When an individual takes up the call to the spiritual life, he is confronted with a number of issues with regard to his relationship to the “life in the world”. Many traditions have counseled the seeker to simplify, to abandon attachment to the world, and thereby to focus all the powers of his life on the spiritual quest. The anchorite in the desert, the yogi in the cave, the monk in the monastery cell, the ash-smeared sadhus all have answered the call in this manner, what Sri Aurobindo calls in The Life Divine, “the refusal of the ascetic”. Regardless of the path, the goal is to simplify and reduce the focus and the attraction of worldly comforts and worldly results, not to transform that outer life. Nevertheless, each individual still needs to hold commerce with the world, even if it is with a begging bowl! The idea behind this is to essentially cut the knot of attachment and refocus all the energies on the spiritual achievement, attaining the goal through the most direct method.
For the seeker of the integral Yoga, where the goal involves not simply an abandonment of the life and the body, but a total transformation of that life, and a realisation of the spiritual intention in all existence, the matter becomes much more complex.
Sri Aurobindo describes the question: “What then becomes of the present activities of our being, activities of the mind turned towards knowledge and the expression of knowledge, activities of our emotional and sensational parts, activities of outward conduct, creation, production, the will turned towards mastery over men, things, life, the world, the forces of Nature? Are they to be abandoned and to be replaced by some other way of living in which a spiritualised consciousness can find its true expression and figure. Are they to be maintained as they are in their outward appearance, but transformed by an inner spirit in the act or enlarged in scope and liberated into new forms by a reversal of consciousness such as was seen on earth when man took up the vital activities of the animal to mentalise and extend and transfigure them by the infusion of reason, thinking will, refined emotions, an organised intelligence? Or is there to be an abandonment in part, a preservation only of such of them as can bear a spiritual change and, for the rest, the creation of a new life expressive, in its form no less than in its inspiration and motive-force, of the unity, wideness, peace, joy and harmony of the liberated spirit? It is this problem most of all that has exercised most the minds of those who have tried to trace the paths that lead from the human to the Divine in the long journey of the Yoga.”
Sri Aurobindo, The Synthesis of Yoga, Part One: The Yoga of Divine Works, Chapter 5, The Ascent of the Sacrifice-1, The Works of Knowledge–The Psychic Being, pp. 125-126