Renunciation and Non-Attachment

This week I had the privilege of watching over 250 sannyasins (renunciates) being formally initiated into bramacharya or sannyasa ashrama – renouncing everything in service of the world and God.  There were preparations during the week – a renunciation ceremony at the beach which culminated with the sannyasins walking into the sea and offering everything to the ocean.  The official ceremony on Friday started early in the morning with chanting the 1000 names of the Divine Mother and a Ganapathy Homa – a fire ceremony to remove obstacles.  The sannyasins received their new robes of orange or yellow, the colour being symbolic of the fire of renunciation.

“Sannyas is a state of total renunciation where one overcomes even the mind and its thoughts. One doesn’t reach this state just by wearing robes. Each moment should become filled with alertness, love and faith as we strive to reach that goal. We need to develop awareness in each and every word, look, thought and action.” Amma

As we see the world going a bit crazy this month – people having to self-isolate and give up freedom to move around that they have previously enjoyed, people being limited in what they can buy – I thought it would be a good time to think about non-attachment, also called aparigraha in the 8-limbs of yoga.

Complete renunciation takes a lot of courage, to release attachment to everything and everyone, to live with nothing but the grace of God.  Over the last few years I have scaled down my belongings considerably but it is difficult to do and there are things that I can’t bring myself to get rid of.  I don’t travel lightly – I make sure absolutely sure I utilise every gram of my luggage allowance (usually with stuff i don’t actually need)!  Here in the ashram I am now very attached to my comfy pillow, and also I cannot live without the ceiling fan on at the moment – I don’t think I could ever be a renunciate!!

The stuff we accumulate and become attached to.  I speak to people with grown up children who have a loft or garage full of things from their offspring’s childhood – just in case the children want them in the future.  I know people with lofts full of their own belongings that they are keeping ‘just in case’.  Often, when people move it is an opportunity to de-clutter, but it then, somehow, more stuff starts to fill the space!!  Some people just move everything without even a consideration as to whether they need it or not.  I’m not encouraging a throw-away society, there is too much of that already – but I think we need to be more thoughtful in what we buy, thinking about whether we really need it or not.

Non-attachment isn’t just about renouncing material belongings either.  We attach to our thoughts, our stories, our labels and identities as well.  When we have a perceived injustice how many times do we recount the story to anyone who will listen (and those who don’t want to listen!!).  How many times do we make excuses for not doing something because of a label or identity that we hold on to? – for instance “I’m not good enough” or “I could never do that”.

Right now the world is changing dramatically, at an astonishing pace.  We’ve never experienced this situation before and we need to be flexible and adaptable.  We need to ensure we don’t cling to outdated beliefs, that we don’t attach so ferociously to material possessions (maybe give up a toilet roll or two!).  Maybe it’s a good time to have a spring clean  –  particularly if you are stuck at home.  When you can socialise again there may be people who would really welcome some of the things you don’t need anymore.  And not just spring cleaning your mind as well, witness your thoughts and actions and see what ideas and beliefs you are clinging on to, and carrying around like excess baggage.

Live more lightly.

Om Shanti


All photos by MAM Amritapuri: