There are lakhs of Sanyasins of all denominations in our country. They do not earn their livelihood by engaging themselves in “productive work” as that is understood ordinarily, but live on the alms they get from householders. That sanyasins, like ordinary beggars, do not contribute to the national wealth, but prey upon society, is the view entertained by certain persons in governmental authority in our country. It has been recently resolved to start an organization known as the All India Sadhu Sangh, and to utilize the services of its members, that is, the manpower of sanyasins, in social welfare movements. Some persons belonging to the order of sanyasins are to be employed as traveling pracharaks (propagandists) for that purpose, paying them substantial honoraria and allowances.
Taking an overall and impartial view of the situation, one has to agree that there are far too many sanyasins, and that some of them are parasites on society. This may not be desirable. But on that account can we subscribe to the proposition that sanyasins as a class are parasite-beggars and should therefore be liquidated? Can we by statute prevent begging by sanyasins in the face of the injunction that sanyasins should beg their food?
In the way of life prescribed by the Sastras, every individual has to pass through the four stages of life known as brahmacharya aasrama, grihastha aasrama, vaanaprastha aasrama and sanyasa aasrama. Of these four aasramites, brahmacharis and sanyasins alone have both the right and the obligation to beg. During his student days, under the roof of a teacher, or gurukulavaasa, a brahmachari should beg for cooked food, both for himself and his guru (teacher), going to a few houses each day and asking the lady of each house to give him alms by saying bhavati bikshaam dehi (भवति भिक्षाम् दॆहि). The object of this begging for food is two-fold. One is to conserve the time and energy of the student for the arduous task of learning, and the other is to instill in him the sense of vinaya (humility), without which no vidya (knowledge) can be received and can fructify in the mind. Begging is compulsory for all pupils, including the sons of royalty. The food so collected is handed over to the guru, who distributes it to all his disciples. There were no tuition fees in those days. At the end of the course of education, the students were required to give a consolidated remuneration, or guru dakshina. The kings and the nobility of the land helped poor students to find this remuneration, which the pupils offered with true bhakti.
The sanyasi is also enjoined by the Sastras to maintain himself on the alms of cooked food collected by him. His duty is to engage himself constantly in meditation of the Paramatman, giving up all other mental activities (chitta vritties), which will entice him to worldly pursuits. If sanyasins are to take up a profession to find the means for their livelihood, or engage themselves in other “productive activities”, they could not become brahmanisthtas (persons with their minds fixed in the Paramatman), which is their only avocation, according to the Sastras. It is specifically laid down that a sanyasi should go only to seven houses each day, stopping at the gate of each house only for the duration of the time necessary to milk a cow (godohana kaala) and be satisfied with whatever he is able to gather in this manner. If he gets nothing, he must fast. It is to be noted that while a sanyasi can and must be content with a little food (alpaahaaram) the brahmachari, who has to engage himself in the arduous task of learning, needs a substantial quantity of food.
Thus, while the brahmachari and the sanyasi have the duty to beg, society has the reciprocal duty to maintain them by giving them alms of cooked food. Yatischa brahmachaareecha pakvaanna swaminaavubhau यतिश्च ब्रह्मचारीच पक्वान्न स्वामिनावुभौ, is the saying. Society, far from being harmed by these two classes of people begging for their food, stands to gain in an immeasurable degree. In the process of begging, a brahmachari acquires vinaya (humility) and also the saanti (peace) necessary to give his undivided attention to studies, by which he will become a useful member of society in due course. A true sanyasi is he who gives up his wealth and position and takes to sanyasa, and not he who becomes a sanyasi to escape from the worries of family or to find an easy means of livelihood by taking to begging. Biksha (alms) ought to be given only to the former category of sanyasins and not to the latter. It is not every one who can become a true sanyasi in the approved manner. The world has need for such spiritual stalwarts who always spend their time in the contemplation of the Supreme. They show the way to a higher life. Such sanyasins will not be many, and society will not find it a burden to maintain them.
All the sanyasins we see around us do not come up to the requirements of true sanyasa. In Buddhist times, it was obligatory for every one to become a bikshu (sanyasi) for a prescribed period, as a form of spiritual discipline. A bikshu can, if he so chooses, revert to secular life after that period. Not a few Buddhists, however, remained bikshus all through their life. The example of the Buddhist monks was followed by any others in the land as it provided for them, who had no pretensions to spirituality, an easy means of livelihood, without the obligation to work for a living.
This historical factor accounts for the numerous paradesis in the South and for the sadhus in the North. These paradesis and sadhus, not having the requisite qualification for true sanyasa, and not having been initiated into an approved sampradaaya, or order, by any competent preceptor, are not able to concentrate their minds on the Supreme, but go about begging, like worldly men, in quest of food. It is these mendicants who are parasites on society and they must be liquidated. But in the attempt to pluck out the weeds, we should not pull out the stalks which bear grain. The true sanyasin, who is an asset to society, should not be condemned as an unproductive dependent on society. He can be identified by his danda and kamandalu and the manner in which he conducts himself.
A sangha or association is not contemplated for the order of sanyasins. Forming a sangha is not sanyasi lakshana. A sanyasi must live in solitude, and, as far as possible, away from worldly life. Forming an association pulls down the sanyasins to the level of worldly men, and deflects them from the duties pertaining to their aasrama.
I agree with the proposition that no one should have to eke out his livelihood by begging unless he is a student or a sanyasi. Two solutions for the problem of able-bodied beggars are: (1) The provision of opportunities for widespread employment, and (2) the removal of disparities in the standard of living between the rich and the poor. The former is the duty of the state and the latter that of the people themselves. Raising the standard of living, which is the slogan of the present times, only results in luxurious life for a few. Real socialism lies in giving up luxuries, leading a frugal life, observing simplicity in food and clothing, and observing a standard which will approximate to that which a common man can afford. Our dress requirement should be only as much as is needed to observe decency and to provide protection from heat and cold. Food must be taken only to satisfy hunger and not to please the palate. Eating the minimum one needs is real aparigraha. National wealth should be utilized in productive scientific advancement, and for the defense of the country, and not in tempting people to live a life of luxury. The standard should be lowered to the level of plain living, instead of raising it to a luxurious level. Then there will be sufficient wealth in the country to go round to everybody.
Excess wealth in the hands of individuals should be diverted to help the indigent persons in the community, and excess wealth in the hands of a nation should go to better the conditions in indigent and backward countries, and not to help those, as is being done now, who subscribe to one’s ideology or to those who may be depended on to be one’s allies in case of war. If the people of every country make up their minds to live on what the country produces, there will be no artificial rise in the standard of living. Countries with a high standard of living, depending on the markets of other countries to keep up that standard, always stand in perpetual fear of a depression. Having risen sky high in their standard, they are afraid of a fall. That will be our fate too, if we imitate other nations in this respect.
A sanyasi sangh is a contradiction in terms. It is the obligation of society to maintain the true sanyasin. All those who have taken to begging, as a profession, must be provided with employment. It is improper to condemn those few who have embraced the sanyasa aasrama, in the standards prescribed for that aasrama, as parasites living at the expense of society. Nor is it proper to institutionalize the sanyasins into an organization for performing the functions that appropriately belong to the State.
December 29, 1957