Sanyasi: To Be or Not To Be

By Abhishek Bharati

Podcast by Anshika Nigam

You can listen to the article here or read the transcript below…

I clearly remember that Papa used to tell us various types of stories at night. That time would be the most awaited for us as kids; Papa’s stories were always entertaining, inspiring, motivating and with a moral takeaway. As far as I remember in all these stories that was a clear distinguishing between good and bad and that was classified as a good act from which the Society could harness positivity. All the stories clearly sketched a torchbearer. That’s why these stories formed a critical part of my childhood and continue to inspire me. Amongst all those tales and fables, the Gautam Buddha one is one of my favourites, which intrigues as well as motivates me.
I always wonder what made Prince Siddhartha leave his home- the Royal Palace & the associated lifestyle, his wife, son, wealth and prosperity behind. While I was young, it was really hard to believe that a man with all luxuries left everything behind just for the search of Truth. But as time passed and I became accustomed with the trends of material world and educated, I tried to juxtapose the concept of ashram (stages of life) with the Buddha Story. The four ashramas as mentioned in Hinduism are: Brahmacharya (life as a student), Grihastha (life as a householder), Vanaprastha (life as an ascetic living with modest means) and Sanyasa (renunciation). These four ashramas are stages of life based on age and highlight the significance of values and norms while leading life at each of these stages.
Though I took refuge of texts and teachings so as to understand these concepts, my bigger question still remained unanswered. Why did Siddhartha became Gautam Buddha- the Enlightened one? While the Ashrama theory advocated for seeking renunciation (sanyasa) and go for spiritual liberation only after completion of the first three Ashramas; it still perplexes me that what would have led a 29-year man choose to live a tough life of monk? The attainment of enlightenment by Siddhartha at an age of 35 years and hence becoming Budhha- the Enlightened one, still inspires me to live a life of principles and do all tasks meticulously; as age is just a number and one can attain what one desires at any age.
All throughout my engagement with the Buddha-story and triangulating it with the 4-ashram concept, I have learnt a critical thing. While each stage of life characterizes a different way of living it, eventually the final goal at each stage is to achieve its destination. At Brahmacharya stage, the objective is to become fully learned so as to fend for oneself and prepare for entering the next stage of life. At Grihastha stage, the objective is to successfully dispense off with all the duties of a householder and attain maturity of perspective. At Vanaprastha Stage the objective is to be engaged in productive tasks that are driven by a larger cause of serving the society and pave the pathway towards divine. Eventually the last Stage- Sanyas marks a successful accomplishment of the first three stages and endows upon the person a sense of seeking renunciation.
Sometimes I reason with myself that maybe it was easier for Siddhartha to become a monk as he was a wealthy man and after his departure his family could survive on the fortunes of the palace and that kingdom. However, if we put a common man in that place, it would be very difficult for him to renounce his family at that tender age because of the maze of attachment and responsibilities he has clutched himself into. Indeed, responsibilities and burden of attachment for common people are endless. But, Siddhartha won over this maze of material and earthy compositions, of the spirals of emotions and attachments; only then could he rise above his stance and be the Learned & Enlightened one.

Although every person has a monk in himself, which is manifested by his desire to seek liberation from the Societal Norms and Order, still the maze of emotions is toughest to avoid. And it is this labyrinth that makes a person succumb to the world of desires and wants- desire of having more, desire for accomplishing new things, desire of adding new assets in the name of luxury and future security, and so on.
While the definition of ‘sanyas’ or salvation is interpreted differently by different sects and groups of scholars, an interesting definition finding prominence in the West during the 80’s-90’s was that given by Osho. In his concept of Neo-Sanyas, Osho had tried to intersect the pleasures of material world with the quest for finding oneself.
That said, the Buddha-story, which remains an epitome of renunciation has taught me to meticulously get involved in any task that one does, leaving behind the thoughts of other worlds. If one is truthful and honest to his inner calling each time, destination is bound to be met.

The author is a PhD Scholar at ISC BHU

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