In Hinduism, sanniasi or sanniasin (‘renunciant’ in Sanskrit language) is the person of the upper castes who is in the fourth stage of his life, of renunciation of material life.
Sanniasin is a monk, a person who lives without possessions, practices meditation, and prayers according to his conception of God. The goal of sanniasin is liberation (moksha), which can consist of a continuous experience of samadhi or the removal of all ignorance and consists in remaining in the universal and ultimate reality, which is also one’s own true identity. .
The sanniasi strives to develop vairaguia (vai-rāgya: ‘without desires’). Renounce worldly thoughts and desires, and commit to carry the rest of life in spiritual contemplation.
Unlike the monks of the western world, whose lives are regulated by the rules of a monastery or abbey, the sanniasin is a solitary and a pilgrim (parivrayaka). The Hindu monasteries (matha) never have a large number of monks living under their roof. Monasteries exist mainly for educational purposes.
Ordination in any Hindu monastic order depends purely on the discretion of the individual guru (which could be for another sannyasin ordained within that order).
As we see, there is no significant difference between the sanniasi and the first bhikkhus that are described in the suttas. The Buddha himself began like this:
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MN 85. Bodhirajakhumara Sutta
«Prince, before my Enlightenment, when I was still a Bodhisatta not fully enlightened, this thought occurred to me: ‘Pleasure is not obtained through pleasure, pleasure is obtained through pain’.
«Later, when I was young, a man with black hair, endowed with the blessing of youth, in the first fruits of life, although my mother and father wanted something else and shed tears, I shaved my head and beard, I put myself the yellow habit and I left home to assume a homeless lifestyle.
«Having renounced, prince, in search of what is healthy, seeking the supreme state of sublime peace, I went to Alara Kalama and said: ‘Friend Kalama, I want to lead the holy life in this Dhamma-and-Discipline’ . Alara Kalama replied: ‘The venerable lord can stay here.
He shaves his head and beard, puts on the yellow habit, assumes the homeless lifestyle and goes in search of a guru.
It was what it was, it was the tradition and the way of proceeding in India of the 6th century BCE. It is nothing strange or revolutionary. And following the same rules, his order of bhikkhus was governed in the same frame, where the Buddha as his guru put the rules of coexistence and ordination. That is to say, the Sangha belonged to the class of renunciants.
It must be understood that, at that time, the people supported and maintained the renouncers, so that, if they behaved well and were not subject to scandal, they were assured of food, habits, medicines and some place to spend the night. . The people, in exchange for their generosity, received merits.
This merit is evident if the one you host or feed is a Noble. Your influence and your vision of Dhamma can be very beneficial to the host who can change your life with a simple talk. But it is not if you are a regular person dressed in yellow.
How to know?
If you are looking for the people to keep a large group of followers and in these there is everything: ordinary people, sotapannas, sakadagamis, anagamis and arahants the best thing is that they do not know it, or the arahant is going to overrun the food while the others will go hungry.
And the next thing is to establish a rule, the Patimokkha, very strict to prestige the order to the outside, but directed to contain the ordinary people so that they do not make excesses and, if they do, repress or expel them. The nobles, depending on the level, do not need any rule since their behavior is ethical in itself. The case is that, externally, it is very difficult to distinguish between nobles and ordinary people.
In this way it is possible for a large group of followers to have assured logistics and be able to dedicate themselves to learning, to meditate and to free themselves.
So far it is evident that the Buddha did well.
But, 2600 years later, anywhere in a huge world that is getting smaller and smaller … is the Monastic Order appropriate?
Attending to its evolution, which started badly from the moment in which the Buddha was absent since the first Council was schismatic, we see that the Order quickly cleared of Nobles. From the first stages, the Order evolves according to the interests of the local kings, being thus one more element of the real power that enlarges with Asoka and is extinguished with the Gupta dynasty.
A huge group of people who do not know how to meditate, whose practices are not correct and what they aspire to, in the best of cases it is to virtue, that is, to pretend to the people who maintain them an ethics that they do not have, that it comes out to them, that does not arise. This serves not only to live without working but, also, counting on the real favor of having a high social status, benefits and influence. That being the case, today it turns out that the Sangha in the countries that maintain it has become a kind of Social Security, serving both as unemployment insurance and retirement.
In the mouth of one of them, «if it goes wrong, you get a monk until you recover financially and return to the secular life.»
We are faced with a paradox: in the countries in which they continue to maintain the renunciants economically, the work of bhikkhu is so absorbing that it does not give them time to practice. In the rest, it is not feasible to mount an order that is maintained without financially dependent on the devout countries. And who you depend on depends on you.
The Westerners who have tried to practice correctly and have gone to Asian countries leads to accumulate courses and academic titles of no value and radical frustration. On the other hand, Westerners who enter monasteries in the West, are subject to the guidelines of those who maintain them because in the West they are not economically viable.
Sometimes what is sought by entering a monastic order is to isolate as much as possible from the world, reducing stress. What is neither good nor bad. Because stress is nullified through practice, not enclosed. And, as we saw in a previous chapter, locking yourself in without knowing how to practice jhānas can drive you crazy. And if you know how to practice jhānas, you can isolate yourself even in the middle of a storm. Therefore … an Order still does not apply.
It is still essential to occupy a good part of the time in the five right efforts, that is so. And if you are freed economically it is easier, it is a no-brainer.Dhamma takes time, really all the time. But precisely the practice of the Noble Eightfold Way requires doing it for several months hour by hour, minute by minute, and the greater the external stimuli that induce attachment or the more powerful aversion becomes in its eradication. I doubt very much that in just three months someone locked in a cave or isolated in a forest can eliminate suffering. When you get out of there and face the world, see how a reprogramming works in which real life was not programmed.
Currently, the optimum is to find a balance between normal work and meditative practice. Once advanced in it, normal life is the best arena to fight against attachment and aversion.