Shakti Sadhana

The Householder and The Renunciates
 by Bhagavan Maharshi

A devotee questioned Bhagavan
Although the Maharshi himself renounced family life and left home for Arunachala when he was yet a lad, he believed that ascetism or saunyasa is not essential for Self-realization, which can be obtained by the householder and family man too. A devotee questioned Bhagavan about this and the conversation which ensued was as fol1ows ;

D. I am inclined to give up may job and remain always with Sri Bhagavan.

Bh. Bhagavan is always with you, in you. The Self in you is Bhagavan. It is that you should realize.

D. But I feel the urge to give up all attachments renounce the world as a sannyasin.

Bh . Renunciation does not mean outward divestment of clothes and so on or the abandonment of home. True renunciation is the renunciatio~ of desires, passion and attachments.

D. But single-minded devotion to god may not be possible unless one leaves the world.

Bh. No, one who truly renounces merges in the world and expands his love to embrace the whole world. It would be more correct to describe the attitude of the devotee as universal love than as abandoning home to don the ochre robe.

D. At home the bonds of affection are too strong.

Bh. He who renounces when he is not yet ripe for it only creates new bonds.

D. Is not renunciation the supreme means of breaking attachments?

Bh. It may be so for one whose mind is already free from entanglements. But you have not grasped the deeper import of renunciation: great souls who have abandoned the life of the world have done so not out of aversion to family life but because of their large-hear- tedness and all-embracing love for al1 mankind and all creatures.

D. The family ties will have to go sometime so why shouldn't I take the initiative and break them now so that my love can be equal to al1?

Bh. When you really feel that equal love for all, when your heart has so expanded as to embrace the whole of creation, you will certainly not feel like giving up this or that; you will simply drop off from secular life as a ripe fruit does from the branch of a tree. You will feel the whole world your home.

The Bhagavad Gita considered desireless action as the one of the goals of life. It favoured such action. Action in unavoidable for as Lord Krishna in the Gita says: 'Surely none can remain inactive even for a moment; everyone is helplessly driven to action by nature-born qualities... Therefore, do you perform your allotted duty; for action is superior to in action. Desistmg from action, you cannot even maintain your body ...Arjuna, there is nothing in the three worlds for Me to do" nor is there anything worth attaining unattained by Me ; yet I. continue to work.'

The Maharshi expresses the same views about works. This. is clearly evident in the conversation Paul Brunton had with him:

Bh. The life of action need not be renounced. If you meditate for an hour or two every day you can then carry on with your duties. If you mediate in the right manner, then the current of mind induced will continue to flow even in the midst of your work. It is as though there were two ways of expressing the same idea; the same line which you take in meditation will be expres sed in your activities.

Pb. What will be the result of doing that?

Bh. As you go on you will find your attitude towards people, events and objects will gradually change. Your actions will tend to follow your mediation of their own accord. A man should surrender the personal selfishness which binds him to this world. Giving up the false self is the true renunciation.

Pb. How is it possible to become selfless while leading a life of worldly activity?

Bh. There is no conflict between work and wisdom.

Pb. Do you mean that one can continue all the old activities in one's profession, for instance, and at the same. time get Enlightenment?

Dh. Why not? But in that case one will not think that it is the old personality which is doing the work because one's consciousness will gradually be transformed until it enters in that which is beyond the little self.

The idea that one can remain in the world engaged in action, and yet get Self- realization or god's grace, is also ex- pressed by another great saint, Swami Ramakrishna. He said "Live in the world like a waterffowl. The water clings to the bird but the bird shakes it off. Live in the world like a mudfish! The fish lives in the mud, but its skin is always bright and sniny.' (123) S

Again he said, 'If he (a householder) doesn't seek any name and fame or heaven after death; if he does not seek any return from those he serves; if he can carry on his work of service in this spirit-then he performs truly selfless work, work without attachment. Through such (selfless work he does good to himself.

