Karma Sannyasa Yoga- Renunciation Through Responsible Action

By the age of twenty and after an indulgent youth, having had my fill I decided to renounce the material world. For me at the time it meant dropping out of every social and familial responsibility I had. Having come to the conclusion that material life equates to suffering and that to participate in it was to be given to a grand and fruitless illusion, I packed up and left home to join a temple.

Within weeks I was a shaven headed monk, dressed in saffron robes and carrying the Krishna clay marking on my forehead. Looking at myself in the mirror, I thought I was now the renounced person that I wanted to be, or was I?

What followed then was years of internal struggle as I was confronted with the desires for all the things I had left. Starving my natural interests seemed to heighten my appetite to have them. Then to be humble, selfless, devoid of envy, avarice and aspirations for prestige didn’t seem to be easily achievable. I wanted to be those things, but my nature was different and to change it wasn’t working as routinely as I had thought it would.

I left a steady job, a family and a lifestyle which to my mind had all been materialistic. Overnight I was then in the renounced order of life, living with nothing and chanting on Oxford Street. No doubt it has to be said that there were spiritual highs and that kept me going, but to experience those highs my life was based upon a very rigorous and almost militant regime that may well all have been quite unnatural.

Looking back at my endeavour to renounce the world, I doubt I would recommend the same path to others today. The fairytale idea of running away to renounce the world and the reality of becoming a renounced person are clearly two different things. When the soldier Arjuna wanted to abandon his responsibility of fighting, an engagement that would have struck very high marks on my past barometer of what was materialism, Krishna, the master of all mystics and speaker of the Bhagavad Gita warned him not to be so foolish.

In the fifth chapter of the Gita leaving one’s occupational and social responsibilities is called karma sannyasa and although Krishna does give validity to such renunciation, He insists that it’s best not to do that. Krishna’s recommendation was rather to embrace our responsibilities head on while cultivating step by step an inner air of detachment. This type of renunciation is referred to as karma yoga or renunciation through sustained occupational and social responsibility.

Karma yoga is about working and being a responsible contributor to the society that we live in. What makes it yoga is the application of transcendental knowledge and spirit of inner detachment. To be irresponsible is never recommended what to speak of running away from responsibilities as though they were the plague.

The application of knowledge at work means to understand that we are ultimately eternal spiritual souls encased in temporary material bodies with an ego or false identity which has evolved through lifetimes. Our identification with the material person is very strong and therefore we have deep selfish proclivities and apparent needs that drive us on in material endeavours. These material proclivities have regretfully become our present addictions and managing them to the point of nullification requires time, regulation and redirection. When our work becomes a selfless action, dedicated to the Supreme Origin of all manifestations and performed for the welfare of others it becomes yoga or redirected, connecting us with the spiritual plane. To remain in this mode of life then requires that we refine the qualities within ourselves which are unfavourable to our purpose.

Through time and commitment karma yoga lifts us to the plane of material indifference, where we are neither ensnared nor repulsed by material allurements, a position of equanimity, freedom and peace. In this journey we find that by embracing responsibility, accompanied by knowledge and detachment our hearts become purified and we gradually attain a sustainable state of renunciation, which is neither immature, artificial or unnatural. With this yoga comes deep knowledge of the self and the Supersoul.

So if you are unhappy and thinking to run away from yourself, your job and your home there is a way to do it by which you won’t incur the travel expense and it’s all explained in the Bhagavad Gita.

Perhaps my mother may have been far more impressed by me if I had understood this thirty years ago.


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