A Practical Approach to Renunciation, Sanyasa

Krishna and Arjuna

by Jayaram V

Notes: I have translated the Bhagavadgita twice. The first one was a loose translation. The second one was a word to word translation with a detailed commentary. The commentary is however different from what you will find here. In this section I will share with you my thoughts about the knowledge, philosophy and wisdom of the Bhagavadgita as I understand it from my perspective. Jayaram V


Summary: According to our scriptures, we are not totally at the mercy of gods. Brahma, the creator created a level playing field for both humans and gods by making them interdependent. The gods need you as much as you need them. If you ignore them you will harm yourself and harm them and harm the world. It means that when you ignore them you incur negative karma in three ways and greatly reduce your chances of a good life in the next birth. Besides it will take your straight into the hands of the Asuras (demons) and make you a slave to them. Evil grows in us and in the world when we neglect the gods who reside in us.

There are two aspects to renunciation (sanyasa). There is the outer aspect. You renounce your family name, your relationships, your possessions, and identity and live like a mendicant. You may grow a beard, wear orange clothes, get a new name from your guru, and wear some marks on your body. This is the physical sanyasa. While it is a noble deed in itself, it does not really say much about how detached or committed you are to the ideals of renunciation.

The second aspect of renunciation is much more difficult. It is the renunciation at the mental level. You practice it by overcoming desires, cultivating detachment, dispassion, equanimity, sameness, balance, tolerance, compassion, nonviolence, purity, truthfulness, non-covetousness, etc. Only a few can really practice it. Of the thousands of monks and sadhus who take up renunciation, only a handful reach perfection in its practice. It is because it is not easy in one birth to get rid of the passions, desires, attachments and habits we form over several lifetimes. The Bhagavadgita assures that the good that you accumulate through renunciation never goes waste. Even if you falter and fail, in your next birth you will start from where you left. Therefore, no one need to be discouraged for not reaching the highest state of liberation.

Even if you are not ready for renunciation of worldly life, you can bring out the spirit of renunciations into some aspects of your life. While you may not achieve liberation, you will become mentally free from the usual cares and problems such as worry, anxiety, fear and stress. For example, you can apply the principle of renunciation to your job for your inner growth, happiness and peace. The are some direct advantages in doing it. One is you can become equal to success and failure without beating yourself up for any setbacks and failures you may face in you career. The second one is you can develop a proper attitude towards your work itself and learn to accept it and embrace it as a part of your duty and responsibility.

There are primarily two approaches to work. One is doing what you love most, and the other is loving what you do. The former is the way of the world. People love to do what they love most. Many people love watching sports. They spend their precious time and money watching games like Football, Soccer, or Cricket. Even if they do not get any direct benefit from watching it, other than simple pleasure, they do it because they develop an attachment to the game and identify with the players or their nationality. This approach binds you and limits your success, happiness and opportunities, since in life you may not always have your way, and when you are too attached to anything you are bound to feel miserable someday when you lose it.

The other approach, loving what you do, is liberating. It is also the more difficult of the two. You may consider it the way of the yogi. Many people actually spend their entire lives doing what they do not like. There are millions of people all over the world who are stuck in the jobs they hate. However, unless they learn to overcome their aversion to their work, they cannot experience peace. You can love what you do, irrespective of your original preference, only by overcoming your attachment, preferences and expectations. Loving what you do is a true reflection of the state of renunciation and detachment. By doing it, you bring attention and enthusiasm into your actions and give expression to the best in you. You teach your heart to follow the ways of a dispassionate yogi and reflect the divine attitude of performing your actions without rancor, aversion or expectations.

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