This is called Karma- yoga. This too is a way to realize god. But it is very difficult and not suited to the Kaliyuga (the present age)'.(124 ) Thus Sri Ramakrishna conceded that god-realization can be obtained by the householder. But there is also a difference between his view and that of the Maharshi on this point inasmuch as while the Maharshi thought without any reservations that it was possible for a householder to know the Self, Sri Ramakrishna said it was very difficult.

Moreover Sri Ramakrishna makes a clear distinction between a householder and a sannyasi: 'A real sannyasi, a real devotee who has renounced the world is like a bee. The bee will not light on anything but a flower. It will not drink anything but honey. But a devotee leading a worldly life is like the fly. The fly sits on a festering sore as well as on a sweetmeat. One moment he enjoys a spiritual mood and the next moment he is beside himself with the pleasure of "woman and gold" (126)

Thus Swami Ramakrishna's view was that while Self- realization was possible for the householder, in practice it was extremely difficult, for ultimately he could not avoid the temptations of the world.

The Maharshi had no such reservations. To a disciple who enquired 'Can a married man realize the Self?' the sage gave the unambiguous reply: 'Certainly. Married or unmarried, a man can realize the Self; because that in here and now. If it were not so, but attainable by some effort at some time, and if it were new and had to be acquired, it would not be worth pursuit. Because, what is not natural is not permanent either.

But what I say is that the Self is here and now and alone.' (128 ) An Andhra Pandit asked the Maharshi 'How does a grihasta (householder) fare in the scheme of moksha (liberation)?'

The sage said: 'Why do you think you are a grihasta ? If you go out as a sannyasi, a similar thought (that you are a "sannyasi") will haunt you. Whether you continue in the household, or renounce it and go to the forest, your mind haunts you. The ego is the source of thoughts. It creates the body and the world and makes you think you are a grihasta. If you renounce the world, it will only substitute the thought sannyasi for grihasta and the environments of the forest for those of the household. But the mental obstacles are always there.

They even increase in new surroundings. There is no help in the change of environment. The obstacle is the mind. It must be got over whether at home or in the forest. If you can do it in the forest, why not in the home? Therefore why change the environment? Your efforts can be made even now-in whatever environment you may be.

The environment never abandons you, according to your desire. Look at me. I left home. Look at yourself. You have come here leaving the home environment. What do you find here? Is this any different from what you left?' (127 )

Another disciple asked the Maharshi 'Should I not renounce my home ?' The sage said 'If that had been your destiny the question would not have arisen'. The disciple asked him 'Why then did you leave your home in your youth?' 'Nothing happens except by Divine dispensation. One's course of conduct in this life is determined by one's prarabdha,' The disciple had his doubts about achieving spiritualism while engaged in worldly activity. 'Is it possible- to enjoy samadhi while busy in worldly work?' he asked.

The Maharshi said 'The feeling "I work" is the hindrance, Ask yourself "Who works ?" Remember woo you are. Then the work will not bind you; it will go on automatically. Make no effort either to work or to renounce; your effort is your bondage. ... 'But the work may suffer if I do not attend to it' the disciple said.

The Maharashi's reply was: 'Attending to the Self means attending to the work. Because you identify yourself with the body, you think that work is done by you. But the body and its activities, including that work, are not apart from the Self. What does it matter whether you attend to the work or not. Suppose you walk from one place to another; you do not attend to the steps you take Yet you find yourself after a time at your goal. You see how the business of walking goes on without attending to it. So also with other kind of work. A traveller in a cart has fallen asleep. The bulls move, stand still or are unyoked during the journey. He does not know these events but finds himself in a different place after he wakes up. He has been blissfully ignorant of the occurrences on the way, but the journey has been finished. Similarly with the Self of a person.

The ever-wakeful Self is compared to the traveller asleep in the cart. The waking state is the moving of the bulls; samadhi is their standing still, because samadhi means jagrath-sushupti, that is to say, the person is aware but not concerned in the action; the bulls are yoked but do not move; sleep is the Unyoking of the bulls, for there is complete stopping of activity corresponding to the relief of the bulls from the yoke.

