Sannyasa is the Life of Renunciation

Sannyasa (संन्यास), sometimes spelled Sanyasa or Sanyasi (for the person), is the life of renunciation and the fourth stage within the Hindu system of four life stages known as Ashramas, with the first three being Brahmacharya (bachelor student), Grihastha (householder) and Vanaprastha (forest dweller, retired). Sannyasa has historically been a stage of renunciation, ahimsa (non-violence) peaceful and simple life, and spiritual pursuit in Indian traditions. However, this has not always been the case. After the invasions and establishment of Muslim rule in India, from the 12th century through the British Raj, parts of the Shaiva (Gossain) and Vaishnava (Bairagi) ascetics metamorphosed into a military order, where they developed martial arts, created military strategies, and engaged in guerrilla warfare. These warrior sanyasis (ascetics) played an important role in helping European colonial powers establish themselves in the Indian subcontinent.

Sannyasa Meaning

Saṃnyāsa in Sanskrit nyasa means purification, sannyasa means “Purification of Everything”. It is a composite word of saṃ- which means “together, all”, ni- which means “down” and āsa from the root as, meaning “to throw” or “to put”. A literal translation of Sannyāsa is thus “to put down everything, all of it”. Sannyasa is sometimes spelled as Sanyasa.

The ideal of Sanyasa - Swami Vivekananda
The ideal of Sannyasa – Swami Vivekananda


Sannyasa is a Sanskrit term that refers to a stage in a person’s life, or spiritual development, in which one renounces material possessions to concentrate purely on spiritual matters. Their goal at this point is to achieve moksha, which is liberation from the cycle of death and rebirth.

Types and Objectives of Sannyasa

Types of Sannyasa

In Hinduism, Sannyasa is one of the four ashramas or stages of life, and it represents the renunciate stage. Sannyasa is a profound spiritual commitment where individuals withdraw from their worldly duties and attachments to focus solely on their spiritual path and the pursuit of liberation (moksha). There are different types of Sannyasa, each with its unique objectives and characteristics:

Kutichaka Sannyasa

Kutichaka is the initial stage of Sannyasa, where the individual begins the process of detachment and renunciation. They may still have some external affiliations and obligations but gradually reduce them to pursue a more ascetic life.

Bahudaka Sannyasa

In this stage, the Sannyasi deepen their practice of detachment and asceticism. They may wander from place to place, seeking alms but still maintaining a basic connection to society.

Hamsa Sannyasa

The Hamsa Sannyasi has become highly advanced in spiritual practices. They have developed a profound understanding of the Self (Atman) and have transcended worldly desires and attachments.

Paramahamsa Sannyasa

Paramahamsa is the highest stage of Sannyasa, characterized by complete and absolute renunciation. The Paramahamsa Sannyasi has attained the highest spiritual knowledge and liberation (moksha). They are entirely detached from the world and embody the essence of spiritual wisdom.

Objectives of Sannyasa

Liberation (Moksha)

The primary objective of Sannyasa is to attain liberation or moksha, which is the liberation from the cycle of birth and death (samsara). Sannyasis dedicate their lives to the pursuit of spiritual knowledge and realization of their true nature, beyond the limitations of the material world.

Renunciation of Material Desires

Sannyasis voluntarily renounces all material desires, possessions, and relationships, focusing solely on their spiritual journey. By detaching themselves from worldly distractions, they aim to achieve self-realization and union with the divine.

Attaining Spiritual Wisdom

Sannyasa is a path of intense study and contemplation of sacred texts and scriptures. Sannyasis strive to deepen their understanding of spiritual truths and the nature of reality.

Spiritual Service (Satsang)

Sannyasis often engage in Satsang, which means associating with enlightened beings or other seekers on the spiritual path. They participate in discussions and spiritual gatherings to further their spiritual growth.

Spiritual Guidance

Advanced Sannyasis may also take up the role of guiding and teaching others on the path of spiritual growth and self-discovery.

