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Sri Ramakrishna – Story on Renunciation

Talking about intense renunciation, Sri Ramakrishna tells Mahimacharan this story:

‘A certain woman said to her husband: “So-and-so has developed a spirit of great dispassion for the world, but I don’t see anything of that sort in you. He has sixteen wives. He is giving them up one by one.”

The husband, with a towel on his shoulder, was going to the lake for his bath. He said to his wife: “You are crazy! He won’t be able to give up the world. It is never possible to renounce bit by bit. I can renounce. Look! Here I go.”

He didn’t stop even to settle his household affairs. He left his home just as he was, the towel on his shoulder, and went away. That is intense renunciation!’

Some thoughts on Renunciation from Ramakrishna Mission Publications:

  • Renunciation can be achieved through duty quite as well as by the abandonment of duty. We have thousands of texts to tell us so, but the prevailing preconception in favour of Sannyas has led to our ignoring all that favours dharma. The reason lies largely in the fact that when our texts were formulated our society was rich in virtue as in material resources. When the last of these deserts us, it is difficult to prevent the decay of the former; and what is wanted today is a deliberate recapture of both.
  • For this, we must exalt work. We must look upon the world as a school, in which it is worth while to strive for promotion from class to class. We must set our shoulder to the wheel and struggle unceasingly to attain the end we have set before ourselves. Our philosophy tells us that absolute progress is impossible, in the things of this life. But relative progress is fully possible; and while we move on this plane of relativity, we must work as if perfection would reward the very next step. (Prabuddha Bharata January 2010 issue)
Renunciation along with discernment, control of the mind and senses, and the desire for liberation are the fourfold spiritual treasure.
  • People are afraid of vairāgya. They think it means they will have to give up everything — and people are afraid of renunciation. ‘Oh no, not that! We hold to both — with one hand we hold to God and with the other we do our duties. We practise mental renunciation.’ That’s all well and good. Sri Ramakrishna prescribed just that—mental renunciation—for householders.
  • Only monks are to give up everything. But this fear is a curious phenomenon. It prevents us from seeing what the scriptures, what the saints and sages continually aver: that vairagya is the key to freedom, peace, and joy. And that is what all people seek, knowingly or unknowingly: peace, freedom, and joy. Vairagya — detachment, dispassion, renunciation — is not something to be feared, but a powerful friend in our quest for freedom, an effective tool in our spiritual toolbox.