The word Sannyasa in Sanskrit means renunciation. A Sannyasi – a Swami, is one who received Sannyas Diksha and became part of the Holy Order of Sannyasis. Sannyasis carry the title of Swami, or, in the case of women, Swamini or Sadhvi. Swami literally means husband, master, owner. In this case, it means one who has mastered himself.
The term renunciation needs to be understood properly. In Sanskrit the word is tyaga, and is translated as abandonment, release, waiver, renunciation, separation, detachment. Through this process one does not feel pain, longing, or lacking of anything. This kind of renunciation brings endless happiness, as when a ripe fruit drops naturally from the tree, and nobody needs to rip it off forcibly.
Tyagi is a person renouncing out of a natural process of growth of consciousness; one who does not see anything appealing any more in the embrace of Maya (unreality, illusion). This means that for him there is no difference between the good times and the enjoyment or suffering and pain, in the sense that for him all this is one an the same Maya, the illusion. But there is more to it. Being a Tyagi also means renouncing everything, not just the current way of life, clothes and environment – but to renounce completely one's small ‘I’ as well, and to dissolve into the Divine.
Vairagya is derived from two words: vai – which means to dry, to dry up, and raga, which means colour, passion, feelings, interests, attachment. A person is a Vairagyi when all his wordly passion and attachment dries up, melts down.
Sannyasa and Religion
The closest and most frequently mentioned explanation of a sannyasi is that sannyasi is a Hindu monk, not a priest (pandit). Yet, this explanation is too simplistic and does not correspond to the whole truth, because in reality sannyasi does not belong to any religion, and at the same time he belongs to all of them. It is said that sannyasa begins where formal religion with all its limitations ends. For a sannyasi, all churches, temples, synagogues and mosques, traditions and rituals are equally close to him, and equally far. He is in search of a direct realization of the truth, attainable by following the instructions of his own Guru.
The Tradition of Sannyasa
The tradition of Sat Sanathan Dharma speaks about two types of life paths. The path of a family man – who works on his family Dharma by leading a family life filled with Sat Sanathan Dharma principles and spirituality. He is a pillar of the society he lives in. Likewise, sannyasa also means life in line with the Dharma, but in this case with the Sannyas Dharma. Sannyas Dharma is life led according to the principle of renunciation. Complete renunciation of the ways of life of a family man, and the duties and responsibilities of a family life, including the position in society, ambitions, wealth and family relations. Instead, a sannyasi dedicates all of his time to meditation, his yoga sadhana, life in the ashram, helping others, the search for God and the transmission of the light of spirituality to people leading a family life.
The tradition of sannyasa can be found in all of the world's traditions and societies. There is no culture that does not have sannyasis – people who have left the worldliness and devoted themselves entirely to a higher spiritual life, and helping others in their spiritual progress. Over time and in different places they got different names – saints, sages, mystics, ascetics, monks, hermits, philosophers...
The Lord Shiva himself is considered as the archetype of a sannyasi. He is known as Tyageshwar – the Lord of Sannyasis and Yogis – of those who renounce.
During his life, Adi Shankaracharya introduced reforms to the sannyasa and formed a system that is still observed in India today. He established ten orders (Desnami – ten names) of sannyasa. Although there are differences regarding rules of sannyasa from one order to the other, the essence and the meaning remained the same.
Dasanami Sampradaya, or Dasanami, literally means – a tradition of ten names. It is a monk tradition – Ekadand, or the tradition of those who have renounced worldly things and now wander the earth, wearing nothing but one staff – the stick of knowledge. This is the tradition of Advaita Vedanta, founded by Adi Shankaracharya. Everyone, regardless of gender, class, caste, age, can receive sannyasa in the ekadand order of the dashanami tradition.
The tradition of Ekadand was established in ancient times, but due to the deterioration caused by Buddhism, which is only a branch of Ekadand, Adi Shankaracharya established four mathas – pillars in the 8th century AD, that are the solid foundation upon which Sat Sanatan Dharma continued to exist to the present day.
One who is initiated in the sannyasa of the Ekadand tradition receives one of the ten names associated with the sampradaya – the tradition of their school.
Saraswati, Puri and Bharati are associated with Sringeri Sarada Peetha, an important Advaita Math located in Sringeri. It is claimed that this is the first of the four mathas founded by Adi Sankaracharya.
Tirtha and Ashrama are associated with Dwaraka Peetha or Dwaraka matha, located in the coastal city Dwaraka in Gujarat. It is a place of pilgrimage dedicated to Lord Krishna. It is also known as the Western Math and Kalika Math.
Ghiri, Parvat and Sagar are associated with Jyotir math – in the state of Uttaranchal.
Vana and Aranya are associated with Govardhan Math – the Eastern Math located in the city Puri in Orisa.
Almost all spiritual philosophies claim that first you have to die in order to be born again. The same applies to Sannyas Miksa – the initiation into sannyasa – where a devotee, after completing all of his life samskaras, symbolically receives a new life. In Hinduism there are 16 samskaras that every Hindu should observe, the last one being the funeral ceremony.
As usually happens when entering into a new life, during the ceremony of Sannyas Diksha a sannyasi gets a new name and the orange robes worn by all sannyasis. Only the initiated sannyasi can initiate someone into sannyasa, and the ritual, like all the 16 samskaras, is usually led by Pandits.
In the ritual fire, a sannyasi burns all his previous karmas and worldly attachments, becomes free from worldly life, and makes a commitment to live by the principles of Sannyas Dharma. A spiritual teacher, Guru, knows when it's time for a disciple to become a sannyasi, just like a farmer who knows when is the right time to pluck the fruit from the tree. Only when vairagya has become completely mature in a devotee, and he is no longer attracted by worldliness, he is ready for the Sannyas Diksha.
The orange robes that sannyasis wear are the symbol of fire and purification. At the same time, the same fire will burn the sannyasi himself, if he gets off track and does not respect Sannyas Dharma. So the path of sannyasa is the highest and the most beautiful one, but at the same time both very demanding and challenging.
