JnanaJñāna (Knowledge)
Vairāgya (Renunciation)A Critique of the Book: A Virtuous Treasury of Proper Conduct (Samālocana: Guṇa-nidhi Sadācara)


This article ‘Vairāgya’ by Śrīla Bhaktivinoda Ṭhākura seems to have been published after his disappearance by Śrīla Sarasvatī Ṭhākura in Sajjana Toṣaṇī, Vol.24. Issues 1-2. Bhaktivinoda had previously written a similar article in Vol.11, Issue 6, however, this more extensive article gives greater detail about the topic of renunciation, its characteristics and who is qualified to be a renunciate.

(translated by Swami B.V. Giri)

What is the practice of renunciation? Is it achieved with special endeavour? Is it a division of bhakti or is it the ultimate goal? What is its relationship with jñāna? Is renunciation something which is specific to karma? Is renunciation completely beneficial for the jīva? Is it a principal aspect of Vaiṣṇava dharma?

Those persons on the path of jñāna have a special regard for renunciation. They consider renunciation to be the ultimate goal of life. The intrinsic nature of jñāna is discrimination (viveka). They say that when discrimination arises in the jīva, then dispassion (virāga) appears and manifests in the heart of the living being. Charmed by the material world, the jīvas are bound by mundane desires.

Bewildered by worldly allurements, when the jīva, bound by material desires, contemplates saṁsāra (the cycle of birth and death) with discrimination and realises that it is necessary to eliminate the world because this leads to his liberation, then dispassion arises, enabling the jīva to reject saṁsāra. It bestows the gift of nirvāṇa-mukti (freedom from material existence).

People on the path of karma glorify the greatness of enjoying saṁsāra. Following the teachings of Jaiminī Ṛṣi, they argue that there is no necessity for the jīva to reject saṁsāra. Only those persons who are blind, deaf, lame etc. are eligible for renunciation since they are incapable of performing any activity.

Men following the paths of jñāna and bhakti respect renunciation so much that they have determined two separate statuses for saṁsāra and renunciation and have established specific processes for them. In each path, therefore, many regulations regarding rules and prohibitions are carefully considered. Mahātmās such as Dattātreya, Śaṅkarācārya etc. who are the leaders of the jñānī community, have documented various arrangements concerning renunciation based upon the statements of the śāstra. Accordingly, the Daśa-nāmī sannyāsīs, Kāṇphaṭa yogīs, Gorakṣanāthīs,*(1) and those persons who are practically sannyāsis follow these philosophies, have roamed within the world in various ways. Those persons from all these groups who accept the robes of a sannyāsī, carry a daṇḍa, shave their heads etc. in various ways, and are respected. These symbols are rigidly undertaken as a sign of dharma amongst them. Internal renunciation is a thing which is not so easy to discern. Merely by seeing their external symbols, worldly persons of that mindset feel that they have accomplished their purpose and they offer daṇḍavats and serve them.

Renunciation is also given much respect on the path of bhakti. Amongst the Vaiṣṇavas who are followers of the philosophies of Viśiṣṭadvaita, Dvaitādvaita, Śuddhādvaita and Dvaita, many wander around embellished with the signs of renunciation. Like those on the path of jñāna, their status as a maṭha, their accumulation of disciples, and their arrangements in regard to rules and regulations are seen everywhere. As owners of maṭhas, many of them have acquired much opulence. They travel in luxurious vehicles like wealthy kings, give instructions to many disciples, distribute food and drink to many people, and enhance their own respectability by bestowing honours upon others. In many places, even where real renunciation is absent, they receive daṇḍavats from many due to their position as a renunciant. If they do not have a married wife, which is the one indication of saṁsāra, then their religious status remains intact and they are worshiped as renunciants. Their kaupīna is a substitute for a married wife and is their main symbol of dharma. Attachment to sense-objects, litigation, anger towards others, and accumulation of wealth do not cause them to deviate from their principles of renunciation. They speak of renouncing caste, yet in many places amongst them, the worship of the brāhmaṇa caste persists. “Although I am a sannyāsī, I am still a brāhmaṇa!” Saying this means that they have not abandoned their caste pride.

Our Śrī Gauḍīya sampradaya also has respect for such renunciation. Respect is merely limited to offering saṣṭanga-daṇḍavats and accepting the prasāda of the renunciate community by the householder gosvami ācāryas who are prabhu-santāna.*(2) In many instances, the renunciants refer to the respected gosvamis as householders, sometimes even implying that they are inferior. However, the noble gosvamis tolerate such disrespect with patience. This suggests that when someone says ‘Vaiṣṇava,’ they understand it to mean renunciant, whereas when they say ācārya, they understand it to mean a householder who is a prabhu-santāna, and a respected Vaiṣṇava brāḥmaṇa within the sampradāya. Be that as it may, nowadays, in the sampradāya of Śrī Kṛṣṇa Caitanya, the renunciate is more respected than the householder Vaiṣṇava. The renunciants wear a kaupīna and reside in prominent maṭhas or ākhaḍas that are respected by the Vaiṣṇavas. Many renunciates who are niṣkiñcanas (devoid of all material possessions), beg for alms at holy places or travel from village to village.

We have collected a book named Saṁskāra Dīpikā, written by Śrī Gopāla Bhaṭṭa Gosvāmī Prabhu, which is about the process of renunciation. It is written for pure itinerant renunciates. This text discusses the principle and eligibility for renunciation:

vijita-ṣaḍ-guṇo yasta dambha-hiṁsādi varjjitaḥ
maitra-kāruṇya-śīlaś ca vigatecchā jitendriyaḥ
gṛhīta viṣṇu-dīkṣāko viṣṇu-bhaktyādi sādhakaḥ
tasmai deyaṁ prayatne yācite sati sādhubhiḥ

Those who give veśa (the cloth of a renunciate) must first see that the candidate who will wear the kaupīna has received the mantra of Śrī Bhagavān in his sampradāya and has properly engaged in bhakti-sādhana. As a result of that, he should have completely controlled the six bad qualities (lust, anger, greed, etc.) and given up pride and violence etc. He must have a friendly and compassionate nature, be desireless and in full control of his senses. One should never give the symbols of renunciation to those who are arrogant, devoid of pure devotion, deceitful and insincere, otherwise both the giver and the receiver will be destroyed. In this way, if one accepts renunciation without considering eligibility, then there will be no renunciation – there will only be hypocrisy and arrogance. Thus, such persons are not entitled to the respect and service that comes with renunciation. Repeatedly, we say that one should not accept renunciation where there is disqualification. On the other hand, it should be seen that the guru who bestows renunciation must be qualified in various ways, and has accepted renunciation from a suitable person. If this is not observed, then it will not be auspicious. In this regard, it is necessary to consider the character of Śrī Sanātana Gosvāmī, Dāsa Gosvāmī etc. The character of Śrī Svarūpa Dāmodara Gosvāmī should also be taken into account.

