Enquiry leads to an unbroken experience of the Self, and it is this culminating experience, rather than the preceding enquiry, that ultimately destroys the ‘I am the body’ belief. Here is a statement from Bhagavan (Guru Vachaka Kovai, verse 699) on this topic, followed by a brief commentary on it by Muruganar:
O mind, other than meditation which takes the form of the akhandakara vritti [unbroken experience] that shines as the Self, have you discovered any means to burn to ashes the evil ‘I am the doer’ belief that propels and plunges the jiva into the bottom of the ocean of karma? If you have, let me know.
Muruganar: The ‘I am the doer’ belief repeatedly plunges the jiva into the ocean of karma, without allowing it to rise up and reach the shore. By doing this it obstructs the attainment of liberation. It has therefore been described as ‘the evil “I am the doer” belief’. The fire that burns this [belief] to ashes is the fire of jnana that has taken the form of akhandakara vritti. The practice of this vritti burns to destruction the ‘I am the doer’ idea by revealing to the jiva the truth that one’s nature is not to do karma but to shine as mere being. There is no other means to destroy this ‘I am the doer’ belief. This is the implication.
(Guru Vachaka Kovai, p. 303)
The end of result of this process is the state of Self-abidance wherein both kartrutva and kartavya are absent:
He whose ego, the veiling, has subsided in swarupa-consciousness, and who has become wholly that forever, will, through the disappearance of the ‘I am the doer’ idea, lose all his personal volition, and he will [then] shine with the blissful state, whose nature is peace, flaring up in his Heart.
(Guru Vachaka Kovai, verse 864)
In a Hindu context ‘renouncing the world’ is usually associated with the ritual of ‘taking sannyasa’ – becoming a renunciate monk. The restrictions involved in this lifestyle vary – the different religious orders that are authorised to initiate have slightly different rules – but they would generally include celibacy, leaving home and giving up the ties to one’s family, and, more often than not, living on begged food. According to Bhagavan the true and definitive renunciation of the world is not accomplished through giving up relationships or by ceasing to indulge in activities that are prompted by physical desire; it is instead something that happens when the thought-created externally perceived world ceases to appear in the experience of the Self:
Sankalpa [thought] creates the world. The peace attained on the destruction of sankalpas is the [permanent] destruction of the world.
(Padamalai, p. 264, v. 6)
The world is seen distinctly only in the waking and dream states in which sankalpas [thoughts] have emerged. Is it ever seen during sleep, where sankalpas do not emerge even slightly? Sankalpas alone are the material substance of the world.
(Guru Vachaka Kovai, v. 29)
It is this more profound form of renunciation that Bhagavan was referring to when he said:
Instead of ruining yourself by clinging, as your refuge, to the utterly false world that appears as a conjuring trick, it is wisdom to renounce it in the mind and remain still, forgetting it and remaining detached from it, like the ripe tamarind fruit that, despite remaining inside its pod, stays separate from it.
(Guru Vachaka Kovai, verse 825)
The abandonment of the mechanism through which the perceived world is projected and sustained is quite a different process from the adoption of a lifestyle that restricts one from pursuing certain actions. However, even though most of Bhagavan’s devotees were aware of these teachings on mental renunciation, some still wanted to express their inner desire to renounce by formally taking sannyasa. Bhagavan was asked on many occasions to initiate individual devotees into sannyasa, but he refused every single request. Some devotees who felt compelled to adopt this particular lifestyle, even after being refused an initiation by Bhagavan, went elsewhere to obtain it, but they usually faced some degree of disapproval when they returned to Ramanasramam. Kunju Swami and Maurice Frydman both took the sannyasa initiation elsewhere, after being refused by Bhagavan. Others, such as Papaji, went back to a family life after Bhagavan had refused to initiate them.
When the topic of taking sannyasa was brought up in Bhagavan’s presence, his usual response was that true physical renunciation was something that happened naturally and spontaneously, like a fruit dropping from a tree when it is ripe. He did not approve of people who took a formal decision to renounce their former lifestyles, but he did concede that it was good if physical renunciation happened automatically:
Question: I have a good mind to resign from service and remain constantly with Sri Bhagavan.
Bhagavan: Bhagavan is always with you, in you, and you are yourself Bhagavan. To realise this it is neither necessary to resign your job nor run away from home. Renunciation does not imply apparent divesting of costumes, family ties, home, etc., but renunciation of desires, affection and attachment. There is no need to resign your job, but resign yourself to Him, the bearer of the burden of all. One who renounces desires, etc., actually merges in the world and expands his love to the whole universe. Expansion of love and affection would be a far better term for a true devotee of God than renunciation, for one who renounces the immediate ties actually extends the bonds of affection and love to a wider world beyond the borders of caste, creed and race. A sannyasi who apparently casts away his clothes and leaves his home does not do so out of aversion to his immediate relations but because of the expansion of his love to others around him. When this expansion comes, one does not feel that one is running away from home, but drops from it like ripe fruit from a tree; till then it would be folly to leave one’s home or his job.
