By Hazrat Inayat Khan
'In Him we live, and move, and have our being.' This teaching of the Bible describes the nature of God: that God is the ocean, the waves of which are all its activities, small or great. The Quran says in support of this that not a single atom moves, groups, or scatters without the command of God. Rumi explains it still more plainly: 'Air, earth, water and fire are God's servants; to us they seem lifeless, but to God living.' In those who are conscious of this knowledge, and to the extent of their realization of this truth, there arises the spirit of renunciation which may be called the spirit of God.
He who wants anything becomes smaller than the thing he wants; he who gives away anything is greater than the thing he gives. Therefore, to a mystic each act of renunciation becomes a step towards perfection.
Forced renunciation, whether forced by morality, religion, law, convention, or formality, is not necessarily renunciation. The real spirit of renunciation is willingness; and willing renunciation comes when one has risen above the thing one renounces. The value of each thing in life – wealth, power, position, possession – is according to the evolution of man. There is a time in his life when toys are his treasures, and there is a time when he puts them aside; there is a time in his life when copper coins are everything to him, and there is another time when he can give away gold coins; there is a time in his life when he values a cottage, and there is a time when he gives up a palace.
Things have no value; their value is as man makes it; and at every step in his evolution he changes their value. Certainly there is no gain in leaving home, friends, and all affairs of life, and going to the forest and living the life of an ascetic; and yet who has the right to blame those who do so? How can the worldly man judge and understand the point of view of the one who renounces? Perhaps that which seems of the greatest value to the worldly man is nothing to the one who has renounced.
The Sufi makes no restrictions and has no principles of renunciation, nor does he teach renunciation. He believes that to sacrifice anything in life which one does not wish to sacrifice is of no use, but that renunciation is a natural thing, and grows in one with one's evolution. A child which cries for its toy at one stage of its childhood, comes to an age when it is quite willing to give away the toy it once cried for.
There are three stages of morals. The first stage is the moral of reciprocity. This moral is natural to the one who sees the difference between himself and another, who recognizes every man as such and such.
The second stage is the law of beneficence, where man, recognizing himself as an entity separate from others and recognizing others as distinct entities themselves, yet sees a cord of connection running through himself and all, and finds himself as a dome in which rises an echo of good and evil; and in order to have a good echo he gives good for good and good for evil.
But the third stage is the moral of renunciation, where the difference of 'mine' and 'thine' and the distinction of 'I' and 'you' fade away in the realization of the one Life that is within and without, beneath and beyond; and that is the meaning of the verse in the Bible, 'In Him we live, and move, and have our being.'
Those in the East who have renounced pleasure, comfort, riches, possessions, from a mystical point of view, have not renounced because they were too weak to hold them or because they did not desire them, but because they wished to renounce them before they passed from their hands. All things one possesses in life one has attracted to oneself; and when one loses them, it shows that the power of attraction is lost; and that, if one can renounce them before that power of attraction is lost, one rises above them.
All things that are in a person's hold are not really his own, although for the moment he may think so; when he loses them he realizes that they were not his own. Therefore, the only possible way of everlasting happiness is to realize that what one possesses is not one's own, and to renounce in time, before all that one possesses renounces one. The law of renunciation is great; and it is the only way of happiness there is.
When one looks deeply into life one sees that there is no gain which is not a loss, and that there is no loss which is not a gain
The loss of every mortal thing is a gain in the immortal spheres; for it wakens the heart which is asleep both in the pursuit and the pleasures of the gain. When man closely watches his own life and his affairs he finds that there has been no loss that is to be regretted; that under the mantle of every loss a greater gain was concealed
In the eyes of the world people who renounce their pleasures, comforts, and happiness seem to be foolish; but there is nothing that man has renounced without receiving a greater gain. And yet renunciation for gain can be called nothing but greed; renunciation for the pleasure of renunciation is the only renunciation that is worthwhile.
When a person has in view an object he wants to attain, he is smaller than the object; but when a person has attained the object, he is greater than the object. And as he holds the object which he has attained, so he diminishes his strength, and the value of the object becomes augmented; but when he renounces the object he has once attained, he rises above the object, he takes a new step in life and a higher step.
