By Swami Harshananda
Though classed among the minor Upaniṣads, the Nāradaparivrājaka Upaniṣad is a fairly big work dealing exclusively with sanyāsa or pārivrājya. It is one of seventeen works in the the Atharvaveda and is divided into nine ‘upadeśas’ or chapters containing the teachings. These upadeśas comprise both verses in the anuṣṭubh metre and sections in the prose, the total being 298.
There is only one Sanskrit commentary by Upaniṣad-brahmayogin.
A brief summary of the text is below.
The Upaniṣad begins with the sages Śaunaka and others approaching devarṣi Nārada and requesting him to explain the means to mukti or salvation. In reply, Nārada states that it is the paramahansa-sanyāsin, the monk of the highest order, who is constantly meditating on his own Self, that attains salvation. However, before attaining this status, he has to undergo several preliminary disciplines that includes the following:
- The study of the Vedas and other branches of learning from a competent teacher
- Marriage and duly discharging the duties of the householder’s life
- Acquiring the four means of spiritual life
- Renouncing the world
- Taking to the life of the sanyāsin
Then the sages ask him about the formalities and procedure needed in adopting sanyāsa. Thinking that it is best to get the answer to this query from Brahmā, Nārada takes all these sages to Satyaloka. After respectfully offering salutations to him, Nārada requests him to explain the true nature of pārivrājya or sanyāsa.
In reply, Brahmā states that a person should first undergo the upanayāna ceremony, study the Vedas and also acquire the knowledge of other sciences needed to live in the world for twelve years. For the next twenty five years, he should live as a householder discharging all the duties of that life. The subsequent twenty five years should be spent as a vānaprastha with all the disciplines associated with it. Then he should renounce everything and go away as a mendicant, burning all the desires and cultivating the four-fold discipline of Vedānta. This is the precondition to this stage of life.
People Unfit for Renunciation
In answer to the question by Nārada that who is fit to be initiated into sanyāsa, Brahmā first rules out the following persons unfit even though they may be endowed with the spirit of renunciation:
- Physically disabled persons
- Those who do not accept the authority of the Vedas
Persons Eligible for Spiritual Illumination
A person who is about to die can take sanyāsa if he has a strong desire, just by uttering the praiṣamantra. In his case there is no need for the performance of the usual rites associated with it. After declaring that only the person having the spirit of intense renunciation is fit for sanyāsa, he narrates vidvat-sanyāsa.
A person of spiritual illumination generally has the following characteristics:
- Knowledge of Brahman
- Devoid of any desires and detachment
- Equanimity under all circumstances
- Internal and external purity
- Peace of mind
- Devotion towards truth
- Absence of greed and hypocrisy
- Not Sinful
Qualities of Vidvat-sanyāsin
Such a person is eminently fitted to become a vidvat-sanyāsin. He is expected to possess only a minimum number of articles needed for the maintenance of the body. They are:
He should always move about all alone. Violation of these rules will cast him into hell.
Code of Conduct for Monks
There are set of guidelines prescribed for the yati or the monk. Some of them are:
- Eschewing the ariṣaḍvargas
- Conquest on the senses
- Control over the mind
- Avoiding honor and welcoming dishonor by the society
- Taking delight in the Self
- Studying the Upaniṣads and allied works
- Constant effort to conquer all attachment to the physical body
- Living alone under trees and deserted places
- Not mixing with others or talking to them about worldly matters
- Avoiding tasty food
Āśramas and Sanyāsa
Pārivrājya or sanyāsa can be resorted to in the usual order of the four āśramas with intense spirit of renunciation being the only criterion. They are:
Now, Nārada asks Brahmā whether the sanyāsin who has no śikhā and yajñopavīta is a brāhmaṇa at all, since they are essential for him. Brahmā replies that for such sanyāsin, Brahman is everything including all the insignias of a brāhmaṇa.
Classification of Avadhutas
The last part describes the state of an avadhuta in a vivid manner. Much of this description is a repetition of earlier statements. The sages who had attained this state are also mentioned. They are:
This chapter deals with three topics:
- The detailed code of conduct prescribed for a normal sanyāsin
- Rites connected with taking formal sanyāsa
- Some more details regarding the vidvat-sanyāsin and the vividiṣā-sanyāsin
Rituals of Kramasanyāsa
Some of the steps involved in taking kramasanyāsa, sanyāsa in the usual order of the four āśramas, are as follows:
- Prāyaścittas - expiations for sins that might have been committed unknowingly
- Śrāddhas - ceremonies for satisfying the gods, sages, manes and others
- Shaving the head and the face
- Sandhyā ritual and Gāyatrījapa
- Final offerings into the Vedic fires if they had been maintained
- Disposing off the Vedic fires after performing virajāhoma
- Uttering the praiṣamantra
- Giving up the śikhā
- Approaching the guru
- Receiving the gerua cloth
- Receiving Mahāvākya
- Retiring from the world and going away as a mendicant
Peculiarities of Vidvatsanyāsin
This is followed by a short description of the vidvatsanyāsin, who approaches a guru, receives the Praṇava and the mahāvākya. Then he goes about completely naked, sustaining the body only on fruits and water, ever enjoying the bliss of the ātman in his heart. As regards the vividiṣāsanyāsin, more details are provided as to how he has to formally accept it. Some of them are:
- Approaching a competent guru for sanyāsa
- Receiving the various articles of sanyāsa like daṇḍa kaupīna, Śāṭī and kamaṇḍalu. They should be received with appropriate Vedic mantras. Then he should live his life as a sanyāsin as per the rules given in the dharmaśāstras.
