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Renunciation: The Finer Points of Detachment Part 2



Q: Householder sadhaks typically face a very difficult situation when their family members are not devotees. Due to opposing interests, the sadhak becomes distressed and is unable to do bhajan peacefully. The family members are unable to understand his yearning for spiritual advancement and Bhakti. On one hand, their harsh words and unfavourable behaviour make him feel unsupported and attacked, and on the other hand, he worries that his family members are committing Aparadhas by creating obstacles in his bhajan. But he is unable to make his family members understand why he is doing bhajan and wants to become detached from worldly relationships and pleasures. What should such a sadhak do?


A: The situation is indeed difficult but one who truly wants to attain Krishna Bhakti in this very lifetime will not be concerned about any worldly issues. He understands that by the will of Krishna and according to the results of his previous actions, such obstacles come to deter him from his bhajan. He tolerates every hurdle and tries to chant Harinaam along with the contemplation of Radha Krishna diligently. He prays to Krishna to save him from all obstacles in bhajan. Then, Krishna showers His mercy and helps the sadhak to overcome such obstacles in bhajan.


The great devotee Tukaram Ji was a householder and a Vaishya (see Varnashram Dharma) by birth. Although he was uninterested in worldly issues, to perform his duty towards his family members, he did some small business or agricultural work during the season. He was very simple-hearted and had great compassion for those in distress. But his wife was very quarrelsome.


Tukaram Ji owned a small grocery shop. If people told him that they were in great poverty but needed some rations immediately and promised to pay him later when they had more money, Tukaram Ji would give them rations out of compassion without a worry about any guarantee of payment. Gradually, everyone became certain that Tukaram Ji would never ask for the overdue payment and even if he did, he would never press for it through any means. In this way, Tukaram Ji’s business went downhill and he could hardly earn any money through the grocery shop. His wife was very angry at him. She screamed and shouted many harsh words at him. “You don’t even know how to do a business! If you knew nothing about how to maintain a family, then why did you marry me at all? It is your duty to earn money for your family. If you cannot earn money, why did you become a householder?” she said angrily to him. Tukaram Ji never uttered a reply to her harsh words. He would calmly tolerate it as the will of Krishna.


Sometime later, his wife asked for some money from her father who was a good businessman. Then Tukaram Ji set up a small stall to sell a dish (a street food called Ghugni) made of chickpeas and potatoes with that money. Seeing this, the small children of the village would surround his stall and look hungrily at the hot Ghugni. But the children typically didn’t have any money. After some time, Tukaram Ji was overcome by great compassion and started giving away Ghugni to the children without asking for any payment. At the end of the day, he came back with an empty basket without earning a single paisa. Such was his disinterest in worldly relationships. Anyone living in such poverty would be incessantly worried about food and clothing for himself and his family members. But Tukaram Ji was at peace with his situation because he saw everything as the will of Krishna.


His wife was very disappointed and angry with him. One day, Tukaram Ji brought a single sugarcane stick home. (In India, sugarcane sticks are peeled and chewed to suck its juice. The fibres are discarded after chewing.) At that time, his wife was very angry and quarrelled with him about their financial situation. In the heat of the moment, she took the sugarcane stick and gave Tukaram Ji a hard blow on his back. As a result, the sugarcane stick broke into two.


On hearing the shouting and the noises, their neighbours came running to their house. But Tukaram Ji started laughing and told them to calm down. Then he explained the situation in a joking manner. He said, “There is nothing to be worried about. Actually, I brought home a single sugarcane stick. But my wife is very loving by nature. She couldn’t bear to eat it alone and so, she broke the stick in two on my back.” Such was his tolerance and calm nature.


At one time, he became very disinterested in worldly matters. He thought he was unable to do his duties towards his family members due to his compassionate and giving nature, and his wife would quarrel with him all day which became an obstacle in his bhajan. Hence, he left the house, went to a nearby forest and started chanting Harinaam in solitude. His wife was very worried. She thought, ‘This is a big calamity for me. When my husband was at home, at least there was some respect as a married woman in society. But now, everyone would say that I quarrel all day and have caused my husband to leave the house. Everyone will slander me.’ So, she searched for her husband everywhere and eventually, found him sitting deep in the forest.


She apologized to him and promised him that she wouldn’t quarrel with him anymore and would do everything according to him. Tukaram Ji, as the simple-hearted person he was, agreed to go back home with her. On returning home, Tukaram Ji said to his wife, “Listen, this world is temporary. We have been given human bodies to engage in the devotion of God. What is the need to accumulate so many material things in the house? Let’s give away what is not absolutely required for survival to the needy.” His wife was afraid that if she said no, he would again leave the house. So, she decided to say yes to everything he said for the time being to calm him down.


Tukaram Ji called many poor people to his home and started giving away everything from vessels and pots which came as dowry with his wife to precious clothes that his wife would wear on special occasions. At last, when he gave away her most expensive and favourite saree, she couldn’t bear it anymore and started quarrelling with him as before. Such is the life of a devotee. Their way of thinking is totally different from that of materialistic people, and hence, it is very difficult to live with materialistic people in the same house. But they accept it as the will of Krishna and tolerate it. They don’t blame the materialistic people but regard the situation as a result of their previous actions and diligently do bhajan in every situation. Then Radha Krishna mercifully make things favourable for his bhajan.


