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A monk (devotee) is one who is separated from all and united to all.
Sannyasa, or renounced life, is the fourth and last spiritual stage (asrama) in the varnasrama system. It lasts from 75 years of one's life to its end and during this time the sannyasi lives mainly like a wandering ascetic preaching the spiritual knowledge in exchange for bare necessities of life obtained by begging (bhiksa).
The traditional symbol of a sannyasa order is a triple staff (tridanda) mentioned for example in the Manu-samhita 9.296. For the complete description of sannyasi's appearance please refer to the SB 7.13.2, 7.13.9, and 11.18.15 below.
Four stages of sannyasa are (SB 3.12.43):
1. Kuticaka: Stays outside the village and the necessities are supplied by the family members.
2. Bahudaka: Collects the necessities from many places. This is called the profession of the bumblebees (madhukara).
3. Parivrajakacarya: Travels all over the world preaching the glories of the Lord. This stage sometimes is also called hamsa.
4. Paramahamsa: Finishes preaching work and sits down in one place strictly for the sake of advancing in the spiritual life. This stage sometimes is also called niskriya.
In the Sankara-sampradaya there are ten different names (dasanami) awarded to sannyasis:
1) Tirtha, residence Dvaraka, brahmacari name Svarupa
2) Asrama, residence Dvaraka, brahmacari name Svarupa
3) Vana, residence Purusottama (Jagannatha Puri), brahmacari name Prakasa
4) Aranya, residence Purusottama (Jagannatha Puri), brahmacari name Prakasa
5) Giri, residence Badarikasrama, brahmacari name Ananda
6) Parvata, residence Badarikasrama, brahmacari name Ananda
7) Sagara, residence Badarikasrama, brahmacari name Ananda
8) Sarasvati, residence Srngeri, brahmacari name Caitanya
9) Bharati, residence Srngeri, brahmacari name Caitanya
10) Puri, residence Srngeri, brahmacari name Caitanya
Residence refers to monastery (matha). Adi Sankara founded four main mathas in four important places of pilgrimage in India. The main one is Srngeri matha in south India. Abbots of these mathas inherit the title Sankaracarya. Sannyasis of this order are reputed for their strictness. Because of this reputation, an advantage in preaching, some Vaisnava sannyasis including Sri Caitanya Mahaprabhu Himself previously accepted the sannyasa order from their sampradaya. His sannyasa guru was Kesava Bharati, formerly known as Kalinatha Acarya, who took diksa or sannyas from Madhavendra Puri (CC Adi 9.13-15 p.). More about Dasanami sampradaya.
In this sampradaya as well as in some of the Vaisnava sampradayas exists an institution of bala-sannyasa - awarding sannyasa to boys before the age of puberty. The candidates are chosen with the help of astrology to assure that they will be able to remain monks for their whole life. Such a sannyasi is trained in a matha (monastery) under the supervision of a senior sannyasi (abbot) to become his successor.
Further information: Manu-samhita (ch.6) etc.
"Sri Narada Muni said: A person able to cultivate spiritual knowledge
should renounce all material connections, and merely keeping the body inhabitable,
he should travel from one place to another, passing only one night in each village.
In this way, without dependence in regard to the needs of the body, the sannyasi
should travel all over the world."
"A person in the renounced order of life may try to avoid even a dress
to cover himself. If he wears anything at all, it should be only a loincloth,
and when there is no necessity, a sannyasi should not even accept a danda. A
sannyasi should avoid carrying anything but a danda and kamandalu."
"The sannyasi, completely satisfied in the self, should live on alms begged
from door to door. Not being dependent on any person or any place, he should
always be a friendly well-wisher to all living beings and be a peaceful, unalloyed
devotee of Narayana. In this way he should move from one place to another."
"The sannyasi should always try to see the Supreme pervading everything
and see everything, including this universe, resting on the Supreme."
"During unconsciousness and consciousness, and between the two, he should
try to understand the self and be fully situated in the self. In this way, he
should realize that the conditional and liberated stages of life are only illusory
and not actually factual. With such a higher understanding, he should see only
the Absolute Truth pervading everything."
