credit: what-buddha-said.net
credit: what-buddha-said.net

 

In all cultures, different faiths enjoin on us to do the same thing – excercise restraint, avoid extremes, abstain, fast, overcome passions, be frugal and thrifty, avoid greed, gluttony and licentiousness, share, give away and be generous rather than become acquisitive, egotistical and centred in serving the body’s demands  for pleasure and unlimited plenty. In a word a balanced life. They hold out the example of those who have gone further. Monks and nuns, Swamis, Gurus and sages, apostles and saints are demonstrated as examples of people who have indeed denied themselves all manner of pleasures and passions even overcoming basic needs through celibacy, abstemiousness and detachment both physical and emotional.

Is this then an exercise to prepare the soul for the time when it will leave the body at death, returning to its pristine state in an environment where physical need of food, sex and ego and egotistical attachments will become redundant, where fame and fortune, need and its satiation become meaningless? The Gita ( Hindu scripture) speaks of  renouncing ‘Kama, Krodh, Madh, Moh, Lobh’ – lust, anger, addictions and emotional attachment to ones family leading to excesses of greed – all attributes of a physical condition and irrelevant for an ethereal entity like the soul.

As we advance in age and the body loses its vitality, in any case many of these attributes get subsumed. Sex is no longer the driving force it used to be, the palate cannot be indulged in as before (burp), relationships get sublimated, progeny no longer arouse the same protective passion as they become self-reliant. The aging body which the soul inhabits has become less demanding and it becomes easier for the soul to realize its true ethereal essence without the ceaseless clamour for demands of the physical self.

Most cultures then enjoin on the individual to prepare for departure. In Hindu thought, there are four stages of life. Childhood, youth and family life, maturity and disengagement (Vanprasth). The last involves ending societal and familial obligations and attachments and proceeding (Prastha) to the forest (Van) for contemplation and meditation on the eternal verities.

The theme of renunciation (Sanyas) is a common one in religions emerging from India. Among Hindus the call to renunciation is advocated for the lay person, after all duties have been discharged and life lived to the full through the stages of childhood, family life and maturity. Among the Buddhists a family member so inclined may renounce the world and join a monastic order from childhood itself.

mid-day.com
mid-day.com

 

Among the Jains ( according to some scholars the oldest indigenous faith in India), the phenomenon of renunciation assumes extraordinary proportions. One is occasionally invited to an investiture ceremony when an individual, be he or she  a bureaucrat, trader or politician, irrespective of age, suddenly feeling the call to renounce, decides to do so. At the well attended public ceremony, which resembles a marriage in its pomp and ostentation, the one who renounces , ascends a dias with a throne dressed like a groom or bride. Then one by one he places aside his glittering turban, or coronet as the case may be, casts off his brocade costume, gives away his jewels, allows his progeny or some charitable organization to take away all his wealth and severs all connections with society, family and friends. His last act is to be relieved of his very identity through a change in name ( assuming a spiritual name ). Having thus shed all aspects of ego he dons the white. simple robes of a monk and joins a monastic order with which he departs, never to return. This is equally true for women who dress as brides, relinquishing all finery on the dias and cutting off all links with family and society.

Jain monks then are required to sleep on mats on the hard floor, eating frugally and sweeping the floor as they tread the ground lest they inadvertently step on an ant or other living thing. They also are required to tie a band of cloth over their nose and mouth (like medical practitioners do in hospitals) lest by breathing out they inadvertently kill some micro organism! This is the most extreme form of the practice of non violence which influenced Gandhi in his non-violent movement. Another order of Jain Monks seek to rid themselves of every vestige of ego by discarding all apparel and moving around stark naked (Digamber). Their lay followers crowd around them when moving in public lest they invite ridicule by non Jain onlookers.

Occasionally a Jain nun or monk will take the extreme step of terminating life by gradually giving up food and water altogether (Santhara). While some argue that this is a form of ‘holy’ suicide and have approached the courts to stop the practice, orthodox Jains have asserted that it is their constitutional right to practice their religion unhampered. The issue has yet to be settled in court.

credit: huffingtonpost.com
credit: huffingtonpost.com

 

Buddhist monks seek to sever all connections with the material world by refraining from engaging in any economic activity to sustain themselves. They beg humbly from door to door and survive on alms. The begging is also intended to exterminate their ego.  The lay faithful householder generously bring food grain, vegetables and fruit and cooked meals for the monks at their door, considering their presence as a blessing for the household.

credit: Flickr Hive Mind.com

Among the muslims the Fakir or holy wanderer, generally from the Sufi order of mystics, move homeless from place to place singing praise for the Almighty. The great Indian poet Kabir was one such and his poetry and songs extolling man to cast away his ego and merge with God find echoes in every corner of India to this day.

 

priest being ordainedThe ordinary catholic priest is another case in point. He gives up much with a smile to serve the community selflessly. A nun when ordained is also dressed like a bride (of Christ), much like  the Jain renouncer. Of course, in all ecclesiastical orders, East or West there is bound to be corruption. The lavish life styles of medieval and even present day clergy is well-known. No wonder the present Pope has sought to urge and enforce frugality and simplicity among his clergy. Some Indian monastic orders were equally known to have been more concerned with amassing wealth and political power than spiritual salvation.

All said and done, renunciation is big in India and poets and saints who wandered away from home and hearth, palace and pomp are hugely revered – to name a few we have Meera the princess, Sur the blind singer, Tulsi the author of scriptural poetry on Lord Rama, Nanak the founder of Sikhism, Raidas the mystic saint, Shanker the inspiration of Non Dualism, and Ramkrishna the mystic saint of the 20th century.

With such thoughts in my mind I composed a poem on disengagement which I wish to share with our readers:

 

     D I S E N G A M E N T

 

Time for disengagement,

As the essence of ruddy contours

Blurs

And attractions abate.

 

The self same stamp

From driven insect

To warm bodies,

As the floor show circulates

Like a fallen cliche.

 

Not urging any more,

Not stirring,

As the instant realization:

This could not be for pleasure

Nor even to procreate

But a premise immaculate

For forging difficult mergers

Of souls incarnate;

 

Lest consciousness  constricts

When infected sunspots

Scar the spirit’s sun

And through incarnation –

Experience of ego’s annhilation,

We learn that we are one.

 

Then we may allow attractions to abate

As lessons done

And time for disengagement

Has begun.

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