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Excerpts about Renunciation

Half of a Real Life

Many teachings say not to care about the world. Some say that enjoyment of the world, particularly the enjoyment of the body, is sinful, is bad, because it takes us away from the divine. For these traditions, “divine” means forgetting about the world; we just want God, we only want the inner Beloved—only the Truth, only realization. But if we move exclusively toward the spiritual and think, “Let’s renounce the world and let go of everything,” we end up with half of real life. The extreme expression of that is to go into a monastery and forget about the world. On the other hand, if we emphasize the world and our relationships in it at the expense of spiritual depth, spiritual truth, then after a while even the most beautiful intimate relationship begins to be empty and meaningless and will create more suffering.

Most Renunciates Do Not Become Enlightened

Because havingness is a cornerstone of the ego-self and its life, spiritual traditions have seen poverty as necessary for realization, which is largely a going beyond the ego and its view of reality. Learning to be poor, to live without attachment, without havingness, becomes the way to empty the self and to move toward the truth of reality. Since it is almost automatic that possessing becomes possessiveness, many of the spiritual traditions teach material poverty as an effective method to counteract the tendency of havingness. Living a life of renunciation becomes the way to avoid the temptations of havingness. The world begins to appear as a temptress to be shunned and renounced at any cost. This strategy can help, but there is no guarantee for success. Most renunciates do not become enlightened.

The Rare Instance of Muktananda

A very strict discipline, a consistent practice, and preferably guidance by a very skilled and realized guide, are necessary for Kundalini to be used effectively. Even with all of this, the rate of success remains minimal. This is because Kundalini, like any other essential aspect deals only with one sector of the personality and not with the whole thing. For Kundalini to bring about liberation, not only must the teacher be quite powerful, the disciple's dedication and discipline must be impeccable. We can see this clearly and touchingly in the case of Muktananda in his spiritual biography. He belongs to a powerful and well-established lineage, the Indian Siddha path. His teacher, the Siddha master Nityananda, is powerful, firm, even severe with him sometimes. He keeps actualizing and strengthening Muktananda's Kundalini through his own Shakti, or spiritual power. But what we also see in the biography is Muktananda's impeccable patience, his consistent perseverance, his complete dedication to his sadhana (practice), his deep, unfaltering devotion to his Guru and his unwavering discipline. Not only that he also lived a life of renunciation, celibacy and seclusion. Slowly, and with many pitfalls, with the guidance of his Guru, he was able to ascend to higher levels of consciousness, to the “blue pearl,” and then to cosmic consciousness. His biography indicates that his Kundalini and other aspects of his work activated in him four primary, essential aspects—what he calls the Red Aura, the White Flame, the Black Light and the Blue Consciousness. But Muktananda is an isolated instance, a rare instance. How many others of Nityananda's students were realized like Muktananda? And how many of Muktananda's thousands of disciples have been liberated?

The Root of Asceticism, Renunciation

What is your center? What is your motivation? What fires your impulse? Are you doing it to satisfy the self, or are you doing it to give away the self, to surrender the self to the truth? It is not always clear-cut. Christ does not say, “If you are really living your life for the truth, then you never watch television.” I don’t think it means that, but it gets very tricky. All spiritual traditions say in some way that the self needs to be denied, desires need to be denied, and the self should be sacrificed. This is the root of asceticism, renunciation, and various kinds of disciplines. I think the rationale behind it is that as long as we serve the self that we take ourselves to be, we are automatically engaging in a perspective that eliminates the dimension of truth. We are already operating from the purely physical dimension. In other words, we are operating from the perspective that there is a separate, individual, independent self, that has a life, and has a center, and this self does things and needs things, and needs to live and subsist and develop, and so on. And the general assumption is that it lives and subsists for itself. Christ is not saying here that the self does not exist. He says that the self should live for the truth. That’s an important distinction. He is not saying that the self should not exist. No, he said the self should follow him, live for him. That is a specific understanding, in contrast to the notion that the self should just disappear, and then there will be some kind of spiritual rebirth. Christ is actually presenting an understanding of what this means.

True Renunciation

Material needs do need to be satisfied to some extent, because we need to survive, we need to have some kind of comfort in our life so that we can discover what true life is. Life is for realization, not the other way around. We don’t have spiritual realization so that we can have better relationships or better jobs. We don’t have spiritual realization so that we will have more or better friends, or be more successful in life. Spiritual realization is something deeper, and what Christ is saying is that if we want to follow him, it should be the center of our life. And those things—the instincts, the instinctual self—must follow the truth. To sacrifice one’s life, to carry the cross, means that if it happens that your sexual, social, or preservation needs seem to be in conflict with the truth, or in competition with it, the choice should be obvious: You must abandon those needs, not just once in a while, but with consistency, daily, always. This is what true renunciation means. You do not give up the self so that you will become saintly, or so you will become good, or so that God will reward you. You will probably not be canonized. It’s more that you are choosing that the truth is important to you, that reality is important to you, that the essential life is important to you, that God is important for you. You are making a choice and doing the practical things to support that choice. It’s as simple as that.

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