About the Sannyas Tradition
1. What is meant by the terms Sadhana, Sadhak, Deeksha, Sannyasi, Swami, Brahmchari, Sadhu, Baba, Dada, Maharaj, Muni, Rishi, Ashram, and Matth?
- Sadhana means spiritual practice. It also means to settle one’s mind or to set one’s aim (in the spiritual sense).
- Sadhak means a person who practices the spiritual practices or does sadhana. Generally, the term is used for a regular spiritual practitioner. It is also used in a special spiritual retreat, seminar, or camp to denote the participants.
- Deeksha means initiation. There are two types of initiations.
The first is a spiritual initiation into a practice or a system. This is to help the aspirant develop spiritually. There are four sub types of spiritual Means. Three of these qualify as three different types of Deeksha.
The second type is initiation into the life of a monk or to be given the robes of a monk. This initiation is only for those who have decided to live the life of a Sannyasi. Actually, it is only a formal declaration of the state of mind, as well as the person’s activities, to the world.
- Sannyasi means Hindu Monk, Renunciate or Hermit.
- Swami is a title given to a monk in the sannyas order and means master of oneself. Some Swamis may be beginners, others may be further on the path, and yet others may be perfected. The Dashnam sannyas name is added only when one receives the title Swami.
- Brahmchari is a title that is given to a monk in the sannyas order. Brahmchari means one who walks in god (Brahman). Brahmchari can also be used to mean student as well as to mean celibate. Again as with the term Swami, a Brahmchari too can be a beginner, somewhat further on the path and yet others may be perfected. Generally, Brahmchari is the initial title given to a monk, later he may be converted into a Swami (Sannyasi). However, many persons may straight away receive the title Swami too, sometimes, even if they have inadequate scriptural and spiritual knowledge. This makes titles very confusing.
Two well known Brahmchari’s were Dhirendra Brahmchari and Prabhudutt Brahmchari. The entire Agni Akhada has only Brahmchari’s including their Acharya Mandaleshwar.
There are different types of Brahmchari deekshas too. Usually the highest being the Naishtik deeksha which means that the person has resolved for life to live as a monk and will later be given sannyas (Swami) deeksha.
- Sadhu literally means gentleman but is commonly used to denote a sannyasi (monk).
- Baba is a word used to address an elder, somebody old such as grandfather. In the spiritual world in India it is commonly used to address a monk.
- Dada means grandfather but in many areas in Central India is used to address a monk as a mark of respect.
- The word Maharaj literally means great king. In common parlance, in the Hindi speaking community, it can be used to address almost anybody. In some parts of India a cook can also be called Maharaj. However, in the spiritual context the term is used as Maharajji to address a monk.
- Muni from the word maun meaning silence refers to monks who do not speak but is used to address a monk too.
- Rishi refers to a sage. The term was more popular in Ancient India and is used to refer to the ancient seers of the various streams of ancient knowledge. Most of these Rishis had families. Some did not marry.
- Ashram means a Hindu monastery.
- Matth too denotes a Hindu monastery but it can also denote a Buddhist monastery.
2.Who is the Shankracharya?
Shankracharya was a great Hindu Spiritual leader who lived by some accounts about 1260 years ago (950 A.D.). Commonly he is referred to as the Adi Shankracharya. He was responsible for re-organizing the sannyas tradition as well as for many other major works. The word Shankracharya is also a title that is used to describe the heads for four Matths or ashrams as were established by the Shankracharya in four different parts of India. These ashrams being Badrikashram in the north, Dwarka in the west, Puri in the East, and Shringeri in the south of India. Today the heads of many other Ashrams or Matths that were connected with these four main ashrams too call themselves Shankracharya.
3. What is the Dashnam Sannyas order?
The word Dash Nam means ten names in Sanskrit. The Shaiva Sannyasis were reorganized by the Shankracharya and were given ten names almost like surnames. These are Ashram, Tirth, Saraswati, Puri, Giri, Bharti, Vana, Aranya, Sagar and Parvat. Of these the first six are more commonly in use today.
4. Are there any other Sannyas orders?
There are many other sannyasi orders apart from the Shankracharya’s Shaiv order. It will be almost impossible to name them all. Some of the better known one’s are Vaishnav, Tyagi, Vairagi, Udaseen, Akali, Nath, Kabir Panthi, Aghori, Jain Munis, Nimbark sampradaya, Ramanuj sampradaya, Swaminarayan, etc,.
5. What is meant by Sampradaya?
Sampradaya means a large group of spiritual persons who follow the teachings of one specific spiritual leader who may or may not be alive.
