Once again, thoughts go to the idea of sannyasa – renunciation. Ideally, the life of the Hindu renunciant – the sannyasin – is based on a realization of a fact – the world passes like sand through your fingers. What gives happiness today may give sorrow tomorrow. As the Buddha put it, to not have something is dukkha (disappointment), and to have something is dukkha, because one day you will not have it.

Existence is understood as a fabric of two threads running together, intermingled yet distinct – the spiritual and the material – purusha and prakriti, atman and maya. The renunciant is he who has seen this two fold structure and having seen it, has stepped over to the spiritual thread.

Having stepped over, he need not do much. He keeps the body alive. Beyond that, there is little required to be done. Family will pass away. Wealth will pass away. Passionate hobbies will pass away. Like a cloak of clay, they will all slip off, leaving one’s core, the atman.

There seems to be no consensus on whether sannyasa is to be adopted only once one has had a perception of the truth, or if sannyasa is to be adopted as a path towards such a perception. Adherents of both views seem to populate Indian spirituality. To my understanding, it is only the first of these conditions whose fulfillment is a sign that one has the calling to take sannyasa. The ephemerality of life is to be realized first and then, life, as most men and women know it, is given up. To go the reverse way creates just another attachment, this time to one’s own identity and path as a sannyasin. 

And then, there is that text of texts, the Bhagavad Gita, that talks of renunciation in the life of action. One renounces not the outer objects of attachment, but one’s own attitude of attachment to them. Renouncing material success and relationships means little if, at the end of a hard day’s night, one craves for a comfortable room and the embrace of an intimate other. You renounce the outer attachments but the attachments of the inner world remain. To live is to desire. The essence of the spiritual path is not the elimination of desire – because this is not possible – but indifference to it.


Man escapes not the force of action

by abstaining from action

he obtains not any success

merely by renouncing the things of the world


For no one exists, O Arjuna,

for even an instant

without performing action

However unwilling, every being is forced to act

by the forces of his own nature

He controls the senses

but keeps recalling

the objects of the senses in his mind

Living such a life of delusion

he only fools himself.

Work alone is your proper business

never the fruits

Let not your motive be the fruit of works

nor your attachment to worklessness

Stand fast in discipline, surrendering attachment

In success and failure be the same

and give yourself to your work


The text goes on to explain why one should work and the proper relationship between the life of action and the life of renunciation. Here, it suffices to say that the higher life is the life of renunciation. For the true seeker, the life of action is either to be totally denied – as in the life of the sannyasin, perhaps always meant for a spiritual elite – or to be made a reference point, an expression and crystallization of its source, the atman.  Then, action is not for the fulfillment of one’s desire, but for the manifestation of one’s inherent potentialities. Whether this brings pain or pleasure is irrelevant, and that is the great renunciation that the Gita calls on us to live by.

~ by tdcatss on August 8, 2011.

6 Responses to “Sannyasa”

  1. Thank you, Kaif, for sharing your thoughts and insights and all the places that those take us! You are like a storehouse of wisdom and knowledge. :) This brought some scripture from the Bible to mind to me, but I’m not sure it really fits. You can decide and delete if not! :) Hope you are feeling well!

    From the New Testament Book of Romans, Chapter 7

    New International Version (NIV)

    Romans 7
    19 For I do not do the good I want to do, but the evil I do not want to do—this I keep on doing. 20 Now if I do what I do not want to do, it is no longer I who do it, but it is sin living in me that does it.

    21 So I find this law at work: Although I want to do good, evil is right there with me. 22 For in my inner being I delight in God’s law; 23 but I see another law at work in me, waging war against the law of my mind and making me a prisoner of the law of sin at work within me. 24 What a wretched man I am! Who will rescue me from this body that is subject to death? 25 Thanks be to God, who delivers me through Jesus Christ our Lord!

  2. Hi Debbie

    Thanks for sharing these words, I really appreciate it. I also find that often, I give in to fears, or to immature hopes, and not do what I feel is the right thing to do. There is a guiding light, but that light gets blurred or weakened by all the clouds of thoughts that come in the way.

    I was trying to express that for some people, it seems possible to permanently situate oneself in that guiding light, and even though the clouds remain, there is a basic rootedness in something else which shapes one’s being.

    The two laws at work – one spiritual and the other material, or as the Bible puts it, one from God and the other from sin – that is something very similar to what I was trying to express. Of course, the Christian way of putting it is more personal and explicit, while the traditions that I talked about are more impersonal and leave a lot unsaid, understanding the divine through a kind of ‘via negativa’ method, as they call it in Christian theology. I feel that this has its advantages and disadvantages.

    I think that for the Christians, that guiding light is manifested through God in his incarnation as Jesus Christ, who lives in one’s heart and opens up the spiritual life for those who learn to know him.

    Interestingly, I have read that there are also Christians (like Raimon Panikkar, a Catholic) who consider Jesus to be much larger in time and space than his earthly incarnation in Israel 2000 years ago. They consider Jesus as manifesting himself in many different ways, of which the particular manifestation 2 millenniums ago was significant in its special ways, but not the only one. I wonder how this kind of thinking goes with you, because I know that there are other Christians who do not agree.



  3. Ah Kaif . . .you stretch me. ha! You have such a great mind and communication skills! I am unlearned and unstudied. I read my bible and ask God to help me understand.
    Awhile back a friend who moved to Jerusalem, a messianic Jew, shared something that really impacted me. She was telling about her time of coming to Christ, and all the questions she had, and the differences in churches and what each believed and taught. God revealed to her that the particular congregation she was with may be right about some points, but their heart wasn’t right in feeling superior to others. So He told her not to worry about all of this, that He will come again and set all these kind of things right.
    I’ve held onto this and it has blessed me especially as I blog and read and am read by a wider group of people. I am thinking that I’m not to focus or look at the differences so much as what we can agree on. I will let Him decide and sort out the rest.
    So in light of that and without looking up about Raimon Panikkar, I am thinking about this and considering how He said in the Gospel According to John, “In the beginning was the Word and the Word was with God, and the Word was God.” John 1:1 NKJV Since Jesus was from the beginning, it makes sense that He could be manifested in various ways all along. I am thinking that there are specific indications of this in the Old Testament, but my brain isn’t letting me think of them! :)
    Thank you for helping me to think of things I would not otherwise consider, and so by doing, grow!

  4. Its nice to read your reply, Debbie :). You have a great mind and communications skills too!

    I like to focus on all the differences too but that is probably because I have a more ‘head’ orientation and you have a more ‘heart’ orientation. I agree with what you say about Jesus and His manifestations, but leave the details to be worked out by the theologians!

  5. Have you read Geoffrey Parrinder’s verse translation of The Geeta? Isn’t it so beautiful?

  6. I haven’t read it. Thanks for recommending it though.

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