The Ultimate Renunciate

Lord Krishna “The person who possesses all wealth, strength, fame, beauty, knowledge and renunciation is the Supreme Personality of Godhead, Bhagavan.” (Parashara Muni, Vishnu Purana, 6.5.47)

Renunciation is not an easily acquired trait. It is considered a virtuous quality because renunciation requires one to be self-satisfied and to break free of attachments to material sense pleasures.

Lord Krishna Most of us are strongly attached to our bodies and the sense enjoyment that it affords. We also have attachments to all sorts of things: food, friends, family, sex, intoxication, etc. It seems that everyone has some sort of vice. This is a natural result of the living entity’s contact with material nature. By accepting a gross material body, one immediately becomes illusioned into thinking in terms of “I” and “Mine”, taking the sense pleasures in their current life to be of paramount importance. Yet even in material affairs, we see many people who take to renunciation. Dieting is a great example. If someone thinks they are too fat or unhealthy, they will voluntarily accept an austere diet regimen in hopes of changing their physique. Others around them become astonished at their eating habits. “How can you eat so little? You have great self control, you’re like a yogi. Are you dieting? You must be.” In actuality, controlling one’s eating habits is a part of the regulative principles of spiritual life. Lord Krishna, the Supreme Personality of Godhead, highlights the importance of moderation in the Bhagavad-gita.

“There is no possibility of one’s becoming a yogi, O Arjuna, if one eats too much, or eats too little, sleeps too much or does not sleep enough.” (Lord Krishna, Bg. 6.16)

Sleep is just as important as eating. The pseudo-scientists who appear in news stories prescribe at least eight hours of sleep every night, but the great Vedic saints tell us that six hours is plenty. Sleep is required for the proper functioning of the brain, but too much inactivity can lead to lethargy and depression. Everything should be done in moderation. This helps one control their senses which results in a peaceful mindset that is more conducive to the cultivation of spiritual knowledge.

In order for one to practice moderation, they must possess the quality of renunciation to some degree. It’s not so easy to renounce things, especially when others around us try to persuade us to act otherwise. A great example of this was seen when football star Barry Sanders announced his retirement in 1999. A great running back in the National Football League, Sanders was on the verge of breaking the all-time rushing yards record held by Walter Payton at the time. Based on past performance, Sanders would have easily eclipsed the record during the 1999 season, if not for his sudden retirement. Fans, and especially those in the media, couldn’t understand what Barry was thinking. Why would he give up such a lucrative career, especially when he was so close to being officially crowned as the greatest running back of all time? This is the general nature of those in the media; they view sense gratification as the ultimate aim in life. For this reason they spend all their time glorifying those who are successful in acquiring material wealth and also those who possess great material skills. Barry Sanders had no attachment to football, or to any great records.

Lord Rama Renunciation is undoubtedly a good quality to have, but it should be used for the right reasons, namely the advancement of spiritual life. The aim of human life is know, understand, and love God. Only then can the soul break out of the perpetual cycle of birth and death. God came to earth as Lord Rama many thousands of years ago in Ayodhya, and as the eldest son of the king of Ayodhya, Maharaja Dashratha, He was the rightful heir to the throne. Instead of succeeding His father, Rama was ordered to spend fourteen years in the forest. This order was made at the request of Rama’s step-mother, Kaikeyi, who was owed two boons from Dashratha. Rama accepted the order because He didn’t want Dashratha to be branded a liar.

“Who do you agree to the the desires of our father and Kaikeyi, who are of unrestrained habits, ever intent on our mischief, and are our enemies known by the name of parents? Although it is Your opinion that their actions are influenced by destiny, still, it does not please me that You are overlooking it. Destiny can only overwhelm those who are destitute and weak. The self-respecting, great warriors do not bow down to the influence of destiny.” (Lakshmana speaking to Lord Rama, Valmiki Ramayana, Ayodhya Kand, 23.14-16)

Lakshmana was Rama’s younger brother and was completely devoted to Him. In the above referenced statement, Lakshmana is trying to persuade Rama to ignore the order and remain in the kingdom. It appears that he is criticizing Rama by saying that “only You would think of Dashratha’s welfare at a time like this.” In actuality, Lakshmana is paying Rama a compliment and also teaching us about God’s qualities. In essence, Lakshmana is saying, “O Rama, most people in this material world would be greatly attached to their royal kingdom and all the comforts it affords. They would crave the royal crown very much and upon losing the opportunity to become king, they would be greatly distressed. You, however, seem completely unaffected by all this. Rather, You are more concerned with the welfare of Dashratha and Kaikeyi, the two people directly responsible for Your current predicament. You are so kind that You don’t even blame them, but You instead attribute all of this to destiny. Only You could be capable of this since You are God Himself.”

Lord Krishna, or any one of authorized forms such as Rama, can be defined as God since He possesses six opulences simultaneously and to the fullest extent. Renunciation is one of those opulences, along with beauty, wealth, fame, strength, and wisdom. God possesses the quality of renunciation to the fullest extent possible, thus it was no problem for Rama to abandon the kingdom. In actuality, both Rama and Lakshmana were correct in their actions. Rama came to earth specifically to reinstitute the principles of dharma and to kill the evil demon Ravana. His going to the forest set the wheels in motion for Ravana’s demise, for the forest was where Ravana would come and kidnap Sita Devi, Lord Rama’s wife. At the same time, by following the orders of His father, Rama set the example of how one should always listen to pious parents. Dashratha was a descendant of Maharaja Ikshvaku, one of the first kings to ever rule the earth. Both Dashratha and Rama took it upon themselves to maintain the good name of the Ikshvaku family.

Lakshmana Lakshmana was also a great renunciate. At the time, he was also married, but he renounced everyone in favor of Rama. That is the mood of a pure devotee. They have neither attachment nor any hatred for anyone. They view devotional service to God as their only mission in life and they judge every person and every action based on how it relates to God. Dashratha was also Lakshmana’s father, but we see that Lakshmana was more than willing to criticize him and go against his orders. Lakshmana sided with Rama on all matters and his devotion was so great that Rama allowed him to come to the forest with Him and Sita.

The lesson here is that we too can have great powers of renunciation if we take to the process of devotional service. By attaching ourselves to God’s interests in the same way that Lakshmana did, we will be able to give up any and all unnecessary attachments to things material. This will help us further advance in spiritual life, allowing us to ultimately renounce this material world and return back home, back to Godhead.

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