Renunciation (A Contemplation of Samnyasa - Then and Now)

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Item Code: NAF369
Author: Swami Nityamuktananda Saraswati
Publisher: Kaivalyadhama Samiti Lonavla
Language: English
Edition: 2013
ISBN: 8189485881
Pages: 214
Cover: Paperback
Other Details 8.5 inch x 5.5 inch
Weight 290 gm
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Book Description
Back of the Book

“I encourage you to taste “Renunciation” as seen through the eyes of Swami Nityamuktananda, whose life is a living veneration of the ancient sages and saints of our world.”

(from the Foreword by Swami Ma Tureeya Bharati)

“Genuine renunciation starts with emotional purification; with discipline of the mind, for these two are interdependent, without these,a peaceful calm, detached but clear insightful , receptive mind cannot be achieved.. no matter what outside symbols and paraphernalia is decorating the samnyasi.”

“Hence the path of Samnyasa is the path to freedom from the “I” , with all its limitation in cultures and even in time and space!”

“Let us honour the roots of the tradition of renunciation and or of Swamis n the tradition of the Indian Sages, but n the wake of a global world, let the renounce all ignorance, all false adhering to dogma, all limitations to cultural and religious avidya (wrong , quotes, from the book itself)



I am privileged to write the Foreword to this book on Renunciation by Swami Nityamuktananda Saraswati. For some years I have known Swami ji as a serious scholar, an experienced and dedicated seeker with a contemplative soul of an artist, mediator and a teacher on the spiritual path.

In her I have the pleasure of getting to meet a truly universal spirit. Her writings rang from the seemingly very earthy subjects like ceramic Zen arts to Yoga Philosophy and spirituality. As her main pursuit is the quest of the Self, she could not but delve deep into the history and the worldwide phenomenon of Renunciation.

She views this call in the context of world traditions even though she speaks specifically on the ancient and modern features of Samnyasa as found in India. This book is not restricted to the traditional Indian perspective and cultural values alone, even though a significant section of it refers directly to the Indian scriptures.

This wider perspective adopted by Swami ji has allowed a free flowing, personal and integrative style which enables her reflections to be of interest to a larger audience.

The presentation is well balanced, informative and would be of interest to the lay person as much as the scholar of any culture who wants to know more about renunciation, including the basic texts o Samnyasa.

The book is self-evidently a study by one who has herself felt the call to embrace this life in its authenticity. Such a call comes to us after much study and learning at the feet of renowned gurus, as well as thorough personal contemplation of the spirit of Samnyasa.

This book is offered at a time when the traditional understanding of Renun citation/Samnyasa has begun to suffer dilutions, through quickly fix gurus of instant enlightenment and is thus timely and surely welcome.

It offers insights into the presented day relevance of the ancient concept and encouragement for true seekers of an authentic renounced life, together with the multi-fold descriptions of samnyasa as articulated by the sages and scriptures. As such the book is one of the first of its kind and so is as valuable to the sadhak as well as the scholar, or even any interested person.

I write this forward as an invitation to readers to enjoy the three sections of the presentation and to encourage those who read it to walk mindfully down the historical path of the spiritual renunciation. The book gathers all the myriad colours that paint he varied historical pictures of renunciation. What holds our attention is not so much the external signs and rituals, but at the centre must be the surrender into cosmic harmony, integration in the Devine an consequent ethical relationship with all created reality. This leads t the beneficence for all living beings in the universal rhythm of Divine love and freedom.

From the above all embracing reality, the author cannot but make sure that women are rightfully and appropriately included. The samnyasi /samnyasini offers this freedom to all by vowing: “I am a threat to none, a danger to none; may no living being henceforth fear me.”

I encourage you to taste “Renunciation”as seen through the eyes of Swami Nityamuktananda, whose life is a living veneration of the ancient sages and saints of our world. Of Swami it is said: “she never stops studying , never stops teaching…” At the centre of her studies and teaching is always the subject of “Self –awareness”.

