“The Supreme Lord said, To give up the results of all activities is called renunciation [tyaga] by the wise. And that state is called the renounced order of life [sannyasa] by great learned men.” (Lord Krishna, Bhagavad-gita, 18.2)Download this episode (right click and save)
Shri Chaitanya Mahaprabhu once referenced a verse from shastra which states a prohibition on the acceptance of the sannyasa ashrama in the age of Kali. Chaitanya was a divine preacher appearing in India during the medieval period. Shastra is scripture, ancient works of the Vedas that are timeless, not having a known date of inception. Sannyasa is complete renunciation, and an ashrama is a spiritual institution. The sannyasa-ashrama is the last stage of life if one follows the four ashramas assigned for man.
“In this Age of Kali, five acts are forbidden: the offering of a horse in sacrifice, the offering of a cow in sacrifice, the acceptance of the order of sannyasa, the offering of oblations of flesh to the forefathers, and a man’s begetting children in his brother’s wife.” (Brahma-vaivarta Purana, Krishna-janma-khanda, 185.180)
Despite being forbidden, Mahaprabhu Himself accepted sannyasa. He took the renounced order for specific reasons. Since He is a combined incarnation of God and the energy of God, there was no need for Him to accept any external garb or adhere to any formality. Still, by doing so He showed that there are several advantages to the sannyasa-ashrama.
1. No pressure from attachments
I would love to sit and read all day. There are so many books available to me, especially now that we are in the information age. I don’t have to go to the library or bookstore. I can purchase online and have the entire work downloaded and ready to read within seconds. I feel so peaceful after going through an entire book uninterrupted.
The problem is that I rarely get this opportunity. It doesn’t have to involve reading in your case. Just pick whichever activity you enjoy. There are so many pressing engagements that get in the way. These are all rooted in attachment. I am attached to my family, so I have to go to work to support them. Putting a roof over the head and food on the table is not enough. They need to be happy as well. Thus an entire lifetime can be spent dealing with the pressure due to attachments.
Sannyasa does not have this burden. Since it is full renunciation, there is typically no job. You maintain yourself by begging. Even in that there are rules. You’re not supposed to collect more than you need. There is no saving for a rainy day. I beg to get enough for today. Tomorrow I will have to beg again. Through this lifestyle, I am free of the pressures of work.
2. The ability to travel and spread the divine message
The begging is made easier when people see why you are doing it. If they see that you are constantly travelling, from place to place, not staying anywhere for too long, generally they understand that there is a benefit to helping the sannyasi. The sannyasi isn’t really begging; they are providing an opportunity for those with attachments to help someone spread the highest wisdom.
Without the pressure due to attachments, there is nothing to stop a preacher from going from village to village. The knowledge they share is necessary since man easily falls victim to attachments. The sannyasi allows a person to see the future, the sure-to-manifest vision of death wiping everything away.
3. People will respect you
A message is just words, after all. Philosophy is passed on in book form through shastra. What need is there, then, for a travelling preacher, who begs for a living? Can’t the truths of Vedic wisdom be assimilated by a person who has a job? We know intelligent people from all walks of life. Just let the ordinary man assume the burden of teaching society.
Sannyasa automatically brings some credibility. There is respect for a person who has renounced everything. Sannyasa is known as the fearless ashrama. There is no turning back. There is no time to worry about how to survive. Everything is placed in the Lord’s hands. Generally, people acknowledge this sacrifice by offering respect.
4. People put weight in your message
The benefit of receiving that respect is that there is more attention given to the message. It is like standing up in a classroom and making sure everyone is listening. It is one thing to preach detachment from a book, but it is another to live it. The sannyasi gets others to listen just based on the institution they have entered.
Since the message they bring carries extra weight, the sannyasi is also a kind of guru. They don’t have to be officially acknowledged as such, but since they teach the truth about the Supreme Lord, they are a spiritual master. The sannyasi-guru generally gets a lot of attention and respect. Society benefits from having respected people carrying the highest message.
5. Can better focus on God
This is the ultimate benefit to the individual entering the institution. It’s great to be free of the pressure due to attachments, but if you’re not truly self-realized, you’ll just create new attachments. You’ll then feel the pressure again. It’s great to travel from place to place, but if your mind is simply focused on the external beauty of different areas, there is little benefit.
The renounced order is meant for renunciation from material life. Vairagya, combined with jnana, facilitates the practice of bhakti-yoga. His Divine Grace A.C. Bhaktivedanta Swami Prabhupada translates bhakti-yoga as “Krishna consciousness.” Krishna is a name for God, and so bhakti-yoga is also “God consciousness.”
There is a prohibition on the institution of sannyasa in this present age of quarrel and hypocrisy due to the propensity to cheat. An easy way to avoid working for a living is to put on the garb of a renounced mendicant. Then you can use that position to fill your belly.
Nevertheless, the genuine sannyasi always brings a benefit, both to society and to themselves. Lord Krishna declares that the real meaning to sannyasa is the state of giving up the results to activities. This means that any person can enter the institution, at least in spirit. Indeed, the goal of the valuable human life is to reach this mindset of renunciation and go beyond to the stage of loving God without motive and without interruption.
Chaitanya the sannyasa position taking,
So that benefit for others making.
First that from attachments free,
Can travel anywhere, sleep under a tree.
From there others respect to give,
Attention when hearing of how to live.
Sannyasa tool for in devotion becoming stronger,
Really a spirit, when attached to results no longer.