Religion and Social Values
by Swami Krishnananda

Chapter 4: True Renunciation is Enlightenment

Spiritual life is a movement in the direction of God, which means a movement in every direction. It is not moving in any particular direction, such as east or west, because God’s comprehensiveness is a directionless existence. Therefore, in our search for God, we are searching for a way in all the directions of the world.

The spiritual movement towards God is not a linear movement. It is a multi-faced approach in respect of all things which may be considered as the faces of God. This is one aspect of spiritual life. The other aspect is that the movement towards God is, in some sense, like going from one country to another country.

What do we have to do when we leave one country and go to another country? We have to apply for a passport. But the passport will not be issued so easily, because our obligations to our country have to be cleared before the Passport Officer concedes to our request. He will ask us to produce the Tax Clearance Certificate, because the country would not wish that we skip over our dues to it in our aspiration to move to another country. We would also make some provisions and arrangements for our family and see that everything is stable in the environment of our house before we take a passport or a visa to the other country. Sometimes the Passport Officers even insist on what is called a Police Clearance; and any other dues which we owe to our nation are cleared first before we are free to go.

In a manifold manner are we connected to this country of ours; and anyone is so connected to his or her own country. At a moment’s thought we will not be able to make a list of all our relationships to our country, to our society. They will all come up one by one, as the occasion arises. Similarly, we cannot know how many desires we have in our mind. At the present moment here, seated in a hall, it may look like we have no desires at all; we are completely free. But this is not a fact, because this is not the occasion for the desires to manifest themselves. Just as a seed sprouts only under suitable conditions—when the earth is soft, and the rain falls, and the climate is favourable—in the same way desires, which are equally intelligent, will not manifest themselves when they know that their asking will not receive a response.

Likewise is our understanding of our relationships to things. Sometimes we may believe that we are totally free. People sometimes say, “I have no encumbrances. I am collecting my pension. I am a retired man, and I have no obligations.” This is a straightforward statement of an intelligible mind, because a clear insight has not been gained into the inward subconscious or even unconscious tentacles with which we are connected with the nether regions—not only of our psychic world, but also of the social and physical world outside.

The ancient masters, in India especially, have conducted a threadbare analysis of the conditions to be fulfilled by a seeker of Truth. It is not a sudden wrenching of ourselves from relations when we move towards God; rather, it is a fulfilment of relations. The idea of abandonment, which many a time obsesses our mind, is a partial truth of the matter. Often there is a dual urge that operates in us when we are fired up with a spirit of renunciation. A feeling of the reality of the sorrows and sufferings of life and a simultaneous feeling of the need to free ourselves from these sorrows and sufferings is a mistake we commit with these peculiar attitudes of ours. If the sorrows and sufferings are unreal and they have no substance—they are really not there—our anxiety to free ourselves from them is un-understandable. But if they are really there as meaningful connections which we have established with our atmosphere, a severing of our connections with them is, again, very unthinkable. The spirit of vairagya is a difficult atmosphere of the human psyche.

We have been told, right from our childhood, that the love of God is in some measure a dislike for the world. Though the word ‘dislike’ has a connotation of its own and people interpret the spirit of vairagya in a nobler environment, the dislike aspect does not completely leave us. Religious instruction, at least to the extent we have been able to understand it, has been a double-edged sword which operates in two ways: in the direction of the world, from which we have to free ourselves, and in the direction of God, in relation to which we have to connect ourselves.

It was mentioned earlier that a thread in a cloth is connected to the cloth in a very peculiar manner. This analogy was brought forth to explain our relationship to things. When a thread wishes to free itself from the cloth into which it has been woven, it is actually attempting a freedom from an all-round relationship that it has established with the entire fabric. Our connection to the world cannot be fully explained by this analogy. We are not merely like a thread in a cloth, because the connection of the thread to the cloth is purely mechanical; there is no living relationship of one thread with another thread. But there is a very forceful, soulful and living connection of ourselves to every soul of this cosmos. 