As with every step taken in climbing a mountain one goes higher and higher, so in life one progresses in attainment of any kind, be it spiritual or material
The moral must be remembered that what we value we must attain, but once attained, instead of being crushed under it, we must freely rise above it and take a further step in life. Those who have made progress in life have made it with this view; and those who come to a standstill in life are the ones who hold fast to that which they have attained, never being inclined to renounce it; and in that way they have met with failure. Therefore greed, however profitable it may seem, in the end is weakening, and generosity, though at times it may seem unprofitable, in reality is strengthening.
The saying, 'There is no gain without pain,' when rightly interpreted would mean that everything costs something and has its price; and it is this law of nature that teaches one that for every kind of attainment in life, from the highest to the lowest, renunciation is necessary. It may be in the form of patience, in the form of service, in the form of modesty, it may be in the form of sacrifice; in whatever form it happens to be, it has to be for some purpose […]
[T]he success of renunciation lies in the renunciation itself; to be pleased with renunciation, not to renounce for gain. That renunciation alone is the renunciation which may be called virtue.
There are four desires that man may pursue: pleasures, wealth, duty, and God; and every one of these attainments cost something, and nobody should deem it possible to attain any one of these without renunciation. Therefore, though renunciation is the last lesson, one must begin to learn it from the beginning.
Life consists of a continual struggle for gain, of whatever kind it may be. Gain seems to be the purpose of life, and it is accomplished by mastery, and this proves that one naturally must try to gain whatever seems to be good and attainable in life or whatever one needs in life; when one is able to attain it, it shows mastery, and when one is unable, it shows the lack of it. But by a still deeper insight into the subject one sees that every gain a person has in view limits him to a certain extent to that gain, directs his activities into a certain channel, and forms the line of his fate. At the same time it deprives him of a still greater or a better gain and of the freedom of activity which might perhaps accomplish something still better.
It is for this reason that renunciation is practiced by the Sufis; for with every willing renunciation a person proceeds a step towards a higher goal. No renunciation is ever fruitless. The one who is looking for a gain is smaller than his gain; the one who has renounced a thing has risen above it. Every step towards progress and ascent is a step of renunciation. The poverty of the one who has renounced is real riches compared with the riches of the one who holds them fast. One could be rich in wealth and poverty-stricken in reality; and one can be penniless and yet richer than the rich of the world.
There are two different renunciations: one is renunciation, the other is loss. True renunciation is that which a person makes who has risen above something that he once valued; or whose hunger and thirst for the thing are satisfied and it is no more so valuable as it once was; or who perhaps has evolved and sees life differently, no longer as he saw it before.
Renunciation in all these cases is a step forward towards perfection. But the other renunciation is one which a person is compelled to make when circumstances prevent his achieving what he wishes to achieve or from getting back what he has lost helplessly; or when, by weakness of mind or body, by lack of position, power, or wealth, he cannot reach the object he desires. That renunciation is a loss; and instead of leading towards perfection it drags man down toward imperfection.
The wise therefore renounce willingly what they feel like renouncing; but they are constantly in pursuit of what they feel like gaining. One or two failures will not discourage them; after a hundred failures they will rise up again with the same hope, and will gain the thing desired in the end.
But there is another weakness, and that is holding what has been gained, and indulging in what has been attained. That limits man to his gain, deprives him of a greater gain, and even prevents him in the course of time from holding the gain he already has.
This philosophy was lived in their lives by the ascetics who traveled from place to place. The happiness, comfort, and good friends they made in one place, they enjoyed for a short time and then left it lest it might bind them forever. This does not mean that this kind of life should necessarily be an example for a wise person; but our journey through life's experience is also a continuous journey, and the good and bad, the right and wrong, the rise and fall of yesterday one must leave behind, and turn one's back on them, and go forward with new hope, new courage and enthusiasm, trusting to the almighty power of the Creator in one's spirit.