Types of Sanyāsa
In reply to further questioning by Nārada, sanyāsa of four types is described by the Pitāmaha. They are:
- Vairāgya-sanyāsa - One who renounces the world due to vairāgya brought about by the puṇya or the spiritual merit of previous lives is a vairāgya-sanyāsin.
- Jñānasanyāsa - If a person embraces sanyāsa after realizing jñāna or knowledge, the true nature of the world and worldly life as an evanescent, he is called a jñānasanyāsin.
- Jñānavairāgya-sanyāsa - When a combination of these two, brought about by the experiences of the first three āśramas, induces the person to take to sanyāsa, he is a jñāna-vairāgya-sanyāsin.
- Karma-sanyāsa - One who accepts the fourth āśrama as a matter of course, even though there is no vairāgya, is known as a karmasanyāsin.
Classification of Sanyāsin
This is then followed by a classification of the sanyāsins into six varieties. They are:
- Kuṭīcaka - The kutīcaka has the śikhā and the yajñopavīta intact. The daṇḍa and kamaṇḍalu are the insignia he keeps. Kaupīna and kanṭhā are his possessions. He serves his parents and teachers. He takes his food from one and the same place, usually his own house. He also wears the religious marks on his forehead.
- Bahudaka - The bahudaka has all the characteristics of the kuṭīcaka, the only difference being that he begs his food from a number of houses instead of always taking it from one house. It is called mādhukarī.
- Hañsa - The hansa has matted hair, applies tripuṇḍra on his forehead, wears only a kaupīna and gets his bhikṣā or alms from wherever it is got.
- Parama-haṅsa - The paramahaṅsa does not keep the śikhā and the yajñopavita, wears only a kaupīna, a śāṭī and a daṇḍa, applies bhasma or sacred ash all over his body, begs for food from a maximum of five houses and that too at night only. He eats from his cupped hands without using any vessel and practices intense renunciation.
- Turīyātīta - The turīyātīta is naked, lives on any food got without asking or may beg from three houses and treats his body as if it is a corpse, since he is not conscious of it.
- Avadhuta - The avadhuta, being above all the rules and regulations, maintains his body by alms from anyone who cares to give and is always immersed in his own ātman or the Self.
If a person on the verge of imminent death takes āturasanyāsa but survives later, he has to take formal sanyāsa in the usual traditional way. Pitāmaha then goes on to describe the procedural details of taking sanyāsa by these six kinds of ascetics. Other topics touched upon in this section are:
- Modes of accepting bhikṣā
- Worlds attained by these ascetics after death
- Meditation on Brahman
- Evil effects of failure to observe the monastic disciplines
- Rules concerning begging for food and living places
- Details of conduct concerning self-control
- Giving up all actions save those needed for maintaining the body alive
- Extreme forbearance
- Trying to see God in all the beings
State of Jīva for Vidvatsanyāsin
Nārada now asks Brahmā how the vidvatsanyāsin, who is constantly meditating on his own essential nature as ātman, becomes liberated. What is the upāya or the means he adopts? Brahmā ansers him in a highly symbolical language that how the vidvatsanyāsin looks upon his own body. For instance, jñāna is his body. Vairāgya is the life-force. Śānti and dānti are his eyes. Manas is his face and so on.
Incidentally, how the jīva moves about in the various petals of the heart and the results he experiences are also described. How to attain the turīyātīta state is the subject-matter of the next section. The japa of the hañsamantra will ultimately lead to it. Being bereft of body-consciousness, he becomes Brahman.
Rules for a Vidvatsanyāsin
Then comes a long description of the way, a sanyāsin should live, not violating the norms of dharma even though he may be a jīvanmukta, to set an example before the world. Some of the rules mentioned here are:
- Conquest of all the sense-organs
- Light food
- Constant meditation on Brahman
- Not taking part in rituals
- Going for alms to the houses after the members of the family have finished their food
Qualities of Ativarṇāśramin
However, it is also stated that such a vidvatsanyāsin is beyond the realms of varṇa and āśrama and hence known as ‘ativarṇāśramin’. This is followed once again, by the rules an aspirant for sanyāsa and mokṣa is expected to follow. Preliminary disciplines to be practiced, approaching a competent guru teacher and sincerely serving him for at least a year after which formal vows of sanyāsa may be taken from him are also described. Some more general rules of conduct, applicable to him, are given once again. The gist of these is self-control and renunciation of all the actions.