So when we free ourselves from the world in our attempt at the practice of renunciation, or vairagya, for the purpose of God-realisation, we are wrenching ourselves from the whole body of relations, which are a living connection wholly spread out through space and time, and we are not moving to God like a single individual. Many times we may be forced into the feeling that we individually move towards God, leaving all people here with whom we no longer have any connection: neither are we connected to our family, nor to the world; we are related to God in the heavens, so we move like a rocket—independently, individually, unrelated in any way to anyone and anything in the world at any time.

This idea is not true. Such a movement to God is not possible, because the world is woven into our personality and, vice versa, we are woven into the very structure of the world. When we lift ourselves from this world, the whole world will come with us, so that there is no such thing as individual salvation. This is a statement which has to be understood in its proper meaning. Neither is there anything called social salvation of all people together, nor is there anything called individual salvation. What we call moksha, or liberation, is neither social nor individual. It is a mystery by itself. Man is not given to understanding what it means.

Another analogy may give you a little insight into this difficulty. When you wake up from dream, what is it that comes with you into waking life? “I have woken up from dream. I have come out of the world of dream into waking existence.” What about your friends and relations, and the world, and your office work, and all your obligations and commitments in the dream world? You have brought them all together with you. It is not that you have left your office and your friends in the dream world and have individually come up to the waking life. You do not say, “My friends are still there inside, and I have got uncompleted and unattended work in the dream world.” When you have woken, the whole dream has woken. All your relationships, likes and dislikes, obligations, duties to be discharged, debts payable—all things are together with you, as your legs go wherever you go. You cannot leave your legs behind and go to some other place.

This illustration of the total world moving with you when you wake up from dream into this present consciousness will, to some extent, explain how you move towards God. It is not one Mr. so and so moving to God. Such a thing does not exist, because your relations are not artificial relations, but vital connections. Outwardly, empirically, from the spatio-temporal point of view, your relationships may look artificial, a make-believe. Therefore, it is called maya. But inwardly you are connected to things in a more significant manner.

There is a dual relationship of ours, again, with the world around us—a tentative relationship and a real relationship. Teachers of the art of yoga and adepts in spiritual life tell us that our relationship to things is twofold. A father has a relationship to his son, a husband has a relationship to his wife, etc. This is a very difficult thing to understand. A son is an independent individual by himself, yet he appears to be somehow connected to his father, and the father seems to be connected to his son by a bond of emotion and feeling. The father sees in the son something which he cannot see in other people—though other people are, for all practical purposes, physically speaking, exactly like his son. The wife cannot see in other people in the world what she can see in her own husband, though her husband is not in any way superior or inferior, or different in any manner from other people in the world.

Here we have a double relationship with things. In Sanskrit, this is called the distinction drawn between Jiva Srishti and Ishvara Srishti. The son as such or the father as such is Ishvara Srishti, God’s creation. The son has not created the father, and the individuality of the son is a status by itself which cannot be absorbed into the individuality of the father. The son is not a satellite of the father. He has an independent existence of his own. Yet there is a peculiar emotional bondage. This feeling in respect of things with which we seem to be emotionally connected or instinctively related is called Jiva Srishti, or the individual’s reaction to the structure of things in their social, instinctive connections.

But things are also as they are. Trees are trees, wherever we go. Wherever we go, whether to Kashmir or the United States, we see trees, but a tree in our own garden is different from a tree in the wilderness. A plant that we have tended with affection is different from the wild growth in the forest. Our relationship, too, is different. This relationship of ours to our own tree, our own plant, our own garden and our own property is Jiva Srishti—an individual, psychological connection—which can be regarded as an artificial connection because it will not stand always. When our mind undergoes a transformation, our feeling in respect of things will also change. But the plant is a plant, the tree is a tree, even if we have no connection with it. That is Ishvara Srishti.

God has created the world, and the world is called the kingdom of ends. A kingdom of ends is a kingdom of independent status maintained by each individual, each atom, each molecule in the world. Everyone is independent. Nobody is a servant of another. There is no subservience of any particular thing to any other thing in the world. Nobody can be exploited by another, because one does not belong to another as a property. So each one is a status by himself, herself, itself. This is the kingdom of ends. Each is a self by itself. Even an ant is a self by itself. An atom is a self by itself. It works as if it is an independent thing. A solar system is an independent structure. You are an independent structure. We assert ourselves, and we do not wish to abolish our individuality or our personality in the interest of another—because a self cannot become a not-self. 