‘Or again take the instance of the cinema. Scenes are projected on the screen in the cinema-show. But the moving pictures do not affect or alter the screen. The spectator pays attention to them, not to the screen. They cannot exist apart from the screen, yet the screen is ignored. So also, the Self the screen where the pictures, activities etc. are seen going on. The man is aware of the latter but not aware of the essential former. All the same the world of pictures is not apart from the Self. Whether he is aware of the screen or unaware, the action will continue.

'The cinema-show is made out of insentient material. The lamp, the picture, the screen etc. are all insentient and so they need an operator, the sentient agent. On the other hand the Self is absolute Consciousness, and therefore self-contained. There cannot be an operator apart from the Self.'

The Maharshi's concept about ascetism and family life seemed to be that it depends entirely on the seeker's stage of development. There comes ,a time, as it came in the case of the Maharshi and other saints like Shankaracharya and Buddha, when the urge to abandon family life is so strong that they have to be snapped. But for others it is futile to think of sannyasa and they ought to seek the Self while remaining grihastas.

In Spiritual Instructions the Maharshi's answer to the question whether ascetism was one of the essential sites for a person to become established in the Self follows:

“The effort that is made to get rid of attachment to one’s body is really towards abiding in the Self. Maturity of thought and enquiry alone removes attachment to the body, not the stations of life (ashramas), such as student (brahmachari), etc

For the attachment is in the mind while the stations pertain to the body. How can bodily stations remove the attachment in the mind 1 As maturity of thought and enquiry pertain to the mind these alone can, by enquiry on the part (if the same mind, remove the attachments which have crept into it through thoughtlessness. But as the discipline of ascetism (sannyasash rama) is the means for attaining dispassion (rairagYtJ), an as dispassion is the means for enquiry, joining an order of ascetics may be regarded, in a way, as a means of enquiry through dispassion.

Instead of wasting one's life by entering the order of ascetics before one is fit for it, it is better to live the house- holder's life. In order to fix the mind in the Self which is its true nature it is 'necessary to separate it from the family of fancies (samkalpas) and doubts (vikalpas), that is to renouce the family (samsara) in the mind.

This is real ascetism. Sri Bhagavan was asked 'How can cessation of activity (nivrtti) and peace of mind be attained in the midst of household duties which are of the nature of constant activity?’

The Maharshi said: As the activities of the wise man exist only in the eyes of others and not in his own, although he may be accomplishing immense tasks, he really does nothing.

Therefore his activities do not stand in the way of inaction and peace of mind. For he knows the truth that all activities take place in his mere presence and that he does nothing. Hence he will remain as the silent witness of all the activities taking place.'

The four stage (ashramas) of life of a Hindu are prescribed in the scriptures as a student (brahmacharya), family man or householder (grihasta), dweller in the forest (vanaprasta) and wandering mendicant (sannyasin).

Although the scriptures prescribe these stages in life as essential, the Maharshi did not believe they had any significance in Self-realization. Although brahmacharya is useful for such realization, it is not essential. The Maharshi gives a novel interpretation to the student life. 'Only enquiry into Brahman should be called brahmacharya' he says, and adds 'As the various means of knowledge, such as control of senses, etc., are included in brahmacharya the virtuous practices duly followed by those who belong to that order of students (brahmacharins) are very helpful for their improvement'.

When asked 'Can one enter the order of ascetics (sannyasa) directly from the order of students (brahmacharya) ?' the Maharshi said 'Those who are competent need not formally enter the orders of brahmcharya etc., in the order laid down. One who has realized his Self does not distinguish between the various orders of life. Therefore no order of life either helps or hinders him.

