Renunciation & Abandonment
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       =======  Understanding Hinduism  =======

Renunciation and Abandonment

By Sri Ramana Maharshi
Edited by David Godman

Renunciation does not imply apparent divesting of costumes, family ties, homes, etc., but renunciation of desires, affection and attachment. There is no need to resign your job, only resign yourself to God, the bearer of the burden of all.

One who renounces desires actually merges in the world and expands his love to the whole universe. Expansion of love and affection would be a far better term for a true devotee of God than renunciation, for one who renounces the immediate ties actually extends the bonds of affection and love to a wider world beyond the borders of caste, creed and race.

A sannyasi (wandering monk) who apparently casts away his clothes and leaves his home does not do so out of aversion to his immediate relations but because of the expansion of his love to others around him. When this expansion comes, one does not feel that one is running away from home, instead one drops from it like a ripe fruit from a tree.Till then it would be folly to leave one’s home or job.

Question: How does a householder (grihastha) fare in the scheme of moksha (liberation)? Should he not necessarily become a mendicant in order to attain liberation?

Sri Ramana Maharshi: Why do you think you are a grihastha (householder)? Similar thoughts that you are sannyasi (wandering monk) will haunt you, even if you go out as a sannyasi. Whether you continue in the household or renounce it and go to the forest, your mind haunts you. The ego is the source of thought. It creates the body and the world and it makes you think of being the grihastha. If you renounce, it will only substitute the thought of sannyasa for that of grihastha and the environment of the forest for that of the household.

But the mental obstacles are always there for you. They even increase greatly in the new surroundings. It is no help to change the environment. The one obstacle is the mind and it must be overcome whether in the home or in the forest. If you can do it in the forest, why not in the home? Therefore, why change the environment? Your efforts can be made even now, whatever the environment.

Question: In the early stages would it not be a help to a man to seek solitude and give up his outer duties in life?

Sri Ramana Maharshi: Renunciation is always in the mind, not in going to forests or solitary places or giving up one’s duties. The main thing is to see that the mind does not turn outward but inward. It does not rest with a man whether he goes to this place or that place or whether he gives up his duties or not. All these events happen according to destiny. All the activities that the body is to go through are determined when it first comes into existence. It does not rest with you to accept or reject them. The only freedom you have is to turn your mind inward and renounce activities there.

Question: Is solitude necessary for vichara?

Sri Ramana Maharshi: There is solitude everywhere. The individual is solitary always. His business is to find it out within, not to seek it outside himself.

Solitude is in the mind of man. One might be in the thick of the world and maintain serenity of mind. Such a one is in solitude. Another may stay in a forest, but still be unable to control his mind. Such a man cannot be said to be in solitude. Solitude is a function of the mind. A man attached to desires cannot get solitude wherever he may be, whereas a detached man is always in solitude.

Question: So then, one might be engaged in work and be free from desire and keep up solitude. Is it so?

Sri Ramana Maharshi: Yes. Work performed with attachment is a shackle, whereas work performed with detachment does not affect the doer. One who works like this is, even while working, in solitude.

Questioner: Our everyday life is not compatible with such efforts.

Sri Ramana Maharshi: Why do you think you are active? Take the gross example of your arrival here. You left home in a cart, took a train, alighted at the railway station here, got into a cart there and found yourself in this ashram. When asked, you say that you travelled here all the way from your town. Is it true? Is it not a fact that you remained as you were and there were movements of conveyances all along the way? Just as those movements are confounded with your own, so also are the other activities. They are not your own, they are God’s activities.

Question: How can cessation of activity (nivritti) and peace of mind be attained in the midst of household duties that are of the nature of constant activity?

Sri Ramana Maharshi: As the activities of the wise man exists only in the eyes of others and not in his own, although he may be accomplishing immense tasks, he really does nothing. Therefore his activities do not stand in the way of inaction and peace of mind. For he knows the truth that all activities take place in his mere presence and that he does nothing. Hence he will remain as the silent witness of all the activities taking place.

Question: Is it harder for Westerners to withdraw inwards?