It is essential to note that Sannyasa is a significant step in one’s spiritual journey and not a decision to be taken lightly. It requires deep commitment, renunciation, and a genuine calling to pursue a life dedicated to spiritual realization and liberation.

Sannyasa – sanatan culture
Types of Sannyasa: Hamsa Sannyasa

Sannyasa Lifestyle and Goals

Hinduism has no formal demands nor requirements on the lifestyle or spiritual discipline, method, or deity a Sanyasin or Sanyasini must pursue – it is left to the choice and preferences of the individual. This freedom has led to diversity and significant differences in the lifestyle and goals of those who adopt Sannyasa. There are, however, some common themes. A person in Sannyasa lives a simple life, typically detached, itinerant, drifting from place to place, with no material possessions or emotional attachments. They may have a walking stick, a book, a container or vessel for food and drink, often wearing yellow, saffron, orange, ochre, or soil-colored clothes. They may have long hair and appear disheveled and are usually vegetarians. 

Most Hindu ascetics adopt celibacy when they begin Sannyasa. 

The goal of Sannyasin

The goal of the Hindu Sannyasin is moksha (liberation). The idea of what that means varies from tradition to tradition.

Who am I, and in what really do I consist? What is this cage of suffering? — Jayakhya Samhita, Verse 5.7

For the Bhakti (devotion) traditions, liberation consists of union with the Divine and release from Saṃsāra (rebirth in future life); for Yoga traditions, liberation is the experience of the highest Samadhi (deep awareness in this life); and for the Advaita tradition, liberation is jivanmukti – the awareness of the Supreme Reality (Brahman) and Self-realization in this life. Sannyasa is a means and an end in itself. It is a means to decrease and then ultimately end all ties of any kind. It is a means to the soul and meaning, but not ego or personality. 

The behaviors and characteristics

The behavioral state of a person in Sannyasa is described by many ancient and medieval-era Indian texts. Bhagavad Gita discusses it in many verses, for example:

ज्ञेयः स नित्यसंन्यासी यो न द्वेष्टि न काङ् क्षति । निर्द्वन्द्वो हि महाबाहो सुखं बन्धात्प्रमुच्यते ॥५-३॥

He is known as a permanent Sannyasin who does not hate, does not desire, is without dualities (opposites). Truly, Mahabaho (Arjuna), he is liberated from bondage. — Bhagavad Gita, Hymn 5.3

Other behavioral characteristics, in addition to renunciation, during Sannyasa include:

  • Ahimsa (non-violence),
  • Akrodha (not becoming angry even if you are abused by others),
  • Disarmament (no weapons),
  • Chastity,
  • Bachelorhood (no marriage),
  • Avyati (non-desirous),
  • Amati (poverty),
  • Self-restraint,
  • Truthfulness,
  • Sarvabhutahita (kindness to all creatures),
  • Asteya (non-stealing),
  • Aparigraha (non-acceptance of gifts, non-possessiveness), and
  • Shaucha (purity of body speech and mind). 

Baudhayana Dharmasūtra

Baudhayana Dharmasūtra, completed by about the 7th century BC, states the following behavioral vows for a person in Sannyasa. These are the vows a Sannyasi must keep –

Abstention from injuring living beings, truthfulness, abstention from appropriating the property of others, abstention from sex, liberality (kindness, gentleness) are the major vows. There are five minor vows: abstention from anger, obedience towards the guru, avoidance of rashness, cleanliness, and purity in eating. He should beg (for food) without annoying others, any food he gets he must compassionately share a portion with other living beings, sprinkling the remainder with water he should eat it as if it were a medicine. — Baudhayana, Dharmasūtra, II.10.18.1-10

When can a person renounce?

Baudhayana Dharmasūtra, in verse II.10.17.2 states that anyone who has finished Brahmacharya (student) life stage may become ascetic immediately, in II.10.17.3 that any childless couple may enter Sannyasa anytime they wish, while verse II.10.17.4 states that a widower may choose Sannyasa if desired, but in general, states verse II.10.17.5, Sannyasa is suited after the completion of age 70 and after one’s children have been firmly settled. Other texts suggest the age of 75.