During Sannyas Diksha, the future sannyasi takes vows, among which are the vow to renounce the ego, worldly treasures, and the vow of simplicity. The second is the vow of obedience, where a devotee gives promise to follow the tradition of Sannyas Dharma and Guruvakya – the Word of the Guru, and accepts obedience to his Parampara – the spiritual lineage to which he belongs. The third is the vow of chastity, purity of mind, feelings, actions and words. This part relates to ahimsa – non-hurting, the basic principle of Hinduism.
By receiving a new life from their respective Gurus, swamis and sannyasis do not belong to anybody anymore, because all connections to the worldly life have ceased to exist. Yet, by renouncing the specific connections, he starts to belong to everyone, i.e. to the whole world. Then their task is to spread the Divine word and serve humanity.
The altar is a place where God "lives". The altar and the objects on it are the place where we can physically express our worship, prayers and devotion to the Almighty, the universal truth. It is also the central place of every temple, ashram, and disciple’s home. Our understanding of God will determine what images and objects the altar will have.
The altar is one of the places where puja is performed. Puja is the act by which we worship the Lord through the chanting of mantras, the singing of prayers and the performance of certain rituals. For a bhakta, puja is a direct relationship with God and Guru. There are many forms and types of puja, but they all have one thing in common – the act of worshipping the Almighty in one of His aspects. One of the most common pujas is the Guru Puja, which is not determined by strict cermonial rules.
On a Hindu altar, the following items may be found:
It is important to note that there are no strict rules in this regard, and every altar does not necessarily contain all of the following.
Images and pictures – On the altar there are usually images of saints and deities. The devotees, bhaktas, have on their altars a picture of their Guru, and of their lineage of enlightened teachers – Guru parampara, to which they belong.
Trident – a weapon and one of the symbols of Lord Shiva. The three prongs symbolize the three Divine Shaktis (powers). Iccha shakti – will power, Kriya Shakti – the power of action and Gyan Shakti – the power of wisdom. They also represent the three main nadis – ida, pingala and sushumna.
Oil lamp – The oil lamp is the only thing required on every altar. The light symbolizes knowledge, and darkness represents ignorance. The light dispels darkness as knowledge dispels ignorance, without any effort, only by its mere presence. The Lord is the principle of knowledge, Chaitanya, consciousness, intelligence, which is the source of all knowledge. The hand of the one who lights an oil lamp is respected as the Lord himself. The knowledge is a permanent inner wealth through which everything is achieved. Therefore, we light the oil lamp as a symbol of the greatest respect towards knowledge, the largest of all wealth. The oil lamp, the pot, is considered a feminine principle, whereas the flame is a male principle. A lighted oil lamp is a union of these two principles, the symbol of enlightenment. A Guru transmits the light from the flame of self-realisation to his devotees, who are the unlit lamps.
Agarbathi (incense sticks) – Scents are "food" for Gods and Raksasas (demons) alike. Pleasant aromas call for good energy, while the smell of blood and alcohol evoke the presence of rakshasas. Scents purify and change the energy of the environment.
The bell (Ghanta) – Ghanta is used in pujas for invoking Gods. The bell’s ringing produces a special sound that represents respect and salutation. It is the sound of Om – the universal name of God. Together with the scents, this favourable sound purifies the environment and our interior. The sound of the bell eliminates any adverse noise or noise that irritates and that could interfere with puja and divine atmosphere and inner peace. The prayer or any type of service is incomplete without the sound of the bell.
Camphor (karpuras) – Karpuras has a unique place in Hindu rituals and traditional puja. It is clean, white, and when burning, it gives a certain colour to the flame. It burns completely without leaving any residue. The lighting of camphor in front of God symbolises the burning of illusions, of the ego; with the fire of true knowledge. Like this we merge with God, leaving no "residue".
Rice – Akshat means unbroken rice grain without the husk. This is offered for one's welfare. It also symbolises strength and the endurance of the brain, and is a symbol of peace. The grain of rice without the husk is a seed that cannot germinate, and symbolically it represents the last birth, the exit from the cycle of rebirth and death through enlightenment. By offering such rice grains in puja we confirm our aspirations towards living a lifestyle that enables us to achieve enlightenment.
Shell – In Vedas it is written: Nada rupa Parabrahma – the form of the Supreme is sound. With its sound, sankha (the shell) symbolises the purity and the beginning. It purifies the environment from all that is bad, from negative energy and disease. The sound and the vibration of the shell represent the sound of Om. The creation of sound by blowing into a shell symbolizes blessing for an auspicious start and end. When we press the shell against our ear, we will hear the sound of Om without any of our effort and action. Likewise, the sound of Om made the creation emerge from the total motionlessness of the sunyakasha (the dormant potential energy, emptiness, latent possibility). The creation started in the way that the divine consciousness manifested itself through the first sound, the sound of Om. In the sound of Om the divine shakti is united in its three elements – Brahma, Vishnu and Shiva.
Prasad – Prasad is also one of the things offered on the altar. It is our offering to the Lord. Usually it is of sweet taste, it can be fruit, nuts, crystallized sugar or different desserts. After being offered to God through prayer and mantras, the food becomes prasad. Likewise, every meal becomes prasad if we prepare it with love, offer it first to God on the altar with prayer, and then share it with others. Such food is nectar and medicine for everyone.
On the altar one can also find Shiva Lingam (representing Shiva, pure consciousness, Purusha), statues or images of Ganesh, Lakshmi, Saraswati.... Flowers are also an essential part of the altar, and besides offering good scent, the flower malas and flower petals decorate pictures of saints and symbolise our love and devotion.
OM is the original sound from which everything was created, the essence of the whole Universe, the Absolute. It is comprised of three sounds: A-U-M, representing the past, the present and the future, and the three divine principles – Brahma, Vishnu and Shiva.
Nyaya-Sastra was founded by Gautama Rishi. He wrote 521 Sutras. These Sutras are divided into 5 parts with 10 chapters and 80 sub-chapters. Many authors wrote commentaries on his teachings, interperated his ideas and added new ones. Nyaya literally means Logic. It is applied as a logical method itself, not only to describe a system structured according to the rules of logic.
