What is the cause of all problems, individual as well as universal? The root from which everything spreads out? It is attachment. Attachment is the cause of all pain.

For example, this glass is very special. I bought it at an auction and it was used by King George 100th!!! King George 100th used this glass. It is MINE. D. said, “Is that so, Swamiji? Can you give it to me? I would like to have it.” “No way,” I said, as I held it tight. When I go to sleep, I lock it up in a special vault with a special lock and put on a special electronic alarm, so if anyone tries to touch it, I will know. I am unable to sleep because of this glass. Any sound I hear, I think someone is after my glass. L. is coming over. She is only trying to be friendly because of the glass. I trust no one now. I ask Swami P. to check on D. to see what he is up to, but later I see Swami P. and D. outside talking together. Oh my God, they are plotting against me for my glass!!

I just gave the simple example of attachment to the glass, but it could be to anything—to money, to anything or any person. Swamis and yogis also have problems of attachment. “This is my Yoga Centre, my disciples, my money.” Attachment brings fear and anger with it. Anger is a frustrated desire which is based on attachment. When something stands in the way of the thing that produces pleasure i.e. our attachment, then anger arises. Fear arises at the thought that we might lose what we are attached to. Anger and fear come along as part and parcel of the attachment. Freedom from attachment is freedom from fear and anger.

Why do we get attached to various objects, animate and inanimate? The cause of attachment is the sense of I-ness and mine-ness. You want an object because you think you can get happiness from it. You then get attached to it. “It is mine. I own it.” I-ness and mine-ness is the root cause of all problems. But most of us do not even recognise it as a problem. We do not recognise the level of our attachment to things, nor how it traps us. Quietly maya binds us.

Attachments can develop slowly. We are unaware that they are creeping up on us, their movement is subtle. This is why an aspirant should purify the mind, in order to recognise them, and how they bind. This problem does not only arise in cities where the temptations are many. Those who live in the Himalayas in seclusion may not have attachment to the same objects as a city dweller, but they become attached to the few possessions they do have. I have seen how they decorate their kamandalus (water pots), put their initials on them, and become possessive or envious of another’s. Attachment is not about having or not having money, a house or a big car. You can get attached to even the smallest thing and the same fear and anger will result.

And the answer to this problem? It is called renunciation and it will take you to a painless state. If you want to remove pain and the problems of attachment, you must renounce. Now, many people misunderstand exactly what renunciation is. Renunciation is not not having. If that is the case, you can go to any big city and you will see many living on the streets. These people have nothing, they have nothing to get attached to. The street is their home. But does this mean that they are renunciates? No. In order to renounce, you first must have something to renounce. If you want to get a divorce, you first need a marriage! Marriage is the first step towards divorce! In the same way, if you want to renounce something, you must first possess it. Then only can you say you have renounced. The people on the streets are not renunciates. They have not renounced anything because they have nothing to renounce. But they have desires. They see people in their cars, in their homes. They have the desires but they know that these things are beyond their reach. In a way, they appear to be desireless. In fact most are just numb. But the desire is there, it is lying dormant ready to sprout, like a seed. If you offer them something, they will take it and the desires, as with everyone, homeless or not, will grow. The spirit of renunciation is not to do with having or not having possessions. Renunciation is a state of mind. It is a state of desirelessness.

Let me tell you a story. King Janaka was a God-realised, saintly king. He lived in the city and ruled his kingdom from his palace amid servants and royal paraphernalia. His people knew he was realised. However, local pundits were jealous and started rumours that he was not realised; that it was all pretence; that he was living in the palace in splendour and had not renounced a thing. “He has a queen and all the pleasures of the palace and yet he thinks he is God-realised,” they whispered. The gossip reached the ears of the king. He decided to teach the pundits a lesson. He sent out a special invitation for a royal dinner at the palace. Only the important, very learned pundits were invited. This was the first time they had been invited to a royal dinner with the king! It was an elaborate affair, with 108 dishes, each sumptuously prepared. The prayer was said, the water sprinkled and then one by one their eyes looked upward. They all froze. Above each of their heads lay poised a sharp, pointed sword, hanging only by a thin thread.

The thread was so thin that even the vibration from small talk might have snapped it. Silence fell. The pundits could not leave until dinner was finished for fear of offending the king. No one spoke. They gobbled down their food to get out of there as fast as possible. When the meal was over they were taken to the king’s court to pay their respects. The king asked, “Oh learned pundits, you know the Upanishads, the Vedas, and I am proud of you. I wanted to give you the best dinner. I asked for the best dishes to be served. Did they give you all of the 108 dishes? How did the meal taste? Was it prepared properly? Were the sweets good?” No one replied. “What happened? Why don’t you answer?” said the king. The chief pundit eventually answered, “Your Royal Highness, we do not know what we ate, because of a small incident which must have been a prank played by one of your ministers. A sharp sword was hanging above each of our heads and we were afraid that it would fall at any moment. Our minds were on the swords and not on the food.” “You don’t remember what you ate?” persisted the king. The pundits remembered nothing.

King Janaka said, “You ate all the 108 dishes, but none of you can describe whether they were sweet or salty, good or bad. Why? I will answer for you. Because your minds were on the sword. Likewise, I am surrounded by this palace, all these luxuries, but my mind is not on them. I am thinking only of God. I am detached from this world and think only of God. Everything is an illusion. Just as you ate the dishes, but do not remember them, I do my duty and constantly think only of God. All this has no meaning for me. A mere sword can keep your mind fully concentrated because of fear. Imagine the infinite bliss of the atman.”

In the same way, God-realised souls like Master Sivananda have touched the infinite source of happiness, the infinite atman. What are the little pleasures of the world for them? You think these pleasures are everything, but for the masters everything is a mirage. A person can have ten thousand acres of farmland but still has only one stomach. He may have a palace with one hundred beds, but still he can use only one. You can have everything. It is all in the mind. It is all an illusion. Go deeper. Attachment does not mean having or not having. Can you renounce at any given moment? The spirit of renunciation is being able, when the time comes, to leave with no attachment to anything.