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Volume VIII - The Art of Being

The Privilege of Being Human

Chapter XXII

Renunciation is in fact denial of the self, and it is that denial which will be of use. As all things in this world can be used and abused, so the principle of renunciation can be used and abused. If renunciation as a principle were a good thing, there would seem to be no purpose at the back of the whole creation. The creation might well not have been manifested if renunciation had been the principle. Therefore, renunciation in itself is neither virtue nor sin. It becomes a virtue or a sin according to the use one makes of it.

When one considers renunciation from the metaphysical point of view, one finds that this principle is used as a staircase by which to rise above all things. It is the nature of life in the world that all things we become attracted to in time become not only ties but burdens. If one considers life, one sees that it is an eternal journey. The more one is loaded with burdens on one's shoulders, the heavier the journey becomes. Think how the soul, whose constant desire it is to go forward, is daily retained by ties and continually more burdened. One can see two things: as the soul goes on it finds chains on its legs. It wants to go forward – and at every step it is more attracted; so it becomes more difficult to go forward.

Therefore, all the thinkers and the wise who have come to the realization of life have taken renunciation as a remedy. The picture that the sage makes of this life is the fable of the dog and the piece of bread. A dog carrying a loaf in its mouth came to a pool; it saw the reflection of the bread in the water and thought that there was another dog. It howled and barked and lost its bread. The more we see our errors in life, our petty desires, the more we find that we are not far from the fable of the dog. Think of the national catastrophes of recent times. How these material things of the world, ever changing and not everlasting, have been pulled at and fought for! It shows that man, blinded by material life, disregards the secret, hidden things behind that life.

When one comes to reason out what one should renounce and in what way one should practice renunciation, there is a lesson to be learned: no virtue is a virtue if it is forced upon the one who is incapable of it. A person upon whom a virtue is forced, who is forced to renounce, cannot make the right renunciation. No virtue which gives pain is a virtue. If it gives pain, how can it be a virtue? It is called virtue because it gives happiness; that which takes away happiness can never be a virtue. Therefore, renunciation is rightly practiced by those who understand renunciation, and are capable of practicing it. For instance, there is a person who has only one loaf of bread. He is traveling in a train and finds somebody who is hungry and in need of his bread. He himself is hungry too, and he has only one piece of bread. If he thinks that it is his dharma to give and starve, and is unhappy about it, he would do better not to give it, because it is no virtue. If he did it once, the next time he would surely not do it again because he suffered by it. As the virtue brought him unhappiness, this virtue will never develop in his character. That person alone is capable of renunciation who finds a greater satisfaction in seeing another with his piece of bread.

The person whose heart is full of happiness after his action, that person alone should make a renunciation. This shows that renunciation is not a thing that can be learned or taught; it comes by itself as the soul develops, when the soul begins to see the true value of things,. All that is valuable to others a seer-soul begins to see otherwise. This shows that the value of all things, which one sees as precious or not precious, is according to the way one looks at them. For one person the renunciation of a penny is too much, for another the renunciation of all he has is nothing. It depends on how one looks at things.

One rises above all things that one renounces in life. Man is a slave of the thing which he has not renounced; of the things that he has renounced he becomes king. This whole world can become a kingdom in his hand, if a person has renounced it. But renunciation depends upon the evolution of the soul. One who has not evolved spiritually cannot well renounce. For the grown-up person little toys, so valuable to children, are nothing; it is easy to renounce them. So it is for those who develop spiritually: all things are easy to renounce.

Now rises the question: how can one progress in this path of renunciation: by becoming able to discriminate between two things, and to find out which is the better one. A person with the character of the dog in the fable cannot renounce: he loses both things. Life is such that, when there are two things before one's view, it demands the loss of one of them. It depends upon man's discrimination what to renounce and for what; whether to renounce heaven for the world, or the world for heaven; wealth for honor or honor for wealth; whether to renounce things momentarily precious for everlasting things, or everlasting things for things momentarily precious. The nature of life is such that it always shows two things, and many times it is a great puzzle to choose between them. Very often one thing is at hand and the other further from one's reach, and it is a puzzle which one to renounce, or how to get the other. Very often man lacks the will power to renounce. It not only requires discrimination between two things but also will power to do what one wishes to do. It is not an easy thing for a man to do in life as he wishes. Many times he cannot renounce because his own self cannot listen to him. Think how difficult life is; when we ourselves cannot listen to ourselves, how difficult then for others to listen to us!

Renunciation can be learned naturally. One must first train one's sense of discrimination, and discriminate between what is most valuable and what is less valuable. One can learn this by testing, as gold is put to the test by comparing it to imitation gold: that which lasts for a little time and then turns black is imitation, that which always keeps its color is real. This shows that the value of things can be recognized by their constancy. One might ask: should we not recognize the value of things by their beauty, but we must recognize beauty by its durability. Think of the difference in the price of a flower and a diamond. The flower with all its fineness, beauty of color and fragrance falls short in comparison with the diamond. The only reason is that the beauty of the flower will fade the next day, while that of the diamond will last.

This shows our natural tendency; we need not learn it. We are always seeking for beauty and also for that which is lasting. Friendship that does not last, however beautiful it may be, what value has it? Position, honor that do not last, what value have they? Although man is like a child, running after all that attracts him and which is always changing, still his soul seeks constancy. In learning the lesson of renunciation one can only study one's own nature, what the innermost being is yearning for, and try to follow one's own innermost being. Wisdom comes by this process of renunciation. Wisdom and renunciation go together: by renunciation man becomes wiser, by being wise he becomes capable of renunciation.

The whole trouble in the lives of people, in their houses, in the nation and everywhere, is always their incapacity of renunciation. If civilization can be explained, it is only a developed sense of renunciation which manifests itself in consideration for each other. Every act of courtesy, of politeness shows renunciation. When a person offers his seat to another, or when he offers something that is good, it is renunciation. Civilization in its real sense is renunciation.

The highest and greatest goal that every soul has to reach is God. As everything wants renunciation, that highest goal wants the highest renunciation. But a forced renunciation – even for God – is not proper, not legitimate. Proper renunciation one can see in those who are capable of doing it. There is a story in the Bible of Abraham sacrificing his son. Man today is likely to laugh at some of the ancient stories, reasoning according to his own point of view. But think how many fathers and mothers have given their children as a sacrifice in the war, for their nation, their people, their honor. This shows that no sacrifice can be too great a sacrifice for one's ideal. There is only the difference of ideal: whether it is a material or spiritual ideal, whether for earthly gain or for spiritual gain; whether for man or for God.

As long as renunciation is practiced for spiritual progress, so long it is the right way. As soon as renunciation has become a principle, renunciation is abused. Man, in fact, must become the master of life. He must use renunciation, not go under in renunciation. So it is with all virtues. When virtues control man's life, they become idols. It is not idols that man must worship, it is the ideal he must worship in the idol.


checked 28-nov-2015