Renunciation: A Look At Its Meaning & Associated Myths

Renunciation quote by Vivekananda

Lately I have a new interest – Podcasts. Podcasts aren’t really new to the online space and I am a digital marketeer, but I have just very recently connected with the joy of podcast listening. 😉 It was prompted by a vitamin deficiency driven insomnia. At night, I would lie down and rest my eyes. But to appease my mad brain which refused to sleep, I put on some podcasts.

And typically I found my way to some very interesting listens. One of them was an ongoing series from the Boston chapter of Ramakrishna Vedanta Society. I have heard a bunch of podcasts from this Swami. As usual initially I was sceptical, but I found this one on the Myths of Renunciation (iTunes) very much on point.

I am really impressed by his oration skills and articulation. And really grateful for finding such treasures in my walk of life. It encourages me to blog, share my thoughts and stories on this and also other blogs about travel and work. Thoughtful expressions and tips/helpful narratives have much potential to touch peoples lives. So also let us be responsible and thoughtful about what we put out.

Renunciation Myths

Swami Tyagananda tackles 5 common myths that he encounters and very lucidly explained many different aspects of it. And how the perceived notions are not at all true.

#Myth1 Renunciation is only for monks and nuns

#Myth2 Renunciation is painful and very difficult

#Myth3 Renunciation is the result of hatred or dislike

#Myth4 Renunciation is not natural for a human

#Myth5 Renunciation is escapism

I thoroughly enjoyed listening to this podcast and he goes about explaining in a very natural way. I suggest you check it out.

A few key points discussed,

– There are only two types of Renunciation,

Internal renunciation (yogis in society) &

Internal & External renunciation (formally ordained monks & nuns)

– Renunciation is for everyone

Everyone chooses to renounce what they think is lower form of existence and chooses what they think is superior for of existence. The difference is in what people consider higher and what they consider lower. To understand further I suggest you hear this podcast.

– Negativity towards something is also a form of attachment and becomes a barrier to renunciation

Meaning of ‘Renunciation’

If I check the English dictionary then Google throws up the meanings,

  • formally declare one’s abandonment of (a claim, right, or possession).
  • refuse or resign a right or position, especially one as an heir or trustee.

This is very different from the context in which Renunciation has been considered above by Swami T. And also how it is often meant when great yogis and ancient scriptures talk of it. This is a typical problem when we use English words for concepts that are predominantly rooted in our Eastern culture. The depth of the meaning is lost when we look at the actual (dictionary) meaning of the English word.

We of course must understand this word in the right context. This activity as I have earlier suggested is a spiritual practice by itself and has a lot of benefits to it.

In the podcast, Swami T refers to it as”letting go” or “sacrifice” (त्याग).

Sacrifice is not exactly the right word I feel. But I think this is a generational change that has happened. Here I will give you a hypothetical conversation to explain my point,

“Oh, you should sacrifice your happiness for others”

“What, but then I would be sad and that would also make them sad. So it is of no use!”

“No, you should sacrifice your happiness for a greater joy of giving to others. So you are happily sacrificing.”

“Then how is that a sacrifice? It is actually a smart choice. If I am happy at the end of it, it can’t be called a Sacrifice”

Well, in the olden days they did call it Sacrifice.

So I feel, that we of – the younger generation, can’t grasp what exactly was meant by the word ‘Sacrifice’ in olden days. Maybe as I delve into older scriptures and listen to such podcasts I may get a better grasp. Interesting, I just randomly checked the meaning of त्याग in this Sanskrit etymological dictionary, this crops up,

त्यागः, पुं, (त्यज् + घञ् ।) दानम्

दान i.e ‘Giving’ a meaning for त्याग! Amazing, huh? I never thought of ‘Sacrifice’ to mean ‘Donate’.

“Letting go”, in a very benevolent, calm, gentle way, without any negativity. I feel this well describes renunciation. And it closely co-relates with Vairagya. Because letting go of all Raag (colour, mood, mental constructions by the vrittis) we get to the quality of Vairagya. Similarly, Swami T says is Renunciation, a state of mind with no negative nor any positive attachments. A state of detachment. And ‘detachment’ specifically is much better understood as Vairagya.

So this way I understand why Swami N in the Ashtavakra Gita translated Vairagya as Renunciation.

However, often in common understanding ‘Renunciation’ is seen as the actual act of renouncing the world and getting ordained as a monk or nun. This is exactly what Swami T debunks as a myth.

Sometimes in speech Renunciation may be a contextual reference for the act of ordaining or taking vows but it can never be that alone. For eg: This person got ordained yesterday. Or this person renounced yesterday. So in context we can understand it as a particular act. But apart from such specific use of the word – the overall meaning of the word is a lot more.

Another word that we should consider here is Bhramacharya – conduct as Bhraman (or the creator). Bhramacharya is another word that has a similar context as Renunciation. Bhramacharya often refers to ordained monks/nuns. And thought to symbolize the set of vows that these ordained folks take. But it is at the end of day a way of life. It is ‘conduct as the creator’ in etymological roots (brahm + achare) of this word. That is living by natural laws. Exploring your deeper self or the Atman as they say and then abiding by its truths.

The English word for Bhramacharya is of course very pathetically ‘celibacy’. This is one more example of what I was talking earlier. The moment a lot of amazing and deep Indian words are translated into English they become something superficial and totally bereft of the awesomeness that their Indian counterparts encapsulate.

So, an interesting look into the word Renunciation.

Thanks to Swami T and the Boston Ramakrishna Vedanta society for precipitating these thoughts.