Swami Shantimurti on Sannyas
Sannyas has arisen as a means to overcome and remove conditioning of the mind: false beliefs, dogmas, and concepts that prevent the mind functioning as a perfect instrument. It has been adopted over the ages by people who wanted to free the mind of its bondages, enabling them to develop an insight into the deeper aspects of existence. It seems to have existed, though not under the specific name of sannyas, since the dawn of history.
It is more than possible that primitive man had no need for any form of sannyas, for he was probably harmonious in his way of life, integrated with his deeper being, and able to combine wordly and spiritual life. Therefore sannyas arose simultaneously with the advent of social living as a means for man to reintegrate himself with his deeper nature. As social pressures become greater, so man becomes excessively ambitious, neurotic and egotistical. It is these tendencies that cause him to remain at and function on the surface layers of his being. Society is a necessary evil. It provides comfort, protection and livelihood for the people who live within its confines. Society cannot be entirely rejected, excepting the few hermits who live alone in mountain caves. Almost everyone, including most sannyasins, rely on society for food, clothing, shelter. So how can we free the mind of its social bondage? The solution can be found in the form of sannyas. It provided a method whereby a person, a sannyasin, could still function in society and yet remove his social bondage. This method of sannyas consisted mainly of renunciation. Renunciation is predominantly a mental attitude.
Over time, in India, the sannyasin became an accepted and respectable member of society, although it was considered that he was really outside society. However, the ideals of sannyas were disliked by the older, orthodox sections of society since, the freedom of thought and actions of sannyasins were a challenge to fixed dogmas and rigid, blind beliefs. Although at one stage most societies over the world had their sannyasins, there was a time when it was a particularly dangerous time to be a sannyasin living outside society, and it is only in India and a few places that sannyas survived to this day. We see in the modern world with its greater degrees of tolerance and with the upsurges of spiritual aspiration associated with the Aquarian Age, that sannyas is and will be widely reinstated as an acceptable way of life for those seeking wisdom. We see also that sannyas is necessary in order to balance the strife that is a distinct feature of the world today. Aggression must be balanced by peace; knowledge of the external world by knowledge of the internal world; ignorance by wisdom and hatred by love. It is this that sannyas can help to bring about.
We should not make the mistake of assuming that sannyas is useful only in the spheres of religion. Sannyas can improve a person's life as a poet, artist, scientist, politician or any work that one undertakes. Many great artists, poets and scientists have been sannyasins and perhaps not known it. The life of sannyas leads to greater creativity. People like Leonardo da Vinci, Michaelangelo, William Blake, Einstein and Jagadish Chandra Bose could not have created without freedom of mind. Of course, these people and many others are not traditionally regarded as sannyasins , but we see them as having the inner attitude of sannyasins. People like Mahatma Ghandi contributed greatly to political and social reforms. They were at heart sannyasins. Some of the people who were truly sannyas and lived the sannyas life were: Shiva (although in the Hindu mythology Shiva is talked about in many different ways and as having many different powers, he more than likely was a naked yogi who lived the life of renunciation in all aspects); Buddha, who also trod the path of sannyas, looking for and attaining perfection; Christ, who was a man with consciousness and he more than likely belonged to a group called the Essenes, their main concern being the awakening of mind; Mahaveera, who was an enlightened sannyasin who created Jainism as a way of development; Lao Tsu who was one of the more famous and better known sannyasins of China and developed the system of Taoism.
In the past, sannyas has been traditionally associated with religion as the previously mentioned great people show. We see no reason why sannyas should not also extend into the realms of science, art, and in fact into every aspect of life. In the past, there has been a continuous stream of people who have adopted sannyas as a way of life. This stream will continue in the future in all fields of human activity. The aspiration of every sannyasin should be to dive deep into one's being and realise the essence.