There is a long tradition in Indian spirituality of the renunciate, the Sannyasin, the yogin who abandons life in the world to dedicate himself totally to the life of the spirit. Renunciation of material goods, renunciation of vital striving and success and the fulfillment of desires, renunciation of name, fame, and reward of any kind is adopted in this tradition as an essential part of the spiritual life. In The Life Divine, Sri Aurobindo terms this path “The Refusal of the Ascetic” and it is clear that there is a strong case made by those who follow the path of renunciation for the importance and benefit of this approach to spirituality.
At the same time, Sri Aurobindo observes that the world is a manifestation of the Divine and not just some illusory distraction from the spiritual truth. Renunciation of action in the world is not the central tenet of the integral Yoga. Yet there is a truth behind the action of renunciation that makes it an essential power in the practice of Yoga, as Sri Aurobindo has explained:
“By discipline or positive practice we confirm in ourselves the truth of things, truth of being, truth of knowledge, truth of love, truth of works and replace with these the falsehoods that have overgrown and perverted our nature; by renunciation we seize upon the falsehoods, pluck up their roots and cast them out of our way so that they shall no longer hamper by their persistence, their resistance or their recurrence the happy and harmonious growth of our divine living. Renunciation is an indispensable instrument of our perfection.”
Every act of concentration constitutes, at the same time, a renunciation of the various impulsions and sense-impressions that seek to take the focus away in some other direction. The question of what the proper application of renunciation is for the integral Yoga and how to put this power to work, is a subject for serious review for the seeker of the integral Yoga.
Sri Aurobindo, The Synthesis of Yoga, Part Two: The Yoga of Integral Knowledge, Chapter 5, Renunciation, pg. 311