The person whose mind is always free from attachment, who has subdued the mind and senses, and who is free from desires, attains the supreme perfection of freedom from Karma through renunciation.
-<i>From the Bhagwad Gita</i>
Sanyasa is an order of life, in which one gets detached from worldly affairs to attain supreme freedom. And a sanyasi is one who follows this order of life and aims to be free from worldliness to attain nirvana (salvation). He follows a disciplined path – which includes the purification of body, mind and emotions. He restrains and controls the mind through his <i>sadhana</i>(spiritual practice), <i>tapasya</i>(penance) and meditation regimen. He unfolds from within himself a profound love of God. His practice of <i>upasana</i> or worship is predominantly internal, seeking God from within.
During my childhood days, I often used to ask myself what actually renunciation meant and how one attains it. Whenever I would go out with my parents to some temple and see all those <i>Rishi-Munis</i> (Sages) in saffron clothes and flowing beard with a peculiar <i>chandan tika</i> on their foreheads, I used to ask my parents who they were. For which I used to get an answer that they were sanyasis (renunciates). I would then wonder that if God, all-pervading and omnipresent, dwells in the heart of all beings and ultimately gives liberation to all creatures through death, then why would people want to become sanyasis. Although death doesn’t necessarily mean liberation, as a child, life was that simple for me.
Now, if somebody asks me whether I would like to be a sanyasi, then my answer would be in the negative. I don’t want to become a sanyasi because I feel that we have all come in this world to perform the respective tasks assigned to us by the Supreme Being. I strongly believe that Karma is better than renunciation and if one performs his or her Karma diligently then they will ultimately get liberation.
However at that time, I read many books including the Bhagwad Gita to know about renunciation and even had a discourse with various sadhus(sages). To my surprise, I realised that there were only a handful of people who actually knew what sanyasa meant and how to attain Nirvana.
I found that most people, who claim that they were great sadhus, actually had no idea about it. They just claimed to have separated themselves from all ‘worldly engagements’ to delve into the ‘inner self’. I would get the feeling that they were escapists and were tired of their family life so they opted for sannyasa as an easy way out to make a living. Some were merely following it as their family business.
I have read about Gautam Buddha too. Born a prince, he chose the life of a wandering beggar during his attempts to attend Nirvana. Siddhartha Gautam gained a whole new perspective on life when he decided to walk the path of Nirvana.
Of course, the path through which Gautam Buddha attained Nirvana was very difficult. When he sat under the Bodhi Tree for forty days, he said that though "flesh may wither, blood may dry up, but I shall not rise from this spot until Enlightenment has been won".
No matter how controversial it sounds, I feel that Siddhartha too ran away leaving behind his wife and a son. He was 29 years old when he decided to give up the life of luxury and follow the ascetic path.
On the other hand, Meera Bai, the Hindu mystical poetess, who is famous for Krishna bhajans was a spiritual lover of Lord Krishna, but in the physical or materialistic world she was the wife of Prince Bhoj Raj. She did not run away from life and performed all her duties to the best of her abilities. Yes, it was difficult for her as there were problems even when her husband was around. Attempts were even made to kill her as once she was given poisoned <i>charnamrit</i> in the name of Lord Krishna’s <i>prasad</i> which may have forced her to leave her home and step out. However, from inside she had surrendered herself to Sri Krishna, and thus was liberated inspite of being outwardly worldly.
What I believe is that it’s only one percent of devotees, who actually follow the path of renunciation with all their heart and soul. A worldly man’s one second of spiritual connect with God may be equal to a sanyasi’s years of detachment. The difference lies in the intensity and purity of the seeker.