Many teachers seem to selectively pick and choose what advaita means by jnana, dodge between relative and absolute truths, and argue that some Vedantic statements are figurative and should not be taken literally. What they singularly fail to do is to consider holistically the teaching and the logical consistency inherent in its philosophy and method.
We have recently been discussing the extent to which Self-realisation is more than some knowledge acquired in the mind, but actually is equivalent to a total dis-identification with the illusory body-mind, dissolution of particular consciousness and identification with all. Sankara and the Upanishads continually emphasise this.
Both Sankara and the Upanishads also emphasise sannyasa which – if one thinks about it logically and honestly – is an inevitable path for, and outcome of, this body-mind dis-identifcation. If your attention is absorbed in Brahman, if your identification is with all, then what concern can there be for the individual body-mind?
Gaudapada, in Mandukya Karika 2.37 writes:
The mendicant should have no appreciation or greetings (for others), and he should be free from rituals. He should have the body and soul as his support, and he should be dependent on circumstances.
Sankara’s bhasya emphasises this lack of concern with the body, beyond its bare maintenance – the intense vairagya which we all know is a key sadhana that is presecribed by advaita
Giving up all such activities as appreciation or greeting; that is to say, having given up all desire for external objects and having embraced the highest kind of formal renunciation, in accordance with the Vedic text, “Knowing this very Self, the Brahmanas renounce ( . . . and lead a mendicant life)” (Br. III. v. 1), and the Smrti text, “With their consciousness in that (Brahman) their Self identified with That, ever intent on That, with That for their supreme goal” (G. V. 17). Cala changing, is the body, since it gets transformed every moment; and acala, unchanging, is the reality of the Self. Whenever, perchance, impelled by the need of eating etc., one thinks of oneself as “I” by forgetting the reality of the Self – that is one’s niketa, support, one’s place of abode, and that is by nature unchanging like the sky – then the cala changing body, becomes his niketa support. The man of illumination who thus has the changing and the unchanging as his support, but not the man who has external objects as his support, is the cala-calaniketa. And he bhavet should yadrcchikah, dependent on circumstances; that is to say, he should depend entirely on strips of cloth, coverings, and food that come to him by chance for the maintenance of the body.
The Sringeri Sankaracharya, Jagadaguru Sri Abhinava Vidyatheertha Mahaswamigal in response to a question on whether a sannyasa should struggle for food replied:
“The sannyasa who has realised the Truth need not worry about food or death. However if an unenlightened sannyasin feels that his spiritual practices will be compromised, he may, if he wishes, make some more effort for bhiksa”
See how his answer reverberates with Sankara’s bhasya above. Consider how Ramanamaharishi’s early life (even before he read vedanta) mirrored this verse.
Swami Sarvapriyananda in his talk on this Karika touches both on sannyasa and loss of individuality, and relates the story of the lives of some senior Ramakrishna monks. The relevant portion starts at 1:23:30 and continues to the end (c.20 minutes). It is well worth listening to.