The Vasiṣṭha and Āpastamba Dharmasūtras, and the later Manusmṛiti describe the āśramas as sequential stages which would allow one to pass from Vedic studentship to householder to forest-dwelling hermit to renouncer. However, these texts differ from each other. Yājñavalkya Smṛti, for example, differs from Manusmṛiti and states in verse 3.56 that one may skip Vanaprastha (forest-dwelling, retired) stage and go straight from the Grihastha (householder) stage to Sannyasa.

Who may renounce?

The question as to which vaṛṇa may, or may not, renounce is never explicitly stated in ancient or medieval dharma literature, the more modern Dharmaśāstras texts discuss much of the renunciation stage in the context of dvija men. Nevertheless, Dharmaśāstra texts document people of all castes as well as women, entered Sannyasa in practice.

What happened to renouncers’ property and human rights?

After renouncing the world, the ascetic’s financial obligations and property were adjudicated by the state, in the manner of a decedent’s estate. Viṣṇu Smriti in verse 6.27, for example, states that if a debtor takes Sannyasa, his sons or grandsons should settle his debts. As to the little property a Sannyasin may collect or possess after renunciation, Book III Chapter XVI of Kautiliya’s Arthashastra states that the property of hermits (vánaprastha), ascetics (yati, sannyasa), and student bachelors (Brahmachári) shall on their death be taken by their guru, disciples, their dharmabhratri (brother in the monastic order), or classmates in succession.

Although a renouncer’s practitioner’s obligations and property rights were reassigned, he or she continued to enjoy basic human rights such as protection from injury by others and the freedom to travel. Likewise, someone practicing Sannyasa was subject to the same laws as common citizens; stealing, harming, or killing a human being by a Sannyasi were all serious crimes in Kautiliya’s Arthashastra.

Sannyasa Peeth
Sannyasa Lifestyle

Benefits of Sannyasa

In Hinduism, the concept of Yugas refers to the cyclic ages that the world goes through. The four Yugas are Satya Yuga, Treta Yuga, Dvapara Yuga, and Kali Yuga. The Kali Yuga is considered the last and current Yuga, characterized by a decline in righteousness, virtue, and spiritual values. Despite the challenges presented by the Kali Yuga, the path of Sannyasa can still hold significant benefits for seekers during this age:

Liberation from the Cycle of Birth and Death

The ultimate goal of Sannyasa is to attain liberation (moksha) from the cycle of birth and death (samsara). This remains relevant in the Kali Yuga, as the pursuit of liberation is independent of external circumstances and the prevalent age.

Renunciation of Worldly Desires

The Kali Yuga is known for its materialistic and hedonistic tendencies, making it easy for individuals to get entangled in the pursuit of fleeting pleasures. Sannyasa offers an opportunity to renounce worldly desires and attachments, helping one break free from the cycle of suffering caused by material pursuits.

Focused Spiritual Practice

Sannyasa provides a conducive environment for concentrated spiritual practice. Amid the distractions and temptations of the Kali Yuga, Sannyasis can dedicate their time and energy solely to their spiritual pursuits, allowing them to make rapid progress on the path of self-realization.

Preservation of Spiritual Knowledge

Sannyasis traditionally take up the responsibility of preserving and disseminating spiritual knowledge. In the Kali Yuga, when the true essence of knowledge may be obscured, the presence of dedicated Sannyasis becomes even more crucial for the preservation of sacred texts and spiritual teachings.

Inspiring Role Models

Sannyasis, through their lifestyle and commitment to spirituality, serve as role models for others. Their renunciation and devotion to higher ideals can inspire people in the Kali Yuga to seek a higher purpose in life beyond material pursuits.

Spiritual Guidance and Teaching

Sannyasis often take up the role of teachers and guides, helping others on their spiritual journey. During the Kali Yuga, when the spiritual path can be challenging and confusing, the guidance of experienced Sannyasis can be invaluable in navigating the complexities of life and understanding the deeper truths.

