A Thought for the New Year

I am wishing everyone a wonderful new year! I decided not to write about new years or Kalpataru Day and instead, think about the word ‘vairagyam’, translated into English as ‘renunciation’. Sri Sarada Devi named renunciation as one of the main messages of Sri Ramakrishna. This concept, vairagyam, is going to mean something a little different for every person in the midst of their own life. The word vairagyam is derived from the Sanskrit root ranj. It has many meanings coming from the original meaning, to color and particularly, to color red. We begin to see the picture it paints by recalling the English saying ‘to see red’. The word ‘passion’ describes this saying, but there are several meanings to this word as well. And that is the source of misunderstanding. Passion can describe an emotion that is almost or completely out of our control. It can also mean a feeling of motivation or enthusiasm. To understand the meaning of vairagyam we need the first definition of passion, NOT the second. The prefix ‘vi’ designates the opposite, so ‘viraga’ means w/o passion. Vairagyam is a noun derived from that verbal root. To renounce, to practice vairagyam, means to be completely without that kind of strong emotion that is out of our control. It does not mean to be disinterested, indifferent or downright aversive! So many people believe that to practice renunciation we need to be indifferent, unconcerned and uninvolved, throwing off everything. I believe what we really need is to install a mental app of discernment (aka viveka), which examines all our experience and asks “ Is this true? Is this important? Is this necessary? Am I acting selfishly?” We may think that vairagyam is for monastics only. Certainly monastics, theoretically, practice a more external kind of renunciation, but the truth is, the same discernment applies to all people in all walks of life. Friends, we can renounce and still care. We can renounce and still help. We can renounce and still be interested in the welfare of every being. In fact, if we ‘take the red out of the mind’ we will be in a much better position to do so!

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