Regarding renunciation, after considering all this, based on all the śāstras that we have seen or heard, and what we have understood by the grace of mahātmās and wise men, we will write something for our own benefit. We have neither the right or the inclination to teach others. If by chance this book falls into anyone else’s hands and they read it, they should forgive us for the unpleasant words they may come across. It is inappropriate for mahājanas to become angry at the words of foolish, fallen persons.

What is renunciation? The śāstra calls the state of renunciation, vairāgya. Attachment to the objects of the senses by the jīva who is bound my māyā is called rāga (attachment). The state devoid of such attachment is known as virāga. A jīva who is free from māyā easily attains attachment for Kṛṣṇa. When attachment for Kṛṣṇa arises and becomes stronger, attachment for sense-objects decreases. When sambandha-jñāna (knowledge of one’s intrinsic relationship with Kṛṣṇa) appears, renunciation emerges effortlessly. Renunciation can never be achieved through practice. It is said in Śrīmad Bhagavad-gītā (2.59):

viṣayā vinivartante nirāhārasya dehinaḥ
rasa-varjaṁ raso’pyasya paraṁ dṛṣṭvā nivartate

Commentary (by Śrī Baladeva Vidyābhūṣaṇa): nirāhārasya roga-bhayād bhojanādīny akurvato mūḍhasyāpi dehino janasya viṣayās tad-anubhavā vinivartante. kintu raso rāga-tṛṣṇā tad-varjaṁ viṣaya-tṛṣṇā tu na nivartata ity arthaḥ. asya sthita-prajñasya tu raso’pi viṣaya-rāgo’pi viṣayebhyaḥ paraṁ sva-prakāśānandam ātmānaṁ dṛṣṭvānubhūya nivartate vinaśyatīti sa-rāga-viṣaya-nivṛttis tasya lakṣaṇam iti na vyabhicāraḥ.

The meaning of this is that those jīvas bewitched by māyā, having lost their attachment to Kṛṣṇa, still maintain attachment to sense-objects. It does not merely occur through renunciation of objects because, internally, there is still a strong thirst for them, and their downfall is again inevitable. However, when one relishes transcendental kṛṣṇa-rasa, the thirst for material rasa becomes insignificant, and naturally one becomes firm in detachment.

Renunciation is not the cause, component, or ultimate result of bhakti. Renunciation is the brother of jñāna. In the Padma Purāṇa (Uttara-khaṇḍa, Chapter 63), Bhakti Devī herself has described their mutual relationship:

ahaṁ bhaktir iti khyātā imau me tanayau matau
jñāna-vairāgya-nāmānau kāla-yogena jarjarau

I am Bhakti and these are my two sons named Jñāna and Vairāgya who have become old due to the influence of Kali.

Furthermore, Nārada says:

aṅgakṛtaṁ tvayā yadvai prasanno’bhūd haris tadā
muktiṁ dāsīṁ dadau tubhyaṁ jñāna vairāgya kārimau

Being pleased with you, Hari has sent Mukti as your maidservant and Jñāna and Vairāgya as your sons in order to assist you.

We understand from this evidence that bhakti is the primary tattva (reality). Mukti is merely the handmaiden of bhakti. Jñāna and vairāgya are the two children of bhakti. In Śrīmad Bhāgavata, such a conclusion is also found:

vāsudeve bhagavati bhakti-yogaḥ prayojitaḥ
janayaty āśu vairāgyaṁ jñānaṁ ca yad ahaitukam

(Śrīmad Bhāgavatam 1.2.7)

Those who engage in pure bhakti-yoga to Bhagavān develop renunciation within their hearts, and causeless knowledge appears. Unconditional knowledge arises without seeking results. That which arises spontaneously within the self, which is devoid of seeking any result, is knowledge. This knowledge is referred to as sambandha-jñāna by Śrī Mahāprabhu. Knowing the natural relationship between Kṛṣṇa, the jīva, and the material world constitutes sambandha-jñāna. Kṛṣṇa alone is the object of service, the jīva is His eternal servant, and the inferior world, in other words, the material realm, is the place of His pastimes along with the bound jīvas. In this world, the conscious jīvas, who are of the nature of finite consciousness, have become averse to Kṛṣṇa and have been bound as a punishment. Out of His mercy, Kṛṣṇa has revealed unlimited pastimes to gradually deliver these jīvas. The pure knowledge concerning all these subjects is known as sambandha-jñāna. Through the power of bhakti which arises from the jīva’s association with sādhus, this knowledge appears in the heart of the jīva. By devotional activities, that which used to be natural to the jīva in this material world becomes distasteful to them, leading to renunciation. In knowledge derived from bhakti, there is no inclination towards mokṣa. However, in this regard, desire is opposed to the principle of bhakti. This is known as pure non-dual knowledge (śuddha-advaya-jñāna). Bhakti alone is the sole origin of pure knowledge and renunciation. Therefore, it is said:

avismṛtiḥ kṛṣṇa-padāravindayoḥ kṣiṇoty abhadrāṇi ca śaṁ tanoti
sattvasya śuddhiṁ paramātma-bhaktiṁ jñānaṁ ca vijñāna-virāga-yuktam

The remembrance of Kṛṣṇa’s lotus feet destroys inauspiciousness and manifests the greatest fortune. One’s existence is purified and one attains devotion to the Supreme Soul, along with knowledge, realisation and detachment. (Śrīmad Bhāgavatam 12.12.55)

When the self perceives the existence of the Paramātmā within itself through pure bhakti-yoga, then the harmony of knowledge and renunciation is observed in the activities of pure bhakti. Thus, in the Bhāgavata it says:

tac chraddadhānā munayo jñāna-vairāgya-yuktayā
paśyanty ātmani cātmānaṁ bhaktyā śruta-gṛhītayā

The sage endowed with faith, who possesses knowledge and renunciation, perceives the Supreme Ātmā within by engaging in bhakti and hearing from the guru. (Śrīmad Bhāgavatam 1.2.12)

The Bhāgavata (1.2.15-20) has this to say about the process:

yad-anudhyāsinā yuktāḥ karma-granthi-nibandhanam
chindanti kovidās tasya ko na kuryāt kathā-ratim

Who will not develop attraction towards transcendental topics, the remembrance of which is like a sword that slashes the knots of karma?

