Asceticism and Renunciation

Topics: Buddhism, Gautama Buddha, Asceticism Pages: 7 (2580 words) Published: January 26, 2013
Renunciation and Asceticism

The practice of asceticism and renunciation is central to the understanding of South Asian religions, such as Hinduism, Buddhism and Jainism. Orthodox views about ascetic practices are plagued with the thinking that the renouncers are the ones that give up work or in other words, the discipline of action. Typically, renouncers are merely seen as people dressed up in saffron clothes, wandering hither and thither on a pursuit to salvation (Olivelle 271). These views, despite having some truthful foundations, are still far from painting an accurate picture of these traditions and their respective religious associations. In order to gain an analytic insight regarding the various ascetic traditions and their connections with various religious beliefs, it is crucial to investigate the socio-cultural and historical foundations of these practices (Olivelle 271). It is axiomatic that an individual indulges in an activity wanting to achieve a defined purpose. In the case of renouncers, these individuals participate in activities which stress on gaining control over human senses that demand worldly pleasures and attachments (Olivelle 272). The purpose behind these actions can be explained by making reference to two Indian divinities, which are samsara and moksa (Olivelle 274). Samsara simply means that life in this world is a suffering which continues through the cycle of death and rebirth (Olivelle 274). Moksa, on the other hand, is the final destination/ objective of human existence. It is the only way through which one can escape suffering, or in other words, the cycle of death and rebirth (Olivelle 274). The purpose of this essay is to prove that practices, such as asceticism emerged as a solution to end human suffering by making reference to Hinduism, Buddhism and Jainism respectively. Simultaneously, this essay also aims to negate the orthodox views about asceticism and renunciation by investigating the social, cultural and historical foundations of these practices. As the inception of the arguments of this essay, it will be helpful to understand the two key ascetic practices, one of which is carried forward by a hermit living in a forest and the other by a mendicant. Before beginning to analyze the strategic importance of two with regards to the aim of this essay, let’s define and distinguish between the two to prove how such definition leads to development of modern orthodox views. It is believed that the Upanishads, other Vedas and the Buddhist literal sources are the earliest origins of information regarding the renouncer tradition (Olivelle 271). According to the description laid out in a Brahmanical law book, the hallmark of the lifestyle of an anchorite is his rejection to utilize anything interposed by humans (Olivelle 272). An anchorite, thus, lives in the forest and his necessities come from the wild. His participation in pivotal religious activities continues, however he is socially withdrawn from the society (Olivelle 272). A renouncer, on the other hand, is regarded as one who practices complete abstinence from worldly and sensual pleasures while living in vicinity to a civilized society (Olivelle 272). Introspection plays an important role in this tradition, since the renouncer must control all aspects of his body and mind to ensure a chaste lifestyle. Conclusively, it becomes clear that the descriptions of the two traditions stress on self cultivation, but they are very particular about the physical manifestations and strict austerity practices which must be undertaken by the renouncer. The clothing, begging for food or living in forests gives rise to modern orthodox views about renunciation as they drastically deviate from a householder’s life. The truth put forward by the texts that will be referenced in this essay is that the main goal of the renouncer regardless of his physical manifestation/ strict austerity practices remains self enlightenment. This can...

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Olivelle, P. “The Renouncer Tradition.” In Flood, G. ed. The Blackwell Companion to Hinduism. London: Wiley-Blackwell, 2008.
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