“May the reader whether scholar or seeker enjoy and benefit from hr style and approach in the presentation.”



Samnyasa the word is composed from two roots : sam meaning fully, perfect, complete and nyasa meaning fully, perfect, complete and nyasa meaning letting go, renouncing; (but also donating, giving); so the Sanskrit word can be translated as: 'laying it all down'; 'giving it all up' and it refers to the Indian tradition of renunciation. It stands for detachment, renouncing all worldly thoughts and desires, spending life in a spiritual contemplative way. But what does this mean?

Swami Rama of the Himalayas explains, a samnyasi, renounces "name and fame and property and all that is directly related to him. He does not renounce teaching others, or being gentle or learning to help others'

It is on this latter aspect, he took a strong stance about what a samnyasi (i.e. swami) is, during the kumbha mela (spiritual gathering) in 1964, pointing out that a Swami did not have a special preference for any religion; he "drew a clear distinction between Hinduism and sanatana dharma (the eternal teaching) as outlined in the Vedas. He reminded the crowd that the Vedas do not belong to Hindus or Indians exclusively, but are a treasure-house of the theories and practices pertaining to the eternal truth that belongs to all Humanity."

Moreover the scriptures, teaching and practices that have become known to us as Hinduism, where in actual fact not known as Hinduism (the term stems from the "dialog" that resulted from invaders coming to the lands beyond the Indus river.)

Swami Veda, disciple of Swami Rama of the Himalayas, talks about Samnyasa - renunciation, as "the final forgetting of T and 'mine. It is that mode of thought and experience in which the entire creation becomes 'oneself.

One who has taken vows of renunciation to become a Swami considers himself a member of every family on earth with their physical and spiritual welfare as prime concern .... A renunciate claims an intimate relationship with all, while attached to no one. 'Attached to no-one' means that he claims nothing from them, desires and seeks nothing from anyone, needs no emotional support from anyone but gives support and encouragement to all… and ever moving like the breeze, he gives life-breath to all…

"Ever-flowing like a river, he quenches the thirst, cleanses and irrigates all.

Like a fire he purifies all.

Like a light, he illuminates all. Like the sky, he remains untouched, clear, calm, giving his space to everyone.

He invites every being to find rest, solace, succour and consolation within the field of being that emanates from him."

Doesn't that sound as though a renunciate, a samnyasi is embodiment of pure Love?

Samnyasa is described by Swami Venkateshananda (disciple of Swami Shivananda of Rishikesh) as placing one's whole being in God; i.e. a Swami is someone who has offered his whole being into this Infinite and is there securely placed. If you can do things, "without any ambition or craving…you have found Samnyasa

Swami Vivekananda wrote in 1895 the "Song of the Samnyasi":

"Strike off thy fetters! Bonds that bind thee down,

Of shining gold or darker baser ore;

Love, hate; good, bad; and all the dual throng,

Know, slave is slave, caressed or whipped, not free For fetters, though of gold, are not less strong to bind;

Then off with them, Samnyasi bold! Say Ohm tat sat, Ohm!

Renunciation Say, 'peace to all: From me no danger be

To aught that lives. In those that dwell on high,

In those that lowly creep; I am the Self in all.

All life both here and there, do I renounce,

All heavens and earths and hells, all hopes and fears.'

Thus cut they bonds, Samnyasi bold! Say -

Ohm tat sat, Ohm

Satya Sai Baba quotes: The role of a samnyasi (monk) can be likened to a species of fish. The fish moves around in the depth of the lake; it does not stay at one spot. And while moving around, it eats up worms and the eggs of pests, thus cleansing the water. So too, the samnyasi should always be on the move, journeying into the far corners of the land. His duty is to cleanse the society of evil by his example and precept. He must transform it by his teachings into a society free from vice and wickedness.

So what is samnyasa and (by implication) what is a Swami, i.e. the one that practices samnyasa? samnyasa has been part of the Indian culture since the Vedic period (unknown times), but in terms of more or less organized monasticism by enlarge, it is understood to go back to Adi Shankaracharya.

