Renunciation and the Art of Letting Go

At a time when many of us are going through some kind of loss or another, due to the Pandemic, reflecting on renunciation can be helpful in learning to let go and accept the changes in our lives. My earlier post has already introduced this topic of Sannyasa to some extent and a blog about formal Sannyasa has been posted.

Although complete renunciation is goal of a Sannyasin, the values of letting go and embracing inner renunciation can be embraced by anyone, regardless of whether or not they are a monastic. At some point or the other in our lives, all of us have to leave behind our loved ones, our possessions, and this world. So practicing renunciation atleast at a mental level is advised for all in the Indian scriptures. What better way to learn about it, than from the traditional order of Sannyasa. So let us for a moment dwell on understanding this formal outer renunciation of Sannyasa.

In a society filled with emphasis on human bonding and relationships, the Sannyasins’ norms of ‘social distancing’ and embracing of isolation might seem irrational. However, when viewed from a loftier perspective, based on the wisdom of traditional Indian scriptures (Shastras), it is the most effective means to free oneself from the bondage of Samsara, the repetitive cycles of birth and death. 

In fact, the etymology of the english word ‘renounce’ comes from the old French word ‘renoncer’ and the latin word ‘renuntiare,’[1] both of which mean ‘protest against.’ From that context, a Sannyasin is considered to be protesting in his own way against the material and sensual driven life which the majority take to, out of social compulsion and without any deliberation. 

For instance, in today’s technology centric world, gratification of senses has reached a new high. Whether it is in going to movies and concerts, browsing online, or consuming food and drinks at a restaurant, each experience is heightened so as to derive maximum sensory engrossment. In sharp contrast to it, the Sannyasin’s perspective, in accordance with the scriptures, is that the more one feeds the senses and gets entangled in the mundane ways of Society, the stronger are the resulting Samskaras (subtle mental impressions created from an action). It is these Samskaras, and the actions generated from it, that ultimately lead one to rebirth or to get entangled in Samsara, the cycle of birth and death. Thus, a Sannyasin is not protesting against some authority or group but against the enticing nature of Samsara itself. As one of the Upanishads succintly puts it, “given the nature of life, how is joy possible?”[2]

To subdue the senses, and apply oneself to the inner science of Sadhana, spiritual practices, becomes the primary objective of the Sannyasin and of anyone who has understood this truth. Scriptural study, Contemplation, Yogic practices, etc., are some of the proven ancient ‘technology’ and ‘processes,’ which he[3] then adopts to reverse the instinctive outward seeking of the senses and mind, and to turn it inward to one’s Self.

(notes from my project on Sannyasa)

In fact, it takes a fine intellect with a sharpe sense of discernment and a dispassion to worldly pursuits, in order to truly comprehend such a vision of Sannyasa. Yet, the true spirit of Sannyasa is inner renunciation and detachment to fruits of one’s work, as extolled in the Bhagavad Gita[5]. So the principles of Sannyasa, applies equally to everyone as anything that is experienced by the senses or gained by effort/works is impermanent and cannot give lasting joy.

There are some practices that can help us to mentally embrace the art of letting go. Whether or not one has taken formal vows of renunciation, every spiritual aspirant can practice the following:

  • Every night before going to bed, mentally give up all sense of importance to worldly pursuits and pleasures. Think no more about them and give up the notion that they can give you happiness.
  • Drop all emotions of negativity – resentment, regret, anxiety, etc., knowing that the essence of your life is untainted and pure.
  • Reaffirm devotion to your spiritual teachers or to your highest spiritual ideals
  • Strip away all identification with all roles and titles, and identify only with Self or Consciousness
  • Offer all of possessions back to God or the Universal Force from where it originally came (give up attachment even to the smallest things that you hold to be very dear to you)
  • Give up all worries and concerns for loved ones trusting them to be taken care by the One or That which created them
  • Offer a prayer of gratitude and go to rest in the feeling of complete Surrender

Such a regular practice doesn’t mean that one can no longer continue one’s duties (the next morning onward). In fact, a regular attitude of renunciation will enable one to act, not for oneself but for God and for humanity. Without a sense of ownership and control, one acts under divine guidance and is freed from the sense of insecurity and anxiety that accompanies the actions of worldly people. Such actions can accomplish greater deeds than those that are soaked in self-interest. One can also genuinely love others without a seething sense of need or expectations from others.

In one’s daily life also, one can practice becoming aware of the grasping nature of the mind. Hoarding things more than one’s need has become the norm in most nations. Such habits can only add fuel to the insecurity of the mind rather than relieving it. Practice of generosity, even to a small degree, yields happiness and sooner or later brings things back to oneself. Everytime, we consciously release our ‘grasp’ on any object that we possess, the mind experiences a sense of peace and joy.

Thereby, renunciation within one’s mind is the highest form of Sannyasa. It is truly the ‘first and last freedom.’ Such a renunciation is practiced based on the wisdom that the only thing that one truly relinquishes is the suffering, inherent in Samsara.

[1] The Latin word can also be interpreted as re (expressing reversal) + nuntiare (announce)

[2] From the Maitrayani Upanishad. The full quote as translated by Paul Deussen: “In this body infected with passions, anger, greed, delusion, fright, despondency, grudge, separation from what is dear and desirable, attachment to what is not desirable, hunger, thirst, old age, death, illness, sorrow and the rest – how can one experience only joy?” Hymn I.3

[3] The use of masculine gender is merely for the sake of ease and consistency.

[4] Iswara Darshan

[5] Gita Verse 6:1

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