Appreciating the Yogic Path of Renunciation

Sri Krishna has been asked by Arjuna to advise him as to which path of yoga is the best one. Arjuna starts from the conception of his day that identified yoga as a path of renunciation and ascetic one-pointedness, abandoning all the desires, fruits and actions that bind us to the world. He has been told by Sri Krishna that he should not take this path, regardless of the general conception; and now he wants to know why. This dialogue is useful to us as it illuminates an issue that most spiritual seekers have to address when they take up a spiritual discipline; namely, how to practice in a meaningful way to achieve the spiritual realisation, and to what extent they can or should have an interaction with the world at large.

There is a long history of the anchorite in the desert, or the monk in the monastery practicing an austere discipline, as well as the yogi in the cave or the renunciate living an unencumbered life to focus on the spiritual Truth.

The Gita seeks to provide us guidance to achieve an integration and wholeness that is missing from these solitary approaches, while at the same time making it clear that those who follow these disciplines also achieve the result and thus, should not be in their turn dismissed or scoffed at.

Sri Aurobindo discusses the Gita’s approach: Sri Krishna indicates “Those who found their mind in Me and by constant union, possessed of a supreme faith, seek after Me, I hold to be the most perfectly in union of Yoga.” “The perfect union is that which meets the Divine at every moment, in every action and with all the integrality of nature.”

“But those also who seek by a hard ascent after the indefinable unmanifest Immutable alone, arrive, says the Godhead, to Me. For they are not mistaken in their aim, but they follow a more difficult and a less complete and perfect path.”

The path is hard because it leaves nothing to grab onto, and goes against the normal grain of human nature and requires suppression of the heart, the will, the physical being in order to achieve its results. “But still by the equality of their understanding and by their seeing of one self in all things and by their tranquil benignancy of silent will for the good of all existences they too meet Me in all objects and creatures.” “But this is a less direct and more arduous way; it is not the full and natural movement of the spiritualised human nature.”

Sri Aurobindo, Essays on the Gita, Second Series, Part I, Chapter 12, The Way and the Bhakta, pg. 386