The Nature of the True Religious Life
by Swami Krishnananda


Chapter 8: True Renunciation – The Poor in Spirit

We could discover a great meaning in the foundational vision of the Purusha Sukta of the Veda, as we noticed last time.

The quintessential purport of the Veda is supposed to be embodied in what is known as the Vedanta, by which term what is intended is the conclusion that can be drawn from the variegated proclamations through the mantras of the Veda.

Hence, the Upanishads, which conclude the Vedas, go by the name of the Vedanta. The word ‘anta’ in Sanskrit may mean the end, or it may mean the final meaning; the purport, the central objective is the anta. The vast area covered by the mantras of the Veda converges upon the meaning of the Vedanta, which is embodied in the Upanishads. The Upanishads form mostly the tail end of a large literature called Veda-rashi. The Veda is divided into four sections known as the Samhita, Brahmana, Aranyaka and Upanishad.

The Purusha Sukta is an example of a piece from this Samhita, which consists of hymns, psalms, prayers, or addresses to the great Deity in various ways. The Brahmanas represent the codification of the practical usage in religious ritual of the mantras embodied in the Samhitas.

Human life is external as well as internal. It is also transcendent, going beyond both the external and the internal. Thus while the Brahmanas may be regarded as representing the external application of the intention of the Veda mantras, the Aranyakas are supposed to be the internal intention of the very same Vedas. The external intention is the Brahmana, the internal one is the Aranyaka, and the mantra, which is the Samhita, can be interpreted in either way.

In fact, tradition believes that it is difficult to know the entire meaning of the mantras of the Veda Samhita because they can be applied to the various fields of life. Adhiyajna is the field of sacrificial performance, on which much emphasis is laid in the Brahmanas. Adhibhuta is the physical atmosphere, the astronomical universe, to which also the Veda mantras bear relevance. There is not merely ritual of the religious type implied in the Veda mantras, but also even physical science, not excluding even mathematics. Adhyatma is the internal meaning to which we move when we go to the Aranyakas and the Upanishads. Adhidharma is the field of law, rule, system of living, the principle of behaviour and conduct, morality proper, whose principles are also to be discovered in the very same mantras of the Veda.

So the Veda Samhita is all-comprehensive gospel – adhiyajna, adhyatma, adhibhuta, adhidaiva, representing the divinities who are addressed in the mantras. And the adhyatma, which is the internal meaning, is touched upon in the Aranyakas. The word ‘aranyaka’ suggests that these texts were studied in secluded places – aranyas, or forests, not in urban areas.

The final meaning of even the Aranyakas is the Upanishads. The Upanishad is the secret teaching. Aranyaka is a learning in seclusion, and the Upanishad is a mystical secret doctrine which is not openly taught to untrained disciples.

Each section of the Veda has its own group of Upanishads. We have today the most important ones, sometimes known as the 108 Upanishads, but mostly limited to ten in number – called the Dasa Upanishads – on which the philosophers of India have given their commentaries. Only one Upanishad, known as the Isavasya, does not belong to the Brahmana or the Aranyaka. It belongs to the Samhita portion – only one. All other Upanishads belong to the Brahmanas or the Aranyakas. The concluding portion of the Yajurveda Samhita is the Isavasya Upanishad.

The foundational religious vision embodied in the Purusha Sukta is a directive to practical living. At the very commencement of the Isavasya Upanishad we have a gateway opened, as it were, to put into practice this vision that is embodied in the Veda mantra, especially the Purusha Sukta. Almost the same thing is repeated in the very first few words of the Isavasya Upanishad: īśāvāsyam idaṁ sarvam (Isa 1). Sahasraśīrṣā puruṣaḥ (Purusha Sukta 1) says the Purusha Sukta: The Universal Being is all heads and all eyes and all things. This is another way of saying the universe is pervaded by the Supreme Being. And the Isavasya Upanishad says, īśāvāsyam idaṁ sarvam: All this is pervaded by the Supreme Lord. This is an equal, as it were, of the Veda mantra. That Lord pervades not merely living beings, but even what we call inanimate matter, is one facet of the expression of this Almighty.