This is the truth of things. That we really do not belong to another and anything cannot belong to us is the truth of the matter. But we somehow appear to be related to another, and things are possessed by us and connected with us in an artificial arrangement in society, emotionally required and instinctively demanded. This is the distinction that obtains between Ishvara Srishti and Jiva Srishti—God’s creation, or metaphysical existence, and psychological relation.

We have to understand both these things correctly in our approach to God—and, therefore, God’s being escapes the grasp of our understanding. Inasmuch as it eludes our grasp, we find it difficult to tread the spiritual path. We have often been very emotional, over-enthusiastic, fired up by instincts and sentiments; and often we are also unconsciously impelled to shirk our duties in the garb of a renunciation to attachments to the world, because renunciation is always applauded and attachment is condemned. So it is very easy for people to go with the garb of renunciation, though secretly it is a shirking of duty and a feeling of irresponsibility in regard to all those things which give pain in this world. Hence, our fear of pain may look like the spirit of renunciation.

Here we have to be judges of our own selves. The spirit of renunciation is not the spirit of the fear of sorrow. We do not renounce the world because it is giving sorrow and pain to us. That is not the reason. The reason is that we have fulfilled—not merely cut off—our connections with the world.

Spiritual life is a growth of our spiritual personality, and not an amputation of our spiritual limbs. And so, renunciation is not a cutting off of certain limbs of our psychic world, but a complete healthy growth of our connections—which have to be transmuted from the form which they have taken as Jiva Srishti into Ishvara Srishti. We have to be able to look at things as God sees, instead of as a father sees, mother sees, son sees, daughter sees, husband sees, or wife sees.

How would God see? You have not seen God, and you cannot even imagine how He could see things. But by an inference and a logical deduction of consequences which follow from a dispassionate study of things, you can place yourself in the context of an impartial visualisation of things. The vision of God, or God’s vision of things, is a totally dispassionate and impartial universal outlook where one thing does not hang on another thing, one thing does not depend on another thing, and one thing does not belong to another thing. Such a state of affairs is difficult to conceive for ordinary people. Therefore, spiritual life is so hard.

Now I am coming to a very important aspect of the problems of spiritual living—namely, our misconception of the very structure of spiritual life. Again, to reiterate, we have been brainwashed into the feeling that God is not in this world. God is above the world; God is the creator, and the creator is always outside the created object, like the carpenter is outside the table that he has made or the potter is not inside the pot. How could the manufacturer be inside the object that he has manufactured? This is our way of looking at things; and God is, thus, outside the world. Hence, we conclude that a forceful rejection of the world by asceticism is the requirement of spiritual living. We throw off our garb, cut off our connections, and live in a geographical corner of the Earth, not knowing that we are still on Earth only—just as an ostrich hiding its head in the sand is under the impression that nobody sees it because it does not see anybody. This psychological difficulty may pursue us wherever we go. Therefore, our movement in the religious field may turn out to be a movement from one sorrow to another, rather than a movement from one joy to another joy.

Spiritual living is not a painful, agonising process but a delightful and joyful experience. In the movement on the path of the spirit, or religion, you move from one state of joy to another state of joy. If you are happy now, the next moment you are happier—not less happy. You should not feel you have lost something when you have relieved yourself from the responsibilities of the world. Yet, your mind may be thinking of the condition of your daughter in the house of her in-laws, though you may be a hermit in the Himalayas. You may always be remembering your son in the United States who is an engineer: “His letter has come to me. He has requested me to see him. It is many years since he has left the country.” These ideas will persist in your mind though you are a hermit, because psychic relationships cannot be easily cut off. The emotional bondage is the real bondage, and physical disassociation from apparent connections will not be a real disassociation from emotional connections. The movement towards God, as I pointed out, is a wholesome, or rather a wholesale movement of the whole world—to which you belong, in which you are situated, and with which you are connected.