Non-attachment and Detachment

Sannyasi practices non-attachment, which is particularly relevant in the Kali Yuga when attachment to material possessions and relationships can lead to increased suffering. By embracing a life of detachment, Sannyasis exemplify the importance of inner peace and contentment.

It’s essential to recognize that the path of Sannyasa is a deeply personal and profound decision, and not everyone is called to this life. While Sannyasa offers significant benefits, other spiritual paths, such as householder life (Grihastha), can also be valid and meaningful for seekers during the Kali Yuga. Ultimately, the key is to lead a life aligned with spiritual values and inner growth, regardless of the external circumstances of the age.

100 Benefits of Brahmacharya - Part 19 | Swami Dayanand Naturopathy Hospital
Benefits of Sannyasa: Non-attachment

In Hindu cosmology, each Yuga represents a distinct epoch with specific characteristics, and the four Yugas together form one cycle known as a Mahayuga or Chaturyuga. The duration of each Yuga gradually reduces in a fixed ratio, forming a cycle that repeats indefinitely. The lengths of the four Yugas, as per traditional calculations, are as follows:

Satya Yuga (also known as Krita Yuga)

This is the first and most spiritually evolved Yuga. The Satya Yuga lasts for 17,28,000 years.

Treta Yuga

The Treta Yuga is the second Yuga and is marked by a decline in righteousness compared to Satya Yuga. It lasts for 12,96,000 years.

Dvapara Yuga

The Dvapara Yuga is the third Yuga and is characterized by a further decline in righteousness. It lasts for 8,64,000 years.

Kali Yuga

The Kali Yuga is the last and current Yuga, known for its materialistic pursuits and spiritual decadence. It is the shortest Yuga and lasts for 4,32,000 years. The Kali Yuga is believed to have started with the passing away of Lord Krishna, an event traditionally dated around 3102 BCE. Since Kali Yuga’s duration is 4,32,000 years, it is still ongoing and expected to continue for a significant period into the future.


After the completion of the Kali Yuga, the cycle starts again with the Satya Yuga. The four Yugas together form a complete Mahayuga, lasting for 43,20,000 years.

It is essential to understand that these Yuga durations and cosmological concepts are part of Hindu mythology and spiritual philosophy rather than scientific time measurements. They serve as symbolic representations of the cyclical nature of time and the rise and fall of human consciousness and spiritual values.

Renunciation in daily life

Later Indian literature debates whether the benefit of renunciation can be achieved (moksha, or liberation) without asceticism in the earlier stages of one’s life. For example, Bhagavad Gita, Vidyaranya’s Jivanmukti Viveka, and others believed that various alternate forms of yoga and the importance of yogic discipline could serve as paths to spirituality, and ultimately moksha.

Over time, four paths to liberating spirituality have emerged in Hinduism:

Sharma states that “the basic principle of Karma yoga is that it is not what one does, but how one does it that counts and if one has the know-how in this sense, one can become liberated by doing whatever it is one does”, and “(one must do) whatever one does without attachment to the results, with efficiency and to the best of one’s ability”.

Sannyasa Upanishads

Of the 108 Upanishads of the Muktika, the largest corpus is dedicated to Sannyasa and Yoga, or about 20 each, with some overlap. The renunciation-related texts are called the Sannyasa Upanishads. These are as follows:

Veda Sannyāsa
Ṛigveda Nirvāṇa
Samaveda Āruṇeya, Maitreya, SannyāsaKuṇḍika
Krishna Yajurveda BrahmaAvadhūta, See Kathashruti
Shukla Yajurveda Jābāla, Paramahaṃsa, Advayatāraka, Bhikṣuka, Turīyātīta, Yājñavalkya, Śāṭyāyani
Atharvaveda Ashrama, Nāradaparivrājaka (Parivrāt), Paramahaṃsa parivrājaka, Parabrahma

Among the thirteen major or Principal Upanishads, all from the ancient era, many include sections related to Sannyasa. Maitrāyaṇi starts with the question, “Given the nature of life, how is joy possible?” and “How can one achieve moksha (liberation)?”; in later sections, it offers a debate on possible answers and its views on Sannyasa.


