A few weeks ago several of our regular contributors were having a discussion in one of the ‘responses’ sections about whether physical renunciation was a prerequisite for progress on the spiritual path. I didn’t contribute much except to say at one point that Bhagavan taught one should ‘renounce the renouncer’, rather than give up particular desires, ways of life, courses of action, and so on. As the debate rumbled on, at some point someone asked me to clarify what Bhagavan had actually taught on this subject. I have therefore, somewhat belatedly, assembled some of Bhagavan’s key teachings on this topic and arranged them under various headings.
Bhagavan taught that true renunciation was giving up interest in and attachment to anything that is not the Self:
Giving up the non-Self is renunciation. Inhering in the Self is jnana or Self-realisation. One is the negative and the other the positive aspect of the same, single truth.
(Day by Day with Bhagavan, 2nd January, 1946, afternoon)
According to Bhagavan this is accomplished by giving up erroneous identifications and limitations. This basic theme will come up in all the sections of this post, as will the methods by which this is accomplished: self-enquiry and Self-abidance.
Renouncing the ego
Bhagavan often used terms such as ‘mind’, ‘ego’ and ‘individuality’ interchangeably, particularly when it came to giving them up. If the ego (or any of its synonyms) is renounced, no further renunciation is required. The following three verses from Padamalai (p. 171, vv. 103-105) sum this up quite neatly:
For those who have abandoned their ego mind, what other things besides that [mind] are left that are worthy of being renounced?
Renunciation, glorious and immaculate, is the total extirpation of the impure ego mind.
Only those who have renounced the ego-mind have truly renounced. What have all the others, who may have given up other things, really renounced?
The next three verses (Guru Vachaka Kovai, vv. 837, 500 and 850) emphasise the same point and conclude that it is self-enquiry that produces the true renunciation, which is the abandonment of the individual ‘I’:
For those who have, with great difficulty, accomplished the renunciation of the ego, there is nothing else to renounce.
That which is worth taking up is the self-enquiry that reveals jnana; that which is worth enjoying is the grandeur of the Self; that which is worth renouncing is the ego-mind; that in which it is worth taking refuge, to eliminate sorrow completely, is one’s own source, the Heart.
By becoming the source of all desires, the ego is the doorway to the sorrow of samsara. The extremely heroic and discriminating person first attains through dispassion the total renunciation of desires that arise in the form of ‘I want’. Subsequently, through the Selfward enquiry ‘Who am I?’, he renounces that ego, leaving no trace of it, and attains the bliss of peace, free from anxieties. This is the supreme benefit of dharma.
The last verse of the previous section makes the interesting point that desires for external objects have to be renounced ‘through dispassion’ before self-enquiry can accomplish the ultimate renunciation, the renunciation of the ‘I’. The same point is made in Guru Vachaka Kovai, verse 764:
Those excellent seekers who have completely renounced desires, realising that more and more afflictions result from them, will attain, through the direct path of self-enquiry that they embark on, the endless and supreme experience of the essence of the Self in the Heart.
Sometimes Bhagavan said (as he did in the last two verses) that desires should be tackled prior to the practice of enquiry, but on other occasions he was equally insistent that self-enquiry, properly performed, was the most effective way of eliminating and renouncing desires. The following two dialogues illustrate this particular approach:
Question: What is the best way of dealing with desires, with a view to getting rid of them – satisfying them or suppressing them?
Bhagavan: If a desire can be got rid of by satisfying it, there will be no harm in satisfying such a desire. But desires generally are not eradicated by satisfaction. Trying to root them out that way is like pouring spirits to quench fire. At the same time, the proper remedy is not forcible suppression, since such repression is bound to react sooner or later into forceful surging up with undesirable consequences. The proper way to get rid of a desire is to find out, ‘Who gets the desire? What is its source?’ When this is found, the desire is rooted out and it will never again emerge or grow. Small desires such as the desire to eat, drink and sleep and attend to calls of nature, though these may also be classed among desires, you can safely satisfy. They will not implant vasanas in your mind, necessitating further birth. Those activities are just necessary to carry on life and are not likely to develop or leave behind vasanas or tendencies. As a general rule, therefore, there is no harm in satisfying a desire where the satisfaction will not lead to further desires by creating vasanas in the mind.