Q: But what should be the sadhak’s attitude towards his unfavourable family members? Since he lives with them and his daily life is associated with them, would he not pray for their spiritual welfare and understanding of the Bhakti path?


A: There is nothing wrong in praying for them. But more importantly, he understands that he belongs to Radha Krishna, and he has nothing to do with the family members. The Jivatma has taken birth alone and would die alone too. He had no relationship with his family members before birth, nor will the relationships exist after death. These temporary relationships will cease to exist even if he tries to maintain them. Therefore, the sadhak must not be attached to worldly relationships. He needs to dedicate all his attachments to Radha Krishna. When his mind is fixated on Radha Krishna, worldly issues will not bother him.


“Ananya-chetā satata yo mā smarati nityaśha,
Tasyāha sulabha pārtha nitya-yuktasya yogina.

Mām upetya punar janma dukhālayam aśhāśhvatam,
Nāpnuvanti mahātmāna sansiddhi paramā gatā.”

(Bhagavat Geeta 8.14-15)


Meaning: O Parth, for those yogis who always think of Me with exclusive devotion, I am easily attainable because of their constant absorption in Me. Having attained Me, the great souls are no more subject to rebirth in this world, which is transient and full of misery, because they have attained the highest perfection.


When a devotee encounters a severe storm and hail, he naturally recalls Krishna at that moment and prays to Him to let him safely go to his destination. Similarly, when a devotee is unable to detach himself from worldly matters, he must pray to Krishna, “O Prabhu, please save me from Maya. I am wildly entangled in the web of Maya. Please shower your mercy and shelter me at your lotus feet. My mind should never abandon your lotus feet for even a single moment. Please bestow such causeless mercy upon me.” This is how a sadhak should persevere in his Bhakti path cutting through all obstacles.


It is not possible in any sadhak’s life (except those who come directly from Goloka) that the mind easily abandons all materialistic desires and inclinations and gets immersed in the contemplation of Radha Krishna without any obstacle. It is impossible that no fault, disease, distress or calamity should ever come to a sadhak.. There is no sadhak life where one can easily get rid of the clutches of Maya and achieve the perfection of spirituality or reach Krishna’s abode from where he shall never return to this material world ever again. If a sadhak thinks that he will go to a place of solitude (like a forest or cave) and do bhajan without any obstacles that his family members create in his bhajan, he is deluded. Even in the forest or cave, Maya will not let him do bhajan peacefully. Maya does not let a sadhak go easily.


It makes no difference whether a sadhak lives in the forest or his house until his mind is free from the six enemies living in his mind, namely, desire, anger, greed, ego, attachment and jealousy. These enemies which dwell inside his heart are the real enemies of the sadhak. The brick house or the family members are not his enemies. Hence, the sadhak must not think that by leaving Grihastha and going to the solitude of a forest or cave, he can be freed from all obstacles. He must develop true detachment in his heart and when he is so immersed in the contemplation of Radha Krishna that he is unable to perform his duties towards his family members, he can renounce Grihastha. This is my realization from forty years of renunciate life in Vraja Dham.


Q: Do the family members have to face the consequences of their misbehaviour with the sadhak? On one hand, it is said that Krishna does not tolerate Aparadhas towards a devotee and on the other hand, it is also said that the family members and ancestors of a devotee are automatically freed from all sins, and they achieve spiritual welfare due to the devotee. So, does Krishna pardon them due to their ignorance?


A: The suffering caused by the family members of a sadhak is the result of his own previous actions through many lifetimes. A person or situation is not the cause of one’s suffering. Each and every action of the Jivatma results in a mathematically equal reaction in his life.


“Na koi kahu ko sukh dukh data, nija krita karma fal bhog sab bhrata.”

(Ramcharit Manas)


Meaning: Brother, no one is the cause of one’s happiness or suffering. The results of one’s own actions cause him happiness or suffering.


In some previous life, you caused suffering to someone. That is why you experience suffering in the present. Whether you are in the householder life or forest, you have to accept the results of your previous actions. If you didn’t cause suffering to anyone, then nobody can cause suffering to you. This is the truth. Many a time it is seen that we have to put up with family members although we don’t like them. Even if we try hard, we cannot get rid of their association. This is because we have accounts (of happiness or suffering) to settle with them due to some actions in previous lifetimes.


Yasmān nodvijate loko lokān nodvijate cha ya,
hāmarha-bhayodvegair mukto ya sa cha me priya.”

(Bhagavat Geeta 12.15)


Meaning: Those who are not a source of annoyance to anyone and who in turn are not agitated by anyone, who are equal in pleasure and pain, and free from fear and anxiety, such devotees of Mine are very dear to Me.


