Real Renunciation

There is a nice story from the Sri Sampradaya where Ramanuja Acarya grew tired of hearing his celibate brahmacari and sannyasa students squabble over little things like who accidentally put on someone else's cloth, who had another person's lota, etc ...

They would also constantly deride Ramanuja's householder disciples as being materially bewildered and lacking in renunciation.

Sri Ramanuja had a very devoted householder student who lived a simple married life. The only material wealth he possessed were two costly bangles around his wife's wrists as per south Indian tradition.

Sri Ramanuja instructed that one of his brahmacari disciples should sneak into their home while they were unaware and take whatever they could find of value.

One brahmacari eagerly volunteered and then began to stake out the home waiting for an opportunity to, according to his vision, reclaim some material possessions from Maya and use it in the service of the Lord.

The husband left the home and soon the wife laid down to take rest. The brahmacari then carefully crept into the home but couldn't find anything of value. He tiptoed into the room where the wife was lying on her side and caught sight of the gold bangles around her thin wrists. Her body was quite frail due to an austere diet.

She seemed deeply asleep so he carefully slipped the bangle from one wrist off of her hand. Her other wrist was going to be more difficult to take from because she was partly lying on it. If he were to try to slip that bangle off it would most likely wake her.

Just then she stirred in her sleep and rolled over, exposing the other bangle. Despite that now the bangle was accessible, the brahmacari was already jumping out of the open window in fear that she had awoken and would catch him in the act of stealing.

He ran back to the ashram where Sri Ramanuja was waiting.

"Well", Ramanuja inquired, "Did you bring me anything from this householder?"

"Guruji, all I could find of any value was this bangle."

"I see, and where is the other one?"

"Your Divine Grace, I couldn't bring that one to you because she woke up and I had to flee."

Then Sri Ramanuja called all of his renunciate disciples to an assembly. He also sent someone to bring this householder couple.

When everyone had arrived he asked the couple to come forward.

In front of the assembly he asked, "Why are you only wearing one bangle, dear mother? Please speak clearly so all can hear."

She obediently cleared her throat and, while modestly looking at the ground, explained in a clear voice: "Your Grace, I am wearing only one bangle today because one of your brahmacari students was so desperate for money that he crept into my home while I was trying to rest. I felt pity on him that he must not be getting enough food to eat or enough cloth to keep him warm so I let him take my bangle while I pretended to sleep. When I rolled over to let him take the other bangle he fled out of fear and thus I couldn't fulfill my duty as a householder and support the young student. Please forgive us, Maharaja."

The entire assembly of saintly renunciates sat quietly aghast at the deeply selfless admission of this woman.

Sri Ramanuja filled the silence with one statement, "That is renunciation."

Then he returned to his quarters.