(Day by Day with Bhagavan, 12th April, 1946)
Question: How am I to deal with my passions? Am I to check them or satisfy them? If I follow Bhagavan’s method and ask, ‘To whom are these passions?’ they do not seem to die but grow stronger.
Bhagavan: That only shows you are not going about my method properly. The right way is to find out the root of all passions, the source whence they proceed, and get rid of that. If you check the passions, they may get suppressed for the moment, but will appear again. If you satisfy them, they will be satisfied only for the moment and will again crave satisfaction. Satisfying desires and thereby trying to root them out is like trying to quench fire by pouring kerosene oil over it. The only way is to find the root of desire and thus remove it.
(Day by Day with Bhagavan, 2nd January, 1946)
The question of how to deal with desire was raised in an earlier post. One reader, Haramurthy, said that it should be effectively tackled by viveka, proper discrimination. Bhagavan himself occasionally took this line himself, suggesting that desires could be tackled, to some extent at least, by cultivating an understanding of what was true and real, and what was not:
Question: How can they [desires] be rendered weaker?
Bhagavan: By knowledge. You know that you are not the mind. The desires are in the mind. Such knowledge helps one to control them.
Question: But they are not controlled in our practical lives.
Bhagavan: Every time you attempt satisfaction of a desire the knowledge comes that it is better to desist. What is your true nature? How can you ever forget it? Waking, dream and sleep are mere phases of the mind. They are not of the Self. You are the witness of these states. Your true nature is found in sleep.
(Day by Day with Bhagavan, 12th April, 1946)
Bhagavan: There is room for kama [desire] so long as there is an object apart from the subject, i.e., duality. There can be no desire if there is no object. The state of no-desire is moksha. There is no duality in sleep and also no desire. Whereas there is duality in the waking state and desire also is there. Because of duality a desire arises from the acquisition of the object. That is the outgoing mind, which is the basis of duality and of desire. If one knows that bliss is none other than the Self the mind becomes inward turned. If the Self is gained all the desires are fulfilled.
(Talks with Sri Ramana Maharshi, talk no. 502)
However, Bhagavan taught that there are limitations to this approach. Viveka can help one to lose interest in the unreal non-Self, but true desirelessness and true renunciation only occur when one abides in and as the Self:
Only the Self-abidance wherein one shines free of affliction will cut asunder all the bonds engendered by the non-Self. Discrimination [viveka], which differentiates between the unreal and the real that is one’s own nature, is [only] an aid to immaculate desirelessness.
(Guru Vachaka Kovai, verse 769)
Question: Has the discrimination between reality and unreality [sat asat vicharana] the efficacy in itself to lead us to the realisation of the one imperishable?
Bhagavan: As propounded by all and realised by all true seekers, fixity in the supreme spirit [Brahmanishta] alone can make us know and realise it. It being of us and in us, any amount of discrimination [vivechana] can lead us only one step forward, by making us renouncers, by goading us to discard the seeming [abhasa] as transitory and to hold fast to the eternal truth and presence alone.
(Talks with Sri Ramana Maharshi, talk no. 29)
The best kind of renunciation is remaining in the state in which the mind holds extremely tightly to the swarupa.
(Padamalai, p. 170, v. 100)
In the context of Bhagavan’s teachings, the implication of this warning about the limitations of viveka is that it is only through enquiry or surrender that true Self-abidance can be attained. This point is made in Guru Vachaka Kovai, verse 415:
Having, through discrimination, distinguished between the supreme [para] and the world [apara], one should, through enquiry and dispassion, attain attachment to para and detachment from apara. Then, with the strength of dispassion thus attained, one should live with one’s heart completely free from the infatuations of ‘I’ and ‘mine’. This alone is the way of life that should be taken up by those who desire to live in the expansive world of true jnana.
