Renunciation Defined

What is renunciation (Sannyaas, Suniyas, Sanyas, ਤਿਆਗ…)? Is it wandering around wearing saffron robes or other peculiar garbs? Does it mean running away from the society? Is it the self-inflicted pain of extreme austerity and penance? Does it mean abandoning one’s family due to distress and afflictions of the world? Does it mean destroying one’s body or denying it its natural necessities? Is it just the abandonment of worldly objects, places or possessions? Is it a temporary suppression of sinful actions or evil inclinations? Is it the selective renouncing of things? Is it renouncing of what one consider not-his?

The general assumption and idea about renunciation (ਤਿਆਗ) is that one gives up what one thinks one loves or cherishes.

But the truth is that we cannot give up anything!

  • ਹੋਇ ਉਦਾਸੀ ਗ੍ਰਿਹੁ ਤਜਿ ਚਲਿਓ ਛੁਟਕੈ ਨਾਹੀ ਨਾਠਾ ॥੧॥: Hoi udaasee grihu taji chalio shutakai naahee naathaa ||1||: (One) becomes a renunciate (ਦੁਨੀਆ ਵਲੋਂ ਉਪਰਾਮ), abandons his home and walks out on (his) family, but (his) wandering impulses (ਭਟਕਣਾ) do not leave (him) ||1|| (sggs 1003).
  • ਜਗੁ ਪਰਬੋਧਹਿ ਮੜੀ ਬਧਾਵਹਿ ॥ ਆਸਣੁ ਤਿਆਗਿ ਕਾਹੇ ਸਚੁ ਪਾਵਹਿ ॥ ਮਮਤਾ ਮੋਹੁ ਕਾਮਣਿ ਹਿਤਕਾਰੀ ॥ ਨਾ ਅਉਧੂਤੀ ਨਾ ਸੰਸਾਰੀ ॥੧॥: Jag parbodhahih marhee badhaavahi. Assan tiaag kaahe sach paavahi. Mamataa mohu kaaman hitakaaree. Naa aoudhootee naa sansaaree ||1||: (O Yogi) You preach to the world, (you have become free-loader, and consequently, your) belly is geting fat. Abandoning your posture (mental steadiness, i.e., by wandering around, you have lost mind’s steadiness or ਮਨ ਦੀ ਅਡੋਲਤਾ, now) how will you find the True Lord (ਸਦਾ-ਅਡੋਲ ਪਰਮਾਤਮਾ)? You are entangled in mine-ness, worldly attachment and love of woman (lust). You are neither a renunciate, nor a worldly man||1|| (sggs 903).
  • ਦਸ ਨਾਰੀ ਅਉਧੂਤ ਦੇਨਿ ਚਮੋੜੀਐ ॥: Das naaree aoudhoot deni chamorreeai: The ten sense organs even attach the detached renunciates (anchorites, ਤਿਆਗੀ) to sensory pleasures (sggs 522).
  • ਇਕਿ ਫਿਰਹਿ ਉਦਾਸੀ ਤਿਨ੍‍ ਕਾਮਿ ਵਿਆਪੈ ॥: Ik firahi udaasee tinh kaam viaapai: Some wander around as renunciates, but they are engrossed in lust (sggs 370).
  • ਅੰਤਰੁ ਮਲਿ ਨਿਰਮਲੁ ਨਹੀ ਕੀਨਾ ਬਾਹਰਿ ਭੇਖ ਉਦਾਸੀ ॥ ਹਿਰਦੈ ਕਮਲੁ ਘਟਿ ਬ੍ਰਹਮੁ ਨ ਚੀਨ੍ਹ੍ਹਾ ਕਾਹੇ ਭਇਆ ਸੰਨਿਆਸੀ ॥੧॥: Antar mali niramal nahee keenaa baahar bhekh udaasee. Hirdai kamal ghat brahm n cheenaah kaahe bhaiaa sanyaaasee ||1||: (If a person) have not cleansed the filth from within, although outwardly, (he may) wear the dress of a renunciate (ਸਾਧੂਆਂ ਵਾਲਾ ਬਾਣਾ…); in the heart-lotus of your self, you have not recognized God – why have you become a Sannyaasee? ||1|| (sggs 525).

The real renunciation is defined in the Gurbani as follows:

  • ਤਿਆਗਨਾ ਤਿਆਗਨੁ ਨੀਕਾ ਕਾਮੁ ਕ੍ਰੋਧੁ ਲੋਭੁ ਤਿਆਗਨਾ ॥੩॥: Tiaaganaa tiaagan neekaa kaam krodh lobh tiaaganaa ||3||: Renunciation, renunciation (i.e, out of all renunciations) – noble is the renunciation of lust, anger and greed (i.e, renunciation of all Bikaars). ||3|| (sggs 1018).