Sri Ramana Maharshi: Yes, they are Rajasic (mentally overactive) and their energy goes outwards. We must be inwardly quiet, not forgetting the Self, and then externally we can go on with activity. Does a man who is acting on the stage in a female part forget that he is a man? Similarly, we too must play our parts on the stage of life, but we must not identify ourselves with those parts.

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"Renunciation & Abandonment" describes:

Three types of knowledge- Three types of Actions
Three types of Agent- Threee types of intellect
Three types of constancy- Three types of happiness

Renunciation & Abandonment
From The Mahabharata
Bhishma Parva, section XLII
Translated by Sri Kisari Mohan Ganguli

Arjuna said: Of renunciation, O thou of mighty arms, I desire to know the true nature, and also of abandonment. O Lord of the senses.

The Holy One (Krishna) said: The rejection of the works with desire is known by the learned as renunciation. The abandonment of the fruit of all work, the discerning call abandonment. Some wise men say that work (itself) should be abandoned as evil; others say that the works of sacrifice, gifts, and penance, should not be abandoned. As to that abandonment, listen to my decision, O best of the sons of Bharata, for abandonment, O tiger among men, has been declared to be of three kinds.

The works of sacrifice, gifts and penance should not be abandoned. They should indeed, be done. Sacrifice, gift and penance, are the purifications of the wise. But even those works should be done, abandoning attachment and fruit. This, O son of Pritha, is my excellent and decided opinion. The renunciation of an act prescribed is not proper. Its abandonment is from delusion and is therefore declared to be of the quality of darkness (Tamas).

Regarding as a source of sorrow, when work is abandoned from fear of bodily pain, one making such an abandonment which is of the quality of passion (Rajas) never obtains the fruit of abandonment.

Regarding it as one that should be done, when work that is prescribed (in the scriptures) is done, O Arjuna, abandoning attachment and fruit also, that abandonment is deemed to be of the quality of goodness (Sattwa).
Possessed of intelligence and with doubts dispelled, an abandoner that is endowed with the quality of goodness has no aversion for an unpleasant action and no attachment to pleasant ones. Since actions cannot be absolutely abandoned by an embodied person, therefore he who abandons the fruit of actions is truly said to be an abandoner.

Evil, good and mixed – action has this three-fold fruit hereafter for those that do not abandon. But there is none whatever for the renouncer.
[Note: That is one who has renounced the fruit of actions.]

Listen from me, O thou of mighty of arms, to those five causes for the completion of all actions, declared in the Sankhya, treating of the annihilation of actions. They are substratum, agent, the diverse kinds of organs, the diverse efforts severally, and with them the deities as the fifth.
[Note; The substratum is the body. The agent is the person that thinks himself to be the actor. The organs are those of perception etc. The efforts are the actions of the vital winds- Prana, Apana, etc. The deities are those that preside over the eye and the other senses.]

With body, speech or mind, whatever work, just or the reverse, a man undertakes, these five are its causes. That being so, he that, owing to an unrefined understanding, beholds his own self as solely the agent, he, dull in mind, beholds not. He that has no feeling of egoism, whose mind is not sullied, he, even killing all these people, kills not, nor is fettered by action.
[Note: ‘Has no feeling of egoism’, i.e., does not regard himself as the doer, ‘Sullied’, i.e., by the taint of desire for fruit.]

Knowledge, the object of knowledge, and the knower, form the three-fold impulse of action. Instrument, action, and the agent, form the three-fold complement of action. Knowledge, action and agent, are declared in the enumeration of qualities to be three-fold, according to the difference of qualities. Listen to those also duly.


That by which One Eternal Essence is viewed in all things, undivided in the divided, know that to be knowledge having the quality of goodness (Sattwic).

That knowledge which discerns all things as diverse essence of different kinds in consequence of their separateness, know that that knowledge has the quality of passion (Rajasic).

But that which is attached to each single object as if it were the whole, which is without reason, without truth, and mean, that knowledge has been said to be of the quality of darkness (Tamasic).


That action which is prescribed by the scriptures, done without attachment, performed without desires and aversion, by who longs not for its fruit, is said to be of the quality of goodness (Sattwic).

But that action which is done by one seeking objects of desire, or by one filled with egoism, and which is attended with great trouble, is said to be of the quality of passion (Rajasic).