Now, what is the world in which you are connected or situated? It is a double world of emotional connections and metaphysical relations. You are in Ishvara Srishti; you are also in Jiva Srishti. The first step is to dissociate yourself or, rather, sublimate your relations in the emotional world. You have come to an Ashram; you are in a holy temple. Perhaps you have embraced the order of Sannyasa. What about your emotional reactions to things? Do you like something? Does it mean that a Sannyasin has no likes and dislikes? Are there no emotional, instinctive reactions to the world outside? Is he dead to all events?

It is not that you are to be dead to things. But you are to be aware of the nature of the true causative factors behind the operations of things— namely, the Ishvara Srishti behind the Jiva Srishti has to be visualised. The first step in spiritual life is an understanding of the various forms which the Jiva Srishti takes—which means to say, the forms in which you are connected to things emotionally, instinctively, personally, and socially. After you free yourself from these relationships, you enter into the real arena of spiritual living. You enter into the true world, the geographical world. The world in which you are living now is not the geographical world. It is a family world, social world, political world, emotional world, instinctive world. The geographical world is underlying it. Though you are walking physically, geographically, on this ground which is the substance of the Earth, you are actually affected not by the physical condition of the Earth, but by your emotional relationship to it. “This is India, my land, my country. I am a patriot of this nation. And now I tread on a foreign land.” Though you are treading on the same Earth, you have the feeling that you are treading on native land, foreign land, etc., though such distinctions do not operate with the Earth itself taken as a whole.

We feel we are in our house and not in somebody else’s house, and we are putting on our own clothes and not somebody else’s clothes. We eat our own meal, not somebody else’s food. These are very subtle operations of our mind. There is no such thing as ‘our own’. But it is hard to get out of this idea. It is like peeling one’s own skin, which is an impossible affair. To peel out of our psychic personality the emotional relationships with which we are connected to things is like tearing our flesh. No one can easily do that, because our flesh is not merely a physical substance. It is the mental stuff with which we are connected to our relations of love and hatred.

Loves and hatreds, likes and dislikes, are the stuff of our world. It is not atoms or molecules that constitute the world of our existence. The joys and sorrows of life are not born out of molecules, atoms, brick and mortar of the things around us. Our joys and sorrows arise from the mental connections, the psychic operations, the emotional flow from ourselves in the direction of that which we like and dislike. Hence, vairagya, renunciation, taking to religion, practising spirituality, is all a consequence of our freedom from, and not a rejection of, our emotional contacts.

When this is achieved, we will find that the world is our family, and we will not be able to recognise only a group of people as belonging to us. Then true renunciation springs up automatically; and then it is not to be defined by the word ‘renunciation’ but, more properly, to be called ‘enlightenment’. We have not renounced the wealth of our dream world when we have woken into the substance of our present life. We may have been a millionaire in dream. Now, have we renounced that wealth when we have woken up? The question of renunciation or relinquishment does not arise, because we have been enlightened into a new order of things.

In this new order of enlightenment called waking life, our likes and dislikes of the dream world convey no meaning at all. Hence, detachment from them, or even attachment to them, is a meaningless statement. So would be our delight and upsurge of satisfaction when we enter into the world of the creation of God. We may say, “I am even now in the creation of God.” But it is not true. We are in our own psychic world. We are not living in the creation of God, though it may appear that we are treading on the Earth, on which everyone is also treading—which we have not created and, therefore, is to be treated as created by God. We are living a mental world, not a physical life.

This treading of our path in the direction of the spirit is, therefore, the treading of the different stages of our connection with the densities of relationship in which we are involved. The psychic involvement is the hardest thing to understand. No one ever believes that he or she can be in the wrong. How could you persuade yourself that you are in the wrong? It is always taken for granted that we are harassed by people outside, people around us are idiotic, and our position is always justified. This is a persuasion within ourselves which we cannot escape because we think that we are always truthful, while others are mostly untruthful. This is a psychological malaise which can pursue us wherever we go on account of our not being able to assess ourselves in the light of Ishvara Srishti, or God’s creation. The trouble does not arise from trees and mountains, the sun and the moon and the stars. The trouble arises from our emotional, instinctive and psychological involvement with things.