śṛṇvatāṁ sva-kathāḥ kṛṣṇaḥ puṇya-śravaṇa-kīrtanaḥ
hṛdy antaḥ stho hy abhadrāṇi vidhunoti suhṛt satām

Through hearing and chanting, Kṛṣṇa, the dearest friend of those devotees who hear narrations about Him, enters their hearts and removes that which is inauspicious.

naṣṭa-prāyeṣv abhadreṣu nityaṁ bhāgavata-sevayā
bhagavaty uttama-śloke bhaktir bhavati naiṣṭhikī

By constant service to Bhagavān, the Bhāgavatam and the devotee, all that is inauspicious is almost fully destroyed and bhakti to that Lord who is praised by choice prayers, is firmly established.

tadā rajas-tamo-bhāvāḥ kāma-lobhādayaś ca ye
ceta etair anāviddhaṁ sthitaṁ sattve prasīdati

Thus, the mind is no longer affected by lust, greed, anger etc that stem form passion and ignorance. It becomes fixed in the mode of goodness and is fully satisfied.

evaṁ prasanna-manaso bhagavad-bhakti-yogataḥ
bhagavat-tattva-vijñānaṁ mukta-saṅgasya jāyate

Then the mind becomes enlivened through bhakti-yoga to Bhagavān, and by understanding bhagavat-tattva, knowledge of the Supreme, then renunciation leading to liberation is affected.

bhidyate hṛdaya-granthiś chidyante sarva-saṁśayāḥ
kṣīyante cāsya karmāṇi dṛṣṭa evātmanīśvare

(Upon perceiving the Lord within the mind, the knot within the heart is severed and all doubts are removed along with all karma.

To have overflowing affection (rati) towards topics concerning Bhagavān is the natural dharma of the jīva. When the jīva is absorbed in attraction for the objects of the senses, that rati remains unmanifested. When, to a certain extent, that rati for Śrī Kṛṣṇa, the Ātmā of all ātmās, the Possessor of all potencies, the Controller of Māyā, the Supreme Lord of all, the embodiment of sacc-cid-ānanda, arises with śraddhā through the gradual association of sādhus, then, by following their conduct, one desires to purify his own character. The process is mentioned in Śrīmad Bhagavad-gītā thus:

catur-vidhā bhajante māṁ janāḥ sukṛtino’rjuna
ārto jijñāsur arthārthī jñānī ca bharatarṣabha
(Bhagavad-gītā 7.16)

“Arjuna, among the unlimited jīvas in this cycle of birth and death, some, by the power of sukṛti in the form of sādhu-saṅga, worship Me. In the beginning, having become acquainted with My Reality by taking shelter of sādhus, some come due to distress, some are inquisitive, some are seekers of wealth, and some are jñānīs. These persons who are distressed, inquisitive, desiring wealth or knowledge, abandon their worldly desires and take to pure bhajana. Mahātmās such as Gajendra, Śaunaka, Dhruva and Śuka are examples of this. Afflicted by worldly miseries, they become distressed, inquisitive, or they desire wealth or knowledge. The distressed are burdened by suffering and enemies. ‘How to be delivered from the misery of this world’ – by such an inquiry one becomes inquisitive. ‘How will my desires be fulfilled?’– this is the mood of one who desires wealth. And, ‘How do I become free from the cycle of birth and death?’ By thinking in this way, one may eventually contemplate philosophies such as ‘I am Brahman!’ or ‘There is no Supreme Controller and all benefits are attained at death’ – thinking in this way, one becomes proud of his knowledge. Amongst the jñānīs, one who understands my tattva and his relationship with it, is a real jñānī – amongst these four categories, he is most favoured by Me. Thus, they all know the process of bhajana by the grace of a sādhu and they worship Me with śraddhā.”

Furthermore, the Bhāgavata says:

jāta-śraddho mat-kathāsu nirviṇṇaḥ sarva-karmasu
veda duḥkhātmakān kāmān parityāge’py anīśvaraḥ
tato bhajeta māṁ prītaḥ śraddhālur dṛḍha-niścayaḥ
juṣamāṇaś ca tān kāmān duḥkhodarkāṁś ca garhayan

One whose śraddhā has awakened in narrations about Me, who is disinterested in all mundane activities, knows that all material desires are full of misery, yet he is unable to abandon them. Still, he should continue to worship Me with love. Being full of śraddhā and resolute conviction, he will engage in those desires which only lead to suffering, and at the same time, he will repent. (Śrīmad Bhāgavatam 11.20.27- 28)

Even if such people start kṛṣṇa-bhajana, they are rare, therefore Mahāprabhu says in His teachings to Śrī Rūpa:

brahmāṇḍa bhramite kona bhāgyavān jīva
guru-kṛṣṇa-prasāde pāya bhakti-latā-bīja

Wandering throughout the universe, some jīvas who are most fortunate, attain the creeper of bhakti by the mercy of the guru. (Caitanya-caritāmṛta, Madhya-līlā 19.151)

If a fortunate person has the mercy of guru and Kṛṣṇa and attains śraddhā for Śrī Kṛṣṇa and Kṛṣṇa’s Name, Kṛṣṇa’s qualities, and narrations about Kṛṣṇa, he gradually engages in hearing, chanting, and contemplating kṛṣṇa-kathā in accordance with the guru’s instructions, and thereby he is able to cut through the ignorance that is his karma-granthi (knot of material desires).