The conclusion of Sannyasa is a profound culmination of a seeker’s spiritual journey. Having embraced the path of renunciation and detachment, the Sannyasi reaches a state of inner freedom and liberation from worldly attachments. This stage marks the complete dissolution of the ego, where the individual recognizes the oneness of the Self with the universal consciousness. The Sannyasi, having attained self-realization, becomes a beacon of wisdom and compassion, guiding others on the path to enlightenment. In the embrace of Sannyasa, the seeker discovers the eternal bliss that transcends the ever-changing world, fulfilling the ancient Vedic aspiration of “Tat Tvam Asi” – “Thou art That.” The conclusion of Sannyasa is not an end but a timeless merging of the individual soul with the cosmic soul, symbolizing the eternal journey toward ultimate liberation.

Frequently Asked Questions

FAQs about Sannyasa:

What is Sannyasa?

Sannyasa is a stage of life in Hinduism where individuals renounce worldly attachments and pursuits to focus solely on their spiritual journey and the pursuit of liberation (moksha).

What is the purpose of Sannyasa in the spiritual journey?

The purpose of Sannyasa is to attain self-realization and liberation from the cycle of birth and death. Sannyasis dedicate their lives to the pursuit of spiritual knowledge and union with the divine.

Can anyone take up Sannyasa, or are there specific qualifications required?

Sannyasa is not for everyone. It requires a deep commitment to spiritual growth, renunciation of desires, and a genuine calling from within. Typically, individuals who have completed the stage of Grihastha (householder life) and have fulfilled their worldly duties are eligible for Sannyasa.

Is Sannyasa a permanent commitment, or can one return to a worldly life?

In some traditions, Sannyasis can return to the householder life under specific circumstances if they feel they are unable to continue the path of renunciation.

How is the process of initiation into Sannyasa conducted?

The initiation into Sannyasa is a sacred and elaborate ceremony conducted by a Guru or spiritual teacher. It involves renunciation rituals, taking specific vows, and receiving a new name.

What are the core principles or vows that Sannyasis usually follow?

Sannyasis typically adhere to vows of celibacy (Brahmacharya), non-possessiveness (Aparigraha), non-violence (Ahimsa), truthfulness (Satya), and contentment (Santosha).

Can a Sannyasi still engage in intellectual pursuits and study while renouncing material attachments?

Yes, Sannyasis often engage in the study of sacred texts, philosophy, and spiritual practices. Intellectual pursuits can aid in their spiritual growth and understanding of higher truths.

Are there female Sannyasis, and what is the equivalent term for them?

Yes, there are female Sannyasis, known as Sannyasinis or Sadhvis, who follow a similar path of renunciation and spiritual pursuits.

How does Sannyasa impact family and social relationships?

Sannyasa entails detachment from familial and social ties. Sannyasis may remain emotionally distant from their families but can still offer spiritual guidance and blessings when needed.

Can a Sannyasi provide spiritual guidance and teachings to others?

Yes, Sannyasis often take up the role of spiritual teachers and guides, sharing their wisdom and insights with others on the path of spiritual growth.

How do Sannyasi sustain themselves economically and meet their basic needs?

Sannyasis traditionally live a simple and ascetic life, relying on alms (Bhiksha) or support from the community to meet their basic needs.

Can a Sannyasi travel and interact with the outside world, or are they secluded?

Sannyasis may travel for spiritual purposes, engage in satsangs (spiritual gatherings), and interact with seekers or those who seek their guidance. However, they often maintain a sense of detachment from worldly affairs.

What role do meditation and spiritual practice play in the life of a Sannyasi?

Meditation and spiritual practices are central to a Sannyasi’s life, as they aid in self-realization and deepening their connection with the divine.

What are the benefits and challenges of leading a Sannyasi’s life in the modern world?

The benefits include inner peace, spiritual growth, and the opportunity to guide others on the path of truth. Challenges may involve adapting to modern society while maintaining the principles of renunciation.

Remember that the specific practices and customs of Sannyasa can vary among different traditions and lineages within Hinduism.


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