UBC Theses and Dissertations

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UBC Theses and Dissertations

Sanyasi Wake, Charles Julian


After researching all the data I could find pertinent to the Indian sanyasi, the subject of this thesis, it became apparent that the principal question raised by this research is being posed again in a contemporary form in the conflict between two schools of the "underground" press. On the one hand is the position of the effervescent counter-culture, emphasizing spontaneous personal self-expression and a kind of self-determination that ignores as much as possible its connections with the society from which it is a peripheral offshoot. On the other is the more radical organized stance which argues that the former's position is self-deceiving, summing it up by saying that "personal solutions are no solutions", (see The Grape, vol. II, no. 12). To the latter, sanyasis are anathema, particularly those (the 'gurus') who ask others to adopt their personal solutions to the problem of social freedom as their own. This thesis accepts the latter's stance and undertakes to demonstrate its validity from a sociological point-of-view. Nonetheless it then goes on to treat sympathetically the relationship between the sanyasi and Indian society, arguing that this relationship allows for personal solutions that are tantamount to redemption for a few individuals. Such solutions are in fact the only ones possible to the problem of freedom from social obligation in India. If renunciation alone makes such solutions possible, then it may be that freedom from social obligations, together with the implication of being free to be one's self without threat to others, can be available to only a few members of any society. (There cannot be a "society" of renunciates.) By examining the other implications of renunciation, it may be possible to learn how whole cohesive units of people can develop such freedoms and yet remain committed social beings with the desirable implications of that condition. By conceding the validity of the sanyasi’s spiritual redemption and the parallel but compensatory and partial redemption for those who remain within society, it is possible to explore the meaning of the religious system of India. Since it has to do with apparently ultimate questions, the conclusions reached are ultimately unsatisfactory. It is tempting to suppose that a more poetical or experiential approach may lead to more satisfying answers. The sociological approach taken does however allow the questions to be framed in a way that may illuminate how they are tackled or answered in our own society. It is too bad that we have to continue with only the hope that an answer can be found which avoids either the extremes of renunciation, overbearing self-assertion or a state of self-abnegating slavery.

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