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Bhagwan Mahavir’s Renunciation

Renunciation is oft condemned as escapism or neglecting one’s duties. Pujyashri Gurudev opens our eyes to a new perspective on this.

Vardhamanswami had set His sight on just one goal – to completely immerse Himself in His True Nature and attain Omniscience. Having realised the futility of worldly relationships and pursuits, He gave up even the slightest traces of attachment and aversion towards His family and society. He eradicated all feelings of the non-self.

One may ask, ‘Why did Mahavir renounce His home? Was this not neglecting His duties? Was this not escapism?’

Let us consider this from a spiritual perspective. Mahavir did not renounce His home at all, for that can only be done by someone who has accepted the home as his own, in the first place. Mahavir renounced that which never was a home to Him. We find this difficult to understand because our concept of a ‘home’ is that which is built of stone. The phrase ‘renouncing a home’ itself creates a delusion. In reality, Mahavir never renounced His home. What He actually did was renounce the delusion and set off in search of the true home.

We are holding on to a false home and have closed our eyes to that which is our true home! Who, then, is an escapist – we or Mahavir? What is the meaning of escapism? If someone gives up pebbles and stones and sets off in search of diamonds, is he an escapist? Is the search for bliss, escapism? Is the quest for true knowledge, escapism? Is the search for enlightenment, escapism?

Mahavir has not renounced His home. His mental state was impregnable, but in order to be totally immersed in the Soul, He felt the need for complete solitude and adopted a monastic discipline. As a result of His supreme effort, He attained the Ultimate State. In reality, He only left the palace in search of a home – His home, so that He could be eternally steady there.

To run away from one’s duties and responsibilities is considered escapism by the society.

However, the Enlightened Ones question whether we really know our responsibilities. Is conducting business or rearing children the only duty we have? If that is our concept of duty, then the Wise call it delusion – worldly attachment. One’s true responsibility is far greater! It is not only towards society but also towards oneself.

When a greater cause beckons, we temporarily ignore a lesser one. Similarly, when an aspirant is called upon to fulfil a higher responsibility, he gives less importance to the lower. No doubt, he will ensure that none are hurt or inconvenienced. However, he is also aware of his higher calling, his greater responsibility towards the Soul. He thus leaves behind his small portico and soars in the infinite skies; indicative not of escapism, but of fulfilling his real duty – the realisation of his greater responsibility.

An escapist is one who runs away from sorrow, one who tries to escape, dissatisfied with external circumstances. Miserable and frightened, an escapist has given up all hope of becoming successful. But if a house is on fire and someone is running away from that burning house, what will you call this – escapism or wisdom? Nobody would call this person an escapist. Rather, he would be thought of as wise or intelligent! And this is exactly what Mahavir did! He retreated from that which was ablaze. If a sick person goes to a hospital for treatment, we do not call him an escapist. We do not say, “Why are you running away from your home?” We do not call that person an escapist, and yet, we call Mahavir one!!!

The reason being, if we do not consider Mahavir an escapist, then we would be proven escapists; and in that case we would have to make great effort to transform ourselves. Instead, if we call Him an escapist, whatever we do will automatically be termed as correct. Consequently, we will have no anxiety and no need to work hard. Those who did not consider Vardhamana’s renunciation as an act of escapism, honoured Him with the name ‘Mahavir’. They were aware of their own weaknesses and shortcomings, therefore instead of supporting attachment in the name of ‘duty’, with great reverence they addressed the one who had courageously performed the feat of renouncing attachment, ‘Mahavir,’ the Courageous One. They retreated, due to their weaknesses, where Mahavir proceeded with great courage. But because they recognised their shortfalls, they called Vardhamana – Mahavir. They called Him not an escapist but a hero; not a runaway but a dauntless warrior.

Another question may arise – if whatever has to be attained, has to be attained from within, then what is the benefit of renouncing the house and wandering about?

Why did Vardhamanswami give up his palatial home and adopt a monastic discipline? Can spiritual practises not be carried out at home? Was it not possible to do at home, what He did in the forest? No, it is not that the spiritual practise was not possible at home, but the concept of home itself was not possible for Him. We have associated a feeling of ‘my-ness’ with our home. But for Mahavir, there was no feeling of ‘yours’ or ‘mine’. It is the feeling of ‘my-ness’ which deters you from leaving your ‘home’. But if one realises that nothing here is mine, then for that person, which home will he consider his and which one, not his? We have established the attitude of possession with our home. We keep holding on to it and therefore, it appears to us that Mahavir left His home. In reality, on attaining awareness, the walls no longer remained a ‘home’, the feeling of ‘my-ness’ ceased. Primarily, this is what needs to be rightly understood.

Did Mahavir renounce His home or did it cease to exist for Him?

Because of supreme awareness, for Him, nothing remained ‘mine’ or ‘yours’. Looking at it from this perspective, our understanding of Mahavir will change. We will understand that the moment one attains Self-realisation, that is the moment He will proclaim, “Everyone is my own!” or “No one is mine!” It is only these two expressions that will remain. If He speaks in the positive, He will say that all are mine, all living beings are my family. And if He speaks in the negative, He will say that no one is mine, I have no family. I am One, Solitary Soul… and both these expressions are basically the same. When the feeling of ‘my-ness’ dissolves, all become one – either everyone is yours or no one is yours!

Out of ignorance and attachment those who consider the four walls as ‘home’, feel ‘Mahavir left home’, but those for whom the walls have broken down, do not feel the same. Nothing has been given up, nor has anything been accepted! Mahavir did not leave home, as home no longer existed for Him. The moment the attitude of ‘my-ness’ disappears, the ‘home’ disappears… One can also say that Mahavir never left ‘home’. On the contrary, He had set out in search of the real ‘home’ – His home!

Mahavir renounced home, envisioning a larger family and as a result, He let go of His smaller family. How can a person who has experienced the ocean, hold on to just a tiny drop of water? He will hold the drop only so long as he has not experienced the ocean. The moment he has done that, the drop is released. But we do not perceive the ocean! We merely see people who are holding on to the drop and people who have left the drop behind. Mahavir did not leave home. It had become impossible for Him to hold on to it! There is a difference between these two statements. When we say ‘He left His home’, it appears as if there is some animosity, hatred or dislike towards it. But if we say, ‘it had become impossible to hold on to it’, then it appears as if He had acquired a larger home – an infinitely larger one, and in this, the previous home has not slipped away, but has become a part of the larger home.

If we are able to comprehend this reality, renunciation will hold a new meaning.


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