6. Who is an Acharya Mandaleshwar and what is the difference between Acharya Mandaleshwar and Mandaleshwar?
Each Akhada selects for itself an Acharya Mandaleshwar whose job is to spiritually guide this group of monks as well as to initiate newcomers into the order by giving them sannyas deeksha (initiation). A Mandaleshwar is another monk who is recognised by the Akhada and given an honorary position. He too supports the Akhada as well as guides the monks on the spiritual plane.
The word mandal means group, here it means ‘group of monks’. Mandaleshwar means ‘the head of the group of these monks’.
7. What is an Akhada? How many are the akhada’s and what are their names?
During ancient times a need arose to protect the temples, ashrams, matths and spiritual leaders. This gave rise to a tradition of warrior saints who protected the faith. Warrior saints are actually very ancient, an example being Lord Parshuram. A group of warrior saints were called as Akhada. The word Akhada is commonly used to mean a place where martial arts are practiced. Thus the saints were divided into two parts. The first were the Shastradhari or the saints who learned the scriptures and the astradhari or the saints with weapons.
A saint in the Akhada is called a Naga Sannyasi.
There are seven Shaiva Akhada’s, these being Atal and Mahanirvani; Anand and Niranjan; Avahan, Juna and Agni. There are three Vaishnav Akhada’s, these being Nirmohi, Nirvani and Digamber. There are two Udaseen Akhada’s, these being Bada and Naya. There is one Akali Akhada, this being Nirmal.
8. What is meant by Panch and what is Rumta Panch? What are Shri Mahant and Mahant?
At the head of the Akhada is a council of Monk’s or Sannyasi’s. This council governs the Akhada. There are two types of councils. One is in the places that are permanent, such as Ashrams and Matths. This is called Panch. The other council governs the monks who travel in groups. This is called Rumta Panch. This is, so to say, a wandering council.
The Panch is usually composed of eight senior monks who hold office. Each of these monks is called a Shri Mahant. Mahant is a term used for the head of an ashram (monastery) that is under the Akhada. Under this ashram there may be various smaller ashrams.
9. What is a Mani?
Each Akhada is composed of fifty two manis. These manis represent a large spectrum of the spiritual world of India and represent different schools, sub classes of spiritual groups and practices.
Each Akhada tried to imbibe the spiritual values and practices of various different schools and systems of prayer so as to broaden their horizons as well enrich their spiritual practices and systems. This is in keeping with the basic philosophy of Hinduism.
Some of the manis were formed based on their origin such as the multani mani, others on culture such as the lama mani, and yet others based on other groups such as riddhnathi, sejawan and so on.
10. What is the difference between a Dashnam sannyasi and any other Naga sannyasi?
Any sannyasi who received initiation by a monk authorised to initiate into the Shankracharya’s order of sannyas is called a Dashnam sannyasi because he posseses one of the ten names (like a surname).
Naga sannyasis are warrior sannyasis called Naga because they live naked or almost naked. In the Naga tradition when a new sannyasi is initiated he is initially called a MahaPurush which is roughly translated as great soul. Later, when he becomes a Naga he is called Digamber meaning sky clad. At that time or within some time, he too is initiated into the Dashnam Sannyas and is called a Swami. This is a group ceremony for Naga Sadhus conducted by the Acharya Mandaleshwar and is called Vijay Hom.
Sannyasis who are Dashnam but are not Naga are usually the Shastradhari’s or the Sannyasis with the scriptures; whereas the Naga Sannyasis are warrior Sadhus or Astradhari’s or the armed monks. Today the Naga Sadhus for most part, do not carry arms. Some have tried to educate themselves as well.
11. Can a sannyasi from one order or Akhada learn elsewhere too?
Usually each sannyasi tends to specialise in one kind of system of prayer and usually tends to adopt one philosophy more than the other. Since a sannyasi is completely dedicated to the spiritual world, usually a sannyasi will have plenty of time to study different systems. Once a sannyasi receives initiation into the order he may stay with his Guru for some time and then wander to other places and masters. There is a basic freedom that is a part of Hinduism. Usually, most Dashnam sannyasis who are not Naga sadhus may go to another teacher to learn other practices, methods or philosophies.
As can be seen within each Akhada are numerous manis. So one Naga Sadhu belonging to one mani can go within the Akhada to different Sadhus within the same Akhada that is to Sannyasis in other Manis, however, usually sadhus from a different Akhada may not welcome him to teach him. However, socially all Sannyasis will interact and often even live together. But a Naga sadhu can go to other Dashnam sadhus who are not Nagas as well as to Mahamadaleshwars to learn from them.
Also usually most persons who are disciples of one Sannyasi and are family persons do not go to learn to different Guru’s. They may however visit other Sannyasis to seek their blessings. Most family persons do not have the time to learn from other masters, neither are they on the spiritual path full time.
It is also not essential that a disciple of one sannyasi be they family persons or sannyasis, go to learn or visit another Guru.