"Since the material body is sure to be vanquished and the duration of
one's life is not fixed, neither death nor life is to be praised. Rather, one
should observe the eternal time factor, in which the living entity manifests
himself and disappears."
"Literature that is a useless waste of time - in other words, literature
without spiritual benefit - should be rejected. One should not become a professional
teacher as a means of earning one's livelihood, nor should one indulge in arguments
and counter-arguments. Nor should one take shelter of any cause or faction."
"A sannyasi must not present allurements of material benefits to gather
many disciples, nor should he unnecessarily read many books or give discourses
as a means of livelihood. He must never attempt to increase material opulences
"A peaceful, equipoised person who is factually advanced in spiritual
consciousness does not need to accept the symbols of a sannyasi, such as the
tridanda and kamandalu. According to necessity, he may sometimes accept those
symbols and sometimes reject them."
Sannyasis who first consider that the body is subject to death, when it will
be transformed into stool, worms or ashes, but who again give importance to
the body and glorify it as the self, are to be considered the greatest rascals.
"Just as a hunter takes away the honey laboriously produced by the honeybees,
similarly, saintly mendicants such as brahmacaris and sannyasis are entitled
to enjoy the property painstakingly accumulated by householders dedicated to
"Those who are not married - sannyasis, vanaprasthas and brahmacaris -
should never associate with women by glancing, touching, conversing, joking
or sporting. Neither should they ever associate with any living entity engaged
in sexual activities."
"This man taking sannyasa is going to surpass us and go back home, back
to Godhead." Thus thinking, the demigods create stumbling blocks on the
path of the sannyasi by appearing before him in the shape of his former wife
or other women and attractive objects. But the sannyasi should pay the demigods
and their manifestations no heed."
"If the sannyasi desires to wear something besides a mere kaupina, he
may use another cloth around his waist and hips to cover the kaupina. Otherwise,
if there is no emergency, he should not accept anything besides his danda and
"A saintly person should step or place his foot on the ground only after
verifying with his eyes that there are no living creatures, such as insects,
who might be injured by his foot. He should drink water only after filtering
it through a portion of his cloth, and he should speak only words that possess
the purity of truth. Similarly, he should perform only those activities his
mind has carefully ascertained to be pure."
"One who has not accepted the three internal disciplines of avoiding useless
speech, avoiding useless activities and controlling the life air can never be
considered a sannyasi merely because of his carrying bamboo rods."
"Rejecting those houses that are polluted and untouchable, one should
approach without previous calculation seven houses and be satisfied with that
which is obtained there by begging. According to necessity, one may approach
each of the four occupational orders of society."
"Taking the food gathered through begging, one should leave the populated
areas and go to a reservoir of water in a secluded place. There, having taken
a bath and washed one's hands thoroughly, one should distribute portions of
the food to others who may request it. One should do this without speaking.
Then, having thoroughly cleansed the remnants, one should eat everything on
one's plate, leaving nothing for future consumption."
"Without any material attachment, with senses fully controlled, remaining
enthusiastic, and satisfied in realization of the Supreme Lord and his own self,
the saintly person should travel about the earth alone. Having equal vision
everywhere, he should be steady on the spiritual platform."
"Dwelling in a safe and solitary place, his mind purified by constant
thought of Me, the sage should concentrate on the soul alone, realizing it to
be nondifferent from Me."
"By steady knowledge a sage should clearly ascertain the nature of the
soul's bondage and liberation. Bondage occurs when the senses are deviated to
sense gratification, and complete control of the senses constitutes liberation."
"Therefore, completely controlling the five senses and the mind by Krsna
consciousness, a sage, having experienced spiritual bliss within the self, should
live detached from insignificant material sense gratification."
"The sage should travel in sanctified places, by flowing rivers and within
the solitude of mountains and forests. He should enter the cities, towns and
pasturing grounds and approach ordinary working men only to beg his bare sustenance."