Jagatyāṁ jagat: The moving and the non-moving are both indwelled by the same Lord. There is no distinction between the living and the non-living, on an ultimate analysis. The non-living, or the animate so-called, is a dense form of the expression of the same power that permeates the whole cosmos. When it becomes translucent, it becomes the animal level. When it is transparent, it is the human. Thus, that which is moving and that which is not moving, that which is living and that which is not living, organic as well as inorganic, both these are pervaded by the Supreme Almighty.

Last time, we had occasion to understand the meaning of this pervasion. I gave two examples. Water pervades cloth when it is dipped in water, and clay pervades a pot, of which it is an embodiment. These two are classical examples of the pervasion of the cause in the effect. The Supreme Being is the cause, the universe is the effect. Clay is the cause, pot is the effect. Clay pervades pot and water pervades cloth in two different senses; and God pervades the universe, perhaps, in both these senses and in either way. Īśāvāsyam idaṁ sarvam yat kiṁ ca jagatyāṁ jagat. The concept of the Ultimate Reality decides our conduct in life. All questions get automatically solved by the way in which we are able to conceive the nature of the Supreme Being.

Differences in the outlooks of life among human beings arise on account of the differences of the conception of the Ultimate Reality, which means to say, the conception of the relationship that obtains among God, the world and the individual, which automatically follows from our notion of the nature of Reality. The schools of thought, the philosophies especially prevalent in India known as the Darshanas, are classical examples of these diversities of opinion prevalent among the notions of the Ultimate Reality. However, God pervades the world in every sense of the term. We may take it in the sense of the Nyaya or the Vaishesika or the Sankhya or the Vedanta, and in every sense the pervasive aspect of God in the universe is applicable. Knowing this, be happy in this world.

Tena tyaktena bhuñjitha, ma gṛdhaḥ kasyasvid dhanam. This first verse of the Isavasya Upanishad is regarded by many people in India as the sum and substance of Indian philosophy, Indian theology, and the Indian doctrine of living. All these are pressed into these few words of a single mantra of the Isavasya Upanishad. Here we have ontology, theology, psychology, and practical life in only a few words. How are we to live in this world? By renouncing, we have to live in this world – tyaktena bhuñjitha. What sort of renunciation are we expected to participate in, or effect into our life? The word ‘tena’ explains the type of renunciation that we are called upon to embody in our life. A very intriguing term is this small word ‘tena’. ‘Therefore’ is one meaning of the word tena. ‘By Him, by that, by which’ is another meaning. Sanskrit words often have several meanings, and enigmatically, pithily, aphoristically, the mantra tells us in a quarter verse: Enjoy by renouncing.

Nobody enjoys by renouncing. Renunciation is a kind of sorrow. Renunciation is actually regarded by people as the abandonment of the values of life – social values, political values, family circumstances, possessions of every kind, relationships of every type. All these things are the sources of joy in this world, and we should renounce all these relationships and then be happy? How could one be happy by renouncing all sources of happiness which are the relationships that we establish with the objects of the world? We are happy when we are in a very benevolent and friendly family. We are happy when we are in a society where friendly relationship is obtained. We are happy when we possess the wealth of the world, and renunciation is just the opposite of this doctrine of possession. To possess is to enjoy. This is how we interpret things in this world. The more I possess things, the more is my happiness, and the Upanishad says, “Renounce and be happy”. What sort of renunciation is suggested in this mantra is a matter to consider.

“Inasmuch as the Lord pervades all things” is a clause that has to precede this injunction that you have to enjoy by renouncing. The second half is connected to the first half. All that is inanimate and animate is pervaded by the Supreme Being, and therefore, enjoy by renouncing. What is this ‘therefore’? What is its significance? Because of the fact that the whole universe is possessed by the Universal Being, therefore you have no possessions. Perhaps you are also possessed by the Lord as one of the contents of this creation. Since you are a part of that which God possesses, envelopes, indwells, pervades, you have no special prerogative of enjoyership. Perhaps you have not the prerogative of even doership. That you are neither a doer nor an enjoyer follows from the fact of the pervasion of the universe by the Lord. There is no need to give a large commentary on this simple truth. If the Lord pervades the universe as clay pervades the pot, we would not be able to conduct even our thinking process as people involved in this pot universe in which the clay absolute inheres.