The teaching of Nyaya states that the suffering of human existence is caused by the cycle of death and rebirth. Re-birth occurs as a result of actions or deeds performed in previous lives. The cause for action lies in having both the desire for pleasant experiences and in the wish to avoid unpleasant ones. Wishes and aversions originate out of ignorance of the true nature of the human Soul, and its relationship to the body, as well as the other objects of creation.
True knowledge about the existence of the Soul as being non-different from the rest of creation dispels ignorance. The elimination of ignorance changes desire and aversion into happiness (Ananda) and grants freedom from Karma. In this way, knowledge leads to the end of rebirth and suffering of human existence.
Knowledge can be acquired through true sources of perception:
d) TEACHINGS FROM THE MASTER
Detailed explanation of the rules of inductive and deductive logic follow, along with the cause and results. TWELVE OBJECTS OF PERCEPTION ARE:
- The Soul, different from human mind and body and all other created objects.
- The intellect or Buddhi, an attribute of the Soul not of the mind.
- The five sense organs of perception: seeing, hearing, feeling smelling and tasting.
- The five objects of the senses: ether, air, fire, water and earth.
- The five skills of contact of each sense organ with objects of the senses:
- hearing Ether with the ears
- touch of Air on the skin
- seeing Fire with the eyes
- tasting Water with the tongue
- smelling the Earth with the nose
- The human body consists of five objects of the senses: Earth, Water, Fire, Air, Ether.
- Karma or deeds.
- Positive or negative results of actions.
- Wish and rejection (Raga and Dvesa).
This system of Indian philosophy acknowledges the existance of God as Creator of the Universe. The Universe must have a creator like any other object. The principle theme is Realisation of the true nature of the human Soul (Atma). God or Paramatma is different from the body and other created things and is considered omnipresent and all pervading. This principle describes a detailed atom theory of Matter.
VAISHESHIKA - SHASTRA
Founded by Kanada Rishi. He wrote 100 Sutras divided into 10 parts with 20 chapters. Many comments and interpretations followed. His original ideas were broadened with the addition of more Sutras. The name Vaisheshika has its origin in the word Visesh = difference. It means the different parts into which the human Soul and objects can be divided.
The aim of this philosophy is like that of the Nyaya Shastra. Salvation from suffering comes through Liberation of rebirth, wishes and ignorance.
This school also acknowledges the existence of God or of the supreme Soul, which permeates the whole Universe. The focus on the teachings of this system is on Realisation of the true nature of the Soul as different from all creation.
Kanada does not deal as much with logical explanations as Gautama, he tries to interpret things more from the scientific point of view. He says that time, space and Soul are external. Through concentration of the mind on the Soul, it is possible to attain liberation, all kinds of supernatural powers and knowledge of Reality, as well as knowledge of worldly matters and events.
SANKHYA - SASTRA
Its founder is Kapila Acharya, but his original works were lost. The word “Sankhya” means a number (cipher). This philosophy treats 25 elements. According to this system, Knowledge of the 25 elements of the Universe is essential in order to overcome the suffering of our existence and the difference between two these elements: PURUSHA (or Soul), and PRAKRITI (or nature). The Sankhya way of thought is:
When we are capable of analysing the elements of which the whole Universe consists, we come to the conslusion that our true Self is fundamentally different from the rest of the world, inclusive of body and mind. When we observe the natural laws of nature in the whole Universe we automatically become indifferent to physical and mental suffering, which are the cause of problems in human existence. According to Sankhya there are two external realities:
- Soul, or PURUSHA, the conscious external all pervading observer of the Universe,
- Nature, or PRAKRITI, the cause of creation.
There are three GUNAS (qualities) existent in the whole of nature:
- SATTVA representing purity, nature, harmony, rhythm and all that is good,
- RAJAS symbolising wishes, greediness, egoism and egocentrism,
- TAMAS meaning ignorance, stupidity, darkness and laziness.
All is attributed to these three forces of nature. They are in a state of balance prior to creation. First, the five elements, and then all sentient and insentient beings develop from these forces, through the union of PURUSHA (Soul) with three GUNAS (qualities). PRAKRITI - nature, in its unmanifest state, is in perfect balance with these three Gunas. Creation means the transformation of nature, PRAKRITI, through the process of evolution from the unmanifest into the manifest state. Development occurs step by step, from the subtle to the more gross matter. The dissolution of the Universe occurs in the opposite direction - coarse matter becomes more and more fine. The first to originate was the most subtle and finest of all matter. This fact explains the superiority of the SATTVA GUNA. The first created objects are called MAHAT which is the transition between unmanifest nature and the manifested world. It is called BUDDHI, or the „reason‟ behind creation. The original reason is not indivdual, rather Universal. Creation developed from MAHAT - the Universal reason behind AHAMKARA - the ego or divided individual being. PRAKRITI was transformed into MAHAT and MAHAT into AHAMKARA. Then came the mind and the five elements. They manifested according to the sequence of manifestation from the finest element (Ether) to the coarsest, (Earth). PRAKRITI is non-manifest. MAHAT is half manifested, the five elements and the creation are manifested. AHAMKARA, mind and senses, are manifested but not physically material like all the other objects of the Universe.
According to this philosophical system PRAKRITI, nature, is the cause of creation and PURUSHA, the Soul, is only the observer of this process. Purusha participates in creation only via the connection with nature (PRAKRITI), which contains all living beings and matter.
The twenty-five elements of the SANKHYA philosophy are:
- PURUSHA – Soul, all-pervading
- PRAKRITI – Nature
- MAHAT – Universal intelligence
- AHAMKARA – Ego, individual existence, self-consciousness
- INDRIYAS – Senses of perception and of action. The 11 INDRIYAS are:
- MANAS – Central sense organ or the Mind. MANAS directs INDRIYAS – the organs of sense through the sense subconscious.
- The five senses of perception (Jnana Indriyas):
1. eyes – Caksu – seeing
2. ears – Srotra – hearing
3. skin – Tvak – feeling
4. nose – Ghrana – smelling
5. tongue – Jihva – tasting
- Five senses of action (Karma Indriyas):
1. mouth – Vani – speech
2. hands – Pani – action
3. feet – Pad – locomotion
4. reproductive organs – Upastha – procreation
5. Excretion organs – Guda – elimination
- The five MAHA-BHUTAS (perceivable elements) have the quality of Tamas:
- Akasha – Ether
- Vaju – Air
- Tejas – Fire
- Apas – Water
- Prithvi – Earth
The five Bhutas combined with the five Jnana-Indriyas result in 25 apparent forms of distinctly separate forms in the Universe.
