Renunciation in Hinduism
. . . In Hinduism renunciation or sanyasa is the true mark of spiritual life. It is is believed to be the simple and straight forward way to achieve Moksha (free from cycle of life and death) or liberation.
. . . . The word “achieve” is not the right word to use in this context, because a person who has renounced everything does not aim to achieve anything in particular including salvation or liberation or union with God.
. . . . People who follow the path of sansyasa or renunciation are expected to lead very austere and ascetic lives, setting aside all desires and comforts and acknowledging no relationship whatsoever, including the relationship with God and oneself. One has to forego all acts of self-preservation and self advancement and also the need to further one’s ego and identity.
. . . Some sects of Hinduism encourage their initiates to develop equanimity and selflessness through extreme measures such as engaging in unusual acts to attract social ridicule and criticism or inflicting pain and suffering upon themselves willfully by sleeping upon a bed of thorns or standing on one leg, spending their nights in graveyards or fasting for days and so on.
. . . Sanyasa is also recognized in Hinduism as one of the four ashramas or stages in the life of a human being, the other three being Brahmacharya (the life of a celibate), Grihastha (the life of a householder) and Vanaprastha (the life of retirement or a forestrecluse).
. . . Sanyasa or the life of renunciation comes in the end. After an individual spends his life in acquiring knowledge and becoming a householder to perform his obligatory duties towards himself, his parents, his family and society, he is expected to withdraw from active life and spend the rest of his life without any attachments or desires for his spiritual salvation.
. . . This is expected to be accomplished in two stages: Vanaprastha and Sanyasa. In the first stage he withdraws from active service and leaving behind his family and household goes to a forest or hermitage where he prepares himself for the hardships of the next stage, which is the life of renunciation and self-negation. In this stage (sanyasa) he is expected to forego all sense of ownership and doer-ship, renouncing all desires; relationships, attachments and possessions.
. . . In the ancient times, when a person entered this stage, he was forbade from maintaining any social or family contact. He was advised to withdraw the sacrificial fire into himself so that he himself would become an embodiment of fire that manifested itself as a radiant spiritual energy (tapas). He was also forbade from the use of fire either for cooking or heating or for ritual purposes. He was expected to subsist on whatever food he could find from begging only once a day and also progressively reduce his intake of food to become free from the desire to live or survive.
. . . It is however not compulsory in Hinduism that a person should become a sanyasi only in his old age. While this is the ideal prescribed for the Hindus by the Hindu law books or the Dharmashastras, there are no hard and fast rules for a person to enter the life of a sanyasi. A person can take up sanyasa at any stage in his life, as long as he is acting according to his true intentions rather than some ulterior motive.
. . . . Usually in such matters people seek the advice of their personal gurus or spiritual mentors who with their wisdom and ability know whether a person is ready for the hardships of an ascetic life and how far he or she can go on the spiritual path.
. . . Just as the ritual became internalized in the later Vedic period, the practice of sanyasa also underwent a profound change in course of time. The emphasis gradually shifted from the external and physical acts of renunciation and observation of code of conduct to internal and mental renunciation, in which attitude and detachment became more important than mere adherence to a rigid code of conduct or the monastic rules.
. . . According to this new approach, sanyasa or renunciation does not mean mere observation of rules or proper code of conduct or donning the orange robes, but renunciation of desires and attachment to things and actions.
. . . Detachment and equanimity of mind are therefore key to true renunciation. In this sense, sanyasa actually means making no deliberate effort.
. . . Etymologically it means having no other desire, or no intentional striving. It implies living unconditionally, without desire, without effort, without striving, without preference and without expectation and thats how hinduism allows one to spend rest of his life without worries, anxiety, pressure in calm state of mind.
. . . It is to live and working a state of total freedom, without a particular identity of oneself, unencumbered by the burdens of the past or the anxieties of the future, whether one is alone or in the company of others, free from all attachments, compulsions and entanglements, like a lotus leaf. It means not taking sides, not making judgments and not being influenced by any particular faith or belief.
. . . A true sanyasi is neither attached to himself nor to any particular idea, thought, god or goddess. The presence or absence of anything would not cause in him mental ripples. He looks around but does not desire anything in particular. He leads an active life, but does not participate in it for selfish reasons. He goes by a name, but does not believe that it represents him truly. He understands his individuality but is not compelled to protect it or promote it or preserve it.
. . . He takes care of his mind and body, but knows that he is the eternal soul. He lives in the present, but when he looks into the future it is not to make a planned effort to create his future or work for any goal, including the goal of self-realization. As the Geeta says, when he performs actions, a true sanyasi thinks that he is doing nothing at all. Whether it is walking or talking or seeing or hearing or touching or smelling, or tasting or breathing, he remains an observer, knowing that his senses are dealing with the sense objects.
. . . True renunciation therefore is an attitude of mind and way of life, in which we set aside our desires and expectations and let go off all intentional effort and compulsive planning. We let things happen. We identify ourselves with our spiritual nature. We become aware of our connection with the Universal Self. We let our lives take their own course, according to the divine will, without fear and anxiety, willfully surrendering to God and letting Him take the ownership, the doer-ship and the control of our lives and actions.
. . . Through renunciation, we become truly free from the desire to direct our lives or the habitual compulsion to exercise our will to ensure our survival and success. And eventually we experience the state of being rather than doing.