The illustration of clay and pot brings out a very important significance of the cause being even the material of the effect. It is not merely an instrument in the production of the effect. God is not like a carpenter manufacturing the table of the universe. He is not like a potter manufacturing a pot, standing outside the substance which is manufactured. The cause stands outside the effect in the case with the carpenter in relation to the tools that he makes; but as distinguished from this example, we have this immanental doctrine of the pervasion of the cause in the effect in a different sense altogether, as clay pervades pot, which means to say the clay exists in the pot: the cause is the effect. The cause is not merely in the effect; the clay is not merely in the pot, it is the pot. God is not merely in the world, He is the world. If this is true, which seems to be the fact if we are to understand the meaning of the first half of this mantra jagatyāṁ jagat in this way, then we would be nowhere in this world, in the kingdom of God.

You know very well, the highest source of bliss is God-Being. The nearer you are to God, the happier you are. Your approximation to the Ultimate Reality is what makes you happier. The nearer you are to the Absolute, the happier you are. The nearer you are to the sun, the greater is the warmth that you feel. The farther you are, the greater the chillness that you feel. The greater is the sorrow of man, the greater is the distance between him and God. And where is this distance?

The distance between man and God is abolished in one stroke by the introduction of this great doctrine of the Isavasya Upanishad that the whole universe is pervaded by the Lord, indwelt by the Lord, and ruled by the Lord. God rules the kingdom of heaven, and the whole universe is the kingdom of heaven, inasmuch as He rules all things. We, therefore, live in the kingdom of heaven even now. Well, we are not merely living in a kingdom, we are equally pervaded by the presence of the Almighty – īśāvāsyam idaṁ sarvam. Therefore, possessorship is unthinkable in this world. No one can possess anything in this world because objects are pervaded by the Lord. The subjects are equally pervaded by the Lord. You and I both are equally indwelt by the Supreme Being. The things of the world which you would like to possess are as much the indwelling vehicles of God as you yourself are. How would you possess anything in this world? Therefore, renounce possession-ship. Possessiveness has to be abandoned. When you abandon the sense of possession on account of the realisation of the fact that things in the world are not objects actually but they are dwelling places of the Almighty, even as you are, you cannot possess anything in this world.

There is no such thing as property. It does not exist. The idea of property is an illusion in the mind. Nobody can possess anybody else in this universe of interrelated existences and values. There is a commingling of principles in this universe. Which part of the body is the possessor, and which part of the body is the possessed? Let us see. In this body of ours with many limbs, which part is possessed by which part? Nobody possesses, and nobody is possessed, because of the absence of the need for possession. The need for possession ceases. When the need itself is not there, where comes the question of possession? The urge to possess the objects of the world arises on account of not recognising the indwelling principle of God, and if God is the centre of all bliss, happiness, this non-recognition will be tantamount to entering into an abyss of sorrow.

Hence, renunciation, the tyaga that is indicated in the Isavasya Upanishad, is a very subtle point which it is not easy to grasp unless you are careful. We all renounce things. I have no connection with my family. I have no connection with anything. I am independently living in a kutir, in a cottage, in a forest, so I am a renounced individual. This may be the idea of a religious seeker. But the Upanishad does not tell us to be physically away from things in order that we may renounce, because physically being away from anything is impossible in this kingdom which is pervaded by the Almighty in every nook and corner. You cannot go outside the world, and therefore, you cannot renounce anything. If you can go outside the world, you can say you have renounced the world; but you are standing on the world, in the world, and you say you have renounced. Renunciation is, therefore, not a spatial distance that exists between you and the object that you would like to possess. Nothing of the kind is what is intended here. It is a consciousness, an awareness of there being no such thing as possession in the world, and therefore, at every point in space, in every part of the world, you are a renouncer. You can be a highest renouncer inside a huge factory and seated inside the Bank of England or the Reserve Bank of India. You need not go to the Himalayas to renounce. Therefore, be happy.

How does happiness follow from renunciation? Because by the renunciation of the idea, the notion or the sense of possessionship, you get nearer to God. It is the sense of possession that cuts you off from God. The idea of possession of things, attachment to anything in this world, arises on account of your involvement in spatial distance and temporal process – space and time. But God pervades all things: īśāvāsyam idaṁ sarvam. He pervades even space and time; therefore, space and time cannot demarcate one thing from the other. Hence, you cannot possess anything.