In nutshell, the true renunciation is to move from the lower taste (the consciousness of lust, anger greed, etc.) to the Higher taste – from animal nature to the Divine Nature, from the Manmukh lifestyle to the Gurmukh Lifestyle…

The demoniac qualities like lust, anger, greed, etc., make us confused, doubt ridden, and restless. To the contrary, the divine qualities enrich one’s life, lead to spiritual progress, and thus make his life worthwhile. Such person is also defined in the Gurbani as follows:

  • ਸੋ ਗਿਰਹੀ ਸੋ ਦਾਸੁ ਉਦਾਸੀ ਜਿਨਿ ਗੁਰਮੁਖਿ ਆਪੁ ਪਛਾਨਿਆ ॥: So girahee so daas udaasee jin gurmukh aap pashaaniaa: He is a householder, he is a renunciate and God’s slave, who, as Gurmukh, realizes the Self (sggs 1332).
  • ਸੋ ਸੰਨਿਆਸੀ ਜੋ ਸਤਿਗੁਰ ਸੇਵੈ ਵਿਚਹੁ ਆਪੁ ਗਵਾਏ ॥: He alone is a Sanyasi, who serves the Satigur (Giaan or Knowledge of Truth) and removes his self-conceit from within (sggs 1013).
  • ਅਭਿਆਗਤ ਸੇਈ ਨਾਨਕਾ ਜਿ ਆਤਮ ਗਉਣੁ ਕਰੇਨਿ ॥: Abhiaagat sayee Nanakaa ji aatam gaoun karen: They alone are renunciates, O Nanak, who know their Soul (sggs 949).

Thus, the Gurbani here explains to us the true value and meaning of renunciation.

Instead of abandoning things in life, we can only take up higher things in life – give up demoniac qualities (lust, anger, greed, etc.) and replace them with Higher qualities. As we progress in spirituality (the Gurmukh Lifestyle), one experiences or tastes something Higher in life. As the mind becomes accustomed to that Higher taste, one naturally and spontaneously gives up fascination and attachment to all that is fleeting (unreal – ਅਸੱਤ).

Consider couple of worldly examples. A person with broken legs needs the aid of crutches until he is cured. Once his legs are cured, he puts the crutches away in a closet; for the crutches are no longer important or needed. An adult does not play with the same toys he used to play with when he was an infant; for he has grown out of those toys. Similarly, as the nature of the mind changes (Higher taste), it turns within.

Another thing the Gurbani never gets tired of reminding us is that the time to practice or implement (ਅਮਲ) is here and now (before death), while leading a family life.

  • ਰੇ ਮਨ ਐਸੋ ਕਰ ਸੰਨਿਆਸਾ ॥ ਬਨ ਸੇ ਸਦਨ ਸਭੈ ਕਰ ਸਮਝਹੁ ਮਨ ਹੀ ਮਾਹਿ ਉਦਾਸਾ ॥: Re mann aiso kar sanyasa. Bann se sadan sabhai kar samajhahu mann hee maahi udaasaa: O mind, adopt such Sanyasa: take your home to be the forest, and remain detached within your own mind (Guru Gobind Singh Jee, Raamkalee).
  • ਕਹੁ ਨਾਨਕ ਗੁਰੁ ਪੂਰਾ ਭੇਟਿਆ ਪਰਵਾਣੁ ਗਿਰਸਤ ਉਦਾਸ ॥੪॥੪॥੫॥: Kahu Nanak gur pooraa bhetiaa paravaan girsat udaas ||4||4||5||: Says Nanak! One who meets the Perfect Guru, is approved (acceted, authenticated, verified, validated,etc. – ਪਰਮਾਤਮਾ ਦੀ ਹਜ਼ੂਰੀ ਵਿਚ ਕਬੂਲ ਹੋ ਜਾਂਦਾ ਹੈ) as a householder as well as a renunciate. ||4||4||5|| (sggs 496).

A true Sannyaasi (renunciate or ascetic) does not identify with the form of his body or any form of multiplicity. He strives for the mastery over his ego-self and Bikaars (negative tendencies), so that his True Nature (the eternal Joti-svaroopa) within may come shining through (Gurmukh Lifestyle):

ਐਸਾ ਜੋਗੁ ਕਮਾਵਹੁ ਜੋਗੀ ॥ ਜਪ ਤਪ ਸੰਜਮੁ ਗੁਰਮੁਖਿ ਭੋਗੀ ॥੧॥ ਰਹਾਉ ॥ O Yogi! Practise such a Yoga. (That) living a household (family) life, become the Gurmukh (i.e., live life per the Wisdom of the Gurbani – ਗੁਰੁ ਦੇ ਗਿਆਨ ਦੇ ਨਾਲ ਜੀਵਨ ਜੀਉਂ); this is the Japa, Tapa, and Sanjam. ||1||Pause|| (sggs 970).

The Sanskrit word Sannyaasi (also spelt sunyasi, samnyasi etc.) comes from samnyasyati, meaning he renounces. The word “samnyasyati” consists of three terms – Sam (means together) + ni (means down) + asyati (means he throws). Thus a true Sannyaasi is he who throws down any personal identity whatsoever (i.e., body, worldly objects, limited, worldly pursuits, and so on).

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