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Spirit of Renunciation
by Swami Krishnananda

(Taken from the Divine Life Magazine, 1958 issue.)

Thirty-four years have now been completed since Sri Gurudev Swami Sivananda entered the holy order of Sannyasa. This memorable event has been not only a landmark in his adventurous march in the quest of Truth, but has set a brilliant example and serves as a shining ideal to all aspiring souls. This is the reaffirmation of the age-old truth, the truth that has been proclaimed centuries ago by the ancient seers of the Upanishads, that the Eternal cannot be reached by the non-eternal. All human  endeavour  is  of  the  nature of transiency. Impermanency is the character of individualistic effort. Life here is nothing but a scene enacted on the theatre of space and time.

The world we live in is a spatio-temporal world. The objects that we experience are tarred with the nature of change. For, the world is of a ‘presented' character. Anything that is given to the senses in the form of something external, is bound to be subjected to constant transformation. The Kathopanishad has emphasized this truth when it boldly asserted. Those that are transitory cannot obtain that which is Permanent. The world is ‘Adhruva' and God is ‘Dhruva'.


It is the effort to put into practice this knowledge of the difference between the eternal and the non-eternal, that goes by the name of Vairagya. Thus renunciation should necessarily be preceded by Viveka, or a correct grasping of the nature of the Eternal as distinguished from the non-eternal. Vairagya is not the consequence of any kind of frustration in life. Abhava-Vairagya is not real dispassion. Non-obtainment of objects of sense does not constitute the real spirit that is at the back of the order of Sannyasa. Sannyasa is the formal acceptance of the life of complete non-attachment to the things of the world, as a result of the dawn of the knowledge that nothing in the world is of any real worth, the world being an effect and relative in the nature of its makeup.

Hence, Vairagya which is the cause of Sannyasa is not any negative denial of the values of life, but the affirmation of the only value that is in life—the value of the world being rooted in a trans-empirical Reality, which is at the same time the reality behind the human individual. Sri Krishna refers to the world as impermanent and joyless, an abode of sorrow is this world! If, then, it is true that we are stationed in a realm of grief, why is it that we seem to be contented with our lot here, and do not put forth any appreciable effort to avert the pains we are subjected to?


Sage Patanjali gives the answer. It is only to the individual, endowed with the power of discrimination, that the world discloses its essential character of being a source of pain; not to others. If you touch the body with a thick rod of iron, the body will not feel any discomfort; but touch the eye-balls, even with a fine silken thread! The eyes cannot tolerate that touch. For, the inner linings of the eyes are made up of a very subtle substance. Even so, the gross-minded people of the world cannot know that the changing world, in which they are, is a perpetual source of unhappiness. Only the Viveki, the aspirant equipped with the illuminating insight into the actual constitution of the world, can behold the ugly structure that tantalises all with the promise of real satisfaction.

The first cause of pain, mentioned by Patanjali's Parinama or the consequence of the enjoyment of pleasure. This consequence is nothing but a desire to repeat the enjoyment. The desire for enjoyment therefore, does not cease with enjoyment; on the other hand, it gives rise to a further intense desire, to continue this process of enjoyment. And as long as there is desire, there is pain. Thus, the result of the enjoyment ofobjects of sense is pain.

The second cause is Tapa, or the anxiety attending upon the possession of the object of desire. There is constant fear that the object may be snatched away from one's hand, there is the fear that it may not be possible to keep the object for oneself for a long time, there is the unrest caused by the feeling, that the pleasurable situation or the happy position in which one is placed, may not after all, be enduring. So there is again, pain, even after the obtainment of the coveted object.

The third cause is Samskara-Duhkha, or the sorrow that follows the impressions caused by the enjoyment of an object. Naturally, the impressions of the sense-experience of a desired object create a sense of insecurity, due to the desire present within, the fulfilment or non-fulfilment of which is sure to bring misery in its train.

The fourth cause is Gunavritti-Virodha, or the natural opposition that subsists among the primordial properties of Mula-Prakriti.


Every object in the created world is made up of three constitutive essences of Sattva, Rajas and Tamas, which form the three strands of the substance of Prakriti. Sattva is equilibrium and transparency, Rajas is distraction and activity, Tamas is darkness and inertia. The joy that is experienced at the time of the enjoyment of an object, is the outcome of the preponderance of the Sattva property of Prakriti at the time of the enjoyment. Sage Vidyaranya says in the Panchadasi. When the objects of sense are obtained, the desire for them ceases, and there is then an introversion of the functions of the mind, during which period, the mind unconsciously experiences the bliss of the nature of its own source, the deepest Self within everyone. The cessation of desire, consequent upon the acquisition of the objects, is at the same time the substitution of the function of Rajas by the operation of Sattva. The work of Sattva is equilibrated dynamism of consciousness, an instantaneous experience of Reality, by the way of reflection of the same in its perspicuous substance. Thus, Sattva Guna is responsible for pleasure. But, it must be remembered that an object can never rest in any single given condition, for, every object is subject to a forced transformation brought about by the natural instability of the nature of Prakriti itself. Hence, there is a return of Rajas in action after the momentary enjoyment through Sattva. Rajas brings pain, again. And Tamas causes stupor. Where is permanency, then, in the enjoyment of a sense-object? For, all these reasons, says sage Patanjali, everything is pain to the discriminating.