That action which is undertaken from delusion, without regard to consequences, loss, injury to others, and one’s own power also, is said to be of the quality of darkness (Tamasic).


The agent who is free from attachment, who never speaks of himself, who is endued with constancy and energy, and is unmoved by success and defeat, is said to be of the quality of goodness.

The agent who is full of affections, who wishes for the fruit of actions, who is covetous, endued with cruelty, and impure, and who feels joy and sorrow, is declared to be of the quality of passion. {Note: Full of affections, i.e., for children etc.]

The agent who is void of application, without discernment, obstinate, deceitful, malicious, slothful, desponding, and procrastinating, is said to be of the quality of darkness.

Hear now, O Dhananjaya, the three-fold division of intellect and constancy, according to their qualities, which I am about to declare exhaustively and distinctly.

Intellect and Constancy


The intellect which knows action and inaction, what ought to be done and what ought not to be done, fear and fearlessness, bondage and deliverance, is, O son of Pritha, of the quality of goodness.

The intellect by which one imperfectly discerns right and wrong, that which ought to be done, and that which ought not to be done is, O son of Pritha, of the quality of passion.

That intellect which, shrouded by darkness, regards wrong to be right, and all things as reversed is, O son of Pritha, of the quality of darkness.


That unswerving constancy by which one controls the functions of the mind, the life-breaths, and the senses, through devotion, that constancy is, O son of pritha, of the quality of goodness.

But that constancy, O Arjuna, by which one holds to religion, desire and profit, through attachment, desiring fruit, that constancy, O son of Pritha, is of the quality of passion.

That through which an undiscerning person abandons not sleep, fear, sorrow, despondency, and folly, that constancy is deemed to be of the quality of darkness.

Hear now from me, O bull of Bharata’s race, of the three kinds of happiness.


That in which one finds pleasure from repetition (of enjoyment), which brings an end to pain, which is like poison first but resembles nectar in the end, that happiness born of the serenity produced by a knowledge of self, is said to be of the quality of goodness.

That which from the contact of the senses with their objects which resembles nectar first but is like poison in the end, that happiness is held to be of the quality of passion.

That happiness which is in the beginning and its consequences deludes the soul, and springs from sleep, indolence, and stupidity, that is described to be of the quality of darkness.

There is not, either on earth or heaven among the gods, the entity that is free from these three qualities born of nature. The duties of Brahmanas, Kshatriyas, Vaisyas, and of Sudras also, O chastiser of foes, are distinguished by these three qualities born of nature.

Duties of Brahmanas (priests)

Tranquillity, self-restraint, ascetic austerities, purity, forgiveness, rectitude, knowledge, experience, and belief (in an existence hereafter),- these are the duties of Brahmanas, born of (their proper) nature.

Duties of Kshatriyas

Bravery, energy, firmness, skill, not flying away from battle, liberality, the bearing of a ruler,- these are the duties of Kshatriyas, born of (their proper) nature.

Duties of Vaisyas

Agriculture, tending of cattle, and trade, are the natural duties of Vaisyas.

Duties of Sudras

Of Sudras also, the natural duty consists in servitude.

Every man, engaged in his own duties, attains to perfection. Hear now how one obtains perfection by application to his duties.

Him from whom are the movements of all beings, Him by whom all this is pervaded, worshipping Him by (the performance of) one’s own duty, one obtains perfection. Better is one’s own duty though performed faultily than another’s duty well-performed. Performing the duty prescribed by (one’s own) nature, one incurs no sin.

One must not abandon, O son of Kunti, one’s natural duty though tainted with evil, for all actions are enveloped by evil like fire by smoke. He whose mind is unattached everywhere, who has subdued his self, and whose desire has departed, obtains, through renunciation, the supreme perfection of freedom from work.

Learn from me, only in brief, O son of Kunti, how one, having obtained (this kind of) perfection, attains to Brahma (Supreme Reality) which is the supreme end of knowledge.

Endued with a pure mind, and restraining his self by constancy, renouncing sound and other objects of sense, and casting off affection and aversion, he who resides in a lonely place, eats little, and restrains speech, body and mind, who is ever intent on meditation and abstraction, who has recourse to indifference, who abandoning egoism, violence, pride, lust, wrath, and (all) surroundings, has been freed from selfishness and is tranquil (in mind), becomes fit for assimilation with Brahma.

