or internal. More than externalsanyasa (that has been discussed), it is internal sanyasa that is more important. Krishna says in the Bhagavad Gita – ‘Hand over everything (mentally) to Me’. This applies even to a grihastha. A grihastha’s attitude should be – ‘Oh Lord! Health, wealth, the people around me, are all Your gift to me. You can claim them back whenever you want and I will not complain. I will return it with thanks’. Nothing belongs to us. Everything belongs to God. God can claim anything without giving advance notice and if He does, we should give it up without batting an eyelid. If raga-dwesha (likes and dislikes, passions and aversions) is gone, a grihasta becomes equal to a sanyasi. The house itself is an ashram. This means we can convert our home to an ashram. This is called internal surrender or saranagathi. External surrender is called sanyasa. So on this auspicious occasion let us seek the grace of all the gurus to bless us with wisdom and moksha.
Guru Purnima – Some Reflections
Spiritual seekers who have read books, attended lectures and acquired some knowledge may get a doubt – do we require a guru for Self-Knowledge? Can we not gain the knowledge of the Truth with our intuitive power and independent effort and with God’s grace?
We gain knowledge – both spiritual and secular – with the help of our intellect. If we reflect a little, we realize that our knowledge of the world is limited. Even after many centuries, scientists are still struggling to gain knowledge of our own body. It is only recently that the genome, the basic building block of the human body, was decoded and that too after many years of intense effort. The implications are yet to be understood. When we have not fully understood the world in all its facets, how is it possible to gain knowledge of the absolute Truth that is beyond time & space? With our limited intellect, we can never understand the ultimate reality.
The scriptures mention six limitations of the human intellect :
Ajnanam, Samshaya, Viparyaya, Pramada, Vipralabdhi and Apatukaranathyam.
Ajnanam (ignorance) : The intellect in an ignorant intellect. Ignorance precludes understanding. Only a few top scientists can understand the theory of relativity. The more knowledge we acquire, the better will be our capacity to understand.
Samshaya (doubt) : Human knowledge will always be characterized by doubt. The more we study the more doubts we will get. We cannot be sure whether we are right or wrong. This is especially true in science. A scientist puts forward a theory only to be refuted a few years later by another scientist. Light was believed to travel in straight lines until Einstein discovered that the path of a ray of light is influenced by the presence of dense objects such as black holes.
Viparyaya (error) : We acquire knowledge with the help of our faculties ( eyes,ears,etc.) and instruments and in using these, we are liable to make errors. The eye is prone to parallax error, improper use of instruments will lead to error. Errors arising out of the use of our faculties or instruments lead to errors in observations that inturn lead to erroneous knowledge. Even if our observations are accurate, we can make errors in judgment. Since the sun appears much bigger in size during sunrise and sunset than at noon, we may think the sun is closer to the earth during these times than at midday when infact the reverse is true.