Renunciation of the World Is Not the Answer to the Riddle of Our Existence

The gospel of renunciation, the refusal of the ascetic, is grounded in the idea of individual salvation.  The fate of the universal creation is irrelevant for someone whose sole goal is to escape from that creation and unite with the silent, unmoving Absolute.  This leaves us, however, with the issue of whether there is a purpose to this universal creation.  Why should the Divine Consciousness go to all the trouble of creating this complex, massive universe simply to set up a goal of escape from it?  The Vedantic tradition eventually embraced the concept of “mayavada”, the illusionary status of the world of action and desire.  But we see in a number of the earlier Upanishads, those closer to the Vedic source, such as the Isha, the Kena and the Taittiriya Upanishads, that there is no final sole focus on the path of the renunciate; on the contrary, they appear to take the view that “this too is the Brahman”, and thus, we are called on to participate in the action of the world.  We see a similar approach arise in the Bhagavad Gita when Sri Krishna encourages Arjuna to carry out his role in the world as an action sanctioned by and actively supported by the Supreme Self, the Purushottama.

Sri Aurobindo observes:  “Well then may we ask, we the modern humanity more and more conscious of the inner warning of that which created us, be it Nature or God, that there is a work for the race, a divine purpose in its creation which exceeds the salvation of the individual soul, because the universal is as real or even more real than the individual, we who feel more and more, in the language of the Koran, that the Lord did not create heaven and earth in a jest, that Brahman did not begin dreaming this world-dream in a moment of aberration and delirium, — well may we ask whether this gospel of individual salvation is all the message even of this purer, earlier, more catholic Vedanta.  If so, then Vedanta at its best is a gospel for the saint, the ascetic, the monk, the solitary, but it has not a message which the widening consciousness of the world can joyfully accept as the word for which it was waiting.  For there is evidently something vital that has escaped it, a profound word of the riddle of existence from which it has turned its eyes or which it was unable or thought it not worth while to solve.”

Sri Aurobindo, The Upanishads, Kena Upanishad and analysis, pp. 186-187

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