Thursday, July 4, 2013


Every aasrama has its special dharma or duty. It has been enjoined that a sanyasi should not remain in one place for any length of time. He has to be a parivraajaka or wandering mendicant. The idea is that he should be moving from place to place, coming into contact with his lay disciples, ministering to their spiritual needs, and guiding them to regulate their lives according to the saastras. This may be likened to "mass contact", a term familiar in politics. If a sanyasi remins in one place for a long time, there is the danger of his contracting "attachments" or getting involved in local controversies. There is also the adage, "familiarity breeds contempt", that is one of the reasons why a sanyasi is prohibited from staying long at any one place.

        This constant movement from place to place may prevent a sanyasi from devoting suficient time to medidation and other spiritual practices, and to the acquisition of aatmajnanam leading to the realisation of the Ultimate Truth. Therefore he is permitted to remain in one place during the chaturmasya period, comencing from the full moon in the month of Aani. This period also coincides with the rainy season, known as praavrt season.

        There is a reason behind the selection of this praavrt period for chaturmasya. The sanyas asrama is essentially one of ahimsa --causing no harm to any living being. That is why a sanyasi has to travel on foot. Even if one were to tread unwittingly on an insect while walking, there is every chance of one not causing its death, becasuse the feet are so shaped that the insect can easily wriggle out through the gaps and curves. During the rainy season, numerous insects spring to life and infest pathways. Any travel during this period will inevitably lead to himsa, causing pain or injury to these insects. In fact, while making the sankalpa for chaaturmaasya, a sanyasi has to tell the assembled devotees that the praavrt period is on, that he sees a host of insect life everywhere, and that if it is not inconvenient for them, he proposes to observe chaaturmaasyam in that place. The devotees, who feel honoured by the opportunity for this kainkarya, in their turn, request him to remain in their midst comfortably, and assure him that they will serve him to the best of their ability.

        Making the Chaturmasya sankalpa, the sanyasi says:

        Praayena pravrishi praani sankulam vartma drsyate
        Atasteshaam ahimsaarttham pakshaavai srutichoditaan
        Stthaasyaamaschaturomaasaan atraivaasati baadhake.

        On hearing this the devotees reply:

        Nivasantu sukhenaatra gamishyaamah krtaartthataam
        Yathaa sakti cha susroosham karishyamoo vayam mudaa.

        It is to enable sanyasins to adhere to the principle of ahimsa that they are prohibited from cooking their own food. In the process of cooking, insects that may happen to be in water, fiewood, vegetables etc., will be destroyed besides the germinating part of the grain. Therefore, sanyasins are enjoined to rest content with what householders give them as alms. They are also not permitted to pluck green leaves. That will be himsa to the plant, which has also life. In fact there is no agni for the sanyaasa aasrama. That is why they do not perform any homa (sacrifice in fire).

        The chaturmasya observance is a common feature of Hinduism, Buddhism and Jainism. The Ashokan edicts, which are about 2,000 years old, show that Chaturmasya was observed for four months as the term indicated.
There is a reference to Chaturmasya in Srimad Bhagavatham also. It is recorded that when Sage Narada was asked how he became a great jnani, he replied that in his boyhood a number of sanyasins happened to observe chaturmasya at the place where he livd with his mother, and that jnana dawned on him as a result of eating the remnants of the food partaken by those great men.

 A sanyasi takes the resolve to observe chaturmasya after performing Vyasa Pooja. This pooja is as important to sanyasins as Upaakarma is to those who belong to the other aasramas. As custodians of the Vedas, it is our duty to preserve them in their pristine purity and effectiveness. The danda (stick), carried by a brahmachari, is symbolic of the determination to protect the Vedas at any cost. The object of Upaakarma is to revitalise the Vedic mantraas, should their efficacy be impaired, through causes like faulty pronunciation. The Vedas are recited on that day, after invoking the grace of Sri Veda Vyasa, who perceived through his spiritual powers, the Vedas and transmitted them for the benefit of the world, and invoking the grace of the rishis, who propagated the various khaandaas of the Vedas. The presence of Sri Veda Vyasa is invoked in a pot of water and worshipped. The Sama Vedins invoke the presence of khaanda rishis in balls of earth, or in arecanuts and worship them. Similarly the sanyasins invoke the grace of Sri Veda Vyasa and othe preceptors of aatma jnaana, before commencing their discipline of medidation yoga and aatmavichaara.