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Life Of Renunciation Is Not Cold Joyless Life

It may seem that if we are to practise vairagya (renunciation or detachment), we can expect a cold, hard, joyless life, until at last, maybe, we get some spiritual realization. This is not correct. First of all, there is a joy in self-mastery, a sattvic joy. Though it may taste a little sour at first, it tastes like nectar afterwards. The aspirant begins to taste a new freedom, a new peace, as the hold of the old samskaras is gradually loosened.

Moreover, giving up hankering for enjoyment is not quite the same as giving up enjoyment. Swami Vivekananda was a living embodiment of renunciation. But how much he enjoyed ice cream! At Ridgely Manor, Swami Vivekananda and the other guests would have supper around the big dining table; and Swamiji would want to get up for a walk after the meal.

To keep him at the table — for they loved to bask in his company — Betty Legget would serve ice cream. Maude Stumm, one of the guests, recalled: ‘A very quick word from Lady Betty that she believed there was to be ice cream would turn him back instantly, and he would sink into his place with a smile of expectancy and pure delight seldom seen on the face of anybody over sixteen. He just loved it, and he had all he wanted, too.’  Yes, the swami enjoyed ice cream; but it seems he never longed for it — he was perfectly happy without it.

Then again, it seems he was able to enjoy it more than the others could.

It’s a kind of paradox: the truly detached person has the ability to enjoy more intensely, more fully, precisely because he or she is completely unattached.

One who tries to hold on to a joy, to bind it or repeat it, paradoxically loses it, while one who ‘kisses the joy as it flies’, without becoming attached to it, attains a higher joy, ‘Eternity’s sun rise’.

Another misconception is that practicing vairagya or detachment means being cold, unfeeling, or hardhearted.

There is such a thing as hard-heartedness, as cold indifference, as a compassionless heart; and someone might claim vairagya as an excuse for ignoring his or her responsibilities, but this is not real vairagya. Vairagya emphasizes giving up desire for enjoyment of temporal happiness, not giving up compassion or responsibilities. In rare cases a person has such intense longing for God that he or she manifests an intense dispassion for everything else; such a person gives up everything in quest of God. Sri Ramakrishna forgot everything, gave up even sleep in quest of the Divine. If we see someone giving up duties and responsibilities in the name of dispassion but not burning with longing for God — for instance, not spending the night in intense prayer and meditation — we can know it is a false giving up. Those with real vairagya can actually be more compassionate, because they become more unselfish. Such people can love more freely because their love doesn’t carry expectations of reward.

Source excerpts from article titled 'Vairagya - Path To Freedom' by Swami Mahayogananda published in the Prabuddha Bharata Magazine January 2010 issue.