(Crumbs from his Table, p. 43)
The analogy of the ripened fruit also appears in Guru Vachaka Kovai, verse 830, although there Bhagavan qualifies his remarks by saying that such spontaneous renunciation can only take place if personal circumstances are favourable:
Just as a ripened fruit separates effortlessly from the tree and falls, when a sadhaka who is [aiming to] merge his mind in the supreme attains maturity, he will definitely renounce family life as unsalted gruel unless his unfavourable prarabdha stands in the way.
For complete renunciation to take place one must give up all identities except the identification with the formless Self. Giving up one physical identity (‘I am a householder’) and replacing it with another (‘I am a sannyasi’) does not get to the root of the problem of false identification:
Question: Should not a man renounce everything in order that he might get liberation?
Bhagavan: Even better than the man who thinks ‘I have renounced everything’ is the one who does his duty but does not think ‘I do this’ or ‘I am the doer’. Even a sannyasi who thinks ‘I am a sannyasi’ cannot be a true sannyasi, whereas a householder who does not think ‘I am a householder’ is truly a sannyasi.
(Talks with Sri Ramana Maharshi, talk no. 530)
Know that not regarding oneself erroneously as being limited to the body and trapped in family bonds is a far superior renunciation to the state wherein one thinks repeatedly within one’s mind: ‘I have truly extricated myself by renouncing all the ties of this world.’
(Guru Vachaka Kovai, verse 840)
Muruganar made the following comments on this Guru Vachaka Kovai verse:
Thinking, ‘I am a person who has renounced’ is only mental imagination. The state of truth transcends such imagination. Only the state of remaining still, which is the natural state, is true sannyasa, the nature of liberation. It is not thinking repeatedly, ‘I am someone who has renounced samsara’. Therefore, not thinking is a far superior renunciation to thinking. Like the thought, ‘I am caught in bondage’, the thought, ‘I am one who is free from bondage’ indicates the delusion of regarding yourself as being limited to the body. When that delusion is destroyed, along with it, both of these thoughts will cease. Unless the ‘I am the body’ belief is present to some extent, there can be no possibility of having the thought, ‘I have renounced’.
Refer to Ulladu Narpadu, verse 39, where Bhagavan wrote: ‘So long as one thinks “I am in bondage”, thoughts of liberation and bondage will remain. When one sees oneself through the enquiry “Who is the bound one?”, and the Self alone remains, eternally attained and eternally free, will the thought of liberation still remain, where the thought of bondage cannot exist?’
The general supposition amongst most Hindus is that sannyasa demonstrates one’s commitment to following the spiritual path full time, and by extension, somehow makes it easier to meditate and realise the Self. Since Bhagavan taught that inner renunciation was more important than outer renunciation, he did not accept the generally accepted premise that sannyasins were in a better position to realise the Self than householders. I put the following dialogue in one of my recent replies, but it is worth posting again because it shows quite definitely that living a normal life in the world is not, according to Bhagavan, a disadvantage when it comes to making spiritual progress:
When I [Rangan] started to visit Bhagavan regularly at Skandashram, it occurred to me that it would be good if I became a sannyasin [mendicant monk]. I knew that this was a foolish and irresponsible dream because it would leave my family, already in a precarious financial position, with no one to support them. However, the thought would not leave me. One night, while I was lying in my bed at Skandashram, I was unable to sleep because this thought kept recurring so strongly.
As I was turning uneasily in my bed, Bhagavan came to my side and asked me, ‘What is the matter? Are you in pain?’
‘Venkataraman [Bhagavan’s childhood name,]’ I replied, ‘I want to adopt sannyasa.’
Bhagavan went away and came back with a copy of Bhakta Vijayam, an anthology of the lives of some famous saints who lived in western India many centuries ago. He opened the book and read out the story in which Saint Vithoba decided to take sannyasa. In the story his son, Jnanadeva, who is an incarnation of Lord Vishnu, gave him the following advice.
‘Wherever you are, whether in worldly society or the forest, the same mind is always with you. It is the same old mind, wherever you reside.’
After reading this out Bhagavan added, ‘You can attain jnana even while you are living in samsara [worldly activities]’.
‘Then why did you become a sannyasin?’ I countered.
‘That was my prarabdha [destiny],’ replied Bhagavan. ‘Life in the family is difficult and painful, no doubt, but it is easier to become a jnani while living as a householder.’
(The Power of the Presence, part one, pp. 6-7)
Peace can never be attained by one who subjects himself to ignorance by embracing the body and the world, regarding them as enduring and beneficial. Equally, suffering or fear will never be experienced by one who renounces this ignorance and reaches the permanent resting place of the ego, the Heart, clinging tenaciously to it like an udumbu lizard, without letting go.
What is it that remains as impossible to renounce after all that can be renounced has been renounced? It is the harvest of bliss, the surging flood, the reality of the Self, shining in the Heart, as the Heart, as that which cannot be renounced.
(Guru Vachaka Kovai, vv. 130, 836)