What is True Sanyasa or Renunciation

Faith and Spirituality

by Jayaram V

Sometimes we see spiritual people, even a few spiritual gurus, who consider themselves sanyasis, those who have given up worldly life. However, it does not seem that they have really given up worldliness. For example, they live in luxury, travel in comfort, stay in big hotels, appear to be attached to worldly things, power and wealth, and even to name and fame. Do they qualify as Sanyasis? What is the true meaning of Sanyasa?


I have written about this in a few essays before, but let me explain it again in more detail.

What is true renunciation? Let us examine this. You must have heard of sanyasa. You might have seen several sanyasis, or people who have renounced the worldly life. Let us examine what it truly means to be a renunciant. Living as if you are already dead, as if you do not exist, as if you do not matter, as if you are not there even when you are there, this is true renunciation. It may sound a little harsh to those who are not familiar with the subject, or those who do not like to think about death.

However, to live as if one is no more while one is still alive, this is the essence of true renunciation. It is giving up all hope, desires, fears, likes and dislikes, preferences, priorities, goals, so that you no more indulge in striving, struggling, resisting, defending, controlling, attacking and amassing. In short, it is not doing what you normally do in worldly life to sustain yourself, or promote yourself and your interests. A true renunciant remains alone and satisfied within himself, giving relationships, ownership, attachments, associations, identities, affiliations, opinions and beliefs. By this definition, very few people in the world qualify as renunciants. You will not find them because they usually shun society and the company of worldly people.

Aloneness is the defining aspect of true renunciation because liberation itself means aloneness (kaivalyam). Living without expectations, plans, goals and hope, a sanyasi walks alone on the path, even when he is surrounded by people. This may sound extreme to those who are accustomed to worldly life and who have secured their lives through careful planning.

While it is true that ascetic life is a life of hardship and uncertainty, it has its own advantages. A true renunciant who has disciplined himself and controlled his mind and body enjoys much greater freedom than those who take upon themselves the burdens of worldly life.

Renunciation opens the doors of freedom to those who are willing to go through the necessary purification and transformation. It is like you leave behind all the excess baggage that you have been carrying all along on your back in the journey of your life. When you carry that baggage, your mind remains preoccupied with that baggage and you experience fear and anxiety at the thought of losing it and finding yourself stranded somewhere, without any support or protection. When you finally overcome your fear, and give up all that, you experience a great relief.

To pursue the path of renunciation and live like a Sanyasi requires a lot of courage and mental toughness. Only a few people in the world can do it. In today’s world, it is even more difficult to practice renunciation because the distractions are too many.

Therefore, even if you have a strong urge, you will not easily break your bonds and take up Sanyasa. One may dabble with spirituality from the comfort of home, enjoying security, support, privilege, status, and in the expectation of some reward such as peace of mind or approval and appreciation from others. However, it is extremely challenging to plunge into it wholeheartedly and practice renunciation on the path of asceticism.

The difficulties of Sanyasa become magnified from the perspective of worldly life and to people who are accustomed to living in comfort, but those who undertake the journey express a different opinion about it. They say that if your faith and commitment are strong, renunciation takes away all cares and concern and makes you feel unburdened and free from the troubles of life.

It is as if your chains have been removed and you have been released from the prison of worldly life. You may not like to take that extreme step because you may have to still settle your karma and resolve your major desires and attachments.

However, give it a thought. Visualize the life of a renunciant, the traveling monk, who has neither home nor possessions but a good cheer in his heart, courage to face life as it happens and willingness to go wherever it leads him to. Imagine for a while how it will be if you let go of all control and become a passive witness in the drama of life, as if you do not exist at all, as if you do not matter and as if you have no say in anything.

You may not easily give up your identity or status or ownership, but one day they will be taken away from you. As you grow older, you begin to realize the futility of life, the lack of any purpose to it, and your own transience. The world will eventually swallow you, your memories and your footprints and bury your ghost image in the graveyard of lost history. Imagine how many people must have lived so far upon earth and how many of them we really remember. Therefore, even if you are not ready for Sanyasa, cultivate the attitude of renunciation without becoming too involved with the world, your identity, self-importance, or your relationships

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