Renunciation

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Etymology

Middle English renunciacion, from Anglo-French, from Latin renuntiation-, renuntiatio, from renuntiare to renounce Saṃnyāsa in Sanskrit means "renunciation", "abandonment". It is a tripartite compound of saṃ- has "collective" meaning, ni- means "down" and āsa is from the root as, meaning "to throw" or "to put", so a literal translation would be "laying it all down". In Dravidian languages, "sanyasi" is pronounced as "sanyasi" and also "sannasi" in colloquial form.

Definition

Description

Sannyasa (Devanagari: संन्यास, sannyāsa) is the order of life of the renouncer within Hindu scheme of āśramas, or life stages. It is considered the topmost and final stage of the ashram systems and is traditionally taken by men at or beyond the age of fifty years old or by young monks who wish to dedicate their entire life towards spiritual pursuits. In this phase of life, the person develops vairāgya, or a state of dispassion and detachment from material life. He renounces all worldly thoughts and desires, and spends the rest of his life in spiritual contemplation. One within the sannyasa order is known as a sannyasin.

Types

There are a number of types of sannyasi in accordance with socio-religious context. Traditionally there are four types of forest hermits with different stages of dedication. In recent history, two distinct orders are observed "ekadanda" (literally single stick) and "tridanda' (triple rod or stick) saffron robed monks, the first being part of Sankaracarya tradition and the second is sannyasa followed by various vaishnava traditions and introduced to the west by followers of the reformer Siddhanta Sarasvati. Austerities and attributes associated with the order, as well as expectations will differ in both.

Lifestyle and goals

The sannyasi lives a celibate life without possessions, practises yoga meditation — or in other traditions, bhakti, or devotional meditation, with prayers to their chosen deity or God. The goal of the Hindu Sannsyasin is moksha (liberation), the conception of which also varies. For the devotion oriented traditions, liberation consists of union with the Divine, while for Yoga oriented traditions, liberation is the experience of the highest samādhi (enlightenment). For the Advaita tradition, liberation is the removal of all ignorance and realising oneself as one with the Supreme Brahman.

Legal and social status of renouncers

In renouncing the world, the ascetic becomes, for all religious and social purposes, dead. A ritual death is, in fact, part of the rite of renunciation itself. The ascetic is no longer bound to perform the Vedic rites enjoined upon twice-born men; he leaves his family behind to live a homeless life. This state of being ritually dead is reflected in the laws relating to ascetics found in the Dharmaśāstras. Laws pertaining to renouncers are closely connected to and overlap with laws relating to the dead. Thus, Viṣṇu 6.27 states that when a debtor dies, renounces the world, or is in a far-off country for over twenty years, his male progeny should settle his debts. Nārada 13.24 allows the brothers of a renouncer to partition amongst themselves any inheritance he may have received from his father, except for a portion of money which should go to his "widow". Nārada 12.97 allows a wife to remarry if her husband disappears or dies, or becomes a renouncer, a eunuch, or an outcaste. Some texts, however, require that a man have provided financially for his wife and children before renouncing. Relatedly, Nārada 1.7 states that if a renouncer dies in debt, all the merit produced by his spiritual practice goes to his creditors.

Thus, renunciants are not only socially dead but legally dead as well. Like any dead person, they cannot enter into new contractual agreements. Kauṭilya provides a clear expression of this in the Arthaśāstra when he states that transactions cannot be completed by dependents and renouncers (3.1.12). Nārada 1.159-169 includes renouncers among those who cannot be questioned as witnesses in a court case.

Other rules pertaining to ascetics hinge on the spiritual power they were believed to have acquired through their austerities. The Bṛhaspatismṛti, at 1.27, warns the king to have a proxy, and specifically someone schooled in the three Vedas, hear cases involving ascetics and others skilled in sorcery. Since ascetics were believed to have supernatural powers, incurring the anger of the losing party to such a case would have been viewed as potentially threatening to a king's life. What is more important to the larger discussion of ascetics and Ancient Indian law, however, is the acknowledgment that cases could and sometimes did involve ascetics, despite their legally and socially dead status.

See also