Renunciation of ‘I’ and ‘mine’
‘Internal renunciation’ is renunciation of the ego whereas ‘external renunciation’ is giving up possessions. Together they are known as giving up ‘I’ and ‘mine’. It is the former that results in enlightenment:
If you attain perfect mastery of internal renunciation, external renunciation will have no importance.
(Padamalai, p. 170, v. 102)
Bhagavan sometimes illustrated the superiority of inner over outer renunciation by telling the story of King Sikhidhvaja who unnecessarily gave up his kingdom and retired to the forest to seek enlightenment:
He [the king] had vairagya [non-attachment] even while ruling his kingdom and could have realised the Self if he had only pushed his vairagya to the point of killing the ego. He did not do it but came to the forest, had a timetable of tapas and yet did not improve even after eighteen years of tapas. He had made himself a victim of his own creation. Chudala [his enlightened wife] advised him to give up the ego and realise the Self, which he did and was liberated.
It is clear from Chudala’s story that vairagya accompanied by ego is of no value, whereas all possessions in the absence of ego do not matter.
(Talks with Sri Ramana Maharshi, talk no. 404)
However, Bhagavan would sometimes say that surrendering to God all the objects and ideas that comprise ‘mine’ would also lead to the same goal:
Whatever the means, the destruction of the sense ‘I’ and ‘mine’ is the goal, and as these are interdependent, the destruction of either of them causes the destruction of the other; therefore in order to achieve that state of silence which is beyond thought and word, either the path of knowledge which removes the sense of ‘I’ or the path of devotion which removes the sense of ‘mine’, will suffice. So there is no doubt that the end of the paths of devotion and knowledge is one and the same.
(Upadesa Manjari, chapter one, answer 11)
Generally, though, Bhagavan would recommend enquiry even to those who were pursuing union or identity with a form of the divine:
Through delusion the trickster sometimes arrogantly regards the property of the boundless perfect one, the Lord of all, as ‘I’, and at other times, through attachment to it, regards it as ‘mine’. If he [the trickster] enters the Heart, his source, and examines who he is, then where is he to be found?
Abandon your mind unconditionally at the feet of him [Siva] who shares his form with the Lady [Uma]. Then, as the ‘I’ that investigates the false dies away, along with [the concept of] ‘mine’, the powerful Supreme Self will unfold fully and flourish eternally.
(Guru Vachaka Kovai, vv. 484, 487)
Renouncing the ‘I am the body’ idea
Identification with the body is, says Bhagavan, just a wrong idea, but it is an association that prevents us from being aware of who we really are. The renunciation of this idea is therefore central to Bhagavan’s teachings:
Question: Why cannot the Self be perceived directly?
Bhagavan: Only the Self is said to be directly perceived [pratyaksha]. Nothing else is said to be pratyaksha. Although we are having this pratyaksha, the thought ‘I am this body’ is veiling it. If we give up this thought, the Atma, which is always within the direct experience of everyone, will shine forth.
(Living by the Words of Bhagavan, 2nd ed., pp. 218-19)
This theme appears many times in Bhagavan’s teachings. Here is a sequence of verses from Guru Vachaka Kovai that covers this important aspect of renunciation:
The world that associates with us as an appearance of names and forms is as transient as a lightning flash. The faltering understanding ‘I am the body’ is the deceptive device that makes us desire the world as if it were real, [thereby] entrapping us instantaneously in the powerful snare of bondage.
In the experience of true knowledge, which is the reality of the Self, this world is merely the beautiful [but illusory] azure-blue colour that appears in the sky. When one becomes confused by the veiling, the ‘I am the body’ delusion, those things that are seen through suttarivu [the consciousness that divides itself into seer and seen] are merely an imaginary appearance.
Be aware that the ‘I am the body’ ego is truly the one unique cause of all the sorrows of samsara. Therefore, make genuine, firm and steady efforts to destroy that ego, and desist from making any other kind of effort.
