Sannyasa is a commitment and dedication which one makes in order to improve oneself in the course of life, in order to have a different kind of life and vision, and to inculcate spiritual values.
Karma sannyasins are not renunciates. They live in society with the pledge that they will try to re-orientate themselves to grow spiritually and accelerate their evolution. It is a personal commitment and the change is only internal.
Karma sannyasins have to evolve while living in society and performing their duties. A lotus leaf is born, grows and dies in the mud, but never gets soiled by it. It always looks pure and pristine. No trace of mud is ever seen on a lotus flower. In the same way, karma sannyasins have to live in the world and yet maintain the purity of their ideals.
They may want to help others, do some personal sadhana or live in an ashram for some time to further their spiritual life. It is a personal choice, but not imposed. They have to think about the ways to improve themselves. If leaving a job and society for a little while to live in a place like an ashram will help them, then they can do it, but it is not mandatory.
Sannyasins do not belong to any sect or order, and are not monks or nuns. The sannyasa tradition was started by Adi Guru Shankaracharya as the Dashnami Parampara, the tradition of Dashnami, the ten names. Sannyasins have two ideals, one is renunciation, tyaga, and the other is vairagya, detachment. These are their tools and mental state.
You cannot just become a sannyasin; you have to have a certain kind of mind. You have to have the realization that this is how you want to live your life. You cannot pretend to be a renunciate or be detached. If you do not have detachment, why should you pretend to be detached?
It is a state of mind that some people attain. In the course of their life they feel a disinterest for material pursuits; they don't feel attracted to that. Therefore, they opt for sannyasa because it attracts them. It is a realization. Otherwise sannyasa has no meaning, because just putting on the geru cloth and shaving one's head has no meaning if it is not accompanied by an ideal, a state of mind and feeling.
It has to be a very strong realization, because if it is not strong, then you won't be able to sustain it. Sannyasa life is not an easy life, but a life of struggle. In society you have to struggle with circumstances, in sannyasa you have to struggle with yourself. It is only easy if you have a strong conviction. If you believe in it and have faith and trust, only then will it not be difficult. Therefore, sannyasa is only possible for those who have a strong conviction for sannyasa.
Poorna sannyasa, like paramahamsa sannyasa, is not an order, but a state of mind. Sannyasins do not belong to anyone, no order, no sect. They are free thinkers and live a free life.
I live in the institution and my guru is there, but if I want to leave I can leave and nobody can say anything about it. Nobody will even ask me to stay. If I become a nun and decide to leave, I will be ex-communicated. It is not so in sannyasa. Sannyasins can live any kind of life that they think will help in their evolution. They are beyond the norms of society, live out of society and have rejected society. They do not own or possess anything - even the clothes I wear don't belong to me. And they choose to live like that. It's not that it is imposed on them, they have voluntarily decided to live like that, there's a difference. They are not suffering because they do not own anything. On the contrary, it gives them immense joy not to own anything.
Swami Satyananda created a vast empire in Munger and traveled the world over. He has thousands and millions of friends, devotees, well-wishers and admirers who yearned to have a glimpse of him, but he just left it all and walked off because he said, "It is not mine." He did not have the idea of ownership when he left Munger in 1988.
Sannyasins do not leave their homes to run an ashram, make disciples, earn wealth, become famous or give lectures. Swami Sivananda asked him to do it and so he did, but when the work which his guru asked him to do was accomplished, he left everything in pursuit of what he had left his home for, namely to realize his Self. The only commitment that sannyasins have is to further their commitment. Swami Sivananda asked Swami Satyananda to spread yoga, so he did it.
That is the tradition to which we sannyasins belong and we have to follow these ideals. We cannot be directors, builders or teachers and do the same thing our whole life. We have to grow and explore possibilities. That is the necessity and the way that sannyasins live their life.
Then one day we even leave that, just as Sri Swamiji has now left institutions completely. He is on a universal plane; he is working for the universal welfare of mankind. When a saint or a sadhu or a sannyasin applies his mind to meditation, then the environment is helped, because he is increasing the level of sattwa in the environment. Sattwa sustains the universe, not tamas and rajas, and if sattwa disappears this universe will collapse.
—Harrogate, England, 18 July 2009