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Renunciation: The Ripe Time to enter Sannyas Ashram



[It is important to understand that in Gaudiya Sampradaya, Sri Chaitanya Mahaprabhu strictly forbid Vaishnavas to accept Vedic Sannyas order. So, here, we are talking about entering the renunciate life which involves accepting Babaji vesa.]

In Srimad Bhagavatam (5th canto, 1st chapter), Sri Shukadeva Goswami describes the story of Maharaj Priyavrata. Maharaj Priyavrata realized that the attachment to material pleasures is the root cause of entanglement in Maya. Once a person gets entangled in worldly issues, it is very difficult for him to engage in devotion to God. Maya is very powerful. She is capable of deluding even highly enlightened Gyanis and Yogis. Therefore, he decided to leave Grihastha Ashram while he was still unmarried and go to the forest to do bhajan. He wanted to enter Sannyas Ashram and dedicate his life exclusively to the devotion of God.


Brahma, the Creator of the three worlds, came to know that Maharaj Priyavrata wanted to leave Grihastha Ashram and go to the forest. He came to meet Maharaj Priyavrata along with the four Vedas in person and the seven great sages (Saptarishis). Then, He said to Maharaj Priyavrata, “Where do you want to go? Why do you want to go to the forest? Your enemies that hinder your path of devotion to God reside inside your heart. They are not external. The entanglement in Maya is internal (related to the mind), not external. Indeed, attachment to material pleasures is the root cause of entanglement in Maya. But this attachment is internal and it does not depend on whether the body is living amidst family members or the forest.


Why are you so afraid to contribute to the process of Creation? You have been sent to contribute to the process of Creation. If you contribute to the process of Creation with the intention of pleasing God, you will not be entangled in Maya. But if you go to the forest while the six enemies of the mind (desire, anger, greed, material attachment, ego and jealousy) reside in your heart, they will eat you (destroy you) when they find you alone. Each one of these six enemies is powerful enough to destroy a sadhak’s intelligence and throw him back into the clutches of Maya. Therefore, you must not think of going to the forest along with these dangerous enemies which are living inside your heart. You must stay in Grihastha Ashram and practice detachment while dutifully contributing to the process of Creation as devotion to God.


When an enemy army attacks a kingdom, at first, the king fights from within the walls of a fort since there is greater defence and availability of food and water in a fort. The soldiers can also get rest and medical treatment inside the fort. After fighting from within the fort, when the enemy army becomes weak and easy to defeat, the king and his soldiers come out of the fort and slay them. Similarly, while the six enemies of mind are strong and keep attacking the sadhak, he must stay in Grihastha Ashram which is like a fort and practice a life of discipline and detachment while accepting material pleasures only as much as needed for his survival. The sadhak should not even dream of attaining Prema Bhakti while these enemies reside in his heart. Only when the enemies of the mind become weak and easy to suppress, he can think of leaving the householder life. Otherwise, these enemies will not leave him alone in the forest also. The sadhak should not think that he has become free from Maya just by leaving Grihastha and going to the forest. Maya is very powerful. Who knows in what way she will destroy your intelligence and lure you into her domain? Therefore, one must get rid of these six enemies from their heart. Then only they can be truly free from Maya.”


Let us take the case of anger as an example. Anger always causes calamities. Srimad Bhagavatam (11.4.11) says that many a time, a sadhak who has crossed the big oceans of Anarthas and tests drowns in the water contained in a cow’s hoofprint in the mud when he is overcome with anger. Although he has renounced, physically or mentally, all his loved ones, wealth, pleasures, honour and title, has endured a lot of difficulties and performed severe penance, just one enemy – anger – is powerful enough to destroy his intelligence, make him commit an Aparadha and throw him back into the clutches of Maya. This is said not only for renunciates but also for householder sadhaks.


No one in the world causes a sadhak to deflect from his spiritual path. His own material inclinations (that arise from his desire to please his senses and ego when he comes in contact with material pleasures) destroy his intelligence and make him deflect from the spiritual path. Hence, the cause of deflection is one’s desire to enjoy material pleasures. But usually, we think of external factors like a person or his actions as the cause of obstacles in our bhajan.


Suppose someone spoke derogatory words for you. You became angry and retaliated in a similar manner to hurt him. In this way, anger caused you to commit an Aparadha, which in turn, caused you to deflect from your spiritual path. Similarly, each of the six enemies of the mind inhibits the path of a sadhak. They reside inside the mind of the sadhak. The sadhak must look into his heart and mind. On introspection, he will be able to find out the right cause of obstacles in his bhajan. There is no point in going to the forest without conquering these internal enemies first.


