The Bhagavata Purana

by G. V. Tagare | 1950 | 780,972 words | ISBN-10: 8120838203 | ISBN-13: 9788120838208

This page describes Duties of Hermits (Vanaprastha) and Sannyasins which is chapter 18 of the English translation of the Bhagavata Purana, one of the eighteen major puranas containing roughly 18,000 metrical verses. Topics include ancient Indian history, religion, philosophy, geography, mythology, etc. The text has been interpreted by various schools of philosophy. This is the eighteenth chapter of the Eleventh Skandha of the Bhagavatapurana.

Chapter 18 - Duties of Hermits (Vānaprastha) and Sannyāsins

[Sanskrit text for this chapter is available]

The glorious Lord continued:

1. A person desirous of entering the Vānaprastha (the third stage of) life should either entrust his wife to the care of his sons or take her with him. He should spend the third quarter of his life (upto the age of seventy-five years) in a forest.

2. He should live on bulbous and other roots, fruits which are regarded as pure and which grow in forests. For clothing he should wear bark-garments, mats of grass and leaves and deer-skins.

3. He should allow to grow the hair on his head, beard, nails and dirt (dust) on his body. He should not brush his teeth. He should dip his body in water (like a pestle, without cleansing his body) three times (morning, noon and evening) a day and sleep on bare ground (without using even grass or leaves to cover it).

4. In summer, he should perform (what is technically known as) Pañcāgni sādhana i.e. exposure of the body to the heat of fire from four quarters while the fifth fire, viz. the sun is scorching from the sky. In the rainy-season, he should observe the vow of Abhrāvakāśa i.e. drenching the body in heavy showers and in the winter he should stay immersed in the water upto the neck (and observe the udaka-vāsa vrata). He should perform penance following the above way of life.

5. He may eat what is baked on the fire or fruits, etc. ripened in course of time. He may subsist on what is pounded in a mortar or crushed with a stone or powdered with his teeth as mortar and pestle.

6. He should, with his own effort, procure whatever is required for his subsistence. Though he has full knowledge of his environments, of the season, and of his own capacity, he should not use it for storing (food, fruits, etc.) for some other occasion.[1] Nor should he accept what is offered by others.

7. He should perform the prescribed periodic sacrificial duties with oblations of the forest produce and Puroḍāśa (prepared out of them). But under no circumstances should a Vānaprastha worship me with animal sacrifices as laid, down in the Śruti texts.

8. Maintenance of sacred fire and regular offering of oblations to it (Agnihotra), performance of half-monthly sacrifices on the New Moon day (Darśa) and the Full Moon Day (Pūrṇamāsa) and the seasonal sacrifices performed at the beginning of the months of Kārttika, Phālguna and Āṣāḍha (which mark the beginnings of the main seasons in India), have been prescribed for a Vānaprastha by Vedic teachers.

9. The sage who becomes spread over by a web of (protruding) veins (i.e. is reduced to a skeleton for want of flesh) by performing penance as described above, propitiates me who am the embodiment of Tapas (austerities) and comes- to me passing through the region of sages (via Mahar-loka, etc.)

10. Who else can be more foolish than the person who dissipates for fulfilling flimsy desires such as. great penance performed with enormous troubles and capable of securing him Mokṣa?

11.[2] When, shaking with decrepitude, he becomes incapable of observing the duties prescribed (for the Vānaprastha stage), he should withdraw within himself the three sacred fires (viz. Āhavanīya, Gārhapatya and Dakṣiṇa which he is maintaining for Agnihotra) and concentrating his mind on me, he should enter fire.

12. When a genuine feeling of renunciation is generated towards the worlds or to even higher blissful regions obtained by merits) as no better than the hell (full of tortures and miseries), he should withdraw (as per procedure laid down in śastras) all the (three) fires within himself and enter the order of sannyāsins.

13. Having worshipped me as per Śāstric instructions,[3] and having gifted everything what one has to the sacrificial priest, one should deposit the three sacred fires within his own Inner Self (antaryāmin) and he should enter the order of sannyāsa completely free from any longings.

