Who is a Sannyasin?

From the teachings of Swami Sivananda Saraswati

A real sannyasin is the only mighty potentate on this earth. He never takes anything. He always gives. It was sannyasins who did glorious work in the past. It is sannyasins who can work wonders in the present and in the future also. It is only bold sannyasins, who have cut off all ties and connections, who are fearless, freed from delusion, passion, and selfishness who can do real service to the world.

The fundamental difference between the outlook of a worldly person and a sannyasin is that the former works for himself and his family, with attachment, and the latter endeavours to engage in some form of service for a common good, with detachment and non-expectation of reward. If the world is to cure itself of all the ills it suffers from, the ideal associated with sannyasa must seep into the perspective of the people at large, at least in a certain measure. It is this ideal of renunciation, rightly understood and sincerely practised, that could solve many of the problems prevalent today.

Sannyasins maintain and preserve the knowledge and teachings of the spiritual traditions. It is these people who give solace to the householders when they are in distress. They bring hope to the hopeless, joy to the depressed, strength to the weak, and courage to the timid. One real sannyasin can change the destiny of the whole world!

Tyaga – renunciation

The world is enveloped in a shadow of selfishness and infatuation with material objects. Life is ruled by greed. In a blind quest for mundane interests, the inordinate desire to possess and amass, man forgets his true being. Renunciation is not negative. On the contrary, it is positive idealism which lends sanity to life. The process of renunciation begins with a gradual weaning of the mind from selfish attachment to material objects and mundane desires, in moulding a correct attitude into the nature of things and values related to the ennobling of life, in merging the individual ego in the cosmic will through selfless service, prayer, self-discipline, reflection and meditation. It is the spirit of selflessness that enables one to soften the sharp edges of egotism. Such is the ideal of renunciation, which every human being must develop as best as possible within the framework of the circumstances one is placed in.

The kinship of the sannyasin is the kinship of the spirit. He is related to the world, and serves mankind in the light of his realization. His renunciation is not something negative, but gives him a true understanding of life, and of the objects and values of the world. His attitude to the mundane world is based on a positive, helpful spirit of detachment.

Viveka – discrimination

Sannyasa is a life of renunciation and applied practical wisdom. Knowledge is a primary factor which forms the backbone of sannyasa – not merely bookish learning, but a knowledge that is bound up with one’s life itself.

What is it that fires up the spirit of renunciation in the aspirant? It is the instinctive feeling of the presence of something that is different from what he perceives through the senses. Now what does one renounce? What is the object that is not conducive to one’s practising spiritual sadhana? What is the condition or state that is to be abandoned? This can be known only if you analyze your experience properly.

Most people lack the capacity for this analysis. You are somehow or other caught up in the meshes of life and confuse all kinds of experiences together. You take things for granted. The objects which the senses make you perceive, the knowledge which you attain through the senses, is taken as the basis of everything in this world. You build the edifice of life on sense experience.

The spiritual aspirant endowed with true viveka, discrimination, does not take things for granted, and is capable of entering into the meaning of experience. The eternal is never reached through the non-eternal. So, one who is intent upon the realization of the eternal cares not for the non-eternal.

Vairagya – dispassion

Vairagya does not mean denial of the physical necessities. Rather, it means a state of evaporation of desires through right understanding. Vairagya indicates moderation and abstemiousness, guided by dispassion. True vairagya should enable the moulding of a perfectly disciplined individual, with a broad outlook, a deep understanding of the realities of life, sympathy for fellow beings, great tolerance and a charitable heart. Therefore, it is said that no genuine sannyasin is devoid of a spontaneous glow of inner happiness.


The distinguishing quality of a sannyasin is universal love. Erudition by itself cannot be the mark of saintliness because an erudite person will not be able to love or to be loved as much as one who has surrendered completely to the divine. Such a person will have absolute peace of mind, complete purity, intuitive recognition of what is of permanent value, a quickness of intelligence to understand at one stroke the essence of the scriptures, an innate and intense longing for self-denial so that he might be of utmost use to the people, and, deep devotion to and unfailing faith in the Lord.

When one is born with sannyasa samskaras, no force on the earth can prevent him or her from taking sannyasa. Even if you keep a hundred guards to prevent such a person from leaving the house, they cannot check him. The father of the great Buddha guarded him in all possible ways, but his horse leapt the heights of the compound and took him to the forest. One who has understood the glory and freedom of sannyasa cannot remain even for a day in the worldly life.

Just as there are research scholars or postgraduates in science, so also there should be postgraduate yogins and sannyasins who will give to the world their experiences and realizations in the field of spirituality. They will train students and send them into the world to uplift and support the distressed and the needy.

Never think that you are unfit for self-realization, that you are unfit for sannyasa or vedanta. This cowardly nature will not leave you if you do not exert to know the truth as it really is. Better aim at a lion and miss it than hunt a jackal and catch it. Better aim at sannyasa and Vedanta and fail in its practice than live a worldly life and succeed in it. Remember that you are born for this supreme end, not for anything else!