Following the destruction of the ‘I am the body’ idea, whatever body it may be, the radiance of being exists forever, free of limitation, without any bondage, shining as the pure expanse. Dwelling in the hearts of all individuated jivas as attribute-free jnana, as wholly the Self, and as non-distinct from them, this radiance of being abides as the all-encompassing supreme power [akila-para-sakti].
Having become free from concepts, which are afflicting thoughts, and with the ‘I am the body’ idea completely extinguished, one ends up as the mere eye of grace, the non-dual expanse of consciousness. This is the supremely fulfilling vision of God.
Know that the eradication of the identification with the body is charity, spiritual austerity and ritual sacrifice; it is virtue, divine union and devotion; it is heaven, wealth, peace and truth; it is grace; it is the state of divine silence; it is the deathless death; it is jnana, renunciation, final liberation and bliss.
Renouncing the ‘I am the doer’ idea
According to Bhagavan, it is not actions themselves that should be given up, but the inner feeling that one is doing them:
If total cessation from activity is alone the determining criterion for jnana, then even the inability to act because of leprosy will be a sure indication of jnana! You should know that the state of jnana is the exalted state of remaining without any sense of responsibility in the heart, having renounced both the attraction to, and the revulsion from, the performance of actions.
(Guru Vachaka Kovai, verse 1160)
There are two Sanskrit terms that are relevant to this part of the discussion: kartrutva and kartavya. The former denotes the feeling of being the performer of actions that the body undertakes, while the latter denotes the feeling that there are activities that must be done. Here is one verse from Guru Vachaka Kovai and two from Padamalai that summarise the problem and its solution:
Unless one’s connection with individuality is destroyed at its root, one will not become a true jnani, free of the sense of doership [kartrutva]. Even if one attains a supreme and eminent state of tapas that can be marvelled at, one is still only a sadhaka who is qualified to realise the truth.
(Guru Vachaka Kovai, v. 122)
The ignoble infatuation kartrutva that associates with you is the confused attitude of mind that regards the instruments [of action and cognition] as ‘you’.
Deeds [karma] are not your enemy, only the sense of doership [kartrutva] is. Therefore, live your life, having completely renounced that enemy.
(Padamalai, p. 171, vv. 106, 107)
The next sequence of verses, also from Padamalai, stresses the necessity of abandoning kartavya, the idea that there are courses of action that must be pursued:
The notion of duties that need to be done [kartavya] will not cease as long as the sense of doership [kartrutva] exists in the heart.
Why do you become mentally agitated, blindly believing there are things you have to do [kartavya]?
The bondage called ‘duty’ will cease [being known] as a delusion caused by the ego, when the firm knowledge of reality is attained.
A mind that has dissolved in the state of God, and ceased to exist, will not be aware of any activity that needs to be performed because when the ego, which has the idea that it is the performer of actions, has been completely destroyed, the idea that something needs to be accomplished ends.
Those who do not see anything as a duty that has to be done will attain the bliss of peace that yields limitless contentment.
(Padamalai, vv. 119-124)
The abandonment of the ‘I am the doer’ idea is not accomplished by giving up certain courses of action, or even all of them, but by enquiry into the nature and origin of the ‘I’ that thinks it is performing the actions:
The truth of karma [activities] is only the realisation of one’s true nature by the enquiry ‘Who is the doer, the “I” who is embarking upon the performance of karma?’ Unless the ego, the performer of action, perishes by enquiring into and knowing [its real nature], the perfect unassailable peace in which all doing has ended will be impossible [to attain].
Prarabdha, like a whirlwind, relentlessly agitates and spins the mind that has shrunk through the ‘I am the body’ idea. However, it cannot stir, even slightly, the limitation-free mind that shines as the extremely clear space of being-consciousness when that ego-impurity [the ‘I am the body’ idea] is destroyed by self-enquiry.
(Guru Vachaka Kovai, vv. 703, 698)