At this point, one thing should be remembered – if it is not remembered, then everything will be in vain. Duplicity or deceit, and desires for enjoyment and liberation will not allow the development of the ātmā’s true nature. Simply by observing a person’s sincere discussions on His words, Kṛṣṇa, the dearmost friend of the sādhus, who steals the mind, enters deep within the heart and gradually destroys all inauspiciousness. When everything inauspicious is almost destroyed by constant bhagavat-sevā, then steadfast bhakti to Kṛṣṇa arises. Amongst those things that are inauspicious, attachment to the objects of the senses is considered to be primary. When attachment to those material objects unrelated to Kṛṣṇa gradually diminishes, then this is renunciation born from bhakti. Separate practice is not required for renunciation. By observing vows related to bhakti such as Ekādaśī etc, improper habits naturally diminish, and good habits become prominent. As bhakti increases, so does detachment, and one’s knowledge of sambandha naturally grows. Thus, the qualities of passion, ignorance, and the malevolence of lust, greed etc. can no longer attract the mind. To the extent the mind is unaffected by passion, ignorance, lust, greed, etc., to that extent it attains a state of purity and remains calm and unaffected. In this way, when such a peaceful mindset appears due to the influence of bhagavat-bhakti-yoga, then realisation of Bhagavān in the form of bhāva-bhakti along with liberation arises in such a person. In this state, the qualification to accept the symbols of renunciation is acquired by a jīva, because at that time, the knot of saṁsāra naturally unravels itself. All doubts are removed, and all karma is destroyed, because Kṛṣṇa, the Ātmā of all ātmās, is seen to manifest in one’s realisation of the self.

Gradual progress doesn’t happen until one is fully committed – until then, nothing happens despite what one may say. If we think that self-realisation has arisen merely by accepting the garb of a renunciate, then we gain nothing except self-deceit. In our position as sādhakas, it is our duty to meditate on this point every day with vigilance. The method mentioned in the Śrīmad Bhāgavatam regarding daily vigilance is as follows:

bhaktiḥ pareśānubhavo viraktir
anyatra caiṣa trika eka-kālaḥ
prapadyamānasya yathāśnataḥ syus
tuṣṭiḥ puṣṭiḥ kṣud-apāyo ‘nu-ghāsam

These three things – bhakti, direct perception of the Supreme Lord, and detachment from all other things – appear simultaneously for one who has surrendered unto the Lord, just as satisfaction, nourishment and the absence of hunger are felt with each bite by those who eat. (Śrīmad Bhāgavatam 11.2.42)

Should we not perceive every day whether or not our detachment and knowledge of sambandha are increasing, to the extent that our bhakti through hearing, chanting etc. is also increasing? If not, then we should know that there is some deceit in our devotional endeavours. We must strive diligently to drive away such deceit. This is called the path of gradual advancement.

In this section on renunciation, I will now repeat the instructions of Śrīman Mahāprabhu. In the Sixth Chapter of the Antya-khaṇḍa of Śrī Caitanya-caritāmṛta, it is said:

mahāprabhura bhakta-gaṇera vairāgya pradhāna
yāhā dekhi prīta hana gaura-bhagavān

Renunciation is the primary principle of the devotees of Mahāprabhu. Seeing this, Gaura Bhagavān becomes happy (Caitanya-caritāmṛta, Antya-līlā 6.220)

Again, it is said in that book, in Chapter 23 of the Madhya-khaṇḍa:

sanātanera vairāgye prabhura ānanda apāra

The Lord became happy by observing the renunciation of Sanātana.

Sārvabhauma Bhaṭṭācārya said:

śikṣārtham ekaḥ puruṣaḥ purāṇaḥ
kṛpāmbudhir yas tam ahaṁ prapadye

I surrender unto that ocean of mercy, that singular primeval Personality, who has assumed the form of Śrī Krṣṇa Caitanya in order to teach knowledge of renunciation and devotion to His own self. (Caitanya-caritāmṛta, Madhya-līlā 6.254)

At the end of the Śrīmad Bhāgavata it is stated:

śrīmad-bhāgavataṁ purāṇam amalaṁ yad vaiṣṇavānāṁ priyaṁ
yasmin pāramahaṁsyam ekam amalaṁ jñānaṁ paraṁ gīyate
tatra jñāna-virāga-bhakti-sahitaṁ naiṣkarmyam āviskṛtaṁ
tac chṛṇvan su-paṭhan vicāraṇa-paro bhaktyā vimucyen naraḥ

This pure Purāṇa, the Śrīmad Bhāgavatam is dear to the Vaiṣṇavas because it sings of that one pure supreme knowledge which is attained by paramahaṁsas. Along with jñāna, virāga and bhakti, it reveals the process of the cessation of karma. A person who hears, properly recites, and discusses it with bhakti becomes liberated. (Śrīmad Bhāgavatam 12.13.18)

This śloka also describes that through knowledge, renunciation, and bhakti, one attains naiṣkarmya (the cessation of material activities), in other words, the state of transcendence. If we understand that renunciation is an inherent result of simple bhakti, then there can be no need for separate endeavours for renunciation. The lives of those who strive for renunciation without achieving stability in bhakti become futile – eventually ruination occurs and they are removed from their position.

neha yat karma dharmāya na virāgāya kalpate
na tīrtha-pada-sevāyai jīvann api mṛto hi saḥ
(Śrīmad Bhāgavatam 3.23.56)

Regardless of how many activities are performed for maintaining the physical body, or for supporting society, and how many nitya, naimittika or kāmya activities are undertaken – if all of those are not done for the sake of dharma, then they are completely futile.*(3) When actions are performed with the intention of dharma, then they are considered to be dharma. If those activities are not performed with the intention of renunciation, then that also is completely futile. If all such dharmika practices are done for the purpose of renunciation, then that dharma is called renunciation. If renunciation is not done for the purpose of serving Bhagavān, then that is also totally useless. To say that such a renunciant is living, but remains inactive like a dead person is not necessarily an exaggeration. Therefore, according to the philosophy established by Mahāprabhu, if one does not accept renunciation with the purpose of bhagavat-bhakti, in other words, if one does not understand that renunciation is the inherent result of bhakti, then there will be no benefit. Thus, even if renunciation is not the prayojana-tattva (ultimate objective), it is still an essential quality to be achieved by sādhus. A person possessing bhakti will certainly become a renunciate. The extent of their bhakti determines the extent of their natural renunciation. Wherever bhakti is seen but there is no renunciation, then one should certainly doubt the source of that bhakti present there.