Sannyas Ashram is the best Ashram only when the sadhak is free from these six enemies of mind and his mind is immersed in the contemplation of God without being deterred by any worldly issues. At that time, it becomes difficult for him to continue to live in Grihastha Ashram. Neither he is able to perform duties for his family members nor he is able to compromise with conflicting interests (worldly talk and entertainment) of worldly people. Naturally, he becomes unfit for Grihastha Ashram.


When a sadhak develops true renunciation in his heart, no material pleasure can attract and divert his mind from the contemplation of God for even a single moment. Home and family members seem like wildfire to him. But usually, not every renunciate sadhak leaves Grihastha on reaching such a state. There are various kinds of renunciates:

  1. Sometimes, crooked people think that it is easy to cheat people by wearing renunciate clothes. They don’t have anything to do with spirituality. They just put up a show of a Sadhu but perform all kinds of sinful actions.
  2. Some people experience a lot of hardships in their lives while living in Grihastha. Due to a lack of food, clothing, material pleasures, money, peace and affection among family members, or difficulty in finding a job, they think that it is better to become a Sadhu since many people serve Sadhus with faith and respect. It would not be difficult to find two chapatis daily at the least. Such people may not be crooked but they are too lazy to fulfil the duties of a householder life and hence, they find it easier to become a Sadhu.
  3. Some of them are real sadhaks and through the association of Sadhus, they developed some amount of detachment from worldly matters. Due to disappointment from family members or lack of material pleasures, they think that it is better to become a Sadhu instead of fulfilling their duties towards people who do not please them. It is important to understand that in this case, the attachment to material pleasures has been suppressed a little in their heart through the association of Sadhus but not completely destroyed. Even in renunciate life, as soon as they come across material pleasures, their attachment to them reawakens and they go astray from the path of spirituality. Then, although they wear renunciate clothes, they are seen to be always running after money, property ownership, comforts and so on.
  4. Some sadhaks seem to have developed detachment from worldly pleasures and on someone’s suggestion, they leave the Grihastha Ashram with the intention of doing bhajan in solitude. But when they come across material pleasures, gradually, their attachment to them reawakens. In this case, it should be understood that their attachment to material pleasures was suppressed to a great extent but, although they think they have developed true renunciation, some hidden desires reawaken on association with material pleasures and they deter from the path of spirituality.
  5. And finally, there are those sadhaks who are only interested in devotion to their Lord and their every action is intended towards attaining Prema Bhakti. Even if they are given all the material pleasures in the world, they do not get moved by them even for a moment. The six Goswamis are examples of such renunciation. Srila Raghunath Das Goswami was the sole heir to the wealthiest merchant family in his hometown and was married to a girl whose beauty was comparable to Apsaras (beautiful celestial dancers who entertain demi-gods). But none of these could ensnare him into Maya. He ran away from all material pleasures in the middle of the night and sought refuge at the lotus feet of Sri Chaitanya Mahaprabhu.

Let me tell you my own experience. I used to work a government job while living in Grihastha. I had neither parents nor siblings to look after. The whole salary was for myself alone to spend. I could eat, drink, have fun or do anything with my money. There was no one to say anything to me. But maybe due to samskaras of previous lives, I developed detachment from all material pleasures. It became difficult for me to walk around on the streets. If a non-devotee walked by me, my heart would burn. If I got onto a bus, my heart would burn (due to being surrounded by materialistic people). If I looked at materialistic people, my heart would burn. I always searched for solitude. I would go to the forest for months and contemplate upon God. Later, I could not continue to live in Grihastha Ashram anymore. My mood of renunciation compelled me to come to Vraja Dham. There was no shortage of money, comforts or material pleasures while living in Grihastha Ashram. But who knows why it became more pleasurable to live in the forest than amidst all material pleasures?!


Leaving Grihastha Ashram to accept a life of renunciation with the sole aim of attaining Prema Bhakti is no joke. There is a saying in Bengali – when the blessings of millions of lifetimes manifest altogether in a sadhak’s life, he is able to truly renounce materialistic life and become a Sannyasi. To enter Sannyas Ashram and properly follow the life of a renunciate is no joke. While living in Grihastha Ashram is like fighting from a fort, a renunciate's life is like battling on the battleground. He has to go through fire to attain his goal. He has to constantly give tests one after the other. Therefore, one should not think that Sannyas Ashram is easier than doing bhajan in Grihastha.


Q: If Grihastha sadhaks think that since detachment from material pleasures is not dependent on whether a person wears renunciate clothes or not, there is no difference between them and Sadhus, and just renunciate clothes don’t make Sadhus superior, is it right for them to think so?


