[Advaita-l] Sannyasa and jnana

Vidyasankar Sundaresan svidyasankar at hotmail.com
Thu Feb 8 21:50:35 CST 2007

Over the last few weeks, I have not been able to keep up with postings to 
the list as often as I'd have liked. With apologies for the delay in 
responding to various points:

Siva Senani Nori wrote:
>Could you please give the reference to the opinion restricting
>sannyAsa only to brAhmaNa males? I seek to know so that one
>understands the source of the tradition regarding sannyAsa better.

There is a quite detailed analysis of the dharmaSAstra texts relating to 
saMnyAsa in Mm. P V Kane's Vol 2 of History of Dharmasastra (around pg. no. 
900 or so). As I read Sankara bhagavatpAda, his take on this point is very 
subtle, given the strong correlation between jnAna and saMnyAsa in his 

On the one hand, right at the beginning of the brahmasUtra bhAshya, he quite 
categorically decouples qualifications for veda study from qualifications 
for Self-knowledge. He also acknowledges that vidura and dharmavyAdha, 
although considered SUdra by birth, were indeed jnAnin-s, and leaves the 
door open for Self-knowledge through the smRti-s, through the accumulated 
results of good deeds in past lives etc. In his commentary on the dialogue 
between maitreyI and yAjnavalkya, he explicitly says maitreyI was instructed 
in brahmavidyA by yAjnavalkya, who himself left his household in order to 
formally take up saMnyAsa. From these references, it is clear that Sankara 
does not think that Self-knowledge is an exclusive domain of brAhmaNa males. 
If the true jnAnI automatically gravitates towards saMnyAsa and if jnAna is 
accessible to all, it follows that one cannot, in good faith, restrict 
saMnyAsa to brAhmaNa males.

On the other hand, he does seem to privilege the brAhmaNa male when it comes 
to saMnyAsa, especially in muNDaka bhAshya 1.2.12 (brAhamaNasya eva 
viSeshato 'dhikAras sarva-tyAgena brahmavidyAyAm iti brAhmaNa-grahaNam) and 
bRhadAraNyaka bhAshya 4.5.15 (itara-varNa-apekshayA vA yAvaj-jIva-SrutiH. na 
hi kshatriya-vaiSyayoH pArivrAjya-pratipattir asti.).

I will take up this portion of bRhadAraNyaka bhAshya again in some detail in 
my next posting on yoga and advaita vedAnta. For now, note that sureSvara 
does point out in the vArttika that traditional saMnyAsa was open to all 
dvija-s, i.e. kshatriya-s and vaishya-s also, and was not restricted to 
brAhmaNa-s. Suffice it to say that it doesn't seem to me that Sankara 
bhagavatpAda meant to deny access to saMyasa to non-brAhmaNa-s. He is 
concerned more fundamentally with defending the institution of saMnyAsa, 
which was under attack from within traditional circles, because of the 
notion that every human being should spend every living moment in performing 
action(s) and that action should never be renounced. Rather than prohibiting 
non-brAhmaNa males from saMnyAsa and jnAna, he is exhorting brAhmaNa males 
to wake up to the jnAnakANDa of their own vedic tradition and to embrace the 
ancient saMnyAsa tradition, provided of course that they had the basic 
qualifications to renounce the world.

Amuthan wrote, in response to one of my brief comments:

>>Nevertheless, there is also ignorance which stands in the way of one's 
>>knowing the real self. Therefore, merely becoming a sannyAsin is not 
>>without developing the means towards stabilizing and becoming firmly
>>entrenched in brahmavidyA.
>what you are saying is true for one who is not a j~nAni. but this
>doesn't exactly fit into the context of the present discussion.
>the knowledge of the form 'i exist' exists only in the waking and
>dream states and is common to all conscious beings from animals to
>humans. though this is a knowledge regarding oneself, this is not the
>'self knowledge' that is being discussed in the present context.
>aparokSha Atmaj~nAna is best understood as the knowledge present when
>the mind remains in AtmAkAra vRtti. a j~nAnimAtra is one who has
>experienced this, but for whom vAsanAs are not fully destroyed.

Yes, but the key point, in my mind, is the phrase "becoming a sannyAsin". In 
most places, Sankara bhagavatpAda tends to qualify samyag-jnAna-prApti (the 
acquisition of right knowledge with the terms, "SAstrataH" - from the SAstra 
texts and "AcAryopadeSataH" - from the teaching of the AcArya. At least 
within the formal tradition of saMnyAsa initiation, the upadeSa of the 
AcArya involves the most fundamental, concise statement of Self-knowledge - 
tat tvam asi, which in turn is of SAstra-ic origin.This also means that in 
Sankara's writing, "samyag-jnAna" need not always be aparoksha (im-mediate).

Under the circumstances, the person who has been initiated into saMnyAsa, 
has already acquired samyag-jnAna, so to speak, but has to already be at the 
threshold of aparoksha jnAna. If he is the best qualified, the one teaching 
is sufficient to confer full jnAna. If he is of medium to low qualification, 
he should at least be qualified enough to be a jnAnimAtra soon. If this is 
not the case, why should a person even seek to enter the saMnyAsa stage in 
the first place and why should a Srotriya brahmanishTha AcArya agree to 
initiate that person into saMnyAsa?

For the latter kind of person, further manana and nididhyAsana, aided by 
tyAga, vairAgya etc., are meant to stabilize this jnAna, as the 
bRhadAraNyaka bhAshya 1.4.7 describes. Or as JMV puts it, there is further 
effort needed for vAsanA-kshaya. I see the two as being more or less the 
same - after all, what the bhAshya describes as "avaSyaM-bhAvinI-pravRttir 
vA^N-manaH-kAyAnAm" is but the result of the vAsanA that is in need of 

Best regards,

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