14. In the way of a Brāhmaṇa who is bent on renouncing the world as a sannyāsin, gods create impediments in the for in of his wife and others (for dissuading him from sannyāsa), as they are afraid that he would supersede them, and attain Brahman.

15. If a sage entering the order of sannyāsa requires any clothing other than his loin-cloth (kaupīna), he should take only that much as is sufficient to cover his private parts. Except in case of emergency or critical plight (such as serious illness), he should not have anything that he has renounced (at the time of becoming a sannyāsin) with the exception of a staff (symbolic of his being a sannyāsin and a water-jar (made of gourd).

16. A sannyāsin should place his foot forward only when, the ground is purified by eyes (that is, it is scanned and found free from living beings and thus there would be no violence to life in stepping over that spot). He should drink water purifled by straining it with a piece of cloth. He should utter a word after convincing himself that what is expressed thereby is true. He should adopt a course of conduct according to the dictates of his conscience.

17. Silence,[4] renunciation of acts (for fulfilling one’s desires) and the control of breath, these are the internal controls of speech, body and mind. Dear Uddhava I He who does not have these controls, is no Sannyāsin as one does not make a real sannyāsin with a bamboo-staff.

18. Avoiding the houses of the reproachful, one may go for alms to the houses of all the four Varṇas[5] (castes) among the Brāhmaṇas.[6] He should go to seven houses without giving pre-intimation and should be content with whatever one gets.[7]

19. He should go to some reservoir of water (a lake, a river, etc.) outside the village or town. After sipping water (as Ācamana) in silence, he should sanctify the food (sprinkling it with a few drops of water charged with twelve Praṇavas, should divide that food in four parts (alotting them to Brahmā, Viṣṇu, the Sun-god and living beings and immersing Viṣṇu’s part into water and placing the one for living beings on the ground), he should finish the remaining holy food. (He should not store anything for the future).

20. With his senses and mind under control and perfectly unattached, he should wander all over the world without a companion, indulging in the recreation and bliss of his soul. Engrossed in his Self, he should view all with an equal eye.[8]

21. Staying in a lonely yet safe place and with his mind purified by devotion to me, the sage should deeply meditate upon the one-ness of the self and its identity with me.[9]

22. By application of his spiritual knowledge he should investigate into the nature of the bondage and liberation of the soul (and understand that) distraction of senses (to their objects of enjoyment) is the bondage and subjugation and control of senses is the Mokṣa.

23. Therefore, controlling the group of six enemies (i.e. passions like lust, anger, avarice, etc. or five senses plus the inner sense—the mind) the sage, should renounce trifling pleasures of senses, enjoying thereby the great bliss within his Self. While contemplating on me, the sage should carry on his pilgrimage on the earth.

24. He should travel over the earth full of sacred lands, holy rivers, mountains, forests[10] and hermitages, entering cities, villages, cowherd settlements and caravansaries just for begging alms.

25. A Sannyāsin should frequently visit the hermitages of the Vānaprasthas. For (the food he gets is prepared out of foodgrains gleaned from cornfields and market places and) by such food from gleaned food-grains, his mind becomes quickly purified and free from delusion, and he attains liberation.

26. He should not look upon this (sweet food or other objects of pleasure) as real, for whatever is visible is bound to perish. With his mind detached to objects in this world or in the next, he should cease to work for gaining them (here or hereafter).

27. He should, by logical reasoning, realize that all this world and this body constituted of mind, speech and vital breath is nothing but Māyā (Illusion) superimposed on the Āttman. He should renounce it and stabilising himself in his blissful self, he should never remember the world (or saṃsāra).

28. My devotee who is established in spiritual knowledge, unattached to the world and does not long for anything (including Mokṣa) should renounce not only the duties (and attachment) pertaining to his āśrama but even its external distinguishing marks. He should go on in his life without being governed by the Śāstric rules in the matter—(Not that he should give up purity, bathing, etc. but he should not be a subject to Śāstric injunctions).

