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Re: Q: Place of marriage in the life of Vaishnava Acharyaas

vidya_at_cco.caltech.edu
Date: Fri Mar 01 1996 - 18:19:28 PST

> My question is on the role of marriage in a monk's life. Monks like
> Shankaracharya never married. From the various postings here, I gather
> that most Vaishnava Acharyaas were married before they became monks. Does
> this have any connection with the School they followed (Advaita, Dwaita
> etc.). Can one reasonably draw a parallel with the different sects. in
> Christianity (For ex: Catholic priests should never be married).

There are no specific Sastraic commands one way or the other about whether
a sannyasi should have been married or not. For a long time in history, I 
guess the orthodox preference was for going through all four Asramas i.e.
brahmacarya, grhastha, vanasprastha and then sannyasa. But there is also an
allowance for taking sannyasa from any one of the preceding Asramas, vide
the Jabala upanishad. 

In general, mathadhipatis in the advaita tradition, especially in the south
have been sannyasis who were never married. But there are other sannyasis in
the advaita tradition who have been married earlier in their lives. Some of
these sannyasis have also become mathadhipatis at one of the numerous minor
mathams in the south. In the north, the situation is more fluid, and in the 
line of the Puri Govardhan math, one of the four originally established by
Adi Sankara, there have been instances of mathadhipatis who were once upon 
a time householders. Even in the south, it is more due to force of custom
that brahmacaris are ordained as sannyasis, especially when it comes to
mathadhipati-ship of one of the major mathams. Adi Sankara never married, but
his premier and most celebrated disciple, Sureswara was married before he
became a sannyasi. Both are known as paramahamsa sannyasis. In the dvaita
mathams also it has become tradition to have brahmacaris becoming sannyasis. 

I think this can be partially attributed to historical factors and partially
to philosophical reasons. In advaita, sannyasa is given a lot of importance
and so also for sannyasis. For the other two vedanta schools, the difference in
the visishtadvaita and dvaita customs are probably due to historical reasons. 
Madhva was already a sannyasi in the advaita tradition, before he openly
disagreed with its philosophy and wrote his own bhashyas. Madhva's guru in the
advaita tradition was also a sannyasi and head of a minor matham in Udipi. 
On the other hand, there is no evidence to show that Yadava Prakasa, teacher
of Ramanuja was a sannyasi. Ramanuja took sannyasa after he was married. 
These traditions seem to have continued by their respective followers. 

There is a significant contrast between the Hindu tradition and the Catholic
tradition's attitudes about this. A Catholic priest should never have married.
In the Hindu case, whether a man was once married or not does not make a 
difference really. Of course, it is more difficult for a married man to become
a monk, and therefore gurus don't grant sannyasa very easily to disciples, 
unless they are convinced about it in all possible respects. Thus, for example,
a married man with children will find it very difficult to become a sannyasi
in the advaita tradition. On the other hand, a married man who is old and has
no further responsibilities to his children may find it easier to do so. But
there are no status differences among sannyasis based on whether they were
married or not. Sannyasa is seen to have cut away all previous ties, so
that the purva Asrama of the man does not matter. 

S. Vidyasankar