Written by Sri Swami Chandrashekarendra
In the past, some students continued to reside with their guru without
performing the samavartana. Even after his passing, they remained
brahmacarins and remained so all their life.
Our dharma takes into account the natural urges of man. The general rule
is that, on his return home from the gurukula, the student must marry
and settle down. It is difficult to go against the natural urges. But
along with nature does not mean being swept away in the flow of urges.
After all the goal of all our efforts is reaching the other shore-that
release from the worldly existence. The householder must lead a life of
dharma with his wife. But later he must become a forest recluse first
then, renouncing everything, a sannyasin. This path to asceticism
stages is based on the fact that curbing the natural instincts is likely
harmful. A person who decides in his youth to become a naisthika
brahmacarin (lifelong student-bachelor)may later succumb to his natural
passions. This would be an offence against the asrama code of conduct
and therefore sinful. As a householder he is not guilty of any offence
goes by his natural urges within the constraints of dharma.
There are exceptions to any rule. Those who have firmness and maturity
of mind and strength of character obtained from the samskaras
preformed in an earlier birth may become lifelong brahmacarins. We
have the example of Samarta Ramadasa who lived more than 300 years
ago. It was he who inspired Sivaji to uphold our dharma against the
onslaught of Islam. Ramadasa, the naisthika brahmacarin, personified one
aspect of Hanuman.
Sri Sankara Bhagavatpada was an incarnation of Paramesvara and his
mission was re-establishment of the Vedic dharma. He went directly from
the brahmacarya to the ascetic stage of life. His disciples too, with
exception of Suresvaracarya, did the same. Sankara gave initiation into
sannyasa to Padmapada, Hastamalaka and Totaka. In the Sankara Matha
also brahmacarins are initiated into sannyasa because, according to the
rule, only such sannyasins can occupy the Pitha. All this points to the
that everybody need not become a householder before donning the
ascetic's garb. But it must be conceded that only a few will have the
wisdom and mellowness necessary to skip two asramas (that of the
householder and the forest recluse) to take to sannyasa. Naisthika
brahmacarins do not have to perform the following samskaras: marriage,
the five mahayajnas, the seven pakayajnas, the seven haviryajnas and the
seven somayajnas. Their antahkarana
must be sufficiently pure even
without going through these rituals. So they are exceptional cases.
Dahana-kriya(cremation)is the last samskara according to the sastras. It
argued, on the basis of this, that they (the sastras)do not enjoin all,
the aged, to take to sannyasa. If everybody were to live through all the
asramas (that of bachelor-student, householder, forest recluse and
ascetic) there would truly be no question of the cremation rite for
anybody. Are not sannyasins their attaining siddhi, instead of being
consigned to the flames? If we believe that asceticism is only for the
mature, and not even for the aged among the rest, the above argument
cannot be said to be wrong.
The view that cremation rite applies only to those who die too young to
become sannyasins is unfounded. Indeed not only those who die
prematurely but also the old are to be cremated [if they do not become
sannyasins]. So the inference is that sastras do accept aged people also
not taking to sannyasa.
A person who has the light of knowledge in him and is free from passion
must live in the forest giving up family responsibilities and performing
only Vedic rites. He must leave his children and property behind and
only his wife with him to the forest. The wife, however, is not meant
carnal pleasure but is a partner in the conduct of rites involving the
sacred fire-sacrifices, aupasana, etc. This is the meaning of
person qualifies for this stage of life when he is mature enough to
home and hearth, children and relatives. Later he gives up the Vedic
karma itself and turns his mind exclusively to the quest of the Self.
the time when he enters the sannyasasrama.
The man who has thus separated himself from his wife and given up
Vedic works is initiated into sannyasa by his guru. He must constantly
meditate on the Paramatman and experience the Truth as an inward
reality. Also, he must have the realisation that, "That Truth am I, all
false play.”Then he is by himself, beyond his body and mind, as the
Ultimate Truth. This is moksa, liberation. Such a man will continue to
dwell in his body until the fruits of his past karma are exhausted. But
will not be affected by such karma as a sannyasin who has inward
realisation. From the point of view of the outside world he may still
in his body; but even in this state he is liberated. He is now a
"jivanmukta". When the body perishes he becomes a
"videhamukta"(liberated without the body). And he himself is now the
unconditioned Ultimate Truth.
He who becomes a sannyasin without having lived as a householder and
he who becomes a sannyasin after doing so, performing all the forty
samskaras and acquiring all the eight Atmic qualities, becomes alike the
What is the fate of the man who does not become an ascetic but who
keeps performing, until his death, all the samskaras and cultivates the
eight Atmic qualities? He is cremated on his death, is he not? After
majority of people belong to this category. What happens to such people
after their death?
Sankara does not state that they will dissolve in Ultimate Reality. They
not have the intense urge, the burning desire, to grasp the Brahman,
abandoning everything. If they have the all-consuming desire for the
Truth, no force can hold them back from their quest. It is because they
not possess such a desire that they do not obtain nondualistic
However, they have faith in the sastras and perform works according to
them and contribute to the well-being of the mankind and they are also
thereby rendered pure inwardly. So, though they are not united with the
Paramatman, they go to the presence of Isvara, Isvara who is the
Paramatman with attributes (Saguna Brahman)and is behind the affairs of
This is called "Hiranyagarbha-sthana" and it is the same as Brahmaloka.
this there is no inseparable dissolution in the Paramatman, but the man
who attains it remains in bliss "experiencing" Isvara. Such a state is
be described as moksa. There is nothing wanting, there is no sorrow, and
there is the presence of the Lord. What more is wanted? This state is
reached by those who perform all the samskaras even though they do not
But one day Isvara (the Saguna Brahman)will put a stop to the activities
all worlds and dissolve them in the great deluge(maha-pralaya). He will
now become the Nirguna Brahman, the Paramatman without any
attributes. At this time all those who reside by his side will unite
Paramatman as the Paramatman, that is non-dualistic liberation.
In the great deluge all creatures-even those who have not performed any
of the prescribed rituals, creatures like worms, reptiles and so on also
will merge with the Paramatman. Then what is special about the one who
unites with the Supreme Being after having performed all the samskaras?
When the Paramatman, as the Isvara with attributes, creates the worlds
again those who do not perform the samskaras will be born again
according to the karma of their past lives. Only those who have properly
gone through the samskaras and been rendered pure will be inseparably
united with the Brahman.
I have come far from the subject of upanayana. I had sought an answer to
the following questions: "Can a person remain a brahmacarin all his
Can a brahmacarin become a sannyasin without going through the stage
of the householder? ''