The Vedic scriptures (Vedas, Upanishads, Puranas etc.) greatly admire renunciation as an important means of attaining divine bliss. They commend it as a tool that eventuates Self-Realization. This term however, is ambiguous to many and even the scholars often misinterpret it. To them, it’s all about one dissociating from material engagements, worldly objects and relationships, embracing celibacy and solitary life, and denying bodily comforts in attaining a state of higher consciousness. It is mostly understood in the classic sense of denying self, the material pleasures and comforts, which in essence is not what renunciation truly means.
The Bhagavada Gita, one of the most acclaimed Hindu scriptures, illustrates renunciation as a state of mind attained through keeping desires in check by self-control with steady practice that releases a soul from the cycle of birth and death. Renunciation is termed as an act of giving up or relinquishing when one no longer maintains an obsession towards people, objects or places. It implies a progressive growth towards an attainment of higher plane while the lower attainments such as ignorance, lethargy and attachment to worldly possessions are automatically left behind. (1) The detachment from worldly relations, material objects and the urges of the senses is what renunciation in its essence is and it involves devotion without expectations, Karma without the concerns for consequences and relinquishing the desires for sense gratification.
“The giving up of activities that are based on material desire is what great learned men call the renounced order of life. And giving up the results of all activities is what the wise call renunciation.” (2)
– Bhagavada Gita (18.2)
Although a realized soul eventually relinquishes the unreal: this world, its manifestations, and worldly temptations, renunciation should not only be understood in the mere sense of self-denial. Contrary to the popular belief, denial of worldly pleasures and relationships is not always warranted for self-realization as long as one engages in worldly affairs without being unaffected by their results, maintains worldly relations without being apathetic to the yearnings of Self to unite with the Lord and satisfying the senses without being overindulged in them. A family man is as likely to attain divine bliss and realize self as long as he is concerned with the realization of the eternal Self, finding that divine spark within and dissociating from the unreal.
To an enlightened person, renunciation means giving up excessive attachment to transient realities, everything associated with this body and this universe, as they are all temporal and unreal. It is the giving up of “I” – that ego and giving up any expectations of reward for his actions. According to the Bhagavada Gita, renunciation of such makes one’s mind composed, opening a window for an aspirant to seek, reflect, and understand the Self. And, it stresses that without a tranquil mind and propensity to listen to the anguish of the soul to merge eternally with its master, the Lord, self-denial bears no fruit irrespective of its severity.
“That one who neither disdains nor desires the fruits of actions is always a renunciate; certainly that person being free from all dualities is easily liberated from bondage.” (3)
– Bhagavada Gita (5.3)
A true renunciate (man of renunciation) is the one who is unaffected by happiness or sadness, the one who despises none and fears nothing. The realization of the divinity within him or the Self is his topmost priority and he acknowledges that he has nothing to gain or lose in his ephemeral existence in this world. Instead of giving up his desires, he sets them aside and gradually discards them in his bid to attain something more gratifying. His acknowledgement of the eternity of Self or attained intellect of the eternal helps him transcend attachment to and desires of the unreal. To him, renunciation becomes voluntary and a pleasant experience. He then constantly engages in the understanding, reflection, and reflection of Self along with penances, prayers and meditations for his composure is not disturbed by the Karma he engages in. To such an aspirant, overcoming desires becomes spontaneous as he turns his focus in fulfilling desires that are unendingly satisfying. However, involuntary restraint of desires almost always fail because what we resist persists.
When one stays away from worldly affairs while still being engaged in them and detaches himself from worldly temptations and relationships to an extent that they do not hinder his spiritual quest, it leads him to a blissful life and closer towards self-realization. The cow-maids (Gopi) of Brajmandal did not renounce the world and their worldly duties altogether but rather efficiently responded to their worldly duties as daughter- in- laws, wives and mothers quite effectively. Yet, they relished the divine company of Lord Shree Krishna, the Lord Supreme (as stated in Vedic scriptures) in the eternal sports of Braj and Raas. It was because they worked for works’ sake without ever being attached to them, never letting Lord Krishna off their minds, constantly singing his glory and orienting all their dispositions and actions towards satisfying him.
Thus, renunciation is not about being an ascetic but is about: giving up desires that even upon fulfillment fail to grant one perennial happiness, having no expectations from worldly objects, dissociating from worldly relationships, and reflecting on the anguish of the soul. Given that one constantly remembers Lord, cries for him, and sings for him or in totality has the deep yearnings for uniting with the Lord, an individual with full material engagements is equally likely to realize the Self as an ascetic or an anchorite wearing saffron clothes or living by meager means.
1. “Action and Renunciation.” Bhagavad-Gita. Web. 18 Oct. 2013. http://www.bhagavad- gita.org/Gita/verse-05-03.html
2. “Bhagavad-gita As It Is.” 2. Trans. Bhaktivedant Prabhupada. Web. 18 .Oct. 2013. http://vedabase.net/bg/18/2/
3. “Joy of Renunciation.” The Hindu, 17 Mar. 2013. Web. 18 Oct. 2013.http://www.thehindu.com/features/fridayreview/religion/joy-of-renunciation/article4519257.ece