- The five TANMANTRAS (subtle elements) are the types of perception of objects and matter through the organs of sense. They have the quality of Sattva:
- Sabda – Sound of ether through ears
- Sparsa – Touch of air on the skin
- Rupa – Sight of fire through the eyes
- Rasa – Taste of water through the tongue
- Gandha – Smell of earth through the nose
PURUSHA, PRAKRITI, MAHAT, AHAMKARA, 11 INDRIYAS, 5 BHUTAS and 5 TANMANTRAS form 25 elements of this philosophical system. PURUSHA is lively, conscious, eternal, endless, unchangeable, the observer and enjoyer of creation. Without being its creator PURUSHA stands above the three GUNAS: Sattva, Rajas and Tamas. PRAKRITI is eternal and limitless, it contains matter and living entities as well, it creates the Universe via its association with PURUSHA.
The human body consists of 2 sheaths (covers):
- The subtle body, consisting of MAHAT, AHAMKARA, 11 INDRIYAS and 5 TANMATRAS.
- The gross body, consisting of 5 BHUTAS – earth, water, fire, air and ether.
The subtle body does not die, and like the Soul, it too goes together with the ATMA to another body. Only the material (gross) body dies, ie. it dissolves again into the 5 elements which were its origin.
A very important aspect in the system of SANKHYA philosophy, are the three GUNAS. A perfect balance between the GUNAS exists prior to creation in PRAKRITI. After creation these qualities or forces express themselves in various combinations in man. Numerous characteristics arise according to the connection of the three qualities. If SATTVA predominates, we speak about a good character. If TAMAS predominates, the result is a bad character. The quality of the consciousness of each individual being depends on how the qualities of the three Gunas has combined.
YOGA-SHASTRA of PATANJALI
This system was founded by Rishi PATANJALI. He wrote 195 Sutras, divided into 4 parts. Like the Sankhya school of thought, he wrote about the 25 elements, plus an additional one – God. PATANJALI recognised the necessity to know these 25 elements, but went even further. According to his teaching, the detachment of the Soul from nature (which is necessary in order to allow freedom from suffering), is possible. It is possible to reach this goal through the practise of Yoga techniques such as concentration and meditation, as described in detail in his Sutras. PATANJALI analyses and explores various states of the mind according to which guna is most predominant:
- good or SATTVIC
- mixed or RAJASIC
- bad or TAMASIC
These three gunas exist in every individual being. He describes techniques to achieve one pointed concentration and peace of mind. He speaks about obstructions on the path. He writes about the gradual progress of spiritual development and of his efforts on the path of Self-Realisation. PATANJALI defines YOGA as a technique to control the activity of the mind. He teaches that it is impossible to quieten the mind until the mind and its activities are thoroughly brought under control. This state is necessary for salvation. To reach this control of mind there are many obstacles like illness, pride, loss of enthusiasm, inability to concentrate, ingnorance, greediness, depression etc. The followers of his teaching should practise concentration and meditation daily, in divine virtue, to reach the desired aim. Patanjali names two very effective “weapons” to overcome obstacles on the path: ABHYAS or continual practise of concentration without paying attention to difficulties, and VAIRAGYA, the unceasing practise of equanimity towards the fruits of actions and unceasing endeavour despite repeated misfortune. PATANJALI describes and instructs exactly how to reach control of the mind by regulation and final cessation of breath. He provides rules and regulations on how to live one's life, guidelines on the correct meditation position, on techniques of breath control, and on various objects of concentration eg. God, the Anahat Chakra, Ajna Chakra or the Sahasrar Chakra.
He describes the experiences and effects of the concentration and meditation exercises. PATANJALI speaks about numerous supernatural powers attained through the practise of concentration and meditation, such as the knowledge of the past, present and future, reading of thoughts, control of hunger and thirst, realisation of one's true Self etc. Till finally, liberation of the Atma occurs. PANTANJALI warns of paying too much attention to these supernatural or psychic powers. Egoistic application of these powers hinders liberation (which is the only aim) of a true BHAKTA (devotee).
PATANJALI describes the state of consciosness reached through concentration and meditation as follows:
- a quiet mind – through concentration on a certain object, or
- on the highest level, the mind partially stops its activities and is completely under control.
Rishi JAIMINI wrote over 1,000 Sutras divided into 12 chapters. According to his philosophy, the only possibility to overcome suffering is to correctly practise the ceremonies as described in the VEDAS. For him the VEDAS represent an unchangeable truth and authority. The practise of VEDIC ceremonies without desire for result leads to liberation from rebirth. Therefore this philosophical system interprets the rules of ceremonies and explains their exact practise. As in the Nyaya Shastra, it explains the sources of true knowledge, ie. observation, hearing from others, conclusion of analogies, and the teachings of Sages. As in Vaisheshika Shastra, there are texts about the various types and qualities of matter and objects – their functions, similarities and differences. His work speaks, like previous ones, about body, mind, Soul, elements and the senses. A special value is attributed to sound. The unerring reality of sound, represented by the words of the Vedas, is the basis of his philosophical system. This school acknowledges laws of KARMA and rebirth however, God is not mentioned here like in Sankhya. Liberation is anticipated as a result of faithful performance of the ceremonies from the VEDAS. These ceremonies should be performed with perfect awareness of duty and without desire for the fruits of them. Here Liberation means a perfect, conscious happiness through Realisation of the true Self.
Veda = the Vedas; Anta = end.
Vedanta has two meanings:
- Knowledge transcending the Vedas (stretching beyond the Vedas)
- The essence of the Vedas.
Vedanta means the end, completion or perfection of knowledge.
The philosophical school was grounded by VED-VYAS. He wrote 555 Sutras diveded into 4 chapters. There is only one possibility for humans to be liberated from the suffering of existence which, according to his teachings, is true knowledge about God, man, the Universe etc. as stated in the VEDAS and UPANISHADS.