When bhakti gains particular strength, renunciation also becomes strong and severs the devotee’s worldly ties. Gradually, liberation from the shackles of māyā, whether in the form of nirvāṇa or brahma-sāyujya, becomes easily attainable. The Gītā states:

brahma-bhūtaḥ prasannātmā na śocati na kāṅkṣati
samaḥ sarveṣu bhūteṣu mad-bhaktiṁ labhate parām

When such a person attains the platform of Brahman, he neither rejoices nor laments. Seeing all beings equally, he attains transcendental devotion unto Me. (Bhagavad-gītā 18.54)

The very moment nirvāṇa or brahma-sājujya is attained, in relation to one’s connection with matter, then the bhakti of a devotee apears in the form of bhāva (divine ecstasy).*(4) That is called prema-bhakti and when that liberation appears, by strictly following such bhakti, one begins to perform his activities like a son or a servant. Renunciation or liberation is no longer observed as a separate quality. Just as all activities, when they mature into naiṣkarmya, lead to bhakti, similarly, knowledge and renunciation both become alike when their respective activities mature and are reconciled with bhakti, then they gradually become one. Bhakti is eternal, beginningless and unlimited. Karma, renunciation and discrimination (viveka) – all these are impermanent; therefore, their results are ultimately achieved in eternal dharma. Thus, in this way, prema-bhakti for Kṛṣṇa, considering all jīvas to be kṛṣṇa-dāsa with the concept of brotherhood towards them, renunciation of all those things that are not connected to Kṛṣṇa, and endeavouring to work desiring Kṛṣṇa’s love – this becomes the only state that exists.

Now, some may think that if everything can can be achieved in the material world up to vastu-siddhi,*(5) then is it necessary to accept kaupīna etc? Is there a need for separate renunciation when it was achieved by Nidāgha, Ribhu, Janaka, Rāmānanda, Śrīvāsa Paṇḍita etc., who had a wife and sons? In the vairāgya-āśrama some accumulation of food and some amount of money is also required – then what is the difference between gṛhastha-dharma and the vairāgya-āśrama? The answer is that in the vairāgya-āśrama, there is a great decrease in efforts to acquire money. With even a little, one’s scarcity can be removed. There is no concern for constantly collecting money. For those in the dress of akiñcanas (who have renounced all material desires), there is no need for various types of material acquisition. That is why in relation to Sanātana Gosvāmī accepting bhek (the dress of a renunciant), the Lord told Rāmānanda:

iṅhāra ye jyeṣṭha-bhrātā, nāma sanātana
pṛthivīte vijña-vara nāhi tāṅra sama
tomāra yaiche viṣaya-tyāga taiche tāṅra rīti
dainya-vairāgya-pāṇḍityera tāṅhātei sthiti

This is Rūpa’s elder brother and his name is Sanātana. He is most learned and there is nobody in this world who is equal to him. His conduct is just like yours in regards to rejecting material sense-objects. Humility, renunciation and wisdom exist in him. (Caitanya-caritāmṛta, Antya-līlā 1.200-201)

sanātane kahilā tumi yāha vṛndāvana
tomāra dui bhāi tathā kariyāche gamana
kāṅthā-karaṅgiyā mora kāṅgāla bhakta-gaṇa
vṛndāvane āile tāṅdera kariha pālana

The Lord told Sanātana: You should go to Vṛndāvana. Both of your brothers have already gone there. My devotees are poor and only have a shawl and a waterpot. When they come to Vṛndāvana, you should take care of them. (Caitanya-caritāmṛta, Madhya-līlā 25.182-183)

It is true that renunciation is achieved through bhakti in the gṛhastha-āśrama, yet Śrī Mahāprabhu told Raghunātha thus:

prabhu kahe kṛṣṇa-kṛpā baliṣṭha sabā haite
tomāre kāḍila viṣaya-viṣṭhā-garta haite

The Lord said: Kṛṣṇa’s mercy is more powerful than anything. He has delivered you from the stool-pit of materialism. (Caitanya-caritāmṛta, Antya-līlā 6.193)

tathāpi viṣayera svabhāva kare mahā-andha
sei karma karāya yāte haya bhava-bandha
hena viṣaya haite kṛṣṇa uddhārilā tomā
kahana nā yāya kṛṣṇa-kṛpāra mahimā

Still, the nature to enjoy matter makes one completely blind. It makes one act in such a way that he becomes bound to the world of birth and death. Kṛṣṇa has saved you from such materialism. The glories of Kṛṣṇa’s mercy cannot be described. (Caitanya-caritāmṛta, Antya-līlā 6.199-200)

In this particular situation, Mahāprabhu’s point is that one should renounce the world and accept the vairāgya-āśrama – is there any doubt in this? Mahāprabhu’s instruction to Sanātana Gosvāmī to reject phalgu-vairāgya (useless renunciation) and accept yukta-vairāgya (proper renunciation) requires some discussion. Doubts will not be removed if we do not distinguish between yukta-vairāgya and phalguvairāgya. Śrī Rūpa Gosvāmī has spoken about the characteristics of yukta-vairāgya:

anāsaktasya viṣayān yathārhaṁ upayuñjataḥ
nirbandhaḥ kṛṣṇa-sambandhe yuktaṁ vairagyam ucyate

When one is unattached to material objects, yet accepts them in relation to Kṛṣṇa, this is known as yukta-vairāgya. (Bhakti-rasāmṛta-sindhu, Pūrva-vibhāga 2.255)

These are the characteristics of yukta-vairāgya:

prāpañcikatayā buddhyā hari-sambandhi-vastunaḥ
mumukṣubhiḥ parityāgo vairāgyaṁ phalgu kathyate

When persons eager to achieve liberation renounce things that are related to the Supreme, though they are material, this is called phalgu-vairāgya. (Bhakti-rasāmṛta-sindhu, Pūrva-vibhāga 2.256)

The term yukta-vairāgya refers to the ability to engage with all objects through the senses in a detached manner, connecting them to Kṛṣṇa. It is natural for the senses to wander towards sense-objects. The method of worshiping Kṛṣṇa as prescribed by the previous mahātmās is to employ every material activity in the service of Kṛṣṇa. By accepting these things in a simple manner, one can achieve renunciation while remaining in Kṛṣṇa’s family. One should look at Śrī Caitanya-śikṣāmṛta in this regard.

