In the holy philosophy of Shri Shankara, the highest good is called Moksha, that is freedom from all the limitations of nescience. It is experience of the Self.
It is not the production of something which is not already present. It is an experience of Truth which is eternal.
Self-realisation is achieved through Jnana. Moksha is not obtained through Karma because through Karma we achieve a result which is absent now. Moksha is not subject to action. The eternal Truth is not subject to intellectual knowledge nor is it the result of any Karma.
All actions and their fruition are subject to annihilation. Karma applies to the realm of relativity but Atman is above relativity. Experience is to be obtained only through the Self and not through any mental activity.
Purification of the mind is an essential antecedent to release. This purification is not the result of action-lessness. In this preliminary state, sattwic actions performed selflessly by way of adoration to God and benevolence to man are most helpful. The real meaning of the Vedanta of Shri Shankara is renunciation in action, that is to practise selfless service, devotion and observance of the high ethics of Vedanta with a view to set an example to others, and not to practise the renunciation of such actions,
It is accepted that, in order to realise the ideal of Vedanta, we should be able if necessary to give up whatever we consider pleasant and valuable in life. All emotional ties with life, home, son and wealth have to be relaxed if they form an impediment (as they frequently do) on the path of Vedanta. The holy Acharyas have interpreted the doctrine of renunciation in diverse ways, but the essential teaching is that the individual’s point of view, which gives precedence to physical and worldly matters over the pursuit of the ideal of Vedanta, has to be modified and reformed. It is the reversal of our valuation of worldly matters which really counts.
Monastic life occupies a very high place in the life of Vedanta, Nobody will deny that to understand the inside secrets of Self and to kindle the flame of intense aspiration to know Atman we must give up our attachment to earthly objects and particularly to physical enjoyments. When we are loaded with the cares and worries of life which are caused by our attachment to external objects, we can hardly walk the path of the holy Yoga. A worldly life will destroy our spiritual power of right discernment and will make the realization of the holy ideal an impossibility. Attachment to the Joys of sense contacts and to the physical objects and values will keep us imprisoned in the darkness of Avidya .and cause innumerable impediments in the path of Light. We must free ourselves from the earthly burden, from the ties of emotion to persons and objects of the world, if we want to tread the holy
Path. In order to see the bright sun of the Self, which is bliss absolute and freedom transcendent, we have to keep our vision free of the clouds and dirt and dust of worldliness. How truly Shri Dada Bhagwan and Shri Swami Mangalnath demonstrated this spiritual principle in their lives !
The abandonment of physical objects of desire means to assign a proper value to them from the spiritual point of view. The yogic abandonment of desires is not like the starvation of the body or the mind, but it is like keeping a fast to create better powers of assimilation and better health.
The monastic life (Sannyasa) in Vedanta is a very high ideal; but it is not essential for a Jnani to be a Sannyasin, The ideal of Sannyasa is not like the ideal of Diogenes of Greece; it is not based on hate or on pride. The Sannyasa of Vedanta is a part of the spiritual discipline; it is not the metaphysical end of life. In some quarters the sages of Vedanta have assigned the highest position to Sannyasa. But the Shruti does not support this point of view unconditionally or absolutely. The Rishis of the Upanishads were not all monks.
When Sannyasa became an established ideal in Vedanta, its object was single-minded service of man, unhampered by any worldly ties. Plato ordained such an order which was also to be open to women. It is true that unless we give up all taste for sense-objects and learn to relish the spiritual delight of devotion, study and contemplation, we remain bound to the earth and our service to man is incomplete. Monasteries were established all over India by the holy Acharyas of the past with a view to serve the people with learning and philosophy and not so that the monks could pass their lives in an idle way devoted to their individual good. A moral code was strictly followed by the monks of Vedanta and service of the world was their main object.
Doubtless in certain passages of the most holy Acharya’s writings the monastic life (Sannyasa) is emphasized as an essential to Self-cognition and the attainment of Turiya. But if we study his writings carefully, such monasticism is seen to imply not a special order but a point of view of the spiritual life. It is merely a most spiritual feeling towards the world which negates attachment to all unreal objects. It is not necessarily renouncing the world.
The Jnani is bound by no rule of conduct and he can become a monk or live an active life in the world. Truth does not depend on conduct on any narrow lines. The theory of the Ashramas does not imply that monastic life is an essential. A man can be a spiritual renunciate while occupying a throne, as is clear from the instance of King Janaka.
Index for this series of essays