Householder (and related topics)

Vidyasankar Sundaresan vidya at CCO.CALTECH.EDU
Thu Aug 14 19:04:48 CDT 1997

Sri Giridhar has made a number of remarkable comments here, all of which
need to be noted quite carefully. I will only comment on a few things now.

On Thu, 14 Aug 1997, Giri wrote:


>         In some works, Shankara, Vidyaaranya, and the  HH of Sringeri Math
> have insisted that external sannyas is needed for liberation, but this is
> clearly meant for majority.
>         The Sringeri acharya Sri Chandrasekhara Bharathi says so in his
> brilliant commentary on the Vivekachudamani, as Shri Shyam informs me.

Yes, right at the outset, Sri Candrasekhara Bharati Swami forcefully
points out the purpose behind the vivekacUDAmaNi's mention on
vaidika-dharma-mArga-paratA, instead of vaidIka-karma-marga-paratA.

What does one mean by external sannyAsa? Two kinds of sannyAsa are
distinguised in the literature. One is called vidvat sannyAsa, where one
is a jnAnin without formally going through the ritual assumption of
sannyAsa. This is very rare, although many people like to think of
themselves as jnAnins. The other kind is vividishA sannyAsa, where one who
possesses the sAdhana-catushTaya becomes a sannyAsin, in order to learn
and perfect one's sAdhana. By definition, the vividishA sannyAsin is not a
householder, but a vidvat sannyAsin might be in the position of the

In traditional Indian society, this entire question about householders was
moot. With the advance of age and the fulfilment of family
responsibilities, one was expected to gradually withdraw from active
involvement in society, through the vAnaprastha stage, eventually becoming
a sannyAsin. Thus, at least theoretically, there was never any question
about the necessity of becoming a sannyAsin. The stock example quoted is
yAjnavalkya, who expounds on brahma-jnAna even when he is married to two
wives, but still eventually withdraws from the world, to become a
parivrAjaka - a wandering ascetic.


>         But with the dawning of jnana, renunciation of the second kind is
> essential.  As he frequently remarks, even a _least sense of duty_ will
> remove him away from oneness. He remarks that renunciation is not _only_
> renouncing action with desire but all works. Let us not fail to remember
> that vidyaranya was engaged in the king's court etc. but he took complete
> sannyasa.  Also, to 'convert' dawning of jnana (kevala nirvikalpa samadhi)
> to a permanent state of mukti (sahaja nirvikalpa samadhi) requires
> grace and complete stillness of body and mind.  The experience of kevala
> nirvikalpa samadhi (which requires complete stillness of both body and
> thoughts, hardly probable by a householder) should be repeated often so as
> to remove all the vasanas and one 'reaches' sahaja nirvikalpa, the 'state'
> of jnani i.e., jivan mukti. See pages 153-4 of Talks with Ramana Maharshi
> where this is explained brilliantly. But, there are many people, Shuka,
> Janaka and a whole bunch of people mentioned in Yoga Vasistha who have
> attained liberation while being an householder. So it is certainly possible.
>         Shankara points out that external sannyas may not be required in
> ALL cases i.e., one who has attained true internal sannyas still does not
> take physical or external sannyas. It is mentioned in 4.19-20 of Bhagavad
> gita bhashya (see the archives of this list for my postings on this
> section). So, if a householder claims that he is a jnani, it is possible,
> though it is very rare. But these are exceptions, not the rule. This is
> what is being referred to by Shankara and Ishvara in BG.

Yes, and as already pointed out, such cases are rare. However, from the
standpoint of the traditional structure of sannyAsa, Ramana Maharishi's
example is slightly problematic. He never formally went through the
rituals of assuming the sannyAsa-ASrama, like the donning of ochre robes,
the virajAhoma etc. Still, we have statements from the highest
contemporary authorities on sannyAsa, that Ramana Maharishi was indeed a
jnAnin of the highest order, and he fits the above description completely.

The real problem that is lurking behind the contemporary questions on the
issue of householders and jnAna is this - There is a general feeling that
there are thousands of sAdhus and sannyAsins floating about today, many of
whom are quite fraudulent. There just seems to be a suspicion that one
might be better off being involved in worldly activity, but with a
detached attitude, rather than formally becoming a wandering ascetic. To
some extent, some such feeling has been around for centuries, but it is
especially accentuated nowadays, I suppose.

If that is one's feeling, one is really better off being a householder,
rather than becoming a sannyAsin who does not understand the institution
of sannyAsa properly. However, let us not throw out the baby with the
bathwater. There are solid reasons why Sankara and others place such an
emphasis on sannyAsa.


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