Because Vaisnava culture emphasizes renunciation, many ISKCON devotees have accepted sannyasa. However, sometimes those who have accepted sannyasa have had difficulty maintaining their vows. This has sometimescreated disruptions in ISKCON. Thus the Sannyasa Ministry has tried to create systems to train candidates for sannyasa so that new sannyasis are more mature and better prepared for this service.
Question: What is the essence of being a sannyasi, and how does one become one?
According to Bhagavad-Gita, a sannyasi is someone who has completely dedicated his activities without material desire for the service and satisfaction of Krishna. Thus by this definition, any advanced Krishna conscious devotee could be considered a sannyasi.Still, those who have taken a vow of complete celibacy and are fully engaged in spreading Krishna consciousness are given special honor because of their practical renunciation.
Question: So who is eligible to become a candidate for sannyasa?
In the purport to Caitanya Caritamrita, Madhya-lila 3.6, ISKCON founder Srila Prabhupada writes: “If one accepts the sannyasa order, his main business is to devote his life completely to the service of Mukunda, Krishna. If one does not completely devote his mind and body to the service of the Lord, he does not actually become a sannyasi. It is not simply a matter of changing dress.”
It is clear that Srila Prabhupada, following the example of previous Vaishnava acaryas, wanted ISKCON devotees to take sannyasa only if they are sufficiently qualified. This the part of the responsibility of the GBC Ministry for Sannyasa Services. Every year, at the GBC General Meeting in Mayapur, the Sannyasa Services Committee recommends to the GBC who might become a sannyasa candidate. And in order to give recommendations to the GBC, the Committee also assesses the already existing sannyasa candidates.
First, every devotee applying to become a sannyasa candidate must first have a GBC sponsor, as well as a proposed sannyasa guru. He should have already passed the Bhakti Sastri examination and have received a certificate.
Then the candidates being assessed must fill in a thorough application form that includes:
1. Age of the candidate.
2. Data necessary to do an astrological analysis.
3. Marital status.
4. If the applicant was previously married, then information about when separated or divorced from the wife, including legal separation or divorce papers. Also information about how is present wife and children are maintained if the candidate receives sannyasa. When applicable, the wife must give a written statement of agreement that her husband takes sannyasa.
5. Passing the Bhakti Sastri exam is a minimum qualification to apply for becoming a sannyasa candidate.
6. Preaching experience and future preaching plans. Past responsible positions held within ISKCON.
7. A letter with a resume detailing the devotee’s devotional career in or outside of ISKCON.
8. A letter explaining the devotee’s reasons for wanting to take sannyasa.
9. Information about any possible criminal record.
10. Information about their opinions on certain controversial subjects.
11. Signed oath of loyalty to ISKCON.
12. A letter of endorsement from the local GBC and managerial body.
13. Names of 10 senior ISKCON devotees (i.e. sannyasis, GBC’s temple presidents etc.) who can give an assessment of the devotee’s qualifications to take sannyasa.
14. Names of 5 senior devotees who you trust can act as your mentors and give the Sannyasa Ministry feedback as to the devotee’s preaching and devotional advancement.
15. An affirmation by the devotee that he is willing to travel and preach in areas designated by the Sannyasa Ministry and the GBC Executive Committee for one to two months a year. Both during the period that the applicant is a sannyasa candidate and after the candidate takes sannyasa.
After the candidate submits this application, the Sannyasa Services Committee reviews it. If the application is accepted, then the Committee interviews the applicant. The Committee may also interview others who are familiar with the candidate’s qualifications and devotional history. After the assessments are completed the Committee may make a recommendation to the GBC Body that the applicant becomes a sannyasa candidate.
If the candidate is accepted then that does not mean he takes sannyasa immediately. Instead,according to different criteria such as age his age, he’s put on a waiting list for different amounts of time. For instance, if the candidate is 50 years old the minimum wait is two year, at 45, the wait is three years, at 40, it’s four years, and at 35, five years.
Any requirement for being placed on the sannyasa waiting list or being accepted as eligible for taking initiation in the sannyasa ashrama can be waived, but only in exceptional cases and by a vote of at least 4/5th majority of the GBC.
After one is accepted as a candidate for sannyasa, his sponsor must send in annual reports, as well as making assisting the Ministry if necessary in improving the candidate’s conduct, behavior or attitude.
Each year, the sannyasa candidates must submit reports on their preaching, devotional practices, and finances. Also, the candidate must travel with an experienced sannyasi who can train him and give feedback on hisprogress.
The Sannyasa Ministry is aware that sannyasis have an important service in ISKCON. Thus the Ministry welcomes suggestions on how to improve the process of selecting and training sannyasa candidates.
The members of the GBC Standing Sannyasa Committee are:
1. Bhakti Caitanya Swami
2. Bhaktivaibhava Swami
3. Guru Prasad Swami
4. Hrdaya Caitanya dasa
5. Prahladananda Swami (chairman)
6. Sivarama Swami
APPLICATION: ISKCON members who want to apply for sannyasa can download the application form from the download page.