As the attainment(anushthana literally "practice") of knowledge is the supreme end of all other practices, there is no rule that one who remains in anyone order of life and constantly acquires knowledge is to follow the rules of caste and orders of life. If he follows the rules of caste and orders of life he does so for the good of the world. He does not derive any benefit by observing the rules. Nor does he lose anything by not observing them.'

But the householder who seeks liberation must be earnest in his endeavour. The Maharshi said in answer to a question ;'It is quite possible for the wise grihasta who earnestly seeks liberation to duties in life without any attachment, considering himself as merely instrumental for the purpose i.e., without any sense of doership. Such karma is not' an obstacle in the way of attaining jnana. Nor does jnana stand in the way of discharging one's duties in life. Jnana and karma are never mutually antagonistic and the realization of one is not an obstacles in the performance of the other.' In the Ramana Gila we find the same view unequivocally expressed by the Mabarshi :

'Whether one is a bachelor or householder, forest dweller or a sannyasin, or a woman or a shudra, whoever is ripe and fit, may enquire about Brahman Even for the householder if be be completely non-attached, the Supreme Light shines forth without any doubt.'

Thus we see that the Maharshi was of the positive view that liberation can be obtained by a householder and in this very life. Knowledge of Brahman which is the means to liberation implies realisation of the true nature of one's soul- the Self or the 'I' as the Maharshl said.

It IS therefore something revealed or discovered, not acquired. Knowledge and learning can be acquired, but the realization of the Self is like lifting the veil from a lamp which had always been burning but whose light could not ~~ seen because of the obstruction. In this view the Maharshl IS supported by the Upanishads and their advaita interpreter, Sbankaracharya. The Brihadaranyaka Upanishad says 'When all desires are ended the mortal becomes immortal and the knower of Brahman attains Brahman here {in this very body).

Similarly the Katha Upanishad says 'When all desires that dwell in the heart ate severed here on earth, then the mortal becomes immortal',135 According to Shankaracharya 'The knower of the atman, who wears no outward mark and is unattached to external things, rests on this body without identification, all experiences all sorts of sense-objects as they come, through the wish of others like a child.

Establisbed in the ethereal plane of absolute knowledge, he wanders in the world, sometimes like a madman, sometimes like a child, having no care for neatness of appearance, having no clothes on his person except the quarters, or sometimes wearing clothes, or perhaps barks at other time Sometimes a fool, sometimes a sage,sometimes possessed of regal splendour; sometimes wandering, sometimes keeping aloof, sometimes wearing a benign expression; sometimes honoured, sometimes insulted; sometimes unknown-thus lives the man of realization. Ever happy with supreme bliss. Though without riches, yet ever content; though helpless, yet very powerful, though not enjoying the sense-objects, yet eternally satisfied; though without example, yet looking upon all with an eye of equality'.

The Bhagavad Gila has high praise for those who act desirelessly. Lord Krishna says to Arjuna: 'Knowledge is better than practice (carried on without proper insight),meditation is superior to knowledge, and renunciation of thefruit of actions is even superior to meditations; for peace immediately follows from renunciation'

The Maharshi too writes about renunciation in Self-Enquiry the original instructions given by him in writing to his disciple Gambhiram Seshayya): 'Sannyasa or renunciation is not the discarding of external things but the cancellation of the uprising ego. To such true renouncers (sannyasins) there is no difference between solitude and active life.

Thus sage Vasistha says,

"Just as a man, when his mind is preoccupied, is' not aware what is in front of him, so also the sage, though engaged in work, is not the doer thereof; because his mind remains immersed in the Self without the uprising of the ego. Just as a man lying on his bed dreams that he is falling headlong over a precipice, so also the ignorant person, whose ego is still present, though engaged in deep meditation in solitude, does not cease to be the doer of action."

It will be noticed that in this instruction the Maharshi makes no distinction between solitude and external life. Sannyasa is not the discarding of external things. If a man engages himself in worldly activity he too can obtain Self-realization. This is surely a hopeful message for those who are fit and desirous of obtaining liberation while living in the world and in the midst of family life.