So when you are able to contemplate this situation of non-involvement in spatial distance and temporal process, you are almost on the lap of God. You have contacted God in one second, as it were, by refusing to admit the spatial distance and temporal procession, and therefore, at the same time, renouncing in spirit, and not merely geographically, socially, politically. Blessed are the poor in spirit, says the Gospel. You must be poor in spirit, not poor in cloth and living in a thatched hut. The poor in spirit is the one who is emptied of all content in the spirit, which means to say, emptied of all sense of the possessive attitude, which is the content of our spirit. When the spirit stands independent of all objective content, it is the spirit which is poor, and such a spirit is blessed.

This spirit is finally inseparable from the Supreme Spirit because when the idea of possession is removed, it leads you at the same time to the consequence that should follow spontaneously. The nearness to God, which is the enhancement of our happiness, is insured by the diminution of the distance between us and God achieved by an overcoming of the sense of space and time. The more you renounce, the more are you happy, therefore. But you must renounce in spirit; otherwise, physically you may be a renunciate, while mentally you may be a wealthy individual. You may be contemplating gorgeous experiences of the senses and the mind, reveries, and building castles in the air. It is the mind that liberates, and it is the mind that binds. The world does not bind, and the world does not do anything for you. Mana eva manuṣyāṇāṁ kāraṇaṁ bandhamokṣayoḥ, bandhāya piṣyāsaktaṁ muktaṁye nirviṣayaṁ smṛtam (Amrita Bindu Upanishad 2): Mind alone is the cause of the bondage and the freedom of the individuals. That mind which is connected to an external object of sense is the source of bondage; that mind which transcends relationship with objects is the source of freedom. This is the meaning of this verse.

Renouncing the sense of possessiveness on account of the recognition of the fact of the all-pervading nature of the Lord, enjoy. How do you enjoy? You do not indulge in the objects of the senses when it is said that you will enjoy. The question of indulging does not arise on account of this peculiar renunciation in which you have participated divinely. You enjoy as God Himself enjoys, as it were. God’s happiness is God’s existence. Satchidananda is the definition of the Supreme Being: Existence-Consciousness-Bliss. The consciousness of existence itself is bliss. It is not the consciousness of possession, but the consciousness of existence.

But in our case today in this empirical realm, consciousness of the existence of wealth somewhere in somebody’s treasure chest does not become the source of happiness. We must possess it. The mere existence of wealth somewhere does not bring us satisfaction. We must possess. But in the case of God, the very existence, sat, the chit of sat is also ananda at the same time. Consciousness of existence is the same as bliss. Therefore, it is not consciousness of existence and bliss, but it is consciousness which is existence, inseparable from what happiness is.

Limitation is the source, the cause of pain and sorrow, and it is the finitude and the limitations in which we are involved that makes us run to objects of sense. We try to grab objects, possess things, under the impression that our finitude would be annulled. We become infinite by coming in contact with many finites. This is what we wrongly think. Any amount of possession of finitude will not make you the Infinite, and all happiness is nothing but a touch of the Infinite given to the process of thinking. You cannot be happy unless an element of infinitude is present in you. Even when sense objects are enjoyed, without your knowing what is happening, you are contacting the Infinite for a split of a second; otherwise, you cannot be happy. Unless God contacts you and you contact God, you can never be happy here even for a moment of time. You will be perpetually in hell if God were not to be contacted, knowingly or unknowingly.

The psychology of possession, enjoyment of objects of sense, would reveal that at the time of possessing and enjoying the desired object, the mind reverts to its source, contacts the Atman within, contacts the Infinite itself, as it were. Not knowing that this is taking place, foolishly the mind ceases thinking of the object of sense under the impression that it has possessed it, and therefore, it need no more think of it, while simultaneously it has entered the borderland of a non-possessive realm where it has stopped thinking and yet is conscious. A state where you are consciousness, and yet you do not think, is God-consciousness. It is consciousness where there is no thinking but there is only being. But this is an experience that we pass through for an infinitesimal fraction of a second, and therefore, we are in a state of rapture and in a state of great thrill when we get what we want. But this thrill has come from within, and not from the thing that we possess.

Hence, God is the source of happiness. The Infinite is what gives us happiness here. The renunciation, the tyaga enjoined upon us in the Isavasya Upanishad’s first mantra is a spiritual transvaluation of values – entering the kingdom of heaven, as it were, and possessing nothing – not because there are no things in this world, but because they are not outside us.

