In Treta-yuga, life may be maintained in the nervous system.In ages other then Kali, people could tolerate great penances because their bodies were not completely dependent on food. However, it is stated that in Kali-yuga, kalav annagatah pranah – one’s longevity depends on food. It is not possible to live without food.
All penances have been especially adjusted for Kali-yuga, and the only continuous fast allowed in Kali-yuga is for twenty-four hours, not more than that. In other ages, at least twelve days fasting was generally done – if a person had done anything wrong, then according to the smrti-sastra, twelve days fasting was the standard punishment for any sins.
But in Kali-yuga twenty-four hour fasting is the maximum, because without food a man cannot survive. If he were to take karma-sannyas while being so extremely dependent on material giving and taking, then he wouldn’t be able to maintain his existence. So karma-sannyas – which means to stop totally all activity with this material world – is useless because with complete non-cooperation with the material world, one cannot live in Kali-yuga, what to speak of preach.
But the life of a Vaisnava tridandi-sannyasi is not very extreme. Take prasadam and do service – this is a sort of modified form based on yuktahara viharasya – one living according to this principle can take sannyas. We find tridandi-sannyas in the sastra. Ravana, when he came to steal away Sita-devi, came as a tridandi. Arjuna, when he met Subhadra in disguise, took tridandi-vesa. Tridandi-sannyas is in the Bhagavat – the Avanti brahmana took tridandi-vesa and Krsna relates the story to Uddhava. Tridandi-sannyasis were well-respected in the society at that time. There are many types of sannyasis, but tridandi seems to hold the highest position of all sannyasis.
The ekadandi we find in the Sankara school, and in the Ramanuja sampradaya we find tridandi-sannyas. In the Vallabha sampradaya there is no sannyas. But in the Visnu-svami sampradaya, we find Sridhar Svami, who was a sannyasi. Our Guru Maharaj inaugurated tridandi-sannyas extensively in our sampradaya. He filled up the gap by awarding the brahmana’s thread and the danda. Varnasrama-dharma is but a step to Vaisnava-dharma. Brahmana-dharma vanishes, and above this Vaisnava-dharma begins. To show that, to preach that position to the society, and to the Vaisnava, he supplied the sannyas order to fill up the gap.
Bhaktisiddhanta Sarasvati Prabhupada took sannyas from his own guru – who was a babaji, which is above sannyas. He introduced it from the Ramanuja sampradaya, who took it from the Bhagavatam. Following the example of Ramanuja, he took sannyas from the picture of his Gurudeva, who was a babaji. So sannyas is included there in the genuine babaji order. We do not care for the pseudo-babaji order. At that time he did not find any suitable Vaisnava guru, so he had to take from a photo of his Gurudeva. He wandered through Vrndavan and struck his forehead with his palm. “I came to such a holy place, but I could not find a true Vaisnava here.” That was his impression there. That came from his mouth. He could not find a true Vaisnava in the whole of Vrndavan and Navadvip.
He had such a high standard of Vaisnavism in his mind – only Bhaktivinod Thakur and Gaura-kisor Das Babaji. In jyotisa (astrology) we find that where the planet of Brhaspati (Jupiter), has a greater influence, one may take tridanda-sannyas – Brhaspati is the deva-guru. Ekadanda-sannyas is influenced by Budha-graha (Mercury). Mangala (Mars) is very influencial with the kapalikas, who are Tantrikas. When Sani (Saturn) is very influential it is favourable for Jain sannyas. In this way it has been mentioned. Brhaspati is deva-guru – his influence is in favour of the tridanda order. Tridandis have much confidence in the society. So in the disguise of tridandis, Ravana and Arjuna went to fulfil their purpose, and Nityananda Prabhu broke the ekadanda of Mahaprabhu into three pieces, and Prabhupad also got some inspiration from there to give the tridanda to his followers; in contrast with the ekadanda which was current in Bengal.
Our danda has four dandas – one representing one’s own self, the jiva-danda, and the prasa, which is the emblem of cutting the anarthas of those we preach to, as well as those of the disciple. The sannyasi also takes a vow of dedicating three things. They must use their words only for the service of the Lord, they shall not think in an ordinary way, but in the cause of Mahaprabhu and guru, and they will preserve and dedicate their body in the service of the Lord, not otherwise. If they fail to do that, then there may be some deviation. We are to pray for that dedication, to invoke grace, and be forgiven in every case. When we slip and fall down on the ground, with the help of that same ground, we can again get up. Following this principle we are to try.
Prabhupad took the red cloth of sannyas. Though Mahaprabhu and His colleagues wore red cloth, still Sanatana Gosvami in the presence of Mahaprabhu took the white dress – the dress of a niskincana. Babajis are the gurus of the sannyasis – the teachers of the preachers, by giving instructions in the form of sastra – the code and the code-keeper. So they are engaged in preparing the spiritual code, and the babajis are in white cloth. They do not advertise themselves as preachers. The sannyasis are not engaged for their own benefit, but for helping the public as much as they can. Generally, the function of the sannyasis is to wander here and there and preach.
So Prabhupad created another batch of sannyasis under the babajis, who have given the directions in the sastra. To carry these instructions out and translate them into action, the next lower batch, the sannyasis were necessary. The babajis are turiya, beyond varnasrama, and within varnasrama the highest section is sannyas.
They are expected to travel through the length and breadth of the country, and to preach the religious doctrine to the people. And that was created by Prabhupad under the direction of those sastra makers, the gosvamis, for whom this religious preachers uniform was not necessary. They are niskincana, they did not want anything but they only prepared the religious code. Our Guru Maharaj wore this dress till the very end of his life. Almost everyone to whom he gave the red dress kept it, up to their last breath.
Only Krsna Das Babaji, who was a brahmachari, and who did not consider himself as a preacher, took babaji, after the departure of Guru Maharaj. One sannyasi, whimsically, took up babaji-vesa for some time, then rejected it and again took the red robe. Also, generally it is not the custom for the sannyasi or the babaji to keep a beard and long hair. But for a particular purpose, for preaching, it may be alright. When Sanatana Goswami approached Mahaprabhu, he had a full beard and He ordered, “Take him to a barber and remove it.” Both sannyasi and babaji do not keep such things. So, we do not like to keep beards, but during Chaturmasya-vrata, it is mentioned in the sastra, that we may keep hair and beard. Otherwise, generally not. But still, it is not that if one keeps long hair and long beard he cannot be a Vaisnava. There was one Vamsi Das Babaji, who was an independent Vaisnava.
Our Guru Maharaj also gave respect to him as a Vaisnava, but he had a big beard and did not shave at all. He was very negligent not as a fashion, but he did not allow any barber to shave him, yet he was a respectable Vaisnava. Even our Guru Maharaj had respect for him. If you keep a beard in order to preach (for example, in a Muslim country) for the purpose of your service for your Gurudeva, then that is alright. Nowadays, the Christian preachers are abandoning the gown and just wearing western dress, and the nuns who used to dress themselves very discretely, now dress like ordinary women. They are giving up their special dress, because they do not like to advertise that they are religious preachers – they do not like to show that they are a special group. Adaptability has manifested in this extreme position, so the dress is nothing, but everything is in the creed. What is the principle underlying all these changes in the system of the preachers? The creed is everything and the garment is nothing.