By Swami Harshananda
This is a minor Upaniṣad belonging to the Atharvaveda. There are two chapters. The first chapter consists of only one prose passage. The second is a long one comprising 123 sections, mostly in anuṣṭubh verses, interspersed with passages in prose also.
This describes how a householder who has successfully completed all his duties should proceed to take samnyāsa. The various steps are: taking the approval of
wife and children for his samnyāsa; performing Vaiśvānara sacrifice and gifting away his possessions; withdrawing the Agnidevatā from the Vedic fires; giving up the śikhā (tuft of hair) and yajñopavita (sacred thread), going away either towards the east or towards the north.
He can accept bhikṣā (alms of cooked food) from all castes, using the cupped hands as the bowl. He should not hanker for tasty food nor live in any place for more than one to five days. During the rainy season, however, he can stay in one place for two to four months. He should manage with minimum possessions like a bowl for alms, kaupīna (loin cloth), kanthā (wrapper), kamaṇḍalu (water pot), pavitra (straining cloth), daṇḍa (staff) and pādukā (sandals).
Acquiring spiritual wisdom and meditation on the ātman (or God) should be his only concern.
This is a very long section. The subjects dealt with may be briefly summarised as follows: persons who are fit and unfit for samnyāsa; method of accepting samnyāsa by giving up the śikhā and the yajñopavita and taking the accessories like the daṇḍa and kamaṇḍalu; categories of samnyāsins like vairāgya samnyāsins and jñāna samnyāsins as also kuṭīcaka and bahudaka; method of meditating on the unity of one’s ātman with Brahman; praise of citiśakti or pure consciousness; experience of the abheda-anubhava or the non-dual state; method of taking ātura-sarnnyāsa or sarhnyāsa by a dying person; meditation on one’s own true nature as the only duty of a samnyāsin; code of
conduct including the methods of bhikṣā (begging for food); prohibited things, behavior and actions; six kinds of sins like sleeping by day and acquiring disciples; expiations like prānāyāma for transgressions; continuous japa of Om (12,000 times) leading to illumination.
The only commentary available now is that by Upaniṣad-brahmendra-yogin.
There is another Samnyāsopanisad which is much smaller, comprising five sections in prose.
- The Concise Encyclopedia of Hinduism, Swami Harshananda, Ram Krishna Math, Bangalore