29. Such a person, though full of wisdom, should behave like a child (with no sense of respect or disrespect). Though well-versed in a skill, he should assume dullness. Though deeply learned, he should show himself as insane (as he has to please nobody). Though master of Vedas (and faithful to their teaching) he should behave like an animal.

30. He should not take interest in discussion about Vedic interpretation (whether pertaining to sacrifices or rules of conduct). Nor should he be a non-believer in the Vedas or one expert in Logical reasoning. He should not be a participant in fruitless discussion.

31. Full of wisdom and fortitude, he should not be- afraid of anybody. Nor should he frighten away the people.. He should forbear harsh words nor should he insult anyone. For the sake of his body, he should not entertain enmity with anyone.

32. For the Supreme Soul is but one. He abides in all. living beings as well as in one’s own-self, just as the Moon (only one entity) is reflected in different vessels full of water. All beings even from the point of physical bodies are one, as they are made of the same gross elements. (Hence there is no propriety in cherishing enmity with anyone).

33. He should not become despondent, if sometimes he did not get alms; nor should he feel elated if he gets food in time. Full of fortitude, he should realize that both, these (getting alms or failing to get it) are in the hands of the Providence.

34. (This does not mean that one should not go out for alms). He should try to get alms for subsistence; for it is proper and essential to sustain life. It is by sustaining life that truth can be investigated. And it is by realization of the truth, that one gets Liberation from Saṃsāra.

35. A sage should accept whatever food comes to his lot by the will of the Providence—whether it be excellent or otherwise; similarly, he must accept whatever clothes and beds as may be offered to him.

36. Just as I carry on my activities as a sport, a man of spiritual wisdom should practise his habits of cleanliness, ācamana (sipping of water before taking food, etc.), bath, and not in compliance of the rule of the Dharmaśāstra. He should behave similarly in other matters.

37. He has no sense of difference in him any longer. Whatever such sense there might have been, has disappeared since his realization of me. Occasionally such a sense of perception may appear till the fall of his body, but thereafter he merges in me.

38. A person who is self-controlled and has become disgusted with objects of pleasure which (he knows) end up in misery, but is not enlightened in duties leading to my realization, should approach a sage as his preceptor.

39. Full of devout faith and with malice towards none, he should devotedly serve his teacher respecting him as if he is myself, till he realizes his Brahman.

40. But he who has not controlled the group of six enemies (viz. six passions like lust, anger, avarice, etc. Or his five senses and the mind) and whose mind the controller of his senses, has been deeply attached to objects of pleasures, is devoid of spiritual knowledge and dispassion and only makes his livelihood by the triple staff (the symbol of being a Sannyāsin).

41. Such a person is a violator of Dharma. He deceives gods (by denying them their sacrificial oblations which he would have offered as a house-holder), himself (by being deprived of household-comforts he would have got, had he not been a Sannyāsin), me who abide in him (as he fails to realize me). His sins are not completely consumed and he loses his world as well as the next.

42. The essence of the righteous course of conduct of a recluse (Sannyāsin) is self-control and abstinence from violence; that of the Vānaprastha (the renouncer who stays in a forest) consists of performance of austerities (as prescribed for this stage of life in Śāstras) and (attainment of) spiritual knowledge that of a householder constitutes of the protection of beings, and performance of pañca-mahāyajñas (offering of oblations to gods and ancestors, offering of food to preceptors, guests etc.) while that or a twice-born (a boy who has taken a new spiritual birth by the investiture of the sacred thread and has becomes) Brahmacārin—a celibate student—is the service of his preceptor.

43. Celibacy (i.e. abstinence from contacts with one’s wife on nights prohibited by Śāstras), penance, (mental and bodily) purity, contentment, friendliness to all creatures constitute the Dharma (the pious duties) of a householder—(Please note that a householder) who goes to his wife on the days (sanctioned by scriptures) is also a celibate person, while devotion to me is a sacred duty common to all (irrespective of their particular Āśrama).

