The Meaning of the Sannyāsa Āśrama

Section 2 –  Sannyāsa Verse

Narasiṅgha Mahārāja: Now we shall read from Caitanya-caritāmṛta, Madhyalīlā, ch.3, text 6, the famous sannyāsa verse uttered by Mahāprabhu with purport by the world-ācārya, His Divine Grace Oṁ Viṣṇupāda Śrī Śrīmad Śrīla A.C. Bhaktivedānta Swami Prabhupāda.

etāṁ sa āsthāya parātma-niṣṭhām
adhyāsitāṁ pūrvatamair mahadbhiḥ
ahaṁ tariṣyāmi duranta-pāraṁ
tamo mukundāṅghri-niṣevayaiva

“I shall cross over the insurmountable ocean of nescience by being firmly fixed in the service of the lotus feet of Kṛṣṇa. This was approved by the previous ācāryas, who were fixed in firm devotion to the Lord, Paramatma, the Supreme Personality of Godhead.”

“In connection with this verse, which is a quotation from Śrīmad Bhāgavatam (11.23.58), Śrīla Bhaktisiddhānta Sarasvatī Ṭhākura says that of the sixty-four items required for rendering devotional service, acceptance of the symbolic marks of sannyāsa is a regulative principle. If one accepts the sannyāsa order, his main business is to devote his life completely to the service of Mukunda, Kṛṣṇa. If one does not completely devote his mind and body to the service of the Lord, he does not actually become a sannyāsī. It is not simply a matter of changing dress. In Bhagavad-gītā (6.1) it is also stated, anāśritaḥ karma-phalaṁ kāryaṁ karma karoti yaḥ sa sannyāsī ca yogi ca: one who works devotedly for the satisfaction of Kṛṣṇa is a sannyāsī. The dress is not sannyāsa, but the attitude of service to Kṛṣṇa is.

The word parātma-niṣṭhā means being a devotee of Lord Kṛṣṇa. Parātma, the Supreme Person, is Kṛṣṇa. Īśvaraḥ paramaḥ kṛṣṇaḥ sac-cid-ānanda-vigrahaḥ. Those who are completely dedicated to the lotus feet of Kṛṣṇa in service are actually sannyāsī. As a matter of formality, the devotee accepts the sannyāsa dress as previous ācāryas did. He also accepts the three daṇḍas. Later Viṣṇu-svāmī considered that accepting the dress of a tridaṇḍi was parātma-niṣṭhā. Therefore, sincere devotees add another daṇḍa, the jīva-daṇḍa, to the three existing daṇḍas. The Vaiṣṇava sannyāsī is known as a tridaṇḍi sannyāsī. The māyāvādī sannyāsī accepts only one daṇḍa, not understanding the purpose of the tridaṇḍa.”

Sannyāsa Daṇḍa

Narasiṅgha Mahārāja: I am holding in my hands a tridaṇḍa, which is to be given to a Vaiṣṇava at the time of sannyāsa initiation. Tri in Sanskrit means three, and daṇḍa means stick or staff. Thus we have a tri-daṇḍa when three sticks are combined. In the purport of this verse it is said that Viṣṇu-svāmī added another daṇḍa to the already existing three daṇḍas making a total of four daṇḍas in the tridaṇḍa staff.

The first three daṇḍas represent kāya, mana, vākya or body, mind, and words. A sannyāsī must wholesale dedicate these three things to the service of the Lord. Whatever activity a sannyāsī performs with his body must be for the service of Kṛṣṇa. Similarly, whatever he thinks and whatever he speaks must be dedicated in the service of the Lord. Viṣṇu-svāmī thought, “parātmaniṣṭhā,” that one daṇḍa should be added to represent the surrender of the soul at the lotus feet of the Lord. Thus four daṇḍas now make up the staff of tridaṇḍi sannyāsī.

Later, many persons in the community of the Śiva Svāmī sampradāya gave up the ātma-niṣṭhā (devotional service) of the Lord and followed the path of Śaṅkarācārya. Instead of accepting 108 names, those in the Śiva Svāmī sampradāya followed the path of Śaṅkarācārya and accepted the ten names of sannyāsa. Although Śrī Caitanya Mahāprabhu accepted the then existing order of sannyāsa (namely eka-daṇḍa), He still recited a verse from Śrīmad-Bhāgavatam about the tridaṇḍa-sannyāsa accepted by the brāhmaṇa of Avantīpurā. Indirectly He declared that within that ekadaṇḍa, one daṇḍa, four daṇḍas existed as one. Accepting ekadaṇḍa sannyāsa without paratma-nistha (devotional service to Lord Kṛṣṇa) is not acceptable to Śrī Caitanya Mahāprabhu. In addition, according to the exact regulative principles, on should add the jiva-daṇḍa to the tridaṇḍa. These four daṇḍas, bound together as one, are symbolic of unalloyed devotional service to the Lord. Because the ekadaṇḍi-sannyāsīs of the māyāvādī school are not devoted to the service of Kṛṣṇa, they try to merge into the Brahman effulgence, which is a marginal position between material and spiritual existence. They accept this impersonal position as liberation. Māyāvādī sannyāsīs, not knowing that Śrī Caitanya Mahāprabhu as an ekadaṇḍi-sannyāsī. This is due to their vivarta, bewilderment. In Śrīmad-Bhāgavatam there is no such thing as an ekadaṇḍi-sannyāsī; indeed, the tridaṇḍi-sannyāsī is accepted as the symbolic representation of the sannyāsa order. By citing this verse from Śrīmad-Bhāgavatam, Śrī Caitanya Mahāprabhu accepted the sannyāsa order recommended in Śrīmad-Bhāgavatam. The māyāvādī sannyāsī, who are enamoured by the external energy of the Lord, cannot understand the mind of Śrī Caitanya Mahāprabhu.