A: They will commit an Aparadha if they think so. Here we are discussing the fine details about accepting the renunciate life and hence, we have to consider things from a neutral point of view. But practically, one who has accepted the renunciate life, is trying to follow its rules with dedication and is adorned with Tilak, Kanthi, Japa mala and renunciate clothes is honoured as a Sadhu in society, irrespective of whether he has some shortcomings in his behaviour. A sadhak must respect Sadhus as dear devotees of God. Otherwise, he will commit Vaishnava Aparadha.


A Sadhu who follows a renunciate life and avoids material pleasures should be honoured irrespective of some shortcomings. They have renounced their family members and attachment to material pleasures. If you think it is easy to leave one’s home, family, friends, comforts and pleasures, why don’t you abandon everything and dedicate your life to bhajan alone? Surely, there is some attachment to worldly affection and pleasures which do not allow you to do the same. Why don’t you try to ask for Bhiksha (beg for food) for a few days? You will know how it feels like if you try even for a few days.


To beg for the bare minimum needs is the humblest kind of life in the world. It really humbles a person to go door to door and beg for a piece of chapati. But those who develop true renunciation from worldly pleasures abandon all the wealth, title and honour they once possessed to accept a life of Bhiksha. When one accepts the Sannyas Ashram, he is given a cloth bag by his Guru to go for Bhiksha. This is very important in a renunciate’s life because Bhiksha destroys his ego and makes him humble. Ego or pride is the most dangerous enemy of a sadhak in his path to attain God. The pride of caste, education, wealth or even dedication to bhajan, knowledge of scriptures and physical aversion from material pleasures are all false egos that hinder his path. During Bhiksha, people might slander, offend or hurt you but you have to accept it all with humility because you are a beggar at that time. [A beggar has no right to dictate what should or shouldn’t a giver give him. He has to accept everything. Likewise, a Sadhu has no right to dictate what a giver can give him. He has to crush his ego and beg for food at a Grihasthi’s door.]


Earlier, I used to do Bhiksha (or Madhukari). Once, some people (whose house Baba went for Bhiksha) spoke some offensive words to me. I was very offended and decided that I would never go to their house for Bhiksha again. The next day when I went for Bhiksha, I avoided their house and wandered on street after street but did not get a single piece of chapati. I wondered if I would have to stay hungry that day. On other days, my bag would have been full of chapatis after doing Bhiksha on a few streets, but that day, everyone was saying, “I am busy”, “A new child has been born” [Sadhaks should not take Bhiksha from houses where someone has been born, is getting married or someone has died. This is to avoid vibrations of too much happiness and sadness as both of them create obstacles in bhajan] or, funnily, “there is no one in the house”!


Then I wondered, ‘Is Radharani angry at me? Oho, I have decided to avoid one house because I was offended by their words. Actually, I have developed some pride of being a Sadhu in my heart. This pride was hurt by their words. Oho, but I am a beggar during the time I go for Bhiksha. I might be treated as an honourable Sadhu during twenty-three hours of the day but for one hour, I have to be as humble as a beggar. I have no right to pride myself as a Sadhu when I go for Bhiksha at a Grihasthi’s house.’


I went back to the house which I had avoided and asked for Bhiksha. The Brajawasi Maiya (mother) gave chapatis with much respect. After that, my bag became full of chapatis by the time I returned to my kutir. This is how the Bhiksha way of life makes the sadhak humble.


Abhimanam surapaanam gauravam rauravam samam,

Pratishtha sukari vishtha trayam tyaktva harim bhajet."

Meaning: Pride is like drinking alcohol, ego is like the Raurava hell (one of the many kinds of hells described in Srimad Bhagavatam) and fame is like the stool of a pig (who eats the stools of other animals and humans). If you want to do bhajan, avoid these three strictly.


Pride is a big hurdle in the path of Bhakti. A sadhak should not be hurt by other’s offensive words or actions. If you are a Maharaj (a big Sadhu), why have you come to beg for food? During the time of Bhiksha, he is only a beggar. He has to accept the chapati as well as the offensive behaviour it comes with. In this way, gradually, he develops humility. When a sadhak develops humility, Bhakti Devi blesses his heart very soon. This is why Sannyas Ashram is also known as Bhikshuk Ashram. Householder sadhaks must surely respect those who have entered the Sannyas or Bhikshuk Ashram. They need not know whether they truly have the qualities of a Sadhu or not. Any person with Tilak, Kanthi, Japa mala and renunciate clothes should be respected as a Sadhu. [Only when a sadhak wants to associate with enlightened Sadhus, he can analyze whether the Sadhu sincerely follows the rules of a renunciate and spiritual life. But the renunciate clothes should be given respect even if the Sadhu has some shortcomings.]


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