Hinduism and its spiritual ideologies are very complex and multidimensional when compared to the other religions of the world. That might be the reason most people presume Yogis, Rishis, Sadhus, and Saints to be the same, as they appear very similar to each other. But in reality, they are very different on so many levels.
Their underlying beliefs, practices, eating habits, clothing, and ritual priorities are all completely different. Despite their differences, one thing about them remains unchanged. That is, they are all highly respected in Hindu society, and they have been regarded as the only real guides of Sanatana Dharma (Hinduism) since ancient times.
They used to, and still do, serve society with the eternal wisdom and knowledge earned through their rigorous ascetic practices. These Sadhus, Saints, and Yogis can be found in a wide variety of locations, depending on their particular spiritual practices and other pursuits.
Their presence can be found almost everywhere in India, from the deep depths of Himalayan mountain caves, woods, and crematoriums to ashrams, temples, and other pilgrimage sites. We’ll study a little more about them in this article so that you can tell them apart easily.
Who Are Rishis?
Rishi is a title given to someone who has attained enlightenment. They are credited with writing the original Vedic hymns. However, from the post-Vedic tradition of Hinduism to the twenty-first century, they are often regarded as “great yogis” or “sages” who have attained enlightenment and realized the eternal truth after years of intense austerity.
The title “Rishi” is a Sanskrit word with many contradictory meanings, but the most widely accepted one is: “One who transcends this mundane world through spiritual knowledge”.
The Jaiminiya Brahmana and Brihadaranyaka Upanishads contain some of the earliest mentions of Rishis. However, in Hinduism, Rishis are the people who have already conquered their human emotions, such as anger, greed, attachment, ego, jealousy, and so on, and can see the supreme reality beyond the materialistic world.
Can Only Brahmins Become Rishis?
In ancient times, anyone with the determination to realize the ultimate truth could become a Rishi by following and practicing a certain type of rigorous meditation for many years. It’s worth noting that the title of Rishi used to be bestowed only by their gurus, and no one had the authority to claim it for themselves. Therefore, it has nothing to do with Brahmin casts.
The old caste system of India, which is still well known today, is both inaccurate and deceptive. For example, throughout the pre-vedic to post-vedic eras, caste hierarchy was determined purely by one’s occupation rather than birth.
For example, one of the greatest Rishis of all time, Vishwamitra, who wrote the famous Gayatri Mantra, was a Kshatriya (or military caste), whereas Valmiki, the original author of Ramayana, came from a hunter tribe (a lower caste in a sense).
Who is Maharishi?
Maharishi, also known as “Maharsi”, is an honorary title bestowed to a Rishi upon attaining the highest level of wisdom and asceticism. They spend most of their time studying and understanding the most in-depth and difficult knowledge of Vedic writings.
According to Hindu beliefs, they are born very rarely, often once or twice every couple of centuries. So, becoming a Maharishi is not something that a regular yoga guru is capable of. Dayanand Saraswati, the founder of Arya Samaj and the author of Satyarth Prakash, was the last known Maharishi.
Who Are Called Muni?
The term Muni is derived from the Sanskrit word “mounam”, which means – to remain silent. Therefore, a muni is someone who can control and silence their illogical thoughts.
They are also identified in other Hindu texts and scriptures as the ones who interpret and contemplate the meaning of Vedic hymns and mantras. Many people believe that Munis do not speak in their daily lives because they take a vow of silence. While this is usually true, it is not always entirely correct.
I mean if you’ve heard about the famous Narada Muni from various Hindu epics and scriptures like Ramayana and Purana, he is clearly seen there talking with devas and gods. Heck, even he sometimes talks too much in my opinion.
So, the first interpretation is not entirely correct. Munis are a type of philosopher, thinker, and introverted person who usually lives in retirement, meditates, and adheres to the vow of noble silence (or, Mauna). They typically live alone and normally do not impart knowledge with others, but stay busy in their own quest of finding the self.
Who Is A Sadhu And What Does It Mean?
The word “Sadhu” literally translates to “anything that is good” in Sanskrit. Therefore a sadhu is someone who is very good in nature. However, it is a very broad term to interpret their characteristics upon. Sadhu is also used to call holy men who are on the path of seeking enlightenment.
Most westerners have only heard of the Aghori Sadhus or Naga Sadhus, but there are numerous other sects of Sadhus in India that practise various esoteric rituals. Their customs and beliefs differ from one another at times, which further confuses the general public about Sadism. Despite their differences, almost all sects of Sadhus follow a similar ascetic lifestyle.
Except for Aghoris and Nagas, most sadhus can be found throughout India and Nepal. They frequently wander around cities, walking along streets with a begging pot and other items. They are highly regarded in society.
Can Only Brahmins Become Sadhu?
According to many old Indian folk stories, only brahmins were permitted to be sadhus in ancient times. Sadism, on the other hand, has been regarded as the highest form of religious life for the last 2000–3000 years, and everyone has the right to practise it.
So, anyone from any caste can now practise sadism and become a sadhu. It’s a simple process. Though depending on the sect, certain rituals can become extremely difficult to follow. To become a sadhu, one must take a vow of chastity and poverty.
They are expected to cut ties with their families and wear specific markings. Their clothing becomes associated with the sect to which they belong.
In India, it is estimated that there are approximately five million Sadhus who belong to thousands of schools and sects. The majority of sadhus are men, but there are a few sects of female sadhus known as Sadhvis.
Who Is Called Sanyasi?
According to Hindu beliefs, a person is called a Sanyasi when he renounces the world by performing his own funeral to live a meditative life. They do this to live a life without the toxicity of having money, power, prestige, and any kind of family bonding – basically by detaching themselves from society.
Sanyasi believes that the world is an illusion and all of the joys and pleasures that come from the material world are toxic and never last.