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Challenging the idea of detachment

Richard (now Radhanath Swami) had once judged Srila Prabhupada’s western disciples for carrying cameras and tape recorders, thinking it strange that sadhus are using materialistic things. But one day he was shaken by Srila Prabhupada’s exposition on what is material and what actually is spiritual. Srila Prabhupada explained that everything is potentially spiritual because it is energy of the Supreme Lord. Radhanath Swami heard Srila Prabhupada speak, “Material consciousness is to forget an object’s relationship with God. Spiritual consciousness is to see everything in relation to God and utilize everything in devotional service.” Prabhupad tapped the microphone to make his point. “Let us take this microphone, for example. If it is used to sing songs about mundane passion, it is material. If, however, it is used to sing the glories of the Lord, it is spiritual. It’s all a matter of consciousness. We want to use everything for a spiritual cause. Bhakti Yoga is the art of transforming material energy into spiritual energy through a spirit of devotion.”

Radhanath Swami writes that like an earthquake, Srila Prabhupada’s words shook his world. He writes in his autobiography:
This concept is revolutionary, I thought. It challenges the very core of my idea of detachment. I had assumed detachment meant to give up everything and live with nothing but the barest minimum to survive. When I honestly searched deep into my heart, I had to admit that in a subtle way, I was proud of the way I had been living in India and even thought it superior to the way people lived in the West. But perhaps this idea of detachment is just another product of self-deceiving ego, inducing me to feel superior to others. My reality was shaken. It was easy to think of the beautiful natural surroundings in Vrindavan and the temples to the deities as spiritual. But a microphone? I thought of how I had judged Prabhupad’s Western followers for carrying cameras and tape recorders.How foolish it was of me to look down on them, feeling that I was better because of my ascetic lifestyle. I now understand that detachment is only sacred to the degree it fosters humility, respect, and love. In a few words, Srila Prabhupada had just crushed my illusion. My ego felt battered, and yet I was thankful.”

I once heard Radhanath Swami explain that If you find an unclaimed wallet, filled with $100 bills, you have three choices. First, keep it- after all finders’ keepers and losers ’weepers’”. The second choice is to ‘renounce’ the wallet. The two choices are compared to being the ‘enjoyer’ and ‘false renouncer’ in this world respectively; because the wallet anyway didn’t belong to you. The third action- to find the owner’s address and return it to him- is a more responsible one. Similarly a spiritualist refuses to exploit the resources of nature for selfish enjoyment. He also doesn’t artificially renounce things of this world, because the world and its resources are not his property, rather they belong to God. Instead he engages his wealth in service of God, while giving up the sense of false proprietorship and enjoyer. Thus one could be a billionaire and an emperor of the world and still be renounced, by offering his wealth for a spiritual cause. Or one could be an impoverished beggar, and still not be a renunciant if he is proud of his penny.

Renunciation has more to do with our internal mood than an external act, says Radhanath Swami. Real renunciation means renouncing the false ego. Radhanath Swami says, “The seed of all attachments is false ego, therefore essentially renunciation means detachment from the false ego; renunciation means death of the false ego.”

Radhanath Swami, quoting past saints and scriptures and blending with his own deep realizations, shares, “Renunciation doesn’t mean giving up things externally but rather it means diligently pulling out the negativities from the heart.”


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