Jnanic Renunciation

I find the article you sent me an exceptionally interesting piece. It’s the best apologia you’ve yet provided for your own modus operandi, which is to remain spiritually engaged with the news of the day.

I do wonder, though: is it really only monks who may conscientiously ignore the world? Are the rest of us truly obliged to be always on the informational alert and up to date? Must our renunciation otherwise prove (as you claim) merely “fantastical” and “egotistical”. Why can’t spiritually serious people who must live and work in the world remain humbly, and not pridefully, ignorant of “what’s going on”.

I’m reminded of a footnote in Schuon’s Transcendent Unity of Religions. It seems to me what you’re recommending is (to use his language) a “bhaktic” mode of renunciation:

The life of the great bhakta Shri Ramakrishna provides a very instructive example of the “bhaktic” mode of Knowledge. The saint wished to understand the identity between gold and clay; but instead of starting out from a metaphysical datum, which would have enabled him to perceive the vanity of riches, as a jnnin would have done, he kept praying to Kali to cause him to understand this identity by a revelation: “Every morning, for many long months, I held in my hand a piece of money and a lump of clay and repeated: Gold is clay, and clay is gold. But this thought brought no spiritual work into operation within me; nothing came to prove to me the truth of such a statement. After I know not how many months of meditation, I was sitting one morning at dawn on the bank of the river, imploring our Mother to enlighten me. All of a sudden the whole universe appeared before my eyes clothed in a sparkling mantle of gold. . . . Then the landscape took on a duller glow, the color of brown clay, even lovelier than the gold. And while this vision engraved itself deeply on my soul, I heard a sound like the trumpeting of more than ten thousand elephants, who clamored in my ear: Clay and gold are but one thing for you. My prayers were answered, and I threw far away into the Ganges the piece of gold and the lump of clay.”

If I understand what you’re saying, you think the jnnin of our day must in fact be a bhakta, for keeping abreast of events and issues, political and otherwise, with a view to understanding their underlying causality seems to me analogous to repeating “for many long months … gold is clay, and clay is gold”, whereas in fact the causality in question is an a priori “metaphysical datum” and can be seen as such without having to slog one’s through the news. I for one would still like to hold out for that vocational possibility, even (or perhaps especially) in these ever darkening days.

Speaking of monks and ever darkening days, I recently had an opportunity to speak with a disciple of a disciple of the Elder Joseph the Hesychast. We were talking about ascetical struggle, and indirectly (I suppose) about modes of renunciation. This man had told me once before that the Elder was “the last of the great ascetics”, and in this conversation he observed that “for hundreds of years the greatest saints came from the ranks of ascetics”. So, I asked the obvious question: is there then no hope in our day for “great saints” to arise?

The monk’s reply was to say: Oh, yes, of course, there will be great saints in our day, but they won’t be ascetics…. They’ll be confessors and martyrs!

Buckle your seat belt.

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