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The Meaning of Sannyasa
The following is an excerpt from a talk given by Shripad Bhaktibhavana Vishnu Maharaja on the occasion of Shrila Prabhupada's sannyasa initiation anniversary at Kesavaji Gaudiya Matha in Mathura.
What is the significance of sannyasa? In Gaudiya Vaisnavism there are many important philosophical points to understand properly and digest. To make progress, devotees must refine their conception of divinity and focus their aspirations. The order of sannyasa is a strong step in that direction.
There is an external meaning and an internal meaning to the order of sannyasa. Formally, the order of sannyasa is to renounce the material world; it is considered social suicide. That is, we give up our connection with family and friends and social obligations and dedicate kayo, mana, vaca, and jiva-our body, mind, words, and soul-to the service of the Lord. And, as the brahmana from Avantidesa said, aham tarisyami duranta-param, "I shall cross over the ocean of nescience and become firmly fixed, asthaya paratma-nistham, in the service of our Lord Mukunda."
The order of sannyasa exemplifies this determination, in that one is giving himself wholly for the service of the Lord-but this determination is available to anyone willing to make a full commitment. This commitment is not necessarily formal, but substantially internal. As the Bhagavad-gita says, anashritah karma-phalam karyam karma karoti yah. If one simply renounces, he is not actually a sannyasi. Real sannyasa, real renunciation, means to engage everything in the service of the Lord, nirbandhah krishna-sambandhe yuktam vairagyam ucyate, and to fix one's aspiration with great determination.
In the Vilapa-kusamanjali, one verse expresses the highest summit of devotion-a sublimely sweet and reassuring hope. In this verse we find the inner ideal of sannyasa and the purport of the sannyasa mantra. Asabharair amrta-sindhu-mayaih kathancit, kalo mayatigamitah kila sampratam hi. Raghunatha Dasa's devotion is so exclusive to Shrimati Radharani that he is saying that without her service he doesn't even care for Krishna. "It is shameless for me to say this, but I don't even want Vrndavana, I don't want Krishna. Your mercy is everything to me." This is the high aspiration of Raghunatha Dasa.
Most devotees are familiar with Raghunatha Dasa's vairagya, his renunciation. The Chaitanya-Charitamrita mentions, raghunatathera niyama-yena pasanera rekha, that his renunciation was like lines in stone, so rigid his sadhana was every day. He is, however, substantially known as our prayojana-tattva acarya-he is showing the highest ideal of Shri Chaitanya's followers. In these prayers, he has expressed this yearning-absolute dependence, complete dedication to the service of Shrimati Radharani. This also should be the aspiration, the ideal, of those devotees who are advancing in Gaudiya Vaisnavism. This is the line of Shri Rupa; this is our wonderful prospect.
When Shri Chaitanya Mahaprabhu received the sannyasa mantra from Kesava Bharati, he first whispered the mantra into the ear of Kesava Bharati. He said, "Is this the mantra that you will give me? I have heard it in a dream, `tat tvam asi.'" The common understanding of this mantra is "you are that" (you are Brahman). Murari Gupta revealed to Shri Chaitanya Mahaprabhu another, more acceptable meaning of this mantra, which Chaitanya Mahaprabhu in turn gave to Kesava Bharati: "You are his." It is considered that at that time Shri Chaitanya initiated his spiritual master into the Vaishnava conception of this mantra and then received the mantra back.
For Chaitanya Mahaprabhu, it is proper to say that "I am his; I am Krishna's." The meaning of the mantra that sannyasis coming from Sanatana Goswami receive, however, is "I am hers; I am Shrimati Radharani's. I exclusively engage myself in the service of Shrimati Radharani." Actually, she is the highest devotee-she is the only one who can please Krishna, aradhananam sarvesam, all bhakti goes through Shrimati Radharani. She is tadiya, most dear to Krishna. In that way we should see everything.
Certainly Shrila Prabhupada has shown this. So dear he is to Shrimati Radharani. He has spread Krishna consciousness all over the world and brought so many to her lotus feet-so many servitors to assist in her service to Krishna. This is the most confidential service. Rasa lila is sankirtana lila-the lila of Chaitanya Mahaprabhu. Gaura lila is nondifferent than Krishna lila. But Gaura lila can be said to be higher in that it is more magnanimous; it is being distributed-audarya. Mahaprabhu is giving out this ecstatic ocean of Krishna-prema. He is experiencing at every moment the great ecstasy of the love of Radha and Krishna, prema pum-artho mahan. This is the highest level of devotion.
And it is said, ramya kacid upasana vraja-vadhu-vargena, the worship shown by the gopis of Vrndavana is the highest, because they gave up everything, renounced everything. They didn't care for their families; they didn't care for their situation at all. They simply were interested in pleasing Krishna. When they met Krishna in Kuruksetra after so long, they were very happy to see him. They pleaded, "Actually, we are only simple village girls with cows as our wealth; we have no qualification; we only know family life; we have not done any austerities; we don't know the Vedas; we are not anyone special. We are not yogis who will be satisfied simply to meditate upon you, but we would like to live with you as your family." In that way they are humbly approaching Krishna. Krishna considered how fortunate he was to have the gopis' wonderful affection. Krishna was feeling so guilty at having neglected such perfect love for so long that he bent down to touch Shrimati Radharani's lotus feet. And she said, "No. No. That is not proper. Actually, I am at fault. You have not done anything wrong."
In the same way, Chaitanya Mahaprabhu has said, na prema-gandho 'sti darapi me harau, "The proof that I have no love for Krishna is that I have not left my body in separation, that I go on living." So, in this way, Shrimati Radharani is feeling that the fault is hers, "You are free to move as you like." She is exemplifying this extreme mood of devotion. This is saranagati-surrender. In a higher sense, another term could be used, atmaniksepa. This means to throw oneself desperately toward the lotus feet of the Lord, "I am yours to be used in your service as you like, as you see fit." Aslisya va pada-ratam pinastu mam adarsanan marma-hatam karotu va, if you like you may embrace me or if you like you may trample me, but use me as you like.
This is the symptom of the surrendered souls, that they are ready to be used by the Lord in any way. Shrila Prabhupada wrote in his arrival prayer, "As you wish me to dance, I shall dance. And if you don't wish me to dance, I won't dance. It is your choice, my Lord, I am yours to be used in your service." The sannyasa order, both its external and internal significance, was thus epitomized in Shrila Prabhupada. He preached widely and internally fully embraced the service of Shri Radhika. He renounced the world and became the servitor of Shri Dayita dasa (Shrila Bhaktisiddhanta Saraswati).