Sannyasa has two aspects – one is vairagya, non-attachment and the other is viveka, discrimination. It is the aim of sannyasa to reach a level where we can experience viveka and vairagya. This is possible by following the five principles of sannyasa, which we know as the five ‘s’s: swadhyaya or self-study, seva or service, satsang or being in the company of truth, samarpan or surrender and santosh or contentment.
Swadhyaya is self-study. It is not an intellectual process; rather it is experiencing the nature of the self, who we are, what we are, what we are trying to do, how we are trying to do it. Swadhyaya is a complete psychological analysis of the human personality. In the process of swadhyaya we have to discover what our chitta vrittis are and how we can control them. Our strengths, weaknesses, ambitions and needs all have to be known, analysed and understood using the faculty of viveka, so that we can come to know the external, manifest dimensions and the internal, unmanifest dimensions of personality.
Swadhyaya does not mean studying the scriptures; it means living the understanding. There are two kinds of understanding: one is mental, rational, intellectual understanding or knowledge, and the other is the application of knowledge. We have to learn how to apply knowledge. This is the key to swadhyaya. Swadhyaya is not reading this and reading that, cluttering the mind with different concepts and ideas while not being clear about our own aims and directions in life. What is the use of cluttering the mind? That is not the aim of swadhyaya.
Swadhyaya is a process of gaining knowledge and applying that knowledge to gain wisdom, not power. When knowledge is used to gain power it becomes a very destructive force. In the Ishavasya Upanishad there is a statement that knowledge can lead to greater ignorance, and to a greater darkness than ignorance. Knowledge can lead to a greater darkness when it is used to gain power, but if knowledge is applied to gain wisdom then it is a different ball game altogether. When one learns how to control and direct the modifications of the mind, the concepts of righteousness and creativity are enhanced. This is not only a mental process, it is also a living process. This is known as chitta vritti nirodhah.
The second aspect of sannyasa is seva, service. Service happens in many different dimensions at the same time. It happens physically, mentally, spiritually, socially, in an ashram, in a family. It happens in many different ways. The aim of seva is to develop immunity from action and reaction, from cause and effect. If through service, through karma yoga, you are not able to develop immunity in life from cause and effect, from action and reaction, then that is not karma yoga, that is not seva or service.
Service is not taking an old lady across the road; it is not helping another person to do something or to become something. That can definitely be the external form of seva, but the aim of seva is different. The aim is to harmonise the faculties of head, heart and hands, to offer your best quality for the upliftment of other people. Seva can only be fulfilled when swadhyaya becomes a part of it, which means when every action happens with your conscious knowledge. It is not a reaction, but a balanced, harmonised, creative action. And of course in seva one has to learn how to harmonise the actions with the mind, desires and aspirations.
The third aspect is satsang. Satsang is not an activity of a spiritual club. It does not mean gathering here, listening to nice things, then getting up and falling back into the old patterns of life, where things go in one ear and out the other. Satsang means to be aware of the reality behind the appearance, to apply understanding with discrimination, viveka. That is the gist of satsang.
Satsang has to be combined with seva and swadhyaya in order to derive the full benefit, so that we don’t just accept what is pleasant and then reject what we don’t wish to hear. Generally we try to compartmentalise everything that we hear according to our conditioning and programming. But satsang is the breaking down of that conditioning and programming, and that definitely takes hard work.
I’ll give you an example. The BSY swamis are good people but idiots too because they have received many, many instructions during satsang, and while they are listening they say, “Oh, very nice, he is right”, but they are never able to implement the instructions they receive in satsang because they think it applies to someone else and not to them. Therefore, they have good hearts but idiot minds. In satsang the idiotic nature of the mind should be complimented by the goodness of the heart. That is how one has to bring a balance in one’s own mental processes through satsang. Satsang is a way to develop day-to-day discrimination and understanding of truths that can be lived in a practical way in life, and making an effort to do so.
The fourth aspect is samarpan, surrender. To whom do we surrender? People say surrender to God, surrender to guru, but I cannot accept this concept of surrender. For me it is surrendering to oneself, to the inner nature. When you are able to surrender to yourself, then surrender to guru or to God, to humanity or to husband or to wife or to children automatically happens. Surrender does not mean becoming impotent or that we lose our will. Surrender means coming in tune with the nature that is alive and active within, tuning ourselves to that nature so that there are no crosscurrents affecting the behaviour or performance. When there are no crosscurrents then definitely the energy of God and guru manifests in your life.
The fifth aspect is santosh, contentment. Contentment is the result of sanyam, when you have left behind all the mental chattering and have accepted the continuity and spontaneity of life. Who is content? Am I content? Are you content? When are you content? When am I content? We become content when our desires are fulfilled, when we achieve what we want to achieve. Contentment is normally a very selfish process. To be content means that you have given yourself the ability to restrain the senses, the mind and the emotions and have harmonised them. So harmony is contentment.
These are the five ‘s’s, the five practices of sannyasa which lead to the attainment of viveka and vairagya. Then you become sannyasananda, experiencing the bliss in sannyasa.
~ Swami Niranjananda Saraswati