Three in One

Narasiṅgha Mahārāja: It is mentioned in Caitanya-Caritāmṛta that Mahāprabhu received the ekadaṇḍa from Keśava Bhāratī at the time of his sannyāsa initiation. After traveling in the forest and along the river for some time, Mahāprabhu fell into an ecstatic trance of divine love. While in that ecstatic state, Lord Nityānanda Prabhu decided to break the ekadaṇḍa of Mahāprabhu into three pieces and threw them in the river. Nityānanda Prabhu broke the ekadaṇḍa of Mahāprabhu to show that there are three daṇḍas in the ekadaṇḍa and that Mahāprabhu is a Vaiṣṇava and not an impersonalist māyāvādī.

Nityānanda Prabhu did not like the idea that Mahāprabhu should have to carry a daṇḍa like an ordinary sannyāsī. After all, Mahāprabhu is the Supreme Personality of Godhead and He is not bound to follow any regulative principles, although He may do so for the benefit of all fallen conditioned souls.

When Mahāprabhu awoke from His ecstatic trance, He inquired about the whereabouts of His daṇḍa. Nityānanda Prabhu told Him that the daṇḍa had been broken when the Lord fell down in ecstatic trance and thus He had thrown it into the river. On hearing this news, Mahāprabhu externally showed some anger with Nityānanda Prabhu, but internally He was very pleased.

“To date, all the devotees of Śrī Caitanya Mahāprabhu, following in His footsteps, accept the sannyāsa order and keep the sacred thread and tuft of unshaved hair. The ekadaṇḍi-sannyāsīs of the Mayavadi school give up the sacred thread and do not keep any tuft of hair. Therefore, they are unable to understand the purport of tridaṇḍa-sannyāsa, and as such they are not inclined to dedicate their lives to the service of Mukunda. They simply think of merging into the existence of Brahman because of their disgust with material existence. They ācāryas who advocate the daiva-varṇāśrama (the social order of catur-varṇyam mentioned in Bhagavad-gītā) do not accept the proposition of asura-varṇāśrama, which maintains that the social order of varṇa is indicated by birth.

 The most intimate devotee of Śrī Caitanya Mahāprabhu, namely Gadādhara Paṇḍita, accepted tridaṇḍi-sannyāsa and also accepted Mādhava Upadhyāya as his tridaṇḍi-sannyāsī disciple. It is said that from this Mādhavācārya the sampradāya known in western India as the Vallabhācārya-sampradāya has begun. Śrīla Gopāla Bhaṭṭa Bose, who is known as a smṛti-ācārya in the Gauḍīya-Vaiṣṇava-sampradāya, later accepted the tridaṇḍa-sannyāsa order from Tridaṇḍipāda Prabodhānanda Sarasvatī. Although acceptance of tridaṇḍa-sannyāsa is not distinctly mentioned in the Gauḍīya Vaiṣṇava literature, the first verse of Śrīla Rūpa Gosvāmī’s Upadeśāmṛta advocates that one should accept the tridaṇḍa-sannyāsa order by controlling the six forces:

vāco vegaṁ manasaḥ krodha-vegaṁ
jihvā-vegam udaropastha-vegam
etān vegān yo viṣaheta dhīraḥ
sarvām apīmāḿ pṛthivīḿ sa śiṣyāt

“One who can control the forces of speech, mind, anger, belly, tongue, and genitals is known as a gosvāmī and is competent to accept disciple all over the world.”

The followers of Śrī Caitanya Mahāprabhu never accepted the māyāvādī order of sannyāsa, and for this they cannot be blamed. Śrī Caitanya Mahāprabhu accepted Śrīdhara Svāmī, who was a tridaṇḍi-sannyāsī, but the māyāvādī sannyāsīs, not understanding Śrīdhara Svāmī, sometimes thing that Śrīdhara Svāmī belonged to the māyāvāda eka-daṇḍa-sannyāsa community. Actually this was not the case.

Narasiṅgha Mahārāja: The verse, etāṁ sa āsthāya parātma-niṣṭhām, is chanted daily by the Vaiṣṇava sannyāsīs of Mahāprabhu. That verse has been accepted by the followers of Mahāprabhu as carrying the spirit of tridaṇḍi sannyāsa.

Purpose of Sannyāsa

Narasiṅgha Mahārāja: What is this sannyāsa? What is the meaning? What is the purpose? Here we have heard that the purpose of the sannyāsa of Mahāprabhu is distinct from the māyāvāda purpose. The māyāvāda purpose is to push oneself towards merging or moksha, becoming one with the Supreme Brahman; to finish, to annihilate the individual jīva. Mahāprabhu’s sannyāsa is distinct from that; it is to dedicate oneself at the lotus feet of Mukunda. It is not for mokṣa, but it is for Mukunda, the great Lord Śrī Kṛṣṇa. It can be said that dedication and devotion is the purpose of the sannyāsa order of life.