The VEDANTA school is divided into three parts according to how they regard the relationship between God and the Universe:
- Absolute Monism or Advaita
- Relative Monism or Vishista Advaita
- Dualism or Dvaita
or the absolute monism acknowledges God as the only reality in the cosmos and considers the whole creation (all that is created) as unreal. There exists nothing else but one endless BRAHMAN. Creation appears to us as real due to our ignorance and this error becomes immediately obvious to us once ignorance is dispelled. SHANKARACHARYA who lived in the 8th century after Christ, was one of the most significant representatives of this philosophy. He put down the essence of VEDANTA philosphy in his work the “Viveka Chudamani” - the Jewel of Discrimination.
or relative monism, accepts God as a valid reality but acknowledges two other principles as reality: mind and nature (although it considers them as two aspects of the one). RAMANUJA from the 13th century, was the most significant representative of this system.
or dualism, postulates a separation between God and the Universe. This school teaches that the human Soul, however near it may come to God, can never unite with him. Mind and nature are two realities separate from God. MADHURA-ACHARYA from the 14th century, was a great philosopher of this school.
The Scriptures of ADVAITA are characterised by a brilliant logic and adhering proof. The relative monism is a kind of compromise between ideal logic and limited human knowledge. The dualistic school is an expression of devotion to God. Despite existing differences, all three schools hold to the basic teaching of the VEDAS and UPANISHADS.
The Vedanta philosophy is the last and the most common of the six philosophical systems in India. VYAS rejected the teaching of Sankhya that creation happens through PRAKRITI (nature) and its connection with PURUSHA (Soul). With reference to the VEDAS and UPANISHADS he explains that the Universe was created by God and directly from him with help of His divine MAYA.
Many philosophers wrote commentaries and interpretations on Vedanta. The most significant is that from SHANKARACHARYA. Shankaracharya adopted the theory of absolute monism – ADVAITA. For him there is only one reality – God. The Universe and the whole of creation are unreal. They only appear to be real through the power of divine Maya or Illusion. The creation of the world by God and from Him, may be compared to that analogy of the spider's web. Within its own body the spider produces the substance for the web. Ignorance causes our error when we think the Universe is real. It is similar to the situation when somebody looks at a rope on the ground and sees it as a snake, or sees a mirror as water.
Knowledge or the perception of God uniting with creation, can be reached through the following three techniques:
- Studying or hearing the Holy Scriptures
- Meditation on the truth in these works
- Samadhi or Spiritual Union. In this state, the Truth is consciously experienced and realised.
Vedanta gives exact instruction about purification of the mind which makes possible Realisaton of the supreme Truth, God and the Universe. Following these instructions leads to Liberation.
The meeting all of our senses, mind, consciousness, Atma and Jiva: that is Kumbha Mela. TheVessel (Kumbh) is our body. There is a constant battle inside of us between the Devas (divine qualities) and asuras (demonic qualities): what will prevail depends on us.
Paramhans Swami Maheshwaranada,
Zagreb, 22 June 2010, lecture about “Kumbha Mela”
Kumbha Mela is a mass pilgrimage on which millions of people participate. It takes place every 12 years, alternating in four different locations: Prajag (Illahabad), where the rivers Ganga, Yamuna and Saraswati conjoin, Haridwar on the Ganges river, Ujjain on Kshipra river and Nasik on the river Godavari. Ardh Kumbh Mela takes place every six years in Haridwar and Prayag, whereas Poorna (complete) Kumbh Mela is always held in Prayag every 12 years. Maha Kumbh Mela (the Great Kumbh Mela) comes after every 12 Poorna Kumbh Melas (every 144 years) and is held also in Prayag (the last Maha Kumbh Mela was in 2001, it saw the participation of about 60 million people, making it the largest gathering of people in the world).
The origin of the name Kumbha Mela
According to the ancient texts – the Puranas; devas and asuras (gods and demons) were churning the ocean to take out amrit (the nectar of immortality). After nearly destroying the world, they got the bowl of nectar, but then a terrible fight began about who would get the nectar. During that fight, Jayanta, the son of Indra, took kumbha amrita (the word kumbha means the vessel) and from it four drops fell to earth, in Prayag, Ujjain, Nasik and Haridwat. In search for this “nectar of immortality” (self-realisation and liberation), spiritual seekers visit these four places on which, at specific constellations, Melas are held (mela means gathering).
Ritual bathing and gathering of saints
Bathing in holy rivers during the Kumbha Mela is considered a very important part of the spiritual life of every person, because it brings the purity of body and soul, and leads to liberation. All sins are surrendered to Mother Ganga, who will purify them, and as a gift she is offered good deeds and prayers.
Kumbh Melas are occasions where saints and enlightened masters have gathered for thousands of years. It is a unique opportunity to see in one place and at the same time many Mahatmas, Paramhansas, enlightened teachers, sadhus etc. It is said that every grain of sand on the Kumbha Mela carries immense blessings, because it was touched by the feet of the saints, and that the air that is being inhaled also carries blessings, because the wind brought it from the body of a saint. These are places where legends and stories do not feel distant and unattainable anymore, but become a part of everyday life, and traditions and religion merge into one, becoming that from which they emerged – Sat Sanatan Dharma.
For spiritual seekers, Kumbha Mela is the moment when the spiritual life gets another dimension – that of happiness and fulfilment, thus giving an incentive to continue their journey towards the goal which is Atma Gyana.
According to Hindu mythology, Haridwar is one of the seven holiest places, because it is believed that the gods in Haridwar left traces of their feet. Called also by the names of Mayapur, Gangadwar and Mokshadwar in ancient writings, Haridwar remains the most important place of pilgrimage for Hindus.
Haridwar lies at the foot of the Himalayan area Shivalik, and a legend says that Lord Shiva sent the Ganges to quench the thirst of people by spinning Her out of his bundled hair (bun). This is how she descended to the fields of Haridwar. From here Ganga continues towards east and south through Illahabad (Prayag), Varanasi, Patna and Calcutta all the way to the Ganga Sagar, where it merges with the ocean.