Where is the way out of this pain? The way lies in the practice of self-control, in the adoption of the attitude of Vairagya. The school of Patanjali recognizes four stages in the development of the lower Vairagya. The first step is called Yatamana-Samjna or the consciousness of the effort towards the renunciation of attachment by attempting to discover the cause of sorrow. The second is Vyatireka- Samjna or the consciousness of having discovered and isolated the cause of sorrow as distinguished from other accidental conditions. The third is Ekendriya-Samjna or the consciousness of having detected the single cause of all sorrow, viz., the mind. The fourth stage is Vashikara-Samjna or the consciousness of having attained mastery due to absence of desire for objects both seen and heard.

Thus, the fourth stage of Vairagya means a natural distaste, not only for the entire visible world, but also for the heavenly world which is invisible, but heard of through scriptural statements. All these four stages are of the development of the lower Vairagya. The higher Vairagya is said to be the dispassion even for the ultimate properties of Prakriti themselves— Sattva, Rajas and Tamas—as a spontaneous result of the realization of the Supreme Purusha. This is the only solution to our problems of evil and pain in this world.

There cannot be contentment and happiness as long as there is craving present in the mind for the objects outside. And this craving will not end merely by cutting oneself away from sense-objects. The Lord says  in  the  Bhagavadgita, the objects turn away from an abstemious person. But they leave in the mind a desire for enjoyment. This desire can come to an end only on the realization of That Supreme.


This penetrating understanding was responsible for the great rejection by Nachiketas of the splendour and happiness offered by Yama to him. Yama tempts the lad with all that is on earth and in heaven and gives him also the promise of longevity. But Nachiketas, the stern and persevering aspirant, was too much for this temptation. Nachiketas replies: Ephemeral are all these of the mortal, even the vigour of the senses, these enjoyments wear away. Even a long life is only short in comparison with Eternity that is before us. “Thine be the vehicles, thine the dance and the song!” (Kathopanishad I-i-26)

Such intensity of dispassion—Tivra-Vairagya—is demanded of every true aspirant. One must realize that even all the things of the earth will not be sufficient to quench the thirst of even a single man. For, the longing of the mind is eternal, it is in need of the infinite for its ultimate satisfaction. It cannot be satisfied with perishable things, with finite presentations. But, it experiments with all things here, trying this and that for the sake of an enduring joy. Unfortunately it always suffers an utter failure in this restless quest for joy in the things of the world.

“Even all the gold and cattle, rice and wheat of the world will not suffice to satisfy the cravings of one man,” said king Yayati after enjoyment of the pleasures of heaven for thousands of years. “Never is desire extinguished by its fulfilment through objects; on the other hand it increases thereby, as fire on which ghee is poured,” says the great law-giver Manu. “By affection, by greed for wealth, by acquisition of precious stones and women does the mind get fattened,” says Rishi Vasishtha to Sri Rama. It gets thinned out by detachment and knowledge of the ultimately unreal character of our spatio-temporal experiences.


Vairagya, however, is not any hatred for the world, not a contempt for things. Ishwara- Srishti is never the cause of our bondage. It is Jiva-Srishti that binds us to mortality. Vairagya is supposed  to  be  one  of  the  six  attributes of God Himself . Obviously it cannot be that God has any dislike for the world or that He shuns things in disgust or detestation. For, the whole world is in God. Vairagya is really the consciousness of non-attachment, says the Upanishad.

Reality is unattached. The Purusha is absolutely ‘Alone'. It is the awareness that nothing is really external to the universal consciousness, that all is within the boundless ‘I', that is real Vairagya. Self-Knowledge, Atma-Sakshatkara, leads to true Sannyasa. “Having known that Atman, the knowers renounce the desire for progeny, desire for wealth and desire for worlds, and wander about  as  mendicants,” says the Brihadaranyaka Upanishad. Lasting Vairagya can only be the outcome of imperishable knowledge.


Knowledge alone is our final saviour. And it is the knowledge of the ultimate Being itself. Here, knowing is being. The being that is known in the act of the fusion of eternity and infinity is not an object of sense, intellect or reason. It is identical with the very process of knowledge and is the sum and substance of the subject from which the knowledge originates. It is the Supreme Cause of the universe, and only a knowledge of this Great Being can dispel our ignorance in regard to the world, and free us from our attachments to the false shadows of empiricality.

Says the Veda: By knowing Him alone, does one cross beyond death; there is no other way to go over there. There is no other way to attain the Immortal than the knowledge that the world and God are one, that the Self and the Absolute are identical, that Atman is Brahman. It is this saving knowledge, the realization of the unity of Existence and Consciousness in essence, that can raise us above from the erroneous notion that the objects of sense are real in themselves, that they are either desirable or undesirable or otherwise, that happiness is in the contents of the world of sense. Devotion to God, knowledge of Reality, alone is the way to Moksha. Here is our blessedness.