We recently visited the sacred place of a famous saint, who taught mankind that marriage was not a hindrance in spiritual quest and that lay people could achieve spiritual bliss. Seeing the places where he meditated we reached an ashram of great importance in his spiritual journey. Here, we met a senior sanyasi who showed us around. But gradually we found the old sanyasi behaving like any roadside Romeo. It was embarrassing.
Why do we want to look pure in the eyes of society when the mind is impure? When saints, preachers or priests transgress from self-declared spiritual rules, their lapse is most shocking because it betrays devotees' faith.
When Arjuna wants to opt out of the war Sri Krishna accuses him of having double standards. Explaining the right meaning of renunciation, Sri Krishna says, "One who relinquishes the results of actions is a true renouncer" (BG:18:11). Krishna has no sympathy for those who make a show of renouncing the world but mentally indulge in desire: "One who, restraining the organs of actions, sits revolving in the mind thoughts regarding sense objects, he or she, of deluded understanding, is called a hypocrite" (BG: 3:6).
During fasts, if we look at food greedily then we are cheating by gratifying our eyes and nose. Shankaracharya was ready for sanyas at the age of six. But renunciation cannot be an escape from the world, which is a battlefield where one must fight to survive. When survival is threatened, some resort to sanyas. That is not renunciation but finding consolation in inaction.
The mentally impure are soon betrayed by their strong desires. Their body may be quiet outwardly but their mind runs differently. It is better to admit that the mind has cravings, than to fulfil them dishonestly and try to look chaste in society.
Renunciation is the art of mastering the mind not the body. Indeed, Swami Ranganathananda explains that we can transform our homes into ashrams (spiritual abodes), while the old sages describe the stage of Grihastha (family life) as an ashram.