If we look at the spiritual and religious traditions of the world, we find that a recurring theme is the need of the true seeker to disassociate himself from the outer life of the world. This is done to focus the attention on the spiritual quest and to avoid the distractions, disruptions and time and energy required to deal with the demands of the external life. In many cases, this is done through simplification of the life in the setting of a monastery, cloister, ashram or spiritual community. In others, it is done through a renunciation of the worldly life in favor of the life of the ascetic, the mendicant, or the anchorite in the cave or the forest. As a result, there is a strong habit among those who seek spiritual realisation to want to retreat from the world at large.

It is also true that there are times and specific movements in the inner life that are benefitted by a retreat from the external life of society. When these periods arise, the seeker has little choice but to follow the guidance to go inwards and step back from worldly life.

Most spiritual paths have focused on individual salvation, liberation, moksha, or mukti and thus, have no objective rationale for the seeker to engage with the outer world any more than is absolutely necessary to obtain needed food and basic resources for living.

At the same time, scriptures such as the Bhagavad Gita indicate that spiritual liberation is not something opposed to an active life in the external world. The seeker is asked to achieve realisation while carrying out his dharma in the context of the society. Abandonment of the duty and role in life is not encouraged.

Sri Aurobindo has stated an objective of the transformation of life in the world, and thus, permanent withdrawal from that life is not considered by him to be ultimately a solution. He further makes it clear that the realisation must be able to withstand the pressures of the external world and this needs real experience in that world in order to be solidified.

Sri Aurobindo observes: “How are you going to find the right external relations by withdrawing altogether from external relations? And how do you propose to be thoroughly transformed and unified by living only in the internal life, without any test of the transformation and unity by external contact and the ordeals of the external work and life? Thoroughness includes external work and relations and not a retired inner life only.”

Sri Aurobindo, Integral Yoga: Sri Aurobindo’s Teaching and Method of Practice, Chapter 11, Human Relationships in Yoga, Mixing with Others, pp 332-335

Author's Bio: 

Santosh has been studying Sri Aurobindo's writings since 1971 and has a daily blog at http://sriaurobindostudies.wordpress.com and podcast at https://anchor.fm/santosh-krinsky He is author of 16 books and is editor-in-chief at Lotus Press. He is president of Institute for Wholistic Education, a non-profit focused on integrating spirituality into daily life.