Renunciation: Denial or Transformation?

posted Nov 25, 2012, 4:20 PM by Interfaith WS

           Doctors predicted that Sydney’s congenital and “incurable” circulatory disease would shorten his life span to eighteen years. A chance meeting with a yoga teacher when he was fifteen saved him. Now twenty-nine, Sydney lives normally, writes scripts for television shows, and does two hours of yoga and meditation every day. Recently, his spiritual teacher told him that only through renunciation is progress possible.

            Darshani: Renunciation of what?

            S. That’s what troubles me. I guess she meant renunciation of everything I like. I’m still young. My girlfriend and I plan to marry, get a home, and start a family. I love my work. It looks as if I have a good career ahead of me. How can I give these things up? Yet I want to make spiritual progress. Can I somehow reconcile these conflicting desires? Or is reconciliation impossible?

            D. Growing up with no brothers or sisters to play games with, I spent many hours with dolls. Dolls from all over the world adorned my room. For hours every day my imagination had free play as I projected whole universes onto my dolls.

            Years passed, and I got interested in other things – arithmetic, geography, and music. One day, in the corner of my closet, I saw a box I hadn’t noticed for a long time. I opened it and was surprised; there must have been a hundred dolls in it. That day I gave all of them to the younger kids on our street. I had never told myself or my parents that thenceforth I would renounce dolls. When other things engaged my attention, my interest in dolls dropped like an overripe fruit.

            Spiritual life is like that. As we ripen, whatever is unnecessary drops away by itself. Until that happens, why should we knock all the apples off the tree? We should deal with them as best we can but try not to accrue any more.

            S.  But how do I make progress without renouncing?

            D. No one can, but what matters is the object of renunciation. To make certain and speedy progress, we need to renounce our sense of do-ership. I will share with you two approaches to this practice of renunciation.

            The first and easier way is Karma Yoga. Most people live their lives and carry on their work motivated by a desire for money, success, name, fame, power, pleasure, or the need for self-expression. In Karma Yoga these motives are replaced by the desire to consecrate one’s entire life to God, to want nothing for oneself.

            Rabbi Zalman Schachter describes the initial steps in his book, The First Step. This process hinges on the Hebrew word Kavvanah, meaning “intention.” “Our intention is always free. For instance, you sit in the dentist’s chair. He drills and you feel a sting of pain, but you can ‘intend’ this pain as an offering of love….’Ribbono Shel Olam! You are good and Your universe is good. The all is filled with Your mercy and goodness, as is the pain I feel….Please accept this moment of pain as a love offering from me.’ Or you travel…lean back…and say, “Sweet Father, I enjoy Your presence…the rhythm of the wheels, the fleeting scenery, all are nothing but You.’ “All these arrows of awareness,” the Rabbi writes, “will place us in the presence of God.”

            The second approach is the way of Jnana Yoga, the path of knowledge. On this path, you witness rather than identify with the drama taking place. Players include Sydney, your fiancée, and colleagues. Props are offices, home, classes, and plans. You are reading the script a line at a time. On this path, you renounce your sense of do-ership by perceiving, through meditation, that Sydney is not writing his script or planning his plot. You renounce the sense that Sydney is an individual agent of action, a separate ego bound by a bag of skin.

            S. How can I experience that I am not the agency of action?

            D. Through   meditation and self-enquiry. In your spare moments throughout the day, ask yourself, “On what screen is this personal drama being projected? Who is perceiving it? To whom or to what is it happening?”

            S. What does that reflection do?

            D. Two things. First, it allows the drama to flow freely, unimpeded by Sydney’s superimposed ambition, fear, and anxiety, all of which plant seeds for a relentless procession of dramas. Second, it lifts you beyond the level of drama-identification. The greater your constancy of focus on your identity as pure unattached Awareness behind the show, the speedier your progress will be.

            Spiritual progress means narrowing the gulf between who we think we are and who  we really are. Try with all your might to dispel the belief that you are the limited player-form called Sydney. Books such as I Am That by Sri Nisargadatta and the works of Sri Ramana Maharshi and Sri Swami Sivananda will help you to grasp the fact that you are not a limited form: you are the formless, silent, supreme and infinite backdrop on which all the dramas of life take place.

            S. I always thought that renunciation meant dumping your attachments and trekking off to a monastery.

            D. In the past, that is what it meant. Today’s seekers cannot dump their families and take off for solitude. We have to bring the monastery into our hearts. Renunciation of the world was the key to spiritual progress. Today, the key is transformation.