One can say that it is understandable that a sadhak should not hurt anyone in any way. But how is it possible that when someone hurts him physically or verbally, he does not get agitated? When someone tortures the sadhak without any reason and the sadhak cannot escape it through any means, he must understand that it is the result of his own actions. In this way, he must tolerate it.


In Srimad Bhagavatam (23rd chapter of 11th canto), Krishna describes the Bhikshuk Geet (also known as The song of Avanti Brahmin) to his dear devotee Uddhava. There was a Brahmin in the kingdom of Avanti. He had accumulated a lot of wealth through his hard work. He was very miserly and neither spend the money for his own enjoyment nor gave anything to others. As he became old, his family members and relatives started eyeing his accumulated wealth. Gradually, they snatched away some of his wealth through various means. The rest was taken by thieves, common people and government officials. In this way, abandoned by family members and bereft of all his hard-earned money, he became helpless and went on to become a Sannyasi. But even after becoming a Sannyasi, his days of misery were not over. Sometimes, small children would steal his clothes or the only water pot he had. They would even spit on him or pull his hair to annoy him. He was continuously tortured in many ways. The Brahmin then wondered, ‘What is the cause of such suffering? Is it time, Maya, Prarabdha, the attachment to worldly pleasures or something else?’ At last, he concludes that the mind is the cause of all suffering.


The sadhak needs to control the mind. For this, he must understand that whatever happiness or suffering he experiences, they are all the result of his own previous actions. The person through whom you receive happiness or suffering is not the source but only an instrument through whom the Prarabdha manifests in your life. As a result, the sadhak does not get angry with the person and tolerates it. Furthermore, he apologizes and prays to God, “O Lord, please shower such mercy on me so that I do not ever cause suffering to anyone’s heart.”


When the sadhak faces such situations with his family members where they are completely against his spiritual life, he must try to calmly explain the goal of his life (attaining pure Bhakti) and way of thinking to them. But if they don’t understand it, he must not try to convince them through anger, force or aggression. One cannot force another person to improve or change their way of thinking by force or physical/verbal aggression. The sadhak must simply focus on his own improvement and spiritual path. Krishna instructs His devotees to contemplate on Him while He worries about how to care for His devotees. The sadhak should not compromise his bhajan in order to worry about his family members’ spiritual welfare.


The sadhak never prays to God to punish the person who has caused him suffering. Unlike worldly people who easily react to others’ actions, the sadhak relies only on God and becomes indifferent to happiness or suffering caused by other people. [The sadhak should rely completely on his Lord. When he accepts everything that is happening as the will of his Lord and has firm faith that his Lord will arrange for whatever is required for his survival or progress in bhajan, God Himself takes care of everything. This does not mean that no obstacle shall ever come to him. When a small child completely relies on his mother, she has to forsake all other works and look after her child at every moment. Similarly, God has to take responsibility of His devotees who completely rely on Him.] Tolerance is a very important quality of a sadhak. Without tolerance, a sadhak can never progress through his Bhakti path.


Once, a washerman (a person who earns a living by washing clothes) was washing clothes by the river. He had spread the washed and cleaned clothes on the stone pavement by the banks of the river. A sadhu was walking on the same stone pavement while contemplating his Lord and he accidentally stepped on one of the cleaned clothes. The washerman was very cruel in nature. He was enraged to see the dirty spot on the washed cloth and started shouting offensive words and beating the sadhu. The sadhu tolerated it and chanted, “Narayan! Narayan! Narayan!” In Kshirasagar, Lord Narayan suddenly stood up. Goddess Lakshmi, who was serving His lotus feet, asked why He stood up so suddenly. He replied that His devotee was in trouble and He had to go to rescue him. He disappeared but came back after a few seconds. Goddess Lakshmi asked Him why He came back so quickly. Lord Narayan started laughing and said, “My dear, I thought my devotee was in trouble so I went to rescue him. But on reaching there, I saw that there were only two washermen fighting. There were no devotees.”


Actually, the sadhu tried to tolerate the beating for some time but then his patience gave way. He became angry and started beating the washerman back. Lord Narayan means to say that if His devotee acts in the same manner as the materialistic washerman, what is the difference between the washerman and him? Therefore, He described it as a fight between two washermen. A devotee is not just a person with a certain kind of clothes or accessories (tilak, kanthi, japamala, etc). A devotee must have certain qualities.


Titikava kāruikā suhda sarva-dehinām,

Ajāta-śatrava śāntā sādhava sādhu-bhūaā.”

(Srimad Bhagavatam 3.25.21)


Meaning: The symptoms of a sādhu are that he is tolerant, merciful and friendly to all living entities. He has no enemies, he is peaceful, he abides by the scriptures, and all his characteristics are sublime.


These qualities define a devotee. It is only natural that materialistic people will act according to the three modes of material nature. They might not be tolerant or merciful. They might even be cruel and hostile. But a devotee should not act like them. He must rely on God and act in a way that pleases God. The sadhak always prays to God that no one, not even those who hurt him, should face dire consequences of their actions. In this way, his hostile family members do not have to face severe consequences for their actions. They may also change their way of thinking by the mercy of God due to the prayers of the devotee.


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