44. A person who worships me by observing the pious duties (laid down for his particular Varṇa and Āśrama) as mentioned above without any expectation in return or (does not deviate to some other god or to some other purpose), and who sees me as abiding (as an antaryāmin) in all beings, attains to the (highest type of) Devotion[11] to me in a short while.

45. It is by such unswerving (life-long) devotion, O Uddhava, that the devotee attains to me, the Supreme Ruler of all worlds, the source of the creation and destruction of all, and hence the cause of everything, the Brahman[12] himself (or the creator of the Vedas).

46. A person whose heart is purified by observing the pious duties prescribed for his particular social class (Varṇa) and stage in life (Āśrama) and who has understood my nature attains both spiritual wisdom and my direct realization reaches me in a short time.

47. This is the righteous course of conduct of persons belonging to the four social classes (Varṇa) and their four stages of life (Āśrama). When this very course is reinforced by devotion to me, it becomes the supremely efficacious means of attaining the summum bonum (Mokṣa).

48. I have thus explained to you, O good Uddhava, whatever you had enquired of me. It is in this way that my devotee, while following the path of righteous duties (specified for his particular Varṇa and Āśrama), attains to me who am the Supreme (Brahman).

Footnotes and references:


labdhe nave nave'nnādye purāṇaṃ tu parityajet /—BH.P.VII. 12. 19.


Bhāvāratha Dīpikā explains: A Vānaprastha who continues to perform penance to the end of his life attains Mokṣa. If at the end of the Vānaprastha period, renunciation is generated in his mind (even dimly), he is eligible to become a Sannyāsin. But incase of premature incapatiation (if he becomes incapable of observing his vows before the end of that stage), the above self consignment to fire is recommended.


A Vānaprastha should perform the Prājāpatya sacrifice and also eight śrāddhas before becoming a SannyāsinBhāvāratha Dīpikā


EK.: Repetition of God’s name of OṂ constitutes the control of speech. Breath control is the daṇḍa of the body and concentration in the Brahman is the control of the mind.—EB. 18.97-102.


EK. clarifies: Before the advent of the Kali age, this was the rule. But in the Kali age, Brāhmaṇas follow different non-Brāhmaṇa professions and vocations. So we have all the four Varṇas in the Brāhmaṇa community itself. In the Kali age a sannyāsī should limit himself to the houses of Brāhmaṇas only. The exception of a reproachful Brāhmaṇa is of course binding.—EB. 11. 104-113.


Kramasandarbha and VC. classify Brāhmaṇas as follows:

(1) Those who live on gifts (dāna) from others.
(2) Teachers of Vedas and Śāstras.
(3) Those who maintain themselves on fees received at sacrifices.
(4) Those who live upon food-grains gleaned from fields and market places.

Thus the mode of living (vṛttibheda) is the criterion in deciding the Varṇas among Brāhmaṇas.


Bhāgavata Candrikā advises that a recluse should beg in the houses of Brahmin—Brāhmaṇas first and then Brahmin-Kṣattriyas, etc.


Bhāgavata Candrikā: He should see that both sentients and non-sentients are a part of the body of the Lord.


Padaratnāvalī: The sage should contemplate that the Lord is different from Jīva and that I am the Supreme Being established by the Veda

(...śrutyā mayā siddham ātmānam ekam mukhyaṃ cintayed abhedena jīvenaikyaṃ na cintayet)


EK. gives a suggestive list of holy places.


EK.: This is the fourth stage of Devotion,‘The Supreme Bhakti’ as compared with which all the four types of Muktis (types of liberation) are quite valueless—EB. 18.324-25.


Bhāvāratha Dīpikā: The presiding Deity in Vaikuṇṭha. The devotee attains the Mukti called Sāmīpya (vicinity to the Lord)

EK.: The devotee attains to the fourth Bhakti called the Supreme Devotion, full of the highest bliss in which God and the devotee become one.—EB. 18.325-332.

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