Inner Renunciation, Outer Renunciation and the Divine Worker

One of the cornerstones of many traditional teachings of yoga, as well as a number of religious disciplines around the world is the renunciation of the fruits of works in the world, and even, in some instances, renunciation of those works themselves. In Sanskrit, this outer form of renunciation is called sannyasa and renunciates in the Hindu tradition are called sannyasins.

The Gita proposes a different solution. Rather than requiring outer renunciation, the Gita recommends “inner” renunciation, called tyaga, whereby the fruits of the works has been renounced inwardly even while action takes place in the world and carries out the action required for the maintenance and development of the world-manifestation.

Sri Aurobindo describes the Gita’s view of renunciation: ” ‘He should be known as the eternal Sannyasin who neither hates nor desires; free from the dualities he is happily and easily released from all bondage.’ The painful process of outward Sannyasa…is an unnecessary process. It is perfectly true that all actions, as well as the fruit of action, have to be given up, to be renounced, but inwardly, not outwardly, not into the inertia of Nature, but to the Lord in sacrifice, into the calm and joy of the Impersonal from whom all action proceeds without disturbing his peace. The true Sannyasa of action is the reposing of all works on the Brahman. ‘He who, having abandoned attachment, acts reposing (or founding) his works on the Brahman…is not stained by sin even as water clings not to the lotus-leaf.’ ”

The result of a true inward renunciation is a profound state of peace. “…he knows himself then to be the soul supreme above the instruments of Nature. Pure, infinite, inviolable, immutable, he is no longer affected; no longer does he imagine himself to be modified by her workings. By complete identification with the Impersonal he can, too, release himself from the necessity of returning by birth into her movement.”

Sri Aurobindo, Essays on the Gita, First Series, Chapter 18, The Divine Worker, pp. 175-177