Sanyas has existed in India since religion came into existence. Different religions have different concepts of sanyas, though they also share some similarities. One concept that has always remained very central to it is renunciation. Sanyas and renunciation are almost synonymous. A sanyasi is expected to renounce the world, family life and proceed to a forest, monastery or ashram to meditate. But today, we see so many sanyasis living a political life or as social activists. Instead of meditating, we find them debating social issues, agitating and provoking the public.
In the 20th century, Osho proposed a radically new concept and called it “neo-sanyas”. While talking about Zen haikus, wild geese and water he said, “Be simple, be natural and be spontaneous. I teach ecstasy and ecstasy in the ordinary life. The life has not to be in any way renounced but transformed. Renunciation is escapism, it is cowardliness. Till now you have worshipped cowards as saints. You have worshipped people who were not courageous enough to accept all the challenges of life. And there are millions of challenges — every moment is challenging. The coward escapes. The coward has to be condemned, not respected.”
“My sanyasis have to live in the world, totally in the world, responding to every challenge, because the more you respond to the challenges of life the more intelligent you become. Intelligence is like a sword: The more you use it, the sharper it becomes. If you don’t use it, it starts rusting, losing its sharpness and becomes useless.”
There is a Zen saying: “The wild geese do not intend to cast their reflections. The water has no mind to receive their image.” Osho explains: “The wild geese have no desire to cast their reflections in the water, and the water has no desire or no mind to receive its image — although it happens! When the wild geese fly, the water reflects them. The reflection is there, the image is there, but the water has no mind to reflect and the wild geese do not bother to be reflected either.
This should be the way of my sanyasis too. Be in the world, live in the world, live without ambition, without desires. Don’t be greedy, because greed takes you into the future; don’t be possessive, because possessiveness keeps you clinging to the past. A man who wants to live in the present has to be free of greed, possessiveness, ambition and desire.”
According to Osho, sanyas is an art of meditation i.e., be meditative, but be in the world. This gives you every opportunity to be distracted, but if you don’t get distracted then each success brings tremendous joy. You remain centered, you become the centre of the cyclone. The cyclone goes on roaring around you, but your centre remains unaffected. Be a lotus flower. In the East, lotus symbolises the essence of sanyas.
A lotus grows in mud. It does not escape, it remains there. It floats in the water, but there is a beauty, a tremendous phenomenon: It is in the water, but the water never touches it... That’s the way of a true sanyasi. Being in the world but remaining untouched, unaffected....