Becoming one with Brahma, tranquil in spirit, (such a) one grieves not, desires not; alike to all beings, he obtains the highest devotion to Me. By that devotion he truly understands Me. What I am, and who I am; then understanding Me truly, he enters into Me forthwith. Even performing all actions, at all times having refuge in Me, he obtains through My favour, the seat that is eternal and imperishable. Dedicating in your heart all actions to Me, being devoted to me, resorting to mental abstraction, fix your thoughts constantly on Me.

Fixing your thoughts on Me, you will
surmount all difficulties through My grace.

Fixing your thoughts on Me, you will surmount all difficulties through My grace. But if from self-conceit you will not listen, you will then utterly perish. If, having recourse to self-conceit, you think,- I will not fight,- that resolution of yours would be vain (for) Nature will constrain you. That which from delusion, you do not wish to do , you will do involuntarily, bound by your own duty springing from (your own) nature. The Lord, O Arjuna, dwells in the region of the heart of beings, turning all beings as if mounted on a machine, by His illusive power. Seek shelter with Him in every way, O Bharata. Through His grace you will obtain supreme tranquillity, the eternal seat.

Thus has been declared to you by Me the knowledge that is more mysterious than any (other) matter. Reflecting on it fully, act as you like. Once more, listen to my supernal words, the most mysterious of all.

Exceedingly dear are you to Me, therefore, I will declare what is for your benefit. Set your heart on Me, become My devotee, sacrifice to Me, bow down to Me. Then shall you come to Me. I declare to you truly, for you are dear to Me. Forsaking all (religious) duties, come to Me as your sole refuge. I will deliver you from all sins. Do not grieve. This is not to be ever declared by you to one who practises no austerities, to one who is not a devotee, to one who never waits on a preceptor, nor yet to one who calumniates Me.

He who shall inculcate this supreme mystery to those that are devoted to Me, offering Me the highest devotion, will come to Me, freed from (all his) doubts. Amongst men there is none who can do Me a dearer service than he, nor shall any other on earth be dearer to Me than he. And who will study this holy converse between us, by him will have been offered to Me the sacrifice of knowledge. Such is My opinion. Even the man who, with faith and without cavil, will hear it (read), even he freed (from re-birth), will obtain of the blessed regions of those that perform pious acts.

Has this, O son of Pritha, been heard by you with mind undirected to any other objects? Has your delusion, (caused) by ignorance, been destroyed, O Dhananjaya?

Arjuna said: My delusion has been destroyed, and the recollection (of what I am) has been gained by me, O Undeteriorating one, through Thy favour. I am now firm. My doubts have been dispelled. I will do Thy bidding.

Sanjaya continued: Thus I heard this converse between Vasudeva (Krishna) and the high-souled son of Pritha (Arjuna), that is wonderful and causes the hair to stand on end. Through Vyas’s favour I heard this supreme mystery, this doctrine of Yoga, from Krishna Himself, the Lord of Yoga, who declared it in person. O King, recollecting and (again) recollecting this wonderful and holy converse of Kesava (Krishna) and Arjuna, I rejoice over and over again. Recollecting again and again that wonderful form also of Hari, great is my amazement, O King, and I rejoice ever more.

There where Krishna, the Lord of Yoga is, there where the great bowman (Partha or Arjuna) is, there, in my opinion, are prosperity, and victory, and greatness, and eternal justice.

[Note: The above three lines as explained by Swami Ranganathananda, Belur Math:
"Where there is (the spirit of ) Krishna, the master of yoga (the master of vision), (and) wherever there is (the spirit of) Arjuna, the wielder of the bow (the hero of action), there, I am convinced, wealth, victory, welfare, and unshakable justice (shall prevail").]

Related works: The Bhagavad Gita originates from the Bhishma Parva of  The Mahabharata. "Renunciation and Abandonment"  becomes  the 18th Chapter of The Bhagvad Gita. 

From The Mahabharata, Santi Parva, Section CLXII,

Bhishma said:
Renunciation can never be acquired except
by one who has divested of anger and malice.
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