People think that renunciation is learned by unselfishness. It is the onlooker who sees renunciation in the form of unselfishness, as a dog might see renunciation when a man throws away a bone: it does not realize that the bone is only valuable to it and not to the man. Every object has its peculiar value to every individual; and as a person evolves through life so the value of things becomes different; and as one rises above things so one renounces them in life. And when the one who has not risen above them looks at someone else's renunciation, he calls it either foolish or unselfish.
One need not learn renunciation; life itself teaches it, and to the small extent that one has to learn a lesson in the path of renunciation, it is this: that where in order to gain silver coins one has to lose the copper ones, one must learn to lose them. That is the only unselfishness that one must learn: that one cannot have both, the copper and the silver.
There is a saying in Hindi, 'The seeker after honor dies for a name, the seeker after money will die for a coin.' To the man to whom the coin is precious the name is nothing; to him who considers a name precious money is nothing. So one person cannot understand the attitude of another unless he puts on his cloak and sees life from his point of view. There is nothing valuable except what we value in life; and a man is fully justified in renouncing all that he has, or that may be offered to him, for the sake of that which he values, even if it be that he values it only for this moment; for there will never be a thing which he will value always in the same way.
Ah, make the most of what we yet may spend,
Before we too into the Dust descend;
Dust into Dust, and under dust to lie
Sans Wine, sans Song, sans Singer, and – sans End!
From a practical point of view life is like a journey started from the un-manifested state of being and going to the manifested state; and from manifestation returning again to the un-manifested or perfect state of being. As man, life has the fullest privilege of knowing about the journey, and of directing to a certain extent the affairs on the journey; of making this journey comfortable, and arriving at the destination at the desired time. The mystic tries to make use of this privilege, and all spiritual wisdom teaches the manner in which this journey should be made.
As man comes from the un-manifested, it is evident that he comes alone, no one with him and with nothing. After coming here he begins to own objects, possessions, properties, even living beings. And the very fact that he came alone, without anything, necessitates his being alone again in the end to enter his destination. But once man has owned things of the earth he does not wish to part with them, and wishes to carry the weight of all he possesses on this journey; these things weigh him down, and naturally make his journey uncomfortable. As nothing and no one really belongs to him, it must all fall away in time and he is made lonely against his desire. It is only willing renunciation which can save man from this burden on the path.
It is not necessary that this renunciation should be practiced by indifference to one's friends. No, one can love one's friends and serve them, and yet be detached. It is this lesson which Christ taught when he said, 'Render therefore unto Caesar the things which are Caesar's, and unto God the things that are God's.' He has renounced who gets the things of the world but gives them to the world; but the one who does not know renunciation gets the things of the world, and holds them for himself. Love is a blessing, but it turns into a curse in attachment; admiration is a blessing, but it turns into a curse when one tries to hold the beauty for oneself.
The way of those who renounce is to know all things, to admire all things, to get all things, but to give all things; and to think that nothing belongs to them and that they own nothing. And it is this spirit which will liberate man from the earthly bondages which keep the generality of mankind in captivity throughout the whole of life.
The final victory in the battle of life for every soul is when he has abandoned, which means when he has risen above, what once he valued most. For the value of everything exists for man only so long as he does not understand it. When he has fully understood, the value is lost, be it the lowest thing or the highest thing. It is like looking at the scenery on the stage and taking it for a palace. Such is the case with all things of the world; they seem important or precious when we need them or when we do not understand them; as soon as the veil which keeps man from understanding is lifted, then they are nothing.
Do not, therefore, be surprised at the renunciation of sages. Perhaps every person in the spiritual path must go through renunciation. It is not really throwing things away or disconnecting ourselves from friends; it is not taking things to heart as seriously as one naturally does by lack of understanding. No praise, no blame is valuable; no pain or pleasure is of any importance. Rise and fall are natural consequences, so are love and hatred; what does it matter if it be this or that? It matters so long as we do not understand. Renunciation is a bowl of poison no doubt, and only the brave will drink it; but in the end it alone proves to be nectar, and this bravery brings one the final victory.
(Excerpted from Hazrat Inayat Khan, The Art of Personality [The Sufi Message vol.3])