“The Supreme Lord said, To give up the results of all activities is called renunciation [tyaga] by the wise. And that state is called the renounced order of life [sannyasa] by great learned men.” (Bhagavad-gita, 18.2)
kāmyānāṁ karmaṇāṁ nyāsaṁ
sannyāsaṁ kavayo viduḥ
prāhus tyāgaṁ vicakṣaṇāḥ
Friend1: Let’s say you are interested in something new.
Friend2: The thing itself is new or I have never tried it before?
Friend1: The latter.
Friend1: How do you go about becoming familiar? Do you have a set procedure?
Friend2: Hmm. Not sure I’ve thought about it in depth.
Friend1: Well, take the time to now.
Friend2: I guess it would be like anything else. Question and answer.
Friend1: You would ask questions and someone else would give the answers.
Friend1: Whom would you ask?
Friend2: I would approach someone who is knowledgeable of the subject. I heard someone on the radio give the advice that if you want to succeed in something, approach those people who have already been successful.
Friend1: That makes sense.
Friend2: Because the failures will tell you all the wrong things. They will discourage you. They will tell you about bitter experiences. The people who have succeeded will provide insight into what is necessary for reaching the target. They will give you the proper information.
Friend1: Success is the only criteria? I guess what I’m asking is what establishes authority?
Friend2: Oh, that’s a good question.
Friend1: You don’t know.
Friend2: I do, but this got me thinking about spiritual matters.
Friend1: Me too, obviously. I was just setting the table.
Friend2: This will also segue into the importance of the sannyasa ashrama.
Friend1: Nice. I love your lengthy dissertations.
Friend2: Sarcasm duly noted. Let’s first start by establishing who is not authority.
Friend2: In Sanskrit there are two terms called mlechchha and yavana. These essentially refer to people who go against the rules and regulations established by scripture.
Friend1: Umm, isn’t that everyone?
Friend2: [smiling] For today, you’re probably right. At the very least, they eat meat and drink alcohol.
Friend1: What is so important about those two things? Why are they disqualifiers?
Friend2: Meat eating means there is a lack of understanding of identity. The knowledge of the spirit soul is absent. That is the only reason a person would look to kill an innocent animal for food in a non-emergency situation. The drinking part should be easy to understand.
Friend1: If you do it in moderation, I don’t see the harm.
Friend2: We’re talking about establishing authority here. A person who drinks succumbs to illusion. If it’s done in moderation, then the illusion doesn’t last that long. Nonetheless, if they were truly knowledgeable, they would know how to experience a higher taste.
Friend1: I see. So a person in the sannyasa ashrama doesn’t drink or eat meat?
Friend2: Of course, but those are hardly determining factors. Sannyasa is the last of the four ashramas recommended for the advancement of the human being, for making the most out of the auspicious form of body. Sannyasa is complete renunciation, but at the very least there is no intimate association with the opposite sex.
Friend1: Is that for establishing authority?
Friend2: It is multi-purposed. Sex life is the greatest inhibitor to advancement of the consciousness. In one sense, you could say it is the single cause for continued rebirth. Sex life is the height of enjoyment in material life. The more attached to that enjoyment you are, the more you are prone to coming back, life after life.
Friend1: Doesn’t the sannyasi move around, too?
Friend2: Well, let me also say that sannyasa is actually a mood. It’s an attitude, but generally that attitude is found in a specific phase of life going by the same name. Shri Krishna says in the Bhagavad-gita that real sannyasa is renouncing the material results to actions.
Friend2: And yes, the most common type of sannyasi is a wanderer, sort of like a person who takes to homelessness voluntarily. They don’t necessarily sleep outside, though. They are generally respected so much for their sacrifice. Therefore they constantly get invitations to go to people’s homes.
Friend1: That’s nice.
Friend2: The sannyasi shouldn’t stay at any place for too long. They shouldn’t eat more than is required. They shouldn’t even save for the future. The Supreme Lord will provide everything for them.
Friend1: You have to be fearless to do that.
Friend2: Exactly. It is the fearless ashrama, or spiritual institution. Anyway, the sannyasi has much more authority on spiritual matters than the mlechchhas and yavanas. If you go to an online chat room, you have no idea with whom you are speaking. A forum is open to any person, and if you hear their opinions and take them as truth, you don’t know if they are sense enjoyers or not.
Friend1: But if they give the right message, shouldn’t it not matter in what environment it is heard?
Friend2: That’s true, but human nature is a certain way. A sense enjoyer can tell you that the spirit soul is the identifying force within all living beings. Then a wandering mendicant can tell you the same thing. The latter’s word will carry more weight than the former’s. This is just the way things work.
Friend1: Isn’t sannyasa forbidden in the present age of Kali, though?
Friend2: It is, because if the sannyasa ashrama is degraded, where will people go? They will go to the online forums, where they hear all sorts of nonsense. Sannyasa is forbidden for people who are not qualified, who are not ready for it. The ashrama still has the same value, though. Shri Chaitanya Mahaprabhu accepted it at the age of twenty-four, which is unheard of. He was then able to go from village to village to spread the chanting of the holy names: Hare Krishna Hare Krishna, Krishna Krishna, Hare Hare, Hare Rama Hare Rama, Rama Rama, Hare Hare.
Friend1: That makes sense to me. The more genuine sannyasis you have, the better. This way people have more opportunities to approach authority figures on the issues that matter most.
Friend2: Even a sannyasi can be the wrong person from whom to hear. A person can be labeled a wandering mendicant but be lacking the necessary spirit of renunciation. Lord Chaitanya also said that a person should never hear the Mayavada philosophy, which is monism. This philosophy is most widely distributed by sannyasis of that persuasion. This underscores the importance of having respected authorities in the devotional line, bhakti-yoga. This is the way to counter misinformation, and thanks to Shri Chaitanya there are many such people acting in that capacity today.
Wisdom from learned one to expect,
Sannyasi in occupation carrying most respect.
In spirit must be truly renounced,
Necessary qualities by Krishna pronounced.
What mlechchha or yavana can tell?
Drinking, eating meat in illusion’s spell.
From person in devotional line hear,
Travelling the world for Lord without fear.