A Modern Twist on Classical Renunciation
Religion 242: Hindu Thought and Culture
May 5, 2014
Hinduism is a vast and very complex religion to comprehend and consists of various different branches of philosophies. Although it is considered that Hinduism does not necessarily have one text that provides the guidelines for the contemporary Hindu devotee, like the Bible does for Christians, but there are a few scriptures that help identify the ultimate goal for the followers of Hinduism. The Upanishads try to exemplify the message of obtaining the righteous path as much as possible with rooting its context to the most ancient Hindu text, the Vedas. Tying both of these scriptures together the main purpose of a practicing Hindu is laid out; which is being able to obtain moksha, or liberation, from samsara, which is the endless cycle of birth and rebirth (Knott 1998: 23). The Upanishads state that the way to achieve this liberation is through renunciation, which in turn leads to living a spiritual life. During the time period in which the Upanishads were allegedly written, the requirements of renunciation described in the Upanishads were both acceptable and reputable in ancient Indian society. However, as time evolved and there was an increased social change in society, there were many challenges in following the Upanishads’ ideologies. In Meena Khadelwal’s book Women in Ochre Robes, we can see that women are being introduced into the whole concept of renunciation and because of the clashes with some of the principal theories of renunciation, which are based off the ancient text of the Upanishads and Vedas, women have tweaked certain aspects derived from the classical methods to help fit their gender role but at the same time legitimizing all the altered practices.
The Upanishads are divided into four parts which provide spiritual guidance, but the one that focuses on renunciation is the Mundaka Upanishad. The first and foremost thing that the Mundaka Upanishad highlights in achieving moksha is obtaining higher knowledge. Higher knowledge consists of learning the meaning of Brahman and understanding it rather than performing rituals (Mundaka Upanishad, 1.1.5, Olivelle 1998). Brahman is ultimate reality, the cosmic principle that everything is made of. The goal is to release the atma, the inner soul, and ultimately connect it with Brahman (Khandelwal 2004: 24). But in order to obtain this knowledge and comprehend it, one must go through the phase of renouncing first. Renouncing helps create the state of mind for the devotee to gain deeper knowledge and understand Brahman. However, in order to renounce, one must be willing to give up everything. The renouncer must develop vairagya to the world, which means one must become detached from the material goods and even their own body (Khandelwal 2004: 26). People following this path of renunciation, also known as sannyasa, live a very ascetic life, and rid of all desires outside their...