Question: “These days, young men often renounce household life and adopt the dress of the renounced order. They establish a place for sadhus to congregate, and begin to worship the Deity of the Lord. After some time, they fall into association with women again, but do not give up chanting hari-nama. They maintain their hermitage by collecting alms from many places. Are such men tyagis or grhastha-bhaktas?”
This question raises several issues at once, but will be answered one by one. First of all, eligibility to renounce household life has nothing to do with youth or old age. Some grhastha bhaktas are qualified by the samskaras acquired in this life and previous lives to give up household life even while they are young. For example, Sukadeva’s previous samskaras enabled him to renounce household life from the moment of birth. One should only see that this eligibility is not artificial. If real detachment awakens, then youth is not an impediment.
Real renunciation is so firm that it can never be broken at any time.
False renunciation arises from deception, dishonesty, and the desire for prestige.
Some people make a false show of renunciation to gain the respect that is offered to nirapeksa-bhaktas who have given up household life, but such false detachment is futile and completely inauspicious. As soon as such a person leaves home, the symptoms of his eligibility for detachment disappear, and depravity sets in.
Question: “Does a bhakta who has given up household life need to adopt the external dress of a renunciant?”
Nirapeksa-akincana-bhaktas who have firmly renounced the spirit of enjoyment purify the entire world, whether they live in the forest or remain at home. Some of them accept a loincloth and worn and torn clothes as external signs to identify them as members of the renounced order. At the time of accepting this attire, they strengthen their resolve by taking a firm vow in the presence of other Vaisnavas who are in the renounced order. This is called entrance into the renounced order, or the acceptance of appropriate garments for renunciation. If you refer to this as bheka-grahana or vesa-grahana, the acceptance of the dress of renunciation, then what is the harm?
It is very helpful to be identified as a member of the renounced order. A renunciant’s family members will no longer maintain a relationship with him, and will easily give him up.
He will no longer desire to enter his house, and a natural detachment will awaken in his heart, with a consequent fear of materialistic society. It is beneficial for some bhaktas to accept the outward signs of renunciation, though this may not be necessary if detachment from household life is fully matured.
It is said in the Srimad-Bhagavatam (4.29.46):
“A bhakta who has received the mercy of Bhagavan gives up attachment for all worldly activities, and for all ritualistic duties prescribed in the Vedas.”
There is no injunction for such bhaktas to accept the outward dress of renunciation. It is necessary only as long as there is some dependence on public consideration.
One should accept the renounced order from a Vaisnava who is situated in the renounced order. Grhastha-bhaktas have no experience of the behavior of renounced bhaktas, so they should not initiate anyone into the renounced order. The following statement of the Brahma-vaivarta Purana confirms this:
“One brings ruination to the world if he instructs others in religious principles that he himself does not follow.”
The guru must first consider whether or not the disciple is qualified. He should see if the grhastha-bhakta, on the strength of Krishna–bhakti, has acquired a spiritual temperament characterized by qualities such as full control of the mind and senses. Has the hankering for wealth and the satisfaction of the tongue been uprooted or not?” The guru should keep the disciple with him for some time in order to examine him thoroughly, and he may initiate him into the renounced order when he finds that he is a suitable candidate. Under no circumstances should he offer initiation prior to this. If the guru offers initiation to a person who is unqualified, he will certainly fall down himself.
Now I see that it is no light matter to accept the renounced order; it is a serious undertaking. Unqualified gurus are turning this practice into a common affair. It has only just begun, and there is no telling where it will end.
Sri Caitanya Mahaprabhu severely punished Chota Haridasa for a completely insignificant fault, just to protect the sanctity of the renounced order. The followers of our Lord should always remember the punishment of Chota Haridasa.