Sri Ramakrishna would explain to his devotees what constitutes true renunciation. He would caution them about the misconceptions in this regard. He would say that true renunciation is related more to the state of mind and has less to do with the body. In this connection he used to narrate a story.

There was a young monk who was known for his tremendous austerity. One day he was resting during noon time under a tree and was using a brick as pillow to prop up his head. Two friends were passing by and one of them remarked, “How strange is the renunciation of this sadhu! Even after becoming a monk he needs a pillow to support his head. Although, it is not a real pillow, but only a brick still the Sadhu is unable to give up the idea of using a pillow.” Thus the friends went away. They were going to a market to buy something. After finishing their work they were returning by the same route. Once again they saw the monk resting under the tree. They were surprised to note that he had removed the brick which he was using as a pillow and his head was resting on the ground. Once again one of them remarked, “See the vanity of the sadhu. He cannot help responding to the opinions of others about him.”

Drawing inference from this story Sri Ramakrishna would say that disregarding the demands of the body are no doubt signs of renunciation or tyaga. It is far more important to give up the idea of praise or blame rather than any material comfort. Hence, subtler levels of renunciation actually relate to the mind.

Physical renunciation or tyaga at the level of the body is no doubt important. But, it is much more important to raise one’s state of mind and go beyond praise or blame to become a true renunciate or monk.

– by Swami Shantatmananda, published in the ‘Sacred Books of the East’ column, Sunday Guardian, 30th Nov 2013