Throughout the entire year devotees and believers from around the world come to Haridwar for pilgrimage, performing pujas, prayers and ritual bathing. However what Haridwar is most known for are the Kumbh and Ardh Kumbh Mela, which are held every 12 years of the solar cycle. At that point in time millions of devotees and visitors dive into the most sacred river in India to achieve liberation. One of the most beautiful scenes during Kumbh Mela in Haridwar is the singing of Aarti (prayer) at Har ki Pauri ghat (ghats are the entrances/walkways/steps to the Ganges) with hundreds of participants and oil lamps floating down the Ganges.
The original name of this town is Prayag, and even today it is called this by most of the Hindus. Prayag means a sacred place of connection of two or more rivers, an estuary. In Illahabad, all three sacred rivers of India merge together – Ganges, Yamuna and Saraswati and this is considered to be the most sacred of all estuaries in India. Prayag is the second oldest city in India, and is also called Thirti Raj (the king of all places of pilgrimage).
The place where all three rivers meet is called Sangham (the unification) and it is the central point of pilgrimage. During Kumbha Mela, millions of people gather at the Sangham, which becomes a small city within a city. It is believed that the Ashram of a great saint – Bharadvaya, which hosted Lord Rama, Sita and Lakshmana during their exile, was located at Sangham.
Adi Shankar and his four disciples
Adi Shankar had four main disciples called Padampad, Hastamalak, Sureshwar and Trotak. He founded 4 peeths (a peeth literally means chair, here it has the meaning of lineage): Jyotir Math (math is a monastic order, a monastery) in the north, Shringeri Math in the south, Govardhan Math at Jagannath Puri in the east and Sarada Math in the west, and each of his four disciples were set as the leader of one of the maths.
The disciples of Hastamalak (Govardhan Math from Jagannath Puri) have "Van" and "Aranya" written after their names. The students of Sureshwar (Jyotir Math, Badri Math) have added to their names "Giri", "Parvat" and "Sagar", and disciples of Trotak (Shringeri Math) write "Puri", "Bharthi" and "Saraswati" behind their names. In this way all sannyasis took one of these surnames, which gave rise to the institution Dasnami (the 10 names) among the sannyasis.
The Dasnami monks are divided into two categories, those who hold the scriptures – Shastradharis and those who hold weapons – Astradharis.
History of the Origin of Akharas
Sanatan Dharma and the Young Sadhus
During the invasion of Mahmud Gazuri, Mohammad Ghori and Taimur, thousands of Hindu temples were razed to the ground, and millions of Hindus were killed. Things were no better even when the Muslims ruled India.
Realising the dangers of oppression and persecution of the followers of Sanatan Dharma by the fanatics and aggressors of other religions, Adi Shankara realized that spiritual power alone is not enough. He wanted younger sadhus to gain muscle strength through physical exercises, and to gain proficiency in the use of weapons. The maths where they practised such skills have become known as "akharas" (literally: a wrestling place).
Adi Shankara advised akharas to resist by force, if necessary, the persecution of Hindus and desecration of their sanctuaries. During the Muslim invasion and the Muslim rule, these akharas were the barrier against attacks on Hindu people, their shrines and institutions. Many times armed members of the akharas bravely resisted the persecution of Hindus and desecration of temples. Rulers often sought the help of the Naga soldiers in their wars. They famously fought many battles and a huge power of akharas reached up to 40,000 people. After India's independence, akharas lost their military character, and their saints strongly dedicated themselves to preaching and propagating the eternal values of the ancient Indian culture and philosophy.
There are 13 akharas in Haridwar and each of them, under the guidance of highly revered saints, has numerous Mahamandaleshwars. Most of them have their own ashrams and disciples even outside Haridwar.
Atal Akhara, the oldest one, was established in 646 in Gondvana. That akhara was revitalized in 1704, and its headquarters is in Patan, though there is an ashram in Kankhal as well. The current head of the akhara is Acharya Sri Mahamandaleshwar Mangalanand Giri.
Maha Nirvani Akhara is an offspring of Atal Akhara. After being denied the Gajanandaji's Prashad (blessed food), the seven sadhus of Atal Akhara went away and started doing tapasya (austerities) at Gangasagar. They had darshan (divine appearance) of Kapil Muni and with his blessings they found this akhara in the year 748 near Neel Dhara in Haridwar. In 1260, 22,000 naga saints under the leadership of their spirited leader Mahanta Bhavanand Giri, liberated Kankhal of Muslim invaders. The present akhara is at the exact place where they set up their first flag. This akhara owns the Daksheswar temple, and its present head is Acharya Sri Mahamandaleshwar Vishwadevanand.
Avahan Akhara was founded in 646 and reorganised in 1603. The headquarters of this akhara is Dasamegh Ghat in Varanasi (Benares). It also has an ashram in Rishikesh. Famous warriors from this akhara were Swami Anupgiri and Umrao Giri. The present acharya is Sri Swami Mahamandaleshwar Shivendra Puri.
Anand Akhara was founded in Berar (in Madhya Pradesh state) in 855, and its main centre is in Varanasi, though it has ashrams also in Haridwar. Its acharya is Mahamandaleshwar Devanand Saraswati.
Niranjani Akhara was founded in Mandva (Gujarat) in 903. Its main center is Daranganj, Allahabad. They have a beautiful ashram at Dam Kothi in Haridwar. Mansadevi and Vilvakesar temples of Haridwar belong to this akhara. The present acharya is Sri Mahamandaleshwar Punyanand Giri.
Juna Akhara is also called Bhairav Akhara. It was established in 1145 AD in Karan Prayag, Uttarkhand. Its main centre is Mara Hanuman Ghat in Varanasi, and its ashram in Haridwar is near the Mayadevi temple. Its acharya is Sri Mahamandaleshwar Lokeshanand Giri.
Agni Akhara was founded in 1136 AD and its acharya is Sri Mahamandaleshwar Swami Prakashanand Maharaj.
The above 7 akharas originate from the naga saints. In addition, there are two akharas of Udasin Sampradaya – Bara Udasin Akhara and Udasin Naya Akhara, one Nirmal Akhara and three Vaishnava Bhairagi Sampradaya akharas – Digambar Ani Akhara, Panch Ani Akhara and Nirmohi Ani
On the occasion of Shahi Snan (royal bath) of Maha Kumbha Mela mahamandaleshwars, mahants, acharyas and the heads of all the 13 akharas participate in the beautifully decorated procession to the place of bathing.