Many would agree that Samnyasa is not merely a monastic order but a spiritual path, both esoteric and exoteric. It denotes a life of detachment, of being a witness, not being involved personally as much as being part of life in the spirit of service to the divine within, as much as without.

Although being incredibly ancient, the path of "renunciation" is as alive today as it was in ancient times. Although what goes under the label of "renunciation" or indeed samnyasa is as varied today as ever, with many different types and different understandings, but one thing is certain: it is deeply embedded in the Indian cultural context.

For example: the Indian tradition ascribes four stages of life - the four asramas; the last stage of which is called samnyasa. Traditionally, for the most part, samnyasa is taken by men in their fifties. However there always have been also some young men and occasional females (increasingly so in our times) who dedicate their lives to this spiritual pursuit.

Here we are mainly concerned with the deliberate step of taken samnyasa rather than the stage of life (see below).

In recent history (AD) there are mainly 2 kinds of such renunciates. The Ekadanda {single stick carrier I going back to Adi Shakaracharya) and Tridanda {triple rod carrier) going back to Siddhanta Saraswati). The former being aligned with Advaita Vedanta, the latter being a Vaishnava tradition.

The Ekadanda tradition refers mainly to the Dasa-nami- sampradaya (order) of monks grouped into 4 monasteries (mathas) in four corners of India (Sringeri (Karvirpitham) Karnataka; Puri, Orissa; Dvaraka, Gujarat and Jyotirmath, Uttar Pradesh) - These main four centres theoretically are responsible for ten groups of samnyasins (dasa-nami - ten names) each carrying a suffix which indicates the lineage of the samnyasin (bharati, saraswati, sagara, tirtha, puri, asrama, giri, parvata, aranya and vana).

There are Dasa-nami organised into a number of subgroups (akhada) each of these having a leader known as a Maha-Mandeleshvara (There are about 300 of these; often scholars or teachers). An Akhada is a martial organisation of Swamis that is organised with military precision and had real power to resist. Their purpose was to protect the Dharma from social evils (whether by the words of eloquent teachers or the muscles of wrestlers or simple weapons).

The Akhada (also referred to as Arkhada) were/are connected to training grounds for wrestlers and martial arts. In the 19th century these groups of renunciates/Swami's were still active and stood up successfully to the British Empire. "This is possibly the most disciplined form of samnyasa" (Swami Veda Bharati, interview with Mark Tully; 21.Jan. 2013)

The importance of the above is twofold:

a) to recognise that samnyasa is connected historically and culturally to a certain society

b) and to become aware of the universal and timeless values hidden within the form, which also being embedded in a traditional form, are - beyond any particular brand/tradition.

In today's world, (with the planet and societies in trouble) it is especially important to find wisdom und understanding by looking deep at those aspects that are beyond time and the limitations of a certain culture.

Furthermore it's important to bring the essence of wisdom and understanding into appropriate forms for our time as well as for the global society. In this case that means we have to look anew at the meaning within a tradition in order to able to go beyond the tradition, see its cultural limitations and transfer it to a wider vision, of a global contemporary world.

For example: "Maths" refers traditionally to the four centres mentioned above (limited to the Indian subcontinent). In a global perception, math’s had to expand theirdomain and leave the confines of the country; hence there are modern Mathas, such as the Self-realisation Fellowship (Paramahamsa Yogananda), Ramakrishna Math and mission (Swami Vivekananda), the Divine Life Society (Swami Sivananda), Chinmaya Mission (Swami Chinmayananda) and others who reach way beyond the Indian subcontinent. However of these, the latter three understand themselves still as connected to the Sringeri Matha. Despite the traditional connection, and although these are aligned with the Vedantic tradition - it is interesting to note, that these modern institutions recognise the prophets of the Semitic tradition as well as the Sufi Saints etc. Several of the above modern day maths have a strong presence in the West.

Thus they are by no means exclusively Indian. But then tolerance is well known in the Indian past (see Kabir; Guru Nanak and others).