This is the first step in religious or spiritual life—to free oneself from these psychological, emotional and instinctive involvements, not by severing them with a sword but by fulfilling their requirements, as when we are sick we do not kill our body so that we may be free from the illness, but we fulfil the needs of the body by taking medicines. There are two ways of killing the disease. We kill the body itself; then the disease is also killed. But this is not what we are attempting to do. We are trying to rejuvenate our personality and fulfil the needs of the personality in the attempt at regaining health, rather than severing ourselves from the body which is ill. When we cut off our connections with a sick body, we are no more sick, so why not abolish our physical individuality and life by dealing a single stroke to our body because we are sick?

Such a stroke should not be dealt at our psychological existence, which is a mistake many seekers commit under the impulse of a spirit of renunciation or a Godly urge. We are in a double difficulty because of the pull of the instincts from one side and the urge towards God on the other side. We are religious and irreligious at the same time. This is why many a time we have a new type of hardship before us. Why do we say that we require a Guru? It is because we cannot know our own involvements. Why do we go for a medical examination under an expert physician? Why don’t we study a Materia Medica, purchase some medicines from a chemist shop, swallow some pills and be relieved of our illness? This is not done because the diagnosis is very important. And only a Guru can diagnose the illness of our psychophysical individuality. We cannot study ourselves, just as a patient cannot treat himself. Therefore, a Guru is necessary. This Guru is a person who has trodden the path, who has gone above us and beyond us and knows the pitfalls, and who has studied all the points that are to be considered in one’s movement towards God.

Now I come back to the point from where I began. The movement towards God is a movement in every direction. Who can move in every direction? Which person can do that? How can we think all things at the same time? When we are seated in a bus, can we think of the four sides of the bus, the top and the bottom, and the movement of the bus all at the same time? This is an illustration of what scientists sometimes call a four-dimensional way of thinking. We can think of the movement of the bus in only one direction, not in all four directions at the same time, and the people around, and all things connected with it.

An all-round fulfilment is what is required of us in our spiritual aspirations and religious calls. All religion, all forms of spirituality, are stages of fulfilment and not rejection. Life is full, and full with everything, even with obligations. So the life of religion and spirituality is a positive living and not a negative wrenching. It is not an abandoning, but an acquisition. It is a growing into a higher dimension and not a losing of what we had earlier.

When you advance on the spiritual path or in your practice of religion, you are not losing the lower things in the interest of the higher things— just as when you are promoted to a higher grade in your office you have not lost your lower cadre. You don’t cry, “Oh, my lower salary has gone because the higher salary has come!” The lower is included in the higher. So in the abandonment or the renunciation that religions require of you, you are not renouncing the values of life or the worthwhile things in existence, but are sublimating them, fulfilling them in a higher acquisition and, therefore, it is a movement from a lesser joy to a greater joy, not from sorrow to sorrow. “Oh, what a difficult thing is this life! How difficult it is to sit in asana, how difficult to concentrate, how difficult to study the Bhagavadgita! Everything is difficult. There is nothing pleasant in spiritual life.” This is a very sorry state of affairs, and it is because the conditions of spiritual living have not been properly understood, the obligations to the world have not been properly discharged, and there has been unnecessary enthusiasm of emotion rather than a true devotion to God.

So, my dear friends, it is better to go slowly and take a firm step, even if you take only one step in one year. There is no necessity to take a hundred steps and then retrace your steps because you have taken a wrong step. It is quality that is required of you, and not the quantity of your achievements. It is not that a thousand malas of beads are to be rolled; one bead is sufficient if the whole of your mind, the whole of your spirit, your entire soul is associated with the single bead. Even if you chanted only one mantra for a moment only, it is sufficient provided your whole soul has welled up in its direction rather than counting one thousand beads with a distracted mind, with sorrows, agonies, unfulfilled and frustrated ambitions, and so on.

Thus, again I come to the point. You require a guide. Unaided, without a support, you should not attempt at standing on your own legs, at least at the present moment. Maybe a day will come when you are absolutely competent to stand on your own legs, God willing; but just now it is not possible.

So a great vigilance is necessary, and a series of graduated steps has to be taken—no sudden jumps. And again, remember that religion, spirituality, is a fulfilment of your obligations in all the realms of being, and not a shirking of duties or a rejection of values or a denial of your obligations in any existence. Spirituality, or religion, is wholly positive in every stage of its performance. This is very important to remember.