Rules for a Yati
- Itinerant way of life for eight months and staying in one place for four months during the rainy season, but always alone
- Avoiding all actions that may harm other living beings
- Accepting very simple food as alms, just to sustain the body
- Eschewing all items of luxury as poison
- Shunning the places and persons connected with the earlier pre-monastic life
- Burning up the six passions
- Trying to see or visualize his own ātman in everyone and everything
- Meditating on his own ātman or Self always until the body falls after the exhaustion of prārabdhakarma
Lifestyle of Monks
In the next ten paragraphs, some more directions regarding the life-style of the six kinds of monks already mentioned, are dealt with. They are:
- Snāna - bath
- Puṇḍra - wearing of religious marks
- Kṣaura - shaving the head and beard
- Anna - food
- Śāṭī - covering cloth
- Arcana - worship
- Mantrajapa - repetition of divine names or Vedic passages
- Repeating the Praṇava
- Nididhyāsana - hearing, reflecting and meditating
Nārada requests Brahmā to enlighten him about the sansāratāraka, the mantra that takes one across the ocean of trans-migratory existence. Consenting to do so, Brahmā talks in detail on the Praṇava or Oṅkāra in all its aspects. Eight forms of Praṇava such as Antahpraṇava, Vyāvahārikapraṇava, Arṣapraṇava and others are described in great detail.
This is then followed by a method of meditation on Brahman who is sarvādhāra, jyoti, sarveśvara, personification of all the gods and scriptures. The section ends with the description of the four states of consciousness and the ātman associated with them, as found in the Māndukya Upaniṣad.
This chapter describes the nature of Brahman, quoting verses from some of the major Upaniṣads, followed by the eulogy of realizing it. It is also declared that only a person of the highest moral caliber can realize it. One who knows Brahman as described here, will be liberated soon after the body falls. The last part describes once again the parivrāḍ, who is a jīvan-mukta and he does not return to mundane existence again.
This is an important Upaniṣad dealing with the aspects of sanyāsa exhaustively and is almost like a textbook for the sanyāsins.
- Pārivrājya means monastic life.
- Devarṣi means divine-sage.
- It is called as sādhana-chatuṣṭaya.
- Brahmā is the four-faced creator of the world.
- Satyaloka means the abode of Brahmā.
- This mantra means "om bhuh sanyastam mayā etc."
- Vidvat-sanyāsa means sanyāsa taken by a man of spiritual illumination.
- Ariṣaḍvargas means the six enemies like lust, anger, avarice, delusion, arrogance, jealousy and so on.
- Śikhā means the tuft of hair.
- He is the Absolute or the constant experience of Brahman.
- Avadhuta means the highest sanyāsin who has shaken off all the bonds and bondages.
- These are the monks who takes sanyāsa as a mode of sādhanā for mokṣa or liberation.
- Gāyatrījapa is done 1000 times.
- Virajāhoma is a special fire ritual, obligatory for those taking sanyāsa.
- Praiṣamantra means signifying total renunciation, using the vyāhṛtis of Gāyatrīmantra.
- Śikhā means the tuft of hair.
- Yajñopavīta means the sacred thread.
- Praṇava means Om.
- Daṇḍa means tall staff.
- Kaupīna means the loin cloth.
- Śāṭī means covering cloth.
- Kamaṇḍalu means water-pot.
- Vairāgya means an intense spirit of renunciation.
- Āśrama means sanyāsa.
- Daṇḍa means staff.
- Kamaṇḍalu means water-pot.
- Kaupīna means loin-cloth.
- Kanṭhā means rug.
- This religious mark is puṇḍra.
- Pitāmaha means Brahmā.
- Jñāna means knowledge.
- Vairāgya means renunciation.
- Śānti means peace.
- Dānti means self control.
- Manas means mind.
- Jīva means the individual soul.
- Heart means the anāhatacakra.
- Turīyātīta state means the state beyond the fourth, of the jīvātman or the individual soul.
- That monk is called as a vividiṣāsaiṇyāsin.
- Yati is also called as sanyāsin.
- Ātman means the Self.
- Sarvādhāra means support of all.
- Jyoti means light.
- Sarveśvara means lord of all.
- Parivrāḍ means a sanyāsin.
- Jīvan-mukta means a liberated even while living.
- The Concise Encyclopedia of Hinduism, Swami Harshananda, Ram Krishna Math, Bangalore