Another interesting very modern (2009) version of the tradition, are the "Blue Swamis"; the Nayaswamis, founded by the American J. Donald Walters, a direct disciple of Paramahamsa Yogananda (and former head of the Self-Realisation fellowship); a controversial figure who had to face law-suits for fraud and sexual accusations. His "new order of swami's" accepts all (married or single) people who have searched and practiced for a number of years and have a deep yearning for God. The new way for him, starts with his understanding, that people today are less bound by customs, society and "materialism"; since "we know matter is nothing but vibrating energy" and - accordingly people also think more fluid, i.e. more intuitive.

He perceives people as less fixed on outer rites and forms. His base message is: renounce the ego, be humble and see God as the doer of everything. Samnyasa, so his opinion, previously was "negating the world" now it is "negating the ego" and is "Samadhi affirming."

Certainly an interesting approach and possibly pointing into the right direction. We have to acknowledge that we live in a global world, where cultures are interpenetrative and mass communication makes sure that nothing stays "pure".

Furthermore, we have to be aware, that the Divine Spirit, cannot be limited; there have been countless, nameless realised beings, who have not belong to any matha, (nor been Indian) and of course not have been Dasanami Swami's. One of the prime examples for this kind of exception, from the past century is the famous Sage, Sri Ramana Maharshi (1879-1950) who did not formally take samnyasa, nor did he have a Guru in the classical sense (the hill Arunchala was his jGuru). Yet he was nevertheless recognised as an Enlightened Being in the Advaita sense, a most highly evolved and respected renunciate!

Living in the 21st century (a world in which the meaning of customs, where traditions, and even languages and cultures are increasingly being lost) it is important to rekindle awareness of the cultural frame and recognise the need to go back to the universal, timeless, meaning of values and traditions behind them in .order to carry these into the contemporary setting - without losing their truth. This will be attempted here.

It is this "policy" of preserving yet interpreting forever new, that preserved India's cultural, philosophical, religious rich knowledge to this day despite its enormous antiquity and its many invasions and cultural upheavals (Some say: this was precisely the very 'task'/'job' of the renunciates throughout the ages (Swami Niranjanananda: Samnyasa Darshan).

Taking such a wide approach necessitates referring to other monastic traditions throughout. Furthermore, it must be clearly noted with gratitude that the entire present work is heavily indebted to Patrick Olivelle's "Samnyasa Upanisads, Hindu Scriptures on Ascetism and Renunciation….

(Oxford University Press 1992); and any further academically detailed study must be referred to Olivelle and his and J.F. Sprockhoff ‘s work.

Furthermore Swami Paramahamsa Niranyanananda is a valuable, although less academic source (Samnyasa Darshan).

Also it is highly recommended to read the relevant Upanishads in full (which are referred to below)




  Foreword 5
  Part one  
  Introduction 7
  Literary background to Samnyas and the samnyasa Upanisads 14
  Background contemplation (psychological, historical and cultural in India and elsewhere) 17
  The situation we find in India in the 21 Ist. Century 46
  Part Two  
  Textual contemplation of eh relevant Samnyasa Uanisad(s) 61
  Contemplation of Outer Symbols:  
1) The top knot and the sacred thread: 127
2) Belongings (water pot, clothes- Danda staff..) 136
3) Fire-sticks 144
4) Outer proclamation and funeral rites 146
5) Renunciation of family 147
6) Celibacy 152
7) Bathing 154
8) Spiritual ritual and mantra 151 Summary 154
  Contemplation of inner practices and concepts 156
1) Preparation 156
2) Cultivating mental attitudes in relationship to the world 159
3) Cultivation mental attitude in relationship to the body 164
4) Cultivating awareness of the highest, the self 166
  Summary 168
  Part Three  
  Women and the path of samnyasa 171
1) Historical perspective 171
2) Women amongst male samnyasa 178
3) Woman, Natural samnyasa 183
  Conclusion 196
  Postscript 202
  Notes 205
  Selected Bibliography 212

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