Lord Caitanya on Renunciation

BY: SUN STAFF - 3.5 2021

Sri Caitanya Mahaprabhu


Sri Caitanya's instructions on renunciation and austerities.

The topic of Lord Caitanya Mahaprabhu's instructions on austerities and renunciation is a very deep one. The Caitanya-caritamrta presents this aspect of Krsna Consciousness in great detail, and Srila Prabhupada's lectures and purports distill the fine points of Mahaprabhu's teachings on the subject. Endeavoring to make a serial presentation of this topic is somewhat daunting because the philosophy is so extensive and complex.

On one hand, Lord Caitanya preached that renunciation is not necessary for the devotee engaged in developing Krsna Consciousness. Srila Prabhupada summarized this in Chapter 13 of Teachings of Lord Caitanya:

"It is neither practical nor necessary for one who is already engaged in devotional service to Me and whose mind is fixed on Me to endeavor for the cultivation of knowledge and renunciation." Thus the Lord's conclusion is that devotional service is independent of any other process. The cultivation of knowledge, renunciation or meditation may be a little helpful in the beginning, but they cannot be considered necessary for the discharge of devotional service. In other words, devotional service can be discharged independently of the cultivation of knowledge and renunciation. In this regard, there is also a verse from Skanda Purana in which Parvata Muni told a hunter tribesman: "O hunter, the qualifications which you have just now acquired -- such as nonviolence and others -- are not astonishing, because one who is engaged in devotional service to the Supreme Lord cannot be a source of trouble for anyone under any circumstance."

While Lord Caitanya, like Krsna in the Bhagavad-gita, states that the cultivation of knowledge and renunciation are not the bhakta's goal, elsewhere He advocates it – in fact, He orders a strict program of renunciation. Our four regulative principles are a reflection of these instructions in their most basic form.

While the devotee is discouraged from engaging in the jnani's practices of getting absorbed in knowledge and austerities, there are certain areas of life in which a strict practice of renouncing is necessary for the devotee, such as avoiding meat eating and illicit sex.

The principle of nirbanda krishna sambandhe serves as the standard to help devotees engage in real, rather than false renunciation, by simply giving all things over to the service of the Lord:

Yukta-vairagya is defined in Bhakti-rasamrta sindhu (1.2.255):

anasaktasya visayan yatharham upayunjatah
nirbandhah krsna-sambandhe yuktam vairagyam ucyate

"Things should be accepted for the Lord's service and not for one's personal sense gratification. If one accepts something without attachment and accepts it because it is related to Krsna, one's renunciation is called yukta-vairagya."

Lord Caitanya Himself is the personification of renunciation, as described in Caitanya-caritamrta Adi 2.5:

"Furthermore, Lord Caitanya is also the master of all wealth, strength, fame, beauty, knowledge and renunciation because He is Sri Krsna Himself. He is described as purna, or complete. In the feature of Lord Caitanya, the Lord is an ideal renouncer, just as Sri Rama was an ideal king. Lord Caitanya accepted the order of sannyasa and exemplified exceedingly wonderful principles in His own life. No one can compare to Him in the order of sannyasa. Although in Kali-yuga acceptance of the sannyasa order is generally forbidden, Lord Caitanya accepted it because He is complete in renunciation. Others cannot imitate Him but can only follow in His footsteps as far as possible. Those who are unfit for this order of life are strictly forbidden by the injunctions of the sastras to accept it. Lord Caitanya, however, is complete in renunciation as well as all other opulences. He is therefore the highest principle of the Absolute Truth."

Following in the footsteps of Sri Caitanya, the Ideal Renouncer, our Sampradaya Acaryas have also perfected renunciation in the execution of pure devotional service. One of the very interesting aspects of Lord Caitanya's branch of the Sampradaya is the unique ways in which the most recent Sampradaya Acaryas taught pure renunciation. From Srila Bhaktivinoda Thakur to Srila Bhaktisiddhanta Saraswati Thakur, to Srila A.C. Bhaktivedanta Swami Thakur, each has manifested a unique demonstration of perfection in renunciation -- each quite different from the others, yet all complete and perfect.

In the books and purports presented by Srila Prabhupada, we find many references wherein Mahaprabhu is addressing renunciation of various kinds. For example, He teaches that one of the fundamental requirements for the neophyte devotee in spiritual life is that he renounce the association of non-devotees. Lord Caitanya has essentially said that one can recognize a devotee by the company he keeps – a devotee is one who will be found in the company of other devotees. He instructs that we must give up the association of non-devotees, and this is certainly one of the most basic forms of renunciation.

Of course, there is an important distinction made between the types of renunciation that involve, for example, performing severe penances – tapas in the wilderness, excessive fasting or yoga, etc. --- and the types of renunciation that directly affect one's ability to engage in the devotional practice of bhakti-yoga in this Kali Yuga. Throughout this series, we will hope to cover the many ways in which Lord Caitanya preached about the importance of renunciation, beginning today with a brief introduction to asat-sanga-tyaga -- giving up the company of non-devotees.

Caitanya-caritamrta Madhya 24.339:

sadhu-laksana, sadhu-sanga, sadhu-sevana
asat-sanga-tyaga, sri-bhagavata-sravana

SYNONYMS sadhu-laksana -- the symptoms of a devotee; sadhu-sanga -- association with devotees; sadhu-sevana -- offering service to devotees; asat-sanga-tyaga -- giving up the company of nondevotees; sri-bhagavata-sravana -- regularly hearing the recitation of Srimad-Bhagavatam.

TRANSLATION "You should describe the symptoms of a devotee, how to associate with devotees, how to satisfy a devotee by rendering service, and how to give up the association of nondevotees. You should also explain the value of regularly hearing the recitation of Srimad-Bhagavatam."

In his purport to Caitanya-caritamrta Madhya 19.157, Srila Prabhupada comments on six activities to be avoided, which are mentioned in Srila Rupa Gosvami's Upadesamrta. Along with renouncing bad association, the devotee is cautioned to avoid several other activities that will spoil devotional life:

"Even if one thinks that there are many pseudo devotees or nondevotees in the Krsna Consciousness Society, still one should stick to the Society; if one thinks the Society's members are not pure devotees, one can keep direct company with the spiritual master, and if there is any doubt, one should consult the spiritual master. However, unless one follows the spiritual master's instructions concerning the regulative principles and chanting and hearing the holy name of the Lord, one cannot become a pure devotee. By one's mental concoctions, one falls down. By associating with nondevotees, one breaks the regulative principles and is thereby lost. In the Upadesamrta (2) of Srila Rupa Gosvami, it is said:

atyaharah prayasas ca prajalpo niyamagrahah
jana-sangas ca laulyam ca sadbhir bhaktir vinasyati

"One's devotional service is spoiled when he becomes too entangled in the following six activities: (1) eating more than necessary or collecting more funds than required, (2) overendeavoring for mundane things that are very difficult to attain, (3) talking unnecessarily about mundane subject matters, (4) practicing the scriptural rules and regulations only for the sake of following them and not for the sake of spiritual advancement, or rejecting the rules and regulations of the scriptures and working independently or whimsically, (5) associating with worldly-minded persons who are not interested in Krsna consciousness, and (6) being greedy for mundane achievements."

(Caitanya-caritamrta, Madhya 19.157 Purport)

In tomorrow's segment, we will continue to explore Lord Caitanya's instructions on asat-sanga-tyaga -- giving up the company of non-devotees.