Inner and Outer Renunciation and the Process of Liberation

While the Gita does not present an “other-worldly” focus for the practice of its yogic method, it does insist on the need for a complete renunciation of attachment to the fruits of work, to the impulsion of desire and to the focus on the ego and its fulfillment.

At the time of the Gita, and certainly on an ongoing basis, the tradition of the Sannyasi, the renunciate, has strongly engaged the imagination and the dedication of many who try to achieve spiritual liberation. The Gita points out that the idea of trying to renounce all action while embodied and alive is simply unrealistic; at some level, action continues.

The goal of the Sannyasi, of course, is to achieve that state of desirelessness that the Taittiriya Upanishad praises when it claims that the highest levels of bliss possible to any being are equivalent to “…the bliss of the Veda-wise, whose soul the blight of desire touches not.”

Sri Aurobindo explains the concept: “Then evidently the straight and simplest way to get out of the close bondage of the active nature and back to spiritual freedom is to cast away entirely all that belongs to the dynamics of the ignorance and to convert the soul into a pure spiritual existence….It is to put off the lower mental, vital, physical existence and to put on the pure spiritual being.”

The higher reasoning intelligence, Buddhi, is enlisted as the means to accomplish this. “It has to turn away from the things of the lower existence and first and foremost from its effective knot of desire, from our attachment to the objects pursued by the mind and the senses.”

The outer form of renunciation works to achieve this goal forcefully, but as the Gita reminds us, the true renunciation is removing the inner desire and attachment to outer things and actions. In order to distinguish between the recognized outer form of renunciation, sannyasa, the Gita utilizes another word, tyaga, to describe the inner release it is recommending. The outer form of renunciation is one method, to the extent it is even possible, but “…such a rigorous diminution of works is not indispensable: it is not even really or at least ordinarily advisable. The one thing needed is a complete inner quietism and that is all the Gita’s sense of naiskarmya.”

Sri Aurobindo, Essays on the Gita, Second Series, Part II, Chapter 21, Towards the Supreme Secret, pg. 512