Causes Leading to the Spiritual Tradition of Complete Renunciation of Active Life in the World

In order to ascertain an appropriate application of the principle of renunciation in the practice of the integral Yoga, Sri Aurobindo finds it useful to first appreciate the underlying causes and motivations for the traditional path of renunciation.  As with everything else in the world, these may be developed based on Sattwic, Rajasic or Tamasic grounds.

Sri Aurobindo observes:  “Many causes have contributed to the growth of this pure, lofty and august tradition.  There is first the profounder cause of the radical opposition between the sullied and imperfect nature of life in the world as it now is in the present stage of our human evolution and the nature of spiritual living; and this opposition has led to the entire rejection of world-existence as a lie, an insanity of the soul, a troubled and unhappy dream or at best a flawed, specious and almost worthless good, or to its characterisation as a kingdom of the world, the flesh and the devil, and therefore for the divinely led and divinely attracted soul only a place of ordeal and preparation or at best a play of the All-Existence, a game of cross-purposes which He tires of and abandons.”  We may consider the impulse here to be primarily Sattwic.

“A second cause is the soul’s hunger for personal salvation, for escape into some farther or farthest height of unalloyed bliss and peace untroubled by the labour and the struggle; or lese it is its unwillingness to return from the ecstasy of the divine embrace into the lower field of work and service.”  We see here admixtures of Rajasic motives.

Additional causes include “strong feelings and practical proof of the great difficulty, which we willingly exaggerate into an impossibility, of combining the life of works and action with spiritual peace and the life of realization; or else the joy which the mind comes to take in the mere act and state of renunciation,–as it comes indeed to take joy in anything that it has attained or to which it has inured itself,–and the sense of peace and deliverance which is gained by indifference to the world and to the objects of man’s desire.”

Then we have the more Tamasic motives:  “Lowest causes of all are the weakness that shrinks from the struggle, the disgust and disappointment of the soul baffled by the great cosmic labour, the selfishness that cares not what becomes of those left behind us so long as we personally can be free from the monstrous ever-circling wheel of death and rebirth, the indifference to the cry that rises up from a labouring humanity.”

Whatever the impulse, the various causes have led to the development of a strong and vibrant spiritual seeking based on renunciation, whether it is to the cave, the forest, the desert, or the monastery, in spiritual traditions throughout the world and throughout human history.

Sri Aurobindo, The Synthesis of Yoga, Part Two: The Yoga of Integral Knowledge, Chapter 5, Renunciation, pp. 311-312

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