RENUNCIATION means the giving up of the style of living dominated by worldly ambition and craving and discarding the love of possessions for the sake of achieving the ultimate goal of religious life. The theistic traditions hold that when one is united with God, all else loses its significance. In this sense, God realization can be viewed as the culmination of renunciation. A devotee of God is supposed to withdraw from the world to practise piety in loneliness, and to resort to self denial, so that he can see and know and be one with God.
In Bhakti, religious practice demands complete and wholehearted love for God on the one hand and on the other a complete surrender before God and self abnegation.Renunciation is thus another name for complete self surrender and self abnegation. In the non-theistic religious traditions, like Sankhya, Jain ism and Buddhism, renunciation is practised with a view to eradicating ignorance and suffering and achieving ultimate release from the process of repeated becoming. In Buddhism, renunciation is essential to realization.
The Gurus in Sikhism were householders. They led married lives and participated in society and its concerns. The classical philosophical conception of renunciation was, however, tacitly accepted by them. Guru Nanak for many years undertook extensive travels and lived a virtually ascetic life.Nevertheless, he finally settled as a householder and took to farming, an occupation which the ascetics and monks are not allowed to pursue. This shows that Guru Nanak did not believe in renouncing household and was definitely opposed to mendicancy.
The poetry of Guru Tegh Bahadur also bears a strong note of renunciation of evil and worldliness but not of the world. The Gurus in Sikhism stress the inner aspect of renunciation. According to Guru Nanak “he is a re-nouncer who is without desireas nirdsi tau sannidsi” (GG, 356). Guru Arjan sang thus: “First of all, I renounced self love; then I renounced the ways of the people; and finally I renounced the triple strand (triguna) and treated the wicked and friends alike (GG, 370).
The dominant note of the Guru`s teaching is loving devotion to God and all aspects of renunciation and ascetic spirituality are understood and appreciated only insofar as they are saturated with bhakti. The love of God is considered an aspect of renunciation; a devotee is a re-nouncer even while living in his house. “He is a saint (sddhu) and a re-nouncer (bairdgi) who cherishes God`s name in his heartso sddhu bairdgi sol hirdai ndmu vasde” (GG, 29). Mere external forms and symbols of ascetic renunciation are discountenanced, and genuine renunciation of worldliness is eulogized by all the Gurus.
He alone is a sannydsi who serves the Guru and eradicates egoity; he does not ask for food and clothing, but accepts whatever he obtains without asking.He does not indulge in vain chatter and talk; he accumulates the wealth of forgiveness and burns his passion (tamas) through (God`s) name. Such a householder, a re-nouncer, or an ascetic is indeed praiseworthy whose heart rests at the feet of God. A re-nouncer is without desire in the midst of desires, being in harmony with the One alone (GG, 1013).
The Gurus in their hymns refer to several fake instances of renunciation. They had come across many who had neither shed their passions nor egoity. To give up all passions, to annihilate one`s self love, and to conquer completely one`s mind, constitute the heart of renunciation.The gist of Sikh philosophy of renunciation is contained, in a hymn, by Guru Gobind Singh in the Dasam Granth. It begins with the line, “re man aiso kari sannidsd. ” Herein one is advised to regard one`s home itself as a forest and to keep one`s mind free from desires.
Other elements of the ascetic culture mentioned in this poetic piece are continence (jata), meditation (joga), restraint (nema), abstemiousness in food and sleep, mercy, forgiveness, love, moral conduct (silo), contentment, freedom from lust, anger, egoity, avarice, and attachment (moh). The gurmukh (the Godf earing devotee) is the ideal of Sikh devotionalism.
In the Siddha Gosti, Guru Nanak, discoursing with the yogis practising extreme renunciation, compares the ideal of renunciation with the life of the lotus flower which though in the water yet remains above it and apart from it, and like duck on the stream which despite its watery sojourn keeps its feathers unwet. The concept of renunciation adumbrated in the hymns of the Gurus and in the history of the Sikhs is life affirming and has been the source of mighty developments in the history of India.
1. Sabadarth Sri Guru Granth Sahib. Amritsar, 1969
2. Jodh Singh, Bhai, Gurmat Niranay. Lahore, 1932
3. Caveeshar, Sardul Singh, Sikh Dharam Darshan. Patiala, 1969
4. Sher Singh, The Philosophy of Sikhism. Lahore, 1944
5. Wazir Singh, Philosophy of Sikh Religion. Delhi, 1981