From The New Path,
by Swami Kriyananda

The worldly person asks first of life, ‘What do I want?’ The devotee is indifferent to questions of personal, egoic fulfillment, and asks only, ‘What does God want?’ Renunciation is an inner state of consciousness, not an outward act. All men, whether married or single, who love God and want to know Him must reconcile themselves to living for Him alone. The pathway of the heart is too narrow for the ego and God to walk it together; one of them must step aside and make way for the other.

‘Living for God,’ Yogananda said, ‘is martyrdom’: martyrdom of the ego; martyrdom of self-will and selfishness; martyrdom of all that worldliness clings to so desperately. But the true devotee comes in time to see that this isn’t martyrdom at all, since its end is blissful freedom in the only true Self: God. We are sons of the Infinite! Anything that binds us to a limited existence desecrates this divine image within ourselves. Renunciation is no abject self-deprivation, but a glorious affirmation of the universe of joy that is our birthright.

As St. John of the Cross put it:

In order to arrive at having pleasure in everything,
Desire pleasure in nothing.
In order to arrive at possessing everything,
Desire to possess nothing.
In order to arrive at being everything,
Desire to be nothing.
In order to arrive at the knowledge of everything,
Desire to know nothing.

The essence of renunciation is to relinquish the poverty-consciousness of a beggar, and the clutching attitude of a miser towards things, places, people, experiences—in short, the limitations of this world—and to offer oneself constantly at the feet of Infinity.

Especially in the beginning of the spiritual life, Yogananda told us, it is better to mix little or not at all with worldly people. For it is essential that one’s heart be strengthened to prepare it for making this heroic gift to God of every desire, every thought, every emotion. No weakling could even possibly make so total a self-offering. Cowards quickly fall by the wayside. None who enter the spiritual path for its superficial glamour alone can survive tests that have no other purpose than to assault the devotee’s every natural inclination. The more completely one can identify himself with an attitude of complete self-surrender, the more likely he is to succeed in his spiritual search.

This is as true for householders as for monks and nuns. Outward renunciation merely helps to affirm the inner resolve, necessary for all devotees, to seek God alone.

In the Self-Realization Fellowship monasteries, Paramhansa Yogananda taught us boldly to claim our new identity as sons of God, and to reject all consciousness of worldly ties.

‘Sir,’ I began one day, ‘my father. . . .’

‘You have no father!’ Master peremptorily reminded me. ‘God is your Father.’

‘I’m sorry, Sir. I meant, my earthly father.’

‘That’s better,’ the Master replied, approvingly.