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Saturday, December 14, 2013

Spiritual Self-Mutilation

by a Friend of Truth

Spiritual progress is said to go along with renunciation, but what reward can we expect from that? What is renunciation and what are the things we should renounce? What does it mean to “renounce the world”? What is so bad about the “world,” which is, after all, God’s own creation?

In everyday life, we can observe that all success requires renunciation: We have to give up pleasurable things we could enjoy now so that we can get something even more pleasurable later. For example, investing money instead of spending it is a form of renunciation. Some people push this principle to an extreme and never come to enjoy their wealth, simply because they had been reinvesting their profit again and again throughout their entire life.

“Spiritual renunciation” is the logical conclusion drawn from this observation. Instead of looking at what feels good now, we try to widen our horizon and ask what will be good later, when I am no more.  In other words, what will be good for others? What is good from God’s perspective of eternity? In contrast  to a greedy miser, however, we try to get a higher form of happiness, we do not want to get just more money, but a pleasure greater than the one money can give: Instead of reinvesting his first billion into some new enterprise, the successful business man might support a charitable organisation.
So, we have to analyse what types of pleasure there are in our life and then renounce the lower forms for the sake of the higher ones. How do we know what is “higher” and what is “lower”? The objects of higher forms are more and more difficult to measure and to “see” (the measuring container used for milk and money cannot be used for love) but more and more easy to share (if I share my money I’ll have less; if I share love there is no such decline). For humans, economic success gives a higher form of pleasure than physical joy, fame is worth more than money, knowledge is superior to fame and wisdom explains more than knowledge. God/love is the culmination of all, object of "pleasure" and "pleasure" are one, the highest form of bliss.

But just as a miser can waste his life without wasting a single penny, there is also a risk for the spiritual seeker. If one renounces the world out of disgust, it will be hard to develop love for its Creator. Instead of carefully sifting the world and offering the gold nuggets to God, such an aspirant throws everything at God's face - having renounced everything but his own pride, such a spiritual aspirant has fallen prey to the world of shadows he wanted to leave behind.

8 comments:

  1. Right, it is always good to remember that the highest goods of life can easily be shared and reproduced/multiplied.

    Cf. Matthew 14,13

    Jesus Feeds the Five Thousand

    13 When Jesus heard what had happened, he withdrew by boat privately to a
    solitary place. Hearing of this, the crowds followed him on foot from
    the towns.14 When Jesus landed and saw a large crowd, he had compassion on them and healed their sick.15 As evening approached, the disciples came to him and said, “This is a remote place, and it’s already getting late. Send the crowds away, so they can go to the villages and buy themselves some food.”16 Jesus replied, “They do not need to go away. You give them something to eat.”17 “We have here only five loaves of bread and two fish,” they answered. 18 “Bring them here to me,” he said.19 And he directed the people to sit down on the grass. Taking the five loaves and the two fish and looking up to heaven, he gave thanks and broke the loaves. Then he gave them to the disciples, and the disciples gave them to the people. 20 They all ate and were satisfied, and the disciples picked up twelve basketfuls of broken pieces that were left over. 21 The number of those who ate was about five thousand men, besides women and children.

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  2. You raise the question what it means to renounce the world but you do not give a clear answer. From what you say, I understand that renouncing the world means seeking the highest "pleasure" only, which, according to you, is God?

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  3. I also like the idea that Jesus does not want his disciples to send away anyone as long as they are hungry (for God).

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  4. If you "renounce the world", you no longer expect to find perfect, everlasting joy in this world (of money, fame, power, scholarship etc.). These illusory forms of happiness are gradually turned from objectives into means, all worldly goals in life become somewhat like steps in a staircase leading to the top floor where God is waiting for you. When you climb up a staircase you constantly have to "renounce" the step you just reached. This is the "worldly way to God".

    If you want to use the elevator, you reach God faster by renouncing everything all at once. Such people no longer touch money, have no safe sleeping place, are despised by many and know nothing. But beware, one must not use a lift in case of fire! It is impossible to reach up to the top floor if you do not renounce mentally as well, if you become proud of how much you were able to leave behind and if you somehow look for ways to make profit of your renunciation, to turn it into money, recognition etc. In that case you fall down straight away. Why (I'm sure that's the next question you'd ask...)? We can only love and be convinced of what our mind is filled with. If it is filled with money, power, knowledge etc. we automatically start loving these objects. Now, if you gave these objects up (externally), you are left with nothing except a big problem! Thoughts of money (=greed) cannot buy God, craving for power cannot conquer Him and even neuroscience research papers cannot really convince us of His/Her existence. Love alone can make Him real, but a mind filled with these worldly thoughts cannot think of God for more than five minutes (at best)...

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  5. Friend of Truth IIJanuary 14, 2014 at 5:08 AM

    Thanks for your nice explanation, sounds quite familiar... :) However, I've never come across such an elevator aspirant, have you? In case you have, could you tell me where I can find him/her? If you have not, don't you find the fact that many monks/priests etc. who seem to have renounced to wealth, fame, power, knowledge etc. in reality enjoy more safety, power etc. rather depressing? They say they got back everything they renounced, as a gift from God, but I'm not quite sure about that. Sometimes, I wonder if what they preach in the name of religion is not rather a means to make people give them all the money, name and fame they are secretly craving for after all. Nothing but clever self-marketing... Perhaps you yourself are one of them?! Perhaps, you only praise wisdom and God and say they are greater than anything else just because you want the people who have money etc. to make a tribute to you? How can one (and you yourself!) know what your real motives are? What do you think of that? Again, I hope you don't mind me asking critical questions...

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  6. Since Friend of Truth is taking so much time to answer I feel I have to chip in! Why do you impute such bad motives to monks, priests etc.! Why do you care about them more than your own spiritual life! Chaitanya Deva once dressed a donkey in religious garb and then prostrated himself before it! Instead of wasting your time online asking such questions and searching offline for 'elevator aspirants',start reading the Gospel of Sri Ramakrishna (http://www.belurmath.org/gospel/)!

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  7. While fully agreeing with your view that one should focus on one's spiritual life, however, to think that one is not doing so just because he/she raises questions about religious clergy is presumptuous. In fact I sincerely think people should question religious clergy whenever needed. Accepting them as they are without testing them or doing nothing even in the face of any apparent divergence from principles from any such clergyman/clergywoman leads to downfall and degradation of religion (just like what we see in politics these days).

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  8. I have a question for the author: Why is this post titled as "self-mutilation" when all it talks about is "renunciation"? I do not see the connection between those two phrases.

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