The meaning of sannyasa is sacrificing oneself for the sake of something. In the dictionary, the meaning of sannyasa is not tyaga, renunciation; it means samarpan, surrender, dedication. It means nyasa, trust; to place yourself in a trust. If you allocate a certain amount of your money to help the poor, you have placed it in trust; it has been dedicated. All the material, intellectual, physical and spiritual resources of a sannyasin should be dedicated. That is what sannyasa means.
The aim of sannyasa is not God-realization or moksha. The only aim of sannyasa is seva, selfless service. This is the aim of sannyasa because a sannyasin is not limited by circumstances. No condition can create pressure on a sannyasin. A sannyasin is the master of his own life. Today I can leave this place and go anywhere, for the circumstances do not come in my way. In the path of seva, one must make sure that circumstances do not become obstacles. Therefore, sannyasa must be considered the path of seva.
The life of sannyasa is the life of growth. If Narendra had not taken sannyasa, he could not have become Swami Vivekananda. There were many circumstances in his life that were obstacles on his path. The moment he took sannyasa, he removed the barriers that stood before him. Barriers are subjective; they are in your mind. A householder is bound by them, but not a sannyasin.
As far as devotion to God is concerned, or worship, prayer, pilgrimage, satsang and self-study, a householder can practice them and so can a sannyasin. Sannyasa is a path adopted by people in different ages to work for the welfare of humanity. There are many sannyasins working in the cities today who are able to guide people on the path of growth. There are many negative influences in the cities and people can easily go down the wrong lane there. The sannyasins guide and take you from the inauspicious path to the auspicious path.
Those who consider the path of sannyasa a razor’s edge should leave sannyasa. They are not worthy of it. Sannyasa is an easy path. If we know how to drive a car, it is very easy for us. If someone does not know how to drive, he’d better not even touch a car. There are people in whom the desires are mellow and there are people who have intense desires. The second category of people should not take sannyasa. However, for some rare people this may not be the case, such as Tulsidas or Surdas.
There is no difficulty in sannyasa. Sannyasa is ananda, bliss. That is why sannyasins have the suffix ‘ananda’ in their names. I have even lived the life of a beggar blissfully. In Varanasi, I would spread a cloth, place an aluminium bowl on it and people would drop alms in it. At night I would go off to sleep on the verandah of a temple. There was such bliss in that. From many people’s perspective, that would seem like suffering. In my eyes, it was completely blissful. In sannyasa life, whatever condition you live in, you should remain contented.
No one becomes a sannyasin; it is an internal feeling. It manifests from within. In the forties when I was in Rishikesh, there were very few sannyasins living in the ashram. All kinds of people would arrive with the idea of sannyasa, but run away within days. They realized that here no one would ask them whether or not they had eaten or taken a bath. Out of a thousand, maybe one stayed back.
The main task of sannyasins is to take people to the path of dharma without any coercion. A sannyasin speaks of wisdom, atman, God – he speaks of all that is positive and uplifting. Who other than a sannyasin will speak of these things? Until the minds of individuals in society do not go towards these subjects, crimes will not be curbed. Your mind is constantly under stress; it is thinking about money twenty-four hours a day, you get angry, you go through social struggles, but when you hear the words of a sannyasin, your mind finds a bit of rest and ease. The sannyasin brings balance to society. This is necessary. A sannyasin has nothing to do with politics or sects, he is engrossed in contemplation and is concerned with only one thing: what is appropriate and what is inappropriate under the prevalent circumstances.
Sannyasins are the barometers of an age. They travel everywhere, so they are able to perform this role naturally. Sannyasa is not for moksha or God-realization; sannyasa is taken only for serving society and requires immense dedication.
The most important quality in sannyasa is alakh niranjan, “I am a solitary traveler.” A sannyasin does not think that someone will feed him, nurse him when he is sick, look after him in old age or be with him all his life. If someone thinks of these things, he should not take sannyasa. Sannyasa means strength.
Sannyasa is a very powerful tradition. It does not just mean geru clothes. It means: “I am a solitary traveler., I came alone and I go alone. No one can move me from my path.” That is the vision that a sannyasin comes with. He knows the script that he has to follow and follows it. He does not care if he has to die tomorrow. He knows that whatever has to happen must happen.