India is a land of renunciation and spirituality. Religions with Indian origins have advocated renouncing worldly pleasures as the path to salvation. Great men of Indian religions have lived up to these ideals and renounced their personal lives for the larger good of the society.
The Buddha, before his enlightenment, was Siddhartha,the prince of the Sakhya clan. He left his wife Yashodhara and their infant son to seek enlightenment. Siddhartha,was affected by the sight of the dead man,sick man,old man and the injured man. The plight of these people moved him so much so that he left his family to search for a solution. While leaving his young wife,did he think about her plight? Did he think about how she will cope up with his desertion or how she will raise her son as a single parent? May be yes, May be No. May be he figured out that she was a brave woman who can rise up to the occasion. Maybe it was the meek ones who needed his guidance more. Not his wife. Whatever the justification,it remains a supreme sacrifice on the part of both Yashodhara and the Buddha.
Raghavendra,the saint of Mantralaya,was once a family man,married to the devoted Saraswati Bai and had a son. Guided by a divine vision and on the advice of his Guru,he renounced family life and took up Sanyasa.
Had he not taken vows to look after his wife in any circumstance? Yes,he had.Was he not breaking his vows? Divine men have divine reasons. His life's purpose being the betterment of society,restricting himself to his family's betterment would have been a very selfish decision. There are numerous devotees,including me,who have gained from his divine benevolence. Such an experience of benevolence could not have been possible without the sacrifice of his wife,in giving up her husband for the larger good. Nevertheless,it must have been a very tough decision.
In the case of the Buddha and Raghavendra,it was their quest for spirituality,which made them abandon their families. While the world gained from the teachings and the benevolence of these great souls,it was left to their wives to suffer in silence. What was destined to happen,happened. Had it not been for the great sacrifice of these ladies,we would never have got such divine personalities in our land.
Rama,the great hero of Ramayana,abandoned Sita based on comments from a dhobi.
Rama's was a more controversial decision. Torn between the need to maintain the royal household's dignity and the love for his wife,he chose the former. But did it serve the purpose and was it worth the trouble? It is an open question for debate.
In recent history,there has been a reverse kind of renunciation in England. Edward VIII,abdicated in response to the opposition for his marriage to an American divorcee. While the great Indian men mentioned above,renounced their family for the sake of spiritual or official commitments, Edward VIII did the opposite. He renounced the throne for the sake of his lady love.
It is not only men.Meerabai,the legendary poet-princess from Mewar,Rajasathan,is said to have renounced royal pleasures and led an ascetic life,singing the praise of Lord Krishna. Legends state that her in-laws were not happy with her choice and considered it as sacrilege.
Was it right on the part of the above people to renounce what they were supposed to hold on to? It must have taken lot of courage for each one of them,to take the decision that they finally took.
So,are we talking of only historical and mythological figures here? In our daily lives also,we see people giving up lot of things they love,for the sake of their family and friends. Mothers give up lot of their pleasures,sometimes even their careers,to rise their children. Soldiers guarding our borders,sacrifice their family life and even their lives,in order to keep our country safe.
Today,we see lot of professionals going abroad,leaving their aged parents and family behind. It is not renouncing worldly pleasures in pursuit of spirituality. Nonetheless,it is still giving up what you love. For the person traveling away from home,it is- giving up the desire to stay close to family and friends,giving up the comforts of living in your own land. It is also a sacrifice by the person's family to let him/her go. Their families are doing so to enable their children fulfill their ambitions.
It all boils down to giving up what you love for the sake of getting something else-be it spirituality,money or peace. At every point when we have to make such a decision,we face moral dilemmas and have to answer our conscience. All the people mentioned in this post,followed their 'swadharma',of doing what they thought was the correct thing to do in those circumstances. It is not an easy decision to give up what you value the most,but still we have to take such decisions at some point in our life. In such situations,we have to follow our swadharma and take an appropriate decision.