On the other hand, by considering all objects and individuals associated with Hari as worldly, one endeavours for liberation through the path of renunciation – this is phalgu-vairāgya. What kind of practice is it to renounce worldly attachments in the early stages of sādhana, and how long can such a practice be sustained? One has no hope of achieving any result from such sādhana. This will be seen by considering the sequence of the development of bhakti. Initially, a jīva in saṁsāra gains śraddhā in kṛṣṇa-bhakti through some sukṛti. “Kṛṣṇa-bhakti is my eternal dharma, and apart from that, I have no other eternal gain!” Such a belief in a sādhu’s teachings is called śraddhā. When that śraddhā arises, one must seek the company of a sādhu-guru. Through that, one gradually receives teachings on the worship of Bhagavān. Eventually, by performing bhajana with an unwavering mind, all anarthas cease.

bhakti-yogena manasi samyak praṇihite’male
apaśyat puruṣaṁ pūrṇaṁ māyāṁ ca tad-apāśrayām

yayā sammohito jīva ātmānaṁ tri-guṇātmakam
paro ’pi manute’narthaṁ tat-kṛtaṁ cābhipadyate

anarthopaśamaṁ sākṣād bhakti-yogam adhokṣaje

He engaged his mind perfectly by connecting it to pure bhakti and saw the Supreme Person with His māyā potency, which was under His control. In spite of his being superior to the three modes, the jīva is bewildered by this māyā, and considers himself to be a product of them and thus undergoes the reactions of his anarthas. These anarthas can only be removed by direct bhakti-yoga to Adhokṣaja. (Śrīmad Bhāgavatam 1.7.4-6)

māyā-mugdhasya jīvasya jñeyo’narthaś catur-vidhaḥ
hṛd-daurbalyaṁ cāparādho’sat-tṛṣṇā tattva-vibhramaḥ

A jīva who is bewildered by māya is understood to possess four kinds of anarthas, namely weakness of heart, offences, thirst for temporary things, and philosophical misconceptions. (Āmnāya-sūtra)

sva-tattve para-tattve ca sādhya-sādhana-tattvayoḥ
virodhi-viṣaye caiva tattva-bhramaś catur-vidhaḥ

There are four kinds of philosophical misconceptions, namely misconceptions concerning one’s own inherent identity, misconceptions concerning the Supreme Truth, misconceptions concerning the process and the goal, and misconceptions concerning those things which are contrary to the philosophy. (Āmnāya-sūtra)

aihikeṣv-aiṣaṇā pāra-trikeṣu caiṣaṇā’śubhā
bhūti-vāñchā mumukṣā ca hy asat-tṛṣṇāś catur-vidhāḥ

Inauspicious desires for the temporary things of this world, for those things of the next world, desires for mystic powers, and liberation are the four kinds of thirst for temporary things. (Āmnāya-sūtra)

kṛṣṇa-nāma-svarūpeṣu tadīya-cit-kaṇeṣu ca
jñeyā budha-gaṇair nityam aparādhāś catur-vidhāḥ

Offences to Kṛṣṇa’s Name, to His forms and nature, to His devotees and to the living entities who are His sparks of consciousness – those who are wise always know these to be the four kinds of offences. (Āmnāya-sūtra)

tucchāsaktiḥ kuṭināṭī mātsaryaṁ sva-pratiṣṭhatā
hṛd-daurbalyaṁ budhaiḥ śaśvaj jñeyaṁ kila catur-vidham

Attachments to insignificant things, politicking, envy, and the desire for personal prestige – the wise know these to be the four kinds of weakness of heart. (Āmnāya-sūtra)

Amongst all these anarthas, svarūpa-vibhrama (the misconception concerning one’s own intrinsic identity) is the primary shackle of ignorance.

bhayaṁ dvitīyābhiniveśataḥ syād
īśād apetasya viparyayo ‘smṛtiḥ
tan-māyayāto budha ābhajet taṁ
bhaktyaikayeśaṁ guru-devatātmā

Fear arises when one becomes absorbed in secondary interests. When one turns away from the Lord and forgets Him, one becomes covered by māyā and misidentifies with the material body. Therefore, a wise person, whose guru is his worshippable deity and as dear as one’s own ātmā, should fully serve the Lord, with exclusive bhakti. (Śrīmad Bhāgavatam 11.2.37)

“I am so-and-so Sharma, and my work is to enjoy sense-objects!” – whatever disturbances have arisen is due to the presence of this mundane false ego. The gradual cessation of the false ego due to bhajana is called renunciation, and the complete cessation of false ego is called liberation. Thus, liberation and renunciation are the same tattva. First, renunciation gradually arises, and ultimately, liberation follows. Only a mukta-puruṣa (a liberated person) can achieve prema-bhakti.

It is extremely difficult to sever the terrible bonds of saṁsāra in a moment. Thus, if one does not engage in yukta-vairāgya in relation to other material things, then there can be no bhajana, and when there is no bhajana, one cannot fulfil the ultimate goal of life. Those who attempt to break all the bonds of saṁsāra in a second through impulsive measures, resort to phalgu-vairāgya and experience extreme misery. Thus, it is said in the Nāradīya Purāṇa:

evaṁ nirviṣayaṁ cetaḥ kramād bhavati nānyathā
kramaṁ visṛjya rabhasād ārurukṣuḥ pataty adhaḥ

There is no other way but for the mind to reject sense-objects gradually. Otherwise, if one desires to advance, but abandons the gradual path, he will fall down.

Those who do not understand the gradual development of bhajana will certainly fall down from the state that they are aspiring to ascend. This is the natural law. Thus, for one who is engaged in bhajana, yukta-vairāgya is extremely supportive. As his bhajana matures, there are two situations where a sādhaka can leave home and take up wearing the kaupīna.

1) Bhajana is going on, but if at any time their household becomes opposed to bhajana, the sādhu-sādhaka will grasp the situation by relying upon his own proper intelligence and the instructions of a genuine guru.

2) Complete detachment has arisen and one does not like the household – in this way, if constant detachment arises in the heart, one can renounce the home.