The need to possess a thing arises on account of its being outside us. But things are not outside us. You know very well why it is so. As nothing is outside us, nothing can be possessed, and therefore, you are perpetually in a state of renunciation. Renunciation, tyaga, is regarded as a quality of God. Aisvaryasya samagrasya viryasya yasasa sriya, jñana-vairagyayos caiva anna bhaga iti gana (Vishnu Purana 6.5.79). God is called Bhagavan. Bhagavan is one who has bhaga. And what is bhaga? This verse says, aisvaryasya samagrasya: one who has reached the pinnacle of all glory, prosperity – viryasya yasasa sriya – of fortune, of energy and strength, of knowledge and of renunciation. In God you reach the pinnacle of renunciation. God is the greatest renouncer because He possesses nothing. He does not possess anything because he indwells everything – īśāvāsyam idaṁ sarvam. So it is not like a beggar who does not possess things. It is a state of not possessing things on account of being identical with all things. So there is a difference between God not possessing things and a beggar not possessing things. Both do not possess anything, for two different reasons altogether.

The nearer you go to this state of non-possession in the light of the pervasion of God in the universe, the greater are you a renouncer, and therefore, the happier you are – tena tyaktena bhuñjitha. Therefore, says the Upanishad, don’t covet wealth – ma gṛdhaḥ kasyasvid dhanam. There are two meanings of this little saying. Do not covet the wealth of anyone. This is one meaning. Do you know why you should not covet the wealth of anyone? The reason behind it is laid down in the first half: īśāvāsyam idaṁ sarvam yat kiṁ ca jagatyāṁ jagat. The other meaning is, “Whose is this wealth?”: kasyasvid dhanam. Therefore, do not be greedy. Who is the possessor of wealth, and whose is this wealth? Whose is this world? Who is this owner of this property of the world?

Nobody can be regarded as the owner of the properties of things, since the things of this world, the wealth of this world, does not belong to anybody. As all things belong to God, nothing belongs to any individual. Neither I belong to you, nor you belong to me, but both of us belong to somebody else. Hence, one is not a possessor of another in this world. Exploitation is completely ruled out. No exploitation is permissible in this world ruled by God and indwelled by God. You cannot utilise me, and I cannot utilise you. What a grand gospel of perfect living we have here in this little passage of the Isavasya Upanishad! Whose is wealth? God’s is wealth. Therefore, ma gṛdhaḥ: do not be covetous, do not be greedy.

Yet, there is a doubt in the mind. One seeker in the ashram came to me the other day. “How long am I to work in the ashram?” he asked me. “I have taken to sannyas. I am a monk. Still I have to work? How long will I be in this bondage of work, Swamiji?” He put this question to me.

The answer to this question is given in the second mantra: kurvann eveha karmāṇi jijīviṣet śataṁ samāḥ, evaṁ tvayi nānyatheto’sti na karma lipyate nare. Why are you afraid of action? Why are you afraid of anything at all? But the karma will not bind you. The question, “How long have I to work like this even after I take sannyas?” arises because the meaning of action has not been understood properly. We are told again and again that action is binding. Renunciation of action is freedom. Renunciation of action is not freedom. Renunciation of things is not freedom. This again is the great doctrine of the Bhagavadgita, with which you are all well acquainted. Arjuna said, “I shall renounce. I shall take sannyas and renounce all activity. I shall go begging for alms.”

But what does Sri Krishna say? “What a foolish man you are! How can you avoid action in a world which is perpetually active? The whole universe is incessantly evolving in even the minutest parts, or the core of it. Not even a single atom in this universe is inactive. Arjuna, you say you will be inactive and you will take sannyas of inactivity?”

This is what the Isavasya Upanishad has told even before the Bhagavadgita was written. Many people think, historians of philosophy say, that the Bhagavadgita takes certain ideas from the Isavasya Upanishad and also the Katha Upanishad. Perhaps there is some truth in it. Action does not bind.

After having said all this much in regard to the first mantra or verse of the Isavasya Upanishad, a doubt still persists. “What is my daily duty in this context of what you have said just now? What am I supposed to do every day? You have threatened me with this great doctrine of the pervasion of God, and the glory of renunciation in this sense of the term as inculcated in this mantra of the Isavasya Upanishad. Now what happens to me? I get up in the morning, and what am I to do?” The answer to this question is in the second mantra. I shall explain it to you next time.