The word sannyas comes from the Sanskrit 'samnyas': this is derived from two roots: sam - complete, total; and nyasa- abandonment, setting aside. The ideal of sannyas is the perfect abandonment of one's material, emotional and intellectual attachments, so that the situations of life can be seen clearly and used to enhance awareness and understanding. Without renunciation and detachment, one can never see the world objectively as it is. Only when freed of self-identification, personal desires and ambitions, can the mystery of life begin to be unravelled, so that one begins to perceive the underlying reality hidden beneath the appearances of the world. Only this knowledge, and nothing else, can bring you security and peace of mind.
Renunciation and detachment are the foundations of sannyas. These are the two qualities which distinguish a sannyasin from other people. It is the quest of a sannyasin to attain perfect renunciation and detachment, for that is the state of complete egoless-ness, the highest state of consciousness.
Renunciation is a symbolic outer action, the act of leaving behind the objects and habits which bind the individual to a pattern of life in which the consciousness cannot be liberated and higher levels of awareness cannot be developed and sustained. Detachment is essentially an inner attitude. It is the breaking of the bondage of the mind to possessions, people and property. Renunciation and detachment cannot really be considered separately, because they cannot exist independently from each other. They are like the two sides of one coin. Renunciation is the outer action while detachment is the inner attitude which accompanies it. They grow hand in hand all throughout sannyas life. One who lives according to these two principles and has received initiation into spiritual life from the guru, is called a sannyasin.
Some consider that it is one's selfish motives, while others say that it is the world itself which is renounced. Still others maintain that it is only those actions which are not conducive to human welfare or which create difficulties for others, which are to be renounced. Therefore the sannyasin requires discrimination in order to know for himself what it is that he renounces!
External renunciation is actually of little value without first renouncing the ego- the principle of self-motivation. Otherwise the more external objects that are renounced, the stronger the ego will become. However, if the sannyasin principally renounces the ego, then attachment to objects will automatically diminish without any effort. It is never the object itself which has to be renounced, but the ownership, the attachment to it. Only when the relationship between the owner and the object is perceived very clearly does freedom from the illusion of the object arise. There is nothing to renounce in life beyond our attachments and our basic instincts. The sannyasin sacrifices his lower self, his instinctive life, for the sake of a higher life.
Liberation cannot be attained without renunciation. This is because the veil of ignorance cannot be lifted while one is still personally involved in worldly life. The secret of renunciation is to want nothing. Renunciation of one's family and material life is not enough. What is required is renunciation of egoism, small-mindedness and all the negative qualities that stand in the way of spiritual evolution.
Renunciation makes one fearless and happy. The wealth of the whole world belongs to one who has renounced all selfish motivation. Nature cares for him wherever he goes and his material needs are satisfied by themselves. One who possesses the divine virtues of renunciation and detachment radiates peace and bliss, and is welcomed by all. For him there is no such thing as a stranger, and the whole world is his home.
In the worldly life, people are happy for five minutes and then weep for the next five minutes. Only in the highest consciousness, which is attained by renunciation and detachment, is there eternal bliss. This is why no one can imitate the blissful smile of a sannyasin.
Although sannyas is the way of renunciation, one initially decides to tread this path because of desire. Man's real desire is for the higher life, and in sannyas, the gratification of all lesser desires is re-channelled towards this single major aim. One can have ambition, social ideals, sensual expression, or any form of desire, large or small, yet still be a renunciate. How are these transcended in spiritual life? While everyone has desire, the spiritual aspirant utilises and directs it to strengthen and stabilise the highest states of awareness. The sannyasin sees, feels and experiences everything before him, but he totally renounces that feeling we experience when something is taken away. He renounces not the object, but that feeling. The object will always be there, but the attachment to the object, craving the experience of, the object, must be eliminated.
The energy that is directed towards any desire is so powerful, and has so much force behind it that it has to be expressed in some way in order to avoid suppression and disease. Most people express it externally on the physical plane in a way that is never full or complete. Thus it leaves buds that flower and produce the fruits of dissatisfaction, discontent, restlessness, frustration and emptiness. The sannyasin, however, learns to link and direct this dissipated energy towards a higher and greater fulfilment. Through selfless service and total dedication all the desires become unified into a single desire, and as the energy and concentration increase, the mind becomes extremely powerful, like a laser beam, able to pierce to the very core of existence.
Although the sannyasin lives in this world without attachments, he never acts carelessly or irresponsibly. Responsibility means 'the ability to respond'. It is detachment which enables the sannyasin to respond to all life's situations creatively. Detachment is not a listless un-involvement in life, but is a living sacrifice. With detachment one strives for perfection, but without any expectation for the fruits or results of the work. Because he is free from personal involvement and problems, a sannyasin is able to shoulder a double work load. A sannyasin works for the benefit of all, considering the work itself as sufficient cause or motive and sharing with others whatever fruits result from the work.