We’ve been slowly rising out of a dark age spiritually. For some time, real spiritual progress was best achieved by withdrawing from the heaviness of the world. Thus, for hundreds of years, the most illustrious examples of enlightenment have often been monks and nuns. Many traditions have come to teach the renunciate path as the only way to enlightenment.
While this has been relatively true for a time, it is no longer true. As world consciousness rises, dharma is restored and householders can once again make decent progress. Some are becoming remarkable shining lights. Older history shows many past examples as well. The majority of ancient texts like the Rk Veda were written by householders.
A householder is one who is out in the world, with work, family, and so forth. A renunciate or recluse is one who withdraws to an ashram, monastery or cave. The vast majority of people are the first.
The renunciate path you can recognize by its Neti Neti (not this, not this) approach. It is a disconnecting from all expression, seeking only the depths of silent being. The reality of the person is denied. Some promote this as the only truth. But there is a different approach for the householder.
For them, it is in some ways the opposite. And this, and this. A householder is obliged to very much engage their person as an aspect of their expression. They add the full range of creation to their daily life.
In the back of the book Science of Being, Maharishi Mahesh Yogi describes the “Paths to God Realization.” In it, he specifies that the Intellectual path of discrimination is the path of the renunciate. Other paths, such as that of action & perception, devotion, and so forth are generally householder paths.
If a householder tries to follow a renunciate path, they will succeed at neither. Very simply because they will be in conflict. Their natural inclinations will fight their practice. But because of teaching influences, many householders drift in a kind of middle ground, with one foot in each.
They pursue long daily spiritual practice while trying to hold down work and a life. Or they focus on practices that are better for monks such as long retreats or a deep practice of inquiry.
I say this from experience. When I first read Maharishi’s reference above, I thought this meant I had to be a renunciate. I didn’t even know how.(laughs) When I began, long practice was more necessary for good progress. But millions of meditators have softened and smoothed the way.
We have to note that it’s not all black and white, as my error above indicated. Many people are inclined to a combination of paths. Royal or Raja Yoga itself, outlined in the Yoga Sutras, is a blend of Yogas.
Further, people’s personalities vary. More introverted people will have reclusive tendencies, even if they’re householders. And renunciates may benefit from some activity in the world. Many do good works, for example.
This also does not mean a householder should not take periods of retreat from the world for rest, healing and deepening. And some retired people may find retreat ideal. But only the renunciate should pursue this over all. The householder should not see withdrawing as an escape from worldly troubles or a means to enlightenment.
Also, this does not mean a householder will not go through the same stages as a renunciate. There will still be a detachment and witness phase. But for the householder, this is a stage whereas for the renunciate, it is the emphasis. And they will relate to the stages differently.
The apparently indistinct line between the 2 can confuse people and there are many promoting detachment as the goal. But what feels natural? There is so much richness beyond ego-surrender, it cannot be imagined. To deny that over confusion about our path is to miss the fullness of our being.