The Initiation into Mahamandaleshwar
in Allahabad During the Kumbh Mela 2013
On Wednesday 13th February 2013 in Priyag Raj (Allahabad) in India, where more than 140 million people bathed at the intersection of the three holy rivers – Ganges, Yamuna and Saraswati, two Croats became mahamandaleshwars.
At the Kumbha Mela, through this highest initiation into mahamandaleshwars, the leaders of the Hindu monasteries expressed a great, and for a foreigner, extremely rare honour to these two Croats.
This title is equivalent to the title of archbishop in Christianity. The new mahamandaleshwars are Mahamandaleshwar Gyaneshwar Swami Puri and Mahamandaleshwar Swami Vivek Puri who studied Indian mythology, history, spirituality and Sanskrit language. Mahamandaleshwar Swami Vivek Puri is also the president of the Hindu religious community of Croatia.
A Spiritual Place
According to the Vedic tradition and the teachings of the Vedas, one definition of the word ‘ashram’ (a – welcome, shram – to work) is a place where you are welcome to do something for others and for yourself. In this way ashram is a place where you work on yourself in a spiritual sense.
It is a place of spiritual activity through daily practice of yoga, equally in all its forms: the practice of karma yoga, bhakti yoga, gyan yoga and raja yoga. Ashram is a place where you will find refuge without any discrimination and where you are always welcome. Anashram is a refuge. The purpose of life in the ashram is the same as the meaning of yoga- enlightenment and moksha.
The ashram is usually populated with sannyasis and aspirants who have the desire and ability to fully devote a period of their life to spirituality. One of the major purposes of an ashram is to offer a place of spiritual gathering for people who lead a worldly life. We can safely say that ashrams are lighthouses and harbors on the stormy sea of samsara.
In the ashram, during satsangs, spiritual strength is renewed so that one can stay focused on Sat Sanatan Dharma and God during their everyday life, and more easily recognise and avoid the pitfalls of maya – worldliness.
Besides the regular satsangs and organised yogic activities for the community, ashrams often have Gurukuls (schools where students live and where, besides learning worldly knowledge, they also practice spiritual skills) and Gosalas (a place for old and sick animals to be taken care of).
Ashrams have always been, and continue to be, the main gathering point for communities living in surrounding areas. A place of safety, a place where students and locals came to their teacher – Guru,for a darshan and advice; places where they could get any kind of help and spiritual guidance for their life.
The Four Stages of Life
The term ashram also means the four periods of life in accordance with the Sanatan Dharma:
- Brahmacharya Ashram (Birth – 25 years of age) is the time of discipleship and celibacy, when we dedicate ourselves to learning, spiritual disciplines and secular knowledge.
- Grahasta Ashram (25 – 50 years of age) is the time for creating family and for domestic life. It is a time when spiritual activities are conducted together with the worldly life and through helping others.
- Vanaprastha Ashram (50 – 75 years of age) is the time when we devote ourselves more to spirituality, and serve the community and environment as a role model, advisor and transmitter of tradition and culture to younger generations.
- Sannyasa Ashram (75 onwards) is the time for a full withdrawal from the world, when all worldly duties and positions cease to exist. (Sannyasa can be chosen as a way of life at any time.)
Code of Conduct in the Ashram
The Ashram is a place of spirituality, peace and inner joy. It is also a place of spiritual work – internal and external alike. Therefore, one should cultivate and maintain the atmosphere of holiness, harmony, understanding, unity, selflessness and service. An ashram is not a suitable place for conversations or activities contrary to the spiritual principles and ahimsa (comprehensive nonviolence).
The ashram of every spiritual school has its own special code of conduct, but here are some general rules that are respected in all places: In an ashram it is not advisable to talk about mundane subjects, politics, and the like. It is advised to avoid irresponsible behavior, criticism, gossiping, arrival in unsuitable clothing or arrival at inappropriate times (during meditation, prayer, other programs and night rest). The clothes in which you come to the ashram should encourage a spiritual atmosphere and be clean. Some schools have their own "uniforms" that need to be understood in the same way kimonos are used in martial arts – it is the clothing through which you show respect to the ashram, to your school, your teacher, and, at the end, to yourself and everyone around you.
Satsang literally means "encounter with the truth". In Sanskrit sat means the truth, and sanga means company. Satsang represents the meeting with the highest truth and with an enlightened Guru. Satsang is one of the nine parts of bhakti yoga according to the Narada Bhakti Sutras.
Satsang also means good company in which we nurture our spirituality and bhakti, and where we are led by the Uttana – the principle of going higher in the spiritual evolution. As opposed to kusang (bad company, where we are led by Patana – that which leads us to the decline in spiritual evolution). It is said that satsang is so important that a mere word at a satsang can save one's life. There are countless stories and bhajans, which confirm this fact.
Many world religions were named after the prophets who founded them in ancient times. Christianity is named after Christ, Buddhism after Buddha, but the word Hindu is not derived from the names of any particular prophet. The word Hindu is derived from the name of a river located in the Northwest of India, which is called Sindhu. Sindhu is a river which nowadays is know as Ind. The teachings of Hinduism are known as apauruseja, which means they are not based on an authority. What this really means is that the Hindu religion is not based on any individual, but on principles. This is a very important statement since it emphasizes that Hinduism is received through revelation, and is not an invention of an individual or group of individuals. As scientists do not make the laws of nature, but they discover them, so Rishis, the transmitters of the Hindu religion, did not find the spiritual laws but came to know them.
Hinduism represents a living synthesis of various religious insights based on God's revelation and the immediate experience of the manifestation of the Divine through its countless forms, as well as through the formless, transcendental principle.
Hinduism is also called Vaidika Dharma-the religion of the Vedas. It is also a way of life that is in accordance with the eternal spiritual, ethical and moral laws of Sat Sanatan Dharma - the primordial spirituality and religion.
