My brother’s renunciation and why I cannot reconcile.

T. P. Gopinath Aug 19, 2016.

It was an emotional reunion of a different kind. Highlight of my recent visit to India has been the surprise visit of my younger brother who joined Ramakrishna mission to pursue a spiritual life.

With Jayan at Ramakrishna Mission
With Jayan at Ramakrishna Mission, Belur Math, Calcutta in Jan 2007.

After ten years of leaving home renouncing our way of life, he visited our home briefly on 30th July, 2016. It was a coincidence that I happened to be there while he was on visit. I have always viewed his leaving with skepticism bordering contempt. Not because he is my brother, but he is truly a fine guy but for this strange pursuit of Sannyasa that I can’t agree with. “Sannyasa (saṃnyāsa) is the life stage of renunciation within the Hindu philosophy of four age-based life stages known as ashramas, with the first three being Brahmacharya (bachelor student), Grihastha (householder) and Vanaprastha (forest dweller, retired). “

Question in my mind always has been whether spiritual pursuit can bring the much needed peace of mind that we, those who lead a material life, often struggle to find. As far as I am concerned, if I put myself in his position, leaving my mother and those who love me distraught would have been a larger mistake than not being able to pursue a passion such as an ascetic life. After his visit home, several people who knew him and loved him, were left asking questions on his leaving, staying, and return. They were amused by the rather unusual development of one known person leaving the family and neighbourhood forever. I saw some in the neighbourhood knowing him closely, in tears, seeing him after such a long time in saffron attire.

Months after he left home, I visited the famed Ramakrishna mission headquarters, Belur Math, Calcutta, to find his whereabouts as we were not even told exactly where he is headed. I have new pictures but i hate to show or see him in Saffron. There are those who revere his pursuit of Sannyasa but i continue to fail to see the point. In fact these days I am left wondering what good the religion itself is doing to alleviate human suffering and struggle much less interested in a spiritual pursuit.

We put him on a lot of strain for about twenty days by continuously talking to him with appeals to stay back after he announced that he is leaving for ever to become a Sannyasi. On the other hand, you can also imagine what my mother and other family members went through and still going through after his leaving. He left home on 3rd March, 2006 by overnight train to Chennai which I silently and helplessly witnessed with bewilderment and profound sadness. His come back home took ten years; i am not sure whether it is on his initiative or somebody else’s persuasion.

I have no idea what you are feeling after seeing this post. But in my mind his act of renunciation can never be tolerated. The only appreciation I feel is for his enormous willpower to renounce his relations. The other thing that give solace to me is the fact that he has joined the respected mission that was established by Swami Vivekananda who the entire world respect and consider a great Hindu monk, a chief disciple of the 19th-century Indian mystic Ramakrishna. I am not sure whether I would have been able to control my anger if he has joined any of the numerous human God’s joints that India now host in every nook and corner.

He is now a Sannyasi in the mission with a first name Swami. What happened with his leaving home was a life changing event for an ordinary family like ours. I believe that there are few types of such instigations possible; by self, by books, or by other persons of the same interest. In this case exactly how he got initiated into Sannyasa is a mystery that only he can unravel. Whatever is the case; I hold the individual responsible for his decisions and actions as he was then employed with the Indian Express and had the capacity to think.

I looked up the term spirituality and stand confused of the definition. Mother is the God that we know. Spiritual way of life refers broadly to seeking God, a higher purpose, connection. If we have to render Mother, God that is in front of us to tears, I don’t understand how we can seek the God that is unseen. If we have to tear mother apart permanently for the rest of her life, how can we be peacefully spiritual even if you seek peace for the entire humanity? Swamis argue that these questions are coming from my selfishness. After all, are we not talking human beings?

I took the decision to make this post to bring the unusual tendencies in the society and the individuals to acquaintances. You may want to guard against it. Whether or not one leaving home forever to pursue spirituality is fine, is for the individual to decide. I may be wrong, may be what he has done is great. But none has been able to argue convincingly enough; hence i remain deeply skeptical of his act. The journey I undertook in 2007 to Calcutta to see him after he joined the mission was the worst journey of my life as all along that journey, inside, I was melting with profound loss.

While he took an unusual path and I chose a common path, I am well aware that these two paths can only always move in parallel and never really converge; but I still end up criticising his position time and again. May be out of my love for him and knowing what kind of a good, sensible human being he has been, I am not able to refrain from finding fault with his extraordinary transformation that shattered our family in the process. May be I am very selfish, may be I keep thinking about I and my family only while Swamijis  keep proclaiming they consider the whole world as their family. It may be time I realize my foolish dreams of an eventual change of mind on his part.

The photo posted along was taken in year 2007 when I visited him in Belur Math, Calcutta, Ramakrishna mission’s global headquarters visited by scores of people every day. “It is located on the west bank of Hooghly River, Belur, West Bengal, India and is one of the significant institutions in Calcutta”. There is Vivekananda museum and places of prayers on this serene river coast.

Those of you who might be interested in reading an amateur but long story written by me using a fake name Akash Prakash (as I did not find the courage to discuss a very private matter openly at the time) on what happened as he left, i have it published online ten years back at the following site. Writing that long story then helped me quiet my mind a little while I stared at the big emptiness that he created for an entire lifetime.



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