Why do Sannyasis avoid looking at women?


For sannyāsis, not looking at women is only the starting point, it is not the destination. They are actually trying to slay their indriyas to the point that they are unaffected by the opposite sex.

Śaṅkarācārya says in Vivekachūdāmani:

The deer, the elephant, the moth, the fish and the honey-bee---these five meet death because of their bondage to one of the five senses. What then is the condition of a person who is attached to all five?

Sense-objects are even more virulent in their tragic effects than a king cobra. Poison is fatal to one who swallows it, but the sense-objects kill him who merely looks at them. with his eyes.

One who is liberated from the terrible bonds of desires for sense-objects, so very difficult to renounce, is alone fit for liberation and none else, even if well-versed in all the six schools of philosophy.

In the legend of Viśvāmitra from Vālmīki Rāmāyaṇa, we see how Viśvāmitra is temporarily distracted by the apsara Menaka and loses track of his tapasya.

In the story of Dharma-vyādha we see that the sage, Kauśika, has probably mastered his senses over the opposite sex (as he has a lengthy conversation with the lady of the house) but he has not slayed his ego (ahankāra) and anger yet as he considers himself superior to a householder.

In the following story of two monks (probably of Buddhist origin), we see how the younger one holds on to the thought of a woman even after the senior monk has long forgotten about the incident.

A senior monk and a junior monk were traveling together. At one point, they came to a river with a strong current. As the monks were preparing to cross the river, they saw a very young and beautiful woman also attempting to cross. The young woman asked if they could help her cross to the other side.

The two monks glanced at one another because they had taken vows not to touch a woman.

Then, without a word, the older monk picked up the woman, carried her across the river, placed her gently on the other side, and carried on his journey.

The younger monk couldn’t believe what had just happened. After rejoining his companion, he was speechless, and an hour passed without a word between them.

Two more hours passed, then three, finally the younger monk could contain himself any longer, and blurted out “As monks, we are not permitted a woman, how could you then carry that woman on your shoulders?”

The older monk looked at him and replied, “Brother, I set her down on the other side of the river, why are you still carrying her?

So for a sannyāsi, it is not just about 'not seeing' or 'not touching' a person of opposite sex, the ultimate goal is to reach the state where you remain unaffected even when facing the opposite sex.

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