[Advaita-l] Sannyasa and jnana

Siva Senani Nori sivasenani at yahoo.com
Tue Feb 13 02:18:10 CST 2007

Namo VidyasankarAya!

----- Original Message ----
From: Vidyasankar Sundaresan svidyasankar at hotmail.com

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 

* Thank you, Sir, reading the chapter (28, pp 930-975) satiated my curiosity. (I have made a pdf of it, if somebody wants please let me know). As Mm Kane puts it, the matter is far from clearly established: "One important question on which opinion was sharply divided is whether sannyAsa was allowed to all the three varnas or only to brAhmaNas." Those who restrict it to Brahmins include Sankaracharya, MedhAtithi (commentating on Manu), the MitAksharI, MadanapArijAta, and SmrtimuktAphala; those who allow it to all three dvijas include Suresvaracharya, Anandagiri, Kalidasa (King Raghu becomes an ascetic), Nilakantha (commentating on the Mahabharata), Srikara (commentating on the vedanta sutras), and the Mahabharata itself (Adiparva & Santiparva).

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.... From these references, it is clear that Sankara 
does not think that Self-knowledge is an exclusive domain of 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.).

* and, also in his bhAshya on Br. Up. III.5.1 (brAhmaNAmeva adhikAro vyutthAne) - as mentioned by Mm Kane in his History of Dharmasastras.

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 

* In fact, Suresvara's vArttika was on III.5.1 above (trayANAmapi varNAnAm Srutau sannyAsadarSanAt. brAhmaNasyaiva sannyAsa iti bhAshyam virudhyate), and Anandagiri in his gloss on the vArttika quotes verses from Adiparva of Mahabharata (119. 6-9, 12, & 25) wherein King Pandu contemplates the life of an ascetic. (Thereafter upon the request of Kunti and Madri, King Pandu takes the life of a vAnaprastha, rather than that of an ascetic)

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.

* Very true. As Mm Kane suggested, it is best to understand that only the external symbols of sannyAsa - danda, kamandala etc. - are prohibited to women, sudras, and those of mixed castes [and kshatriyas and vaiSyas], but not tyAga or the desire for moksha. 

* And, on a different note, after reading what the various dharmaSAstras say on the matter, the injunctions for an yati are so strict (talk very little, have no permanent establishment, the barest minimum of food & clothes, indifference to bodily harm etc.) that most genuine and reverred contemporary yatis seem to breach some or the other injunction, no doubt due to the practicalities involved. In view of that, the breach of condition of birth, especially pitched against confirmity to the condition of vairAgya, seems somehow less important.


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