Within a short time, one who begins bhajana with unwavering determination, understanding the nature and significance of kṛṣṇa-bhajana, develops śraddhā in those things related to bhakti which later becomes niṣṭhā (steadiness) leading to naiṣṭikī-bhakti (steady devotion).

acirād eva sarvārthaḥ sidhyaty eṣām abhīpsitaḥ
sad-dharmasyāvabodhāya yeṣāṁ nirbandhinī matiḥ

For those who possess steady intelligence to understand true dharma, all desired goals are soon fulfilled. (Nāradīya Purāṇa)

Bhajana begins – as it continues, with each step, anarthas become purified more and more, leading to niṣṭhā and ruci (taste) for topics concerning bhakti. During that process, ruci for devotional subjects gradually becomes āsakti (attachment). Āsakti eventually takes the form of bhāva. Bhāva becomes rati (deep attraction). In this way, bhāva and rati gradually become bhakti-rasa (the mellows of devotion). This is the gradual development of bhakti. Progressively, renunciation and knowledge easily transform into liberation, and by the mercy of Kṛṣṇa, their union is achieved in the form of bhakti. Then, like the full moon, undivided prema rises, and its own transcendental rays of eternity, knowledge and bliss expand and directly awaken śrī-vraja-rasa.

What is the nature of progressing in bhajana? Let us see and discuss this once. Kṛṣṇa and everything acquainted with Him is transcendental, complete, and sacchidānanda-tattva. The jīva is a sun-ray of that tattva and is capable of experiencing full bliss. At present, the jīva is in a state of bondage by māyā, and in regards to his knowledge, he experiences an opposing nature in relation to his own intrinsic nature, Kṛṣṇa’s nature, and the nature which connects them both. The attempt to eliminate adverse circumstances and manifest one’s true nature is called sādhana-bhajana. When it partially appears, it leads to bhāva-bhajana, and when it completely appears, it results in prema-bhajana.

Sādhana-bhajana is merely an attempt in pursuit of understanding aprākṛta-tattva (transcendental principles). There must be a strong inclination towards sādhana to unveil the transcendentally pure state which is almost hidden within the jīvā. If one does not engage in such sādhana, the jīva cannot regain its intrinsic transcendental nature. In this task, some pure endeavour and a certain amount of Kṛṣṇa’s mercy are necessary. This process is difficult to describe in words and difficult to comprehend by a mind which is shackled to ignorance. When a sādhaka who possesses sukṛti, follows the devotional mood and character of a genuine guru, and engages in bhajana by combining a transcendental mood with māyika objects, places, time, forms, thoughts, home, food, clothing, etc., then being devoid of material desires, he surrenders everything to Kṛṣṇa’s feet along with his own sincere petition of self-despair. Then Kṛṣṇa bestows His mercy and stimulates aprākṛta-tattva. By the light of that tattva, the transcendental eyes of the sādhaka gradually open.

The Brahma-saṁhitā states:

advaitam acyutam anādim ananta-rūpam
ādyaṁ purāṇa-puruṣaṁ nava-yauvanaṁ ca
vedeṣu durlabham adurlabham ātma-bhaktau
govindam ādi-puruṣaṁ tam ahaṁ bhajāmi

I worship Govinda, the original Person, who is inaccessible, even to the Vedas, but is attainable by pure bhakti. He is without a second, infallible, without beginning, with unlimited forms, primeval, and the most ancient personality, yet He is always beautiful, possessing fresh youth. (Brahma-saṁhitā 5.33)

santaḥ sadaiva hṛdayeṣu vilokayanti
yaṁ śyāmasundaram acintya-guṇa-svarūpaṁ
govindam ādi-puruṣaṁ tam ahaṁ bhajāmi

I worship Govinda, the original Person, whom the sādhus, whose eyes are tinged by the salve of prema, behold in their hearts as Śyāmasundara Kṛṣṇa, possessing inconceivable qualities. (Brahma-saṁhitā 5.38)

When such a merciful vision is attained, true transcendental bhajana takes place, and progress becomes easy. Endeavours that are antagonistic to bhakti, the thirst for mundane things, apathy, laziness and bad association are great obstacles in one’s attempts to achieve transcendence. The main point here is that transcendence is not achieved through material endeavours. If there is firm conviction in Kṛṣṇa, then even amongst mundane places, time and objects, this firm conviction in Kṛṣṇa can occur. By taking shelter of this, the primary stage of bhajana occurs. However, at that initial stage of bhajana, one who does not have the will to accept firm conviction in Kṛṣṇa which arises due to the mercy of a sādhu-guru, has no other alternative. For this reason, one should specifically endeavour to accept a genuine guru to receive full benefit. By accepting a false guru, one’s sādhana simply becomes unsuccessful and mundane. In the Bhāgavata, Śrī Śukadeva has strongly instructed:

te vai vidanty atitaranti ca deva-māyāṁ
strī-śūdra-hūṇa-śabarā api pāpa-jīvāḥ
yady adbhuta-krama-parāyaṇa-śīla-śikṣās
tiryag-janā api kim u śruta-dhāraṇā ye

If they are taught about the conduct of those who worship the Lord whose movements are remarkable, then women, śūdras, Hūṇas, Śabaras, impious jīvas, and even animals, can certainly understand and transcend the divine māyā. What to speak of those have accepted what they have heard of Him? (Śrīmad Bhāgavatam 2.2.7)

Those who neglect pure sādhana-bhajana, the guru, and association with sādhus do not achieve the results of their bhajana. When the heart becomes hard and is filled with deceitfulness, it does not contact aprākṛta-bhāva (ecstatic transcendental feelings). Śrī Śuka states:

tad aśma-sāraṁ hṛdayaṁ batedaṁ
yad gṛhyamāṇair hari-nāma-dheyaiḥ
na vikriyetātha yadā vikāro
netre jalaṁ gātra-ruheṣu harṣaḥ

One’s heart is certainly made of stone when in spite of chanting hari-nāma with concentration, there is no transformation – no tears come to the eyes and the hair of one’s body does not stand on end. (Śrīmad Bhāgavatam 2.3.24)

Now, in regards to the practices of mahātmās who are inclined towards renunciation, both the teachings of the ācāryas, and the teachings of śāstra have been documented:

śuni tuṣṭa hañā prabhu kahite lāgila
bhāla kaila vairāgīra dharma ācarila
vairāgī karibe sadā nāma-saṅkīrtana
māgiyā khāñā kare jīvana rakṣaṇa
vairāgī hañā yebā kare parāpekṣā
kārya-siddhi nahe, kṛṣṇa karena upekṣā
vairāgī hañā kare jihvāra lālasa
paramārtha yāya, āra haya rasera vasa
vairāgīra kṛtya sadā nāma-saṅkīrtana
śāka-patra-phala-mūle udara-bharaṇa
jihvāra lālase yei iti-uti dhāya
śiśnodara-parāyaṇa kṛṣṇa nāhi pāya

Hearing this and being satisfied, the Lord began to speak – He has done well. He has performed the dharma of a renunciate. A renunciate should always engage in nāma-saṅkīrtana and by begging food, he sustains his life. One who is a renunciate cannot depend upon others – he will be unsuccessful and Kṛṣṇa will neglect him. If the tongue of a renunciate becomes greedy, then he loses the supreme goal of life and becomes subservient to his tastebuds. It is the duty of a renunciate to perform nāma-saṅkīrtana and he should fill his belly with vegetables, leaves, fruits and roots. One who goes here and there as a slave of the tongue, devoted to the genitals and the belly, can never attain Kṛṣṇa. (Caitanya-caritāmṛta, Antya-līlā 6.222 – 227)

grāmya-kathā nā śunibe grāmya-vārtā nā kahibe
bhāla nā khāibe āra bhāla nā paribe
amānī mānada hañā kṛṣṇa-nāma sadā la’be
vraje rādhā-kṛṣṇa-sevā mānase karibe

Do not listen to common talk and do not speak such words. Do not eat luxuriously nor dress nicely. Do not expect any honour, but offer all respect to others. Always chant kṛṣṇa-nāma, and within your mind render service to Rādhā-Krṣṇa in Vṛndāvana. (Caitanya-caritāmṛta, Antya-līlā 6.236-237)

In regards to statements from the śāstra, the Bhāgavata says:

prāṇa-vṛttyaiva santuṣyen munir naivendriya-priyaiḥ
jñānaṁ yathā na naśyeta nāvakīryeta vāṅ-manaḥ

A muni should be satisfied simply with that which maintains his life and should certainly not gratify the senses. In this way, his knowledge is not ruined and his speech and mind are not agitated. (Śrīmad Bhāgavatam 11.7.39)

In the Śrī Caitanya-candrodaya Nāṭaka, Śrī Mahāprabhu states:

niṣkiñcanaṣya bhagavad-bhajanonmukhasya
pāraṁ paraṁ jigamiṣor bhava-sāgarasya
sandarśanaṁ viṣayiṇām atha yoṣitāṁ ca
hā hanta hanta viṣa-bhakṣaṇato’py asādhu

O Alas! Alas! For one who has renounced mundane things and has turned to bhagavad-bhajana, desiring to cross the ocean of material existence, associating with materialists and women is worse than drinking poison. (Caitanya Candrodaya Nāṭaka 8.23)

śiṣyānaivanubadhīyāt granthān naivābhyased bahūn
na vyākhyām upayuñjīta nārambhān ārabhet kvacit

One should not seek to make disciples, study books, engage in giving many discourses, nor attempt big projects at any time. (Śrīmad Bhāgavatam 7.13.8)*

alabdhe vā vinaṣṭe vā bhakṣācchadana-sādhane
aviklava-matir bhūtvā harim eva dhiyā smaret

In the attainment of food and clothing, if they are not obtained or they are lost, the mind should remain steady and one should employ the intelligence only in remembering Hari. (Bhakti-rasāmṛta-sindhu 1.2.114)

śokamarṣādibhir bhāvair ākrāntaṁ yasya mānasam
kathaṁ tasya mukundasya sphurti-sambhāvanā bhavet

How can one whose mind is occupied by a mood of lamentation, anger etc. ever become qualified to directly see Mukunda? (Padma Purāṇa)

yāvatā syāt sva-nirvāhaḥ svī-kuryāt tāvad artha-vit
ādhikye nyūnatāyāṁ ca cyavate paramārthataḥ

(One who is aware of the goal of life should only accept as much as necessary to maintain himself. If he accepts more or less than that, he will deviate from the supreme objective. (Padma Purāṇa)

The essence of this is that after accepting the symbols of renunciation such as the kaupīna, one should reside in a forest, in a temple of devotees, or at a holy place. Give up the association of worldly people, and maintain your body by accepting whatever Kṛṣṇa sends every day. It is necessary to be content with minimal accumulation and satisfied with whatever is gained, and to engage in kṛṣṇa-kīrtana day and night without having any other type of association. When death comes, it is improper to worry about what will happen to one’s body.



(1) The Daśa-nāmī sannyāsīs are followers of Śaṅkarācārya. Daśa-nāma (‘ten names’) refers to the sannyāsa titles that are prevalent amongst them – Tīrtha, Āśrama, Purī, Vana, Araṇya, Sāgara, Giri, Parvata, Bharatī, and Sarasvatī.
The Kāṇphaṭa yogīs are sādhus that are found in North India who follow the sage, Gorakṣanatha, whom they revere as an avatāra of Śiva. They wear large earrings which cannot be removed, and in order to wear these, they must cut through their ears – hence their name Kānphaṭa (kān beaing the Hindi word for ‘ear’ and phaṭnā, ‘to tear’).
Gorakṣanāthīs are the general followers of Gorakṣanātha, a guru who was born in Maharashtra during the 11th Century.

(2) Prabhu-santāna are the seminal descendants of Śrī Advaita Ācārya and Śrī Nityānanda Prabhu.

(3) Nitya refers to daily observances, naimittika to occasional activities, and kāmya to those actions (such as rituals, homas etc) that are performed for some particular material gain.

(4) Bhaktivinoda Thakura is saying here that for a devotee, nirvāṇa or brahma-sāyujya is in regards to their liberation from matter.

(5) Vastu-siddhi is the full attainment of one’s spiritual nature.

(‘Vairāgya (renunciation)’ by Śrīla Bhaktivinoda Ṭhākura was published in Sajjana Toṣaṇī Vol.24, issues 1-2 in 1920 and translated into English by Swami B.V. Giri)
JnanaJñāna (Knowledge)
Vairāgya (Renunciation)A Critique of the Book: A Virtuous Treasury of Proper Conduct (Samālocana: Guṇa-nidhi Sadācara)

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