Sat Sanatan Dharma means “Eternal Religion”, “the true relationship with the Divine Self”, and is therefore what keeps the society and the civilization together by means of a proper living. In a wider sense it means getting to know the eternal laws which control everything. The search after these laws and the implementation of them for the benefit of all is the way of practicing religion. It is non-dogmatic and universal - it respects the freedom of opinion of each individual, it worships the truth in all religions and the internal unity of all living beings and of all that is. Sanathan Dharma teaches chaste living in accordance with the principles of Yamas and Niyamas, such as non-violence - Ahimsa, truth - Satya, purity - Saucha, wisdom, honesty, self-control, control of lust, non-revengefullness, non-belligerence, love towards the creation and all living beings and the liberation from the negative traits such as hatred, anger, greed, jealousy and pride. Hinduism attaches great value to commitment, humility, charity, selfless service, willingness to sacrifice and humility, and it practises the worship of the Divine through Puja ceremony, internal contemplation - Upasana and meditation - Dhyana, as well as the development of Divine qualities. The ultimate goal is to achieve true inner freedom - Moksha, through the victory over ignorance - Avidya and realisation of the supreme knowledge - Paravidya that brings the highest, complete inner freedom and joy. This goal means to achieve unity with our Source - Paramatma, ie. to achieve Self-Realization - Atam-Gyana, the knowledge of our own Self, which is the same as the Absolute.
The Transmitters of Hinduism
Although Hinduism is based on principles, great emphasis is placed on persons as well, who have discovered and revived these spiritual principles. They can experience and carry the message of Hinduism differently, as it is depicted in the following story:
While walking in the forest, four friends saw a large, circular wall behind which there seemed to be a lot of fun and music going on. They were curious to see what is behind the wall. The three of them lifted the fourth on the top of the wall to see what is happening. He was so overwhelmed by the impressions that he could not tell his friends what he saw. He simply climbed over the wall and disappeared on the other side. Then the two of the remaining three friends lifted the third one to the top of the wall. He too became so excited by what he saw that he began to sing and dance on top of the wall, and after some time he disappeared behind the other side as well.
The remaining two friends also wanted to look over the wall. One helped the other to climb. He was also overwhelmed by what he saw. He did not disappear behind the wall, but stretched himself over the wall and helped the fourth friend to come to the top so that he too can see the other side.
The first friend, who quietly disappeared to the other side of the wall, symbolizes those silent prophets and hermits who, once they become self-realized, merge with God unnoticed. The second friend who started singing and dancing after he saw what was behind the wall, represents those saintly persons that reveal to others their vision of God, but are not able to convey their own experiences. The third friend that has spread across the wall and helped the last friend to climb the wall symbolizes Guru.
This third friend is unique because it has the power to offer the experience of God to others.
The word avatar means “one who descends”. Avatar is God in human body. Hindus say that whenever Dharma is on decline God appears on earth in human form for the benefit of mankind, and rejuvenation of spirituality. Avatar has the unique ability to transform others spiritually, even just by touching or looking at them.
Guru means teacher. The Sanskrit word root gu means ignorance, darkness, and ru means light; therefore this word defines the role of the guru as the one who removes the darkness of ignorance. Satguru is a spiritual, realized teacher who realized the wisdom of the Scriptures by his/her own experience and who can inspire others with his/her knowledge and radiation - he/she is Brahmanistha Srotriyam - the knower of Brahman, the Absolute.
Swami - one who knows, who has mastered himself; it is the title of Hindu monks, the sannyasis. A Sannyasi is the one who has renounced the material world and accepted life based on spiritual principles. Swamis traditionally wear orange clothing, which symbolizes fire, purification, and spend their lives seeking for God realization and working for the benefit of mankind.
Acharya literally means a special teacher who teaches by example. Acharya is also a title reserved for the heads of some Hindu religious fractions.
Modes of transmission of knowledge in Hinduism
Rishis received knowledge in deep meditation directly from God through the Dev Vani - the voice of God and then passed it on to others. Such knowledge is called Sruti - what is heard, and this knowledge was not written down until the modern days, but was taught by heart, repeated and transmitted from teacher to disciple.
Vedas and Agamas are Sruti. Smriti means memory, knowledge that was not revealed through Dev Vani but derived from experiences and memories, it is the knowledge how it was remembered – in other words – tradition.
Shastras are religious records, books. The Vedas are the most important scriptures of Hinduism, they are the very root of Hinduism.
Purana literally means old, ancient. They are instructive stories, tales about gods and heroes whose aim is to teach people moral life. The most famous Mahapurana is the Bhagavata which speaks about different incarnations of Lord Vishnu, especially the one of Lord Krishna. Together with the Ramayana and the Mahabharata (the two most important epics in Hinduism), the Puranas constitute what is sometimes regarded as the fifth Veda.
Bhagavad Gita, part of the Mahabharata scripture, is one of the most important scriptures in Hiduism. It speaks about Lord Krishna giving Arjuna the essence of the Upanishads. Bhagavad Gita teaches how to practice religion in daily life.
The concept of God
One of the most common errors in the interpretation of Hinduism is that it is a polytheistic religion. Hinduism is actually a pluralistic religion. This name means that each person has a unique relationship with God- Brahman. It teaches that God is only one, regardless of the appearance and the form in which we worship him.
There are three divine principles through which God manifests himself and these are:
Brahma, the creative principle, Vishnu, the principle of maintenance, and Shiva, the Liberator.
One of the most important features of Hinduism is that God, Brahman does not need to be searched for outside ourselves, but inside ourselves.
The ultimate goal of the spiritual practice is the union of Atma - the Self with Paramatma - the Absolute.
Hindus believe in reincarnation (rebirth) according to the law of karma (The law of cause and effect that we create ourselves). With good deeds, thoughts and words we create good karma, and with bad actions, thoughts and words, bad karma is created.
Samsara- meaninglessness, is the cycle of birth and death from which one is liberated through Moksha - enlightenment, self-realization, the union of Atma with Paramatma.
One of the highest principles is Ahimsa - non-violence. If we believe that all beings are an expression of the Divine, that God is in everything and that God is everything, then it is absolutely necessary that the highest principle is the principle of non-violence. For this reason, the Hindus are vegetarians.
Samskaras - impressions, sacraments. There are 16 samskaras. Samskaras accompany man from conception until death, when he receives the final samskara- the funeral ceremony.