[Advaita-l] Samnyasa and Sankara's position?

Akilesh Ayyar ayyar at akilesh.com
Fri Apr 5 08:30:10 EDT 2019


I am wondering what Sankara's position on the necessity of samnyasa for
seekers and/or jnanis.

My impression is that the traditional understanding is that he does require
it at least of seekers.

However, I have read that he suggests that grihasthas and other
non-samnyasins can achieve moksha, which contradicts that idea.

And apparently there is a scholarly book, "Freedom through Inner
Renunciation," that I have not read, that specifically argues that the
traditional understanding is incorrect and that a close reading of the
texts suggests that the only kind of renunciation Sankara requires is inner
renunciation, a psychological renunciation.

Now I am unfortunately far from well-versed enough in the bhashya to have a
strong opinion on this.

I just read some of Sankara's introduction to the Aitareya Upanishad. In
it, he seems to require samnyasa both for the seeker and to suggest that
for the jnani it happens automatically. The below quotes are from the
GambhIrAnanda translation of Ai. Up.

"Objection: Therefore, if the supreme knowledge of Brahman dawns in
domestic life, the inactive [footnote: one who does not engage anymore in
scriptural rituals] man may continue in that state, and there need be no
moving away from it.

Answer: No, since domestic life is induced by desire... Renunciation is
defined as the mere absence of well-established relationship with sons
etc., arising from desire, and not as the mere moving away form that
domestic life. And so the inactive man of realization cannot continue in
that domestic life itself.

Objection: Inasmuch as a mendicant, desirous merely of maintaining his
body, is seen to subject himself to regulations about begging, there can be
continuance in the domestic life even for that householder who has become
freed from both kinds of desires...

Answer: Not so... the constant habit of resorting to any particular house
of one's own is prompted by desire. When there is no clinging to any
particular house of one's own, there follows begging alone, as a matter of

Answer: From the fact that a fresh injunction of renunciation, despite its
emergence as a matter of course (as in the case of a man of illumination),
is met with [footnote: In Br. Up. III v. I. etc. -- 'Knowing this very
Self, the Brahmanas renounce...and lead a mendicant life."] ,it becomes
evident that it is obligatory for the man of illumination. And monasticism
is obligatory even for the unillumined soul that hankers after
emancipation. ... Besides, such means for the realization of the Self as
physical and mental control etc. are incompatible with other stages of

It goes on, but I think this is enough to illustrate the point.

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