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Must we renounce the whole world?

Posted on July 08, 2019
Must we renounce the whole world?

Not many years ago, Dhruvi Singhi was a typical teenage girl in India: She wore ripped jeans, liked to eat out, and dreamed of winning “Indian Idol,” a popular singing contest on television.

Then, something changed: Dhruvi became more devoted to her family’s religion, known as Jainism. The faith, a minority religion in India, claims about 4.5 million believers. The most devoted Jains live a life of asceticism and self-denial. A spiritual leader, called a monk, instructs followers how to live, down to what they should and should not eat.

Now, hundreds of young people in India are taking their spiritual devotion a step further. Dhruvi and others are undergoing “deeksha,” a ritual in which they vow never to bathe again, ride in a car, sleep under a fan, or use modern technology. Shoes are to be forsaken as well. And parents? They’re no longer to be addressed as Mom or Dad.

“I Will Never Hug Her Again”

As Dhruvi prepared for her initiation into this life of extreme self-denial, her father was heartsick, the BBC reported: “‘I will never be able to hug my daughter again,’ says Indravadan Singhi, his voice breaking. ... ‘I can never meet her eye again.’”

Experts who study religious life in India, as well as Jain leaders and influencers, point to several factors in the uptick in the number of Deekshas who undergo the initiation. “What’s happening in New York, or what’s happening in Europe, you see it at the same moment. Earlier, our competition was restricted only to the streets in which we were staying. Now there is competition with all the world,” Mumbai University professor Dr. Bipin Joshi told the news agency. That pressure, along with “FOMO,” or “fear of missing out” is driving many to seek demanding spiritual answers to their problems.

“Once you take deeksha or renounce the world, your level of spirituality, social standing, religious standing becomes so high, even the richest man will come down and bow to you,” Joshi said.

Ironically, mobile phone and Internet technology—things renounced by the Deekshas—are becoming ways to reach young people with the message. “If one wants to reach youngsters, it is easier to go to where they are rather than to try and bring them here,” said Muni Jinvatsalya Vijay Maharajsaheb, a Jain monk whose videos have had more than one million views online. “YouTube was the best choice because that is where young people spend most of their time online.”

The BBC article doesn’t explain how this monk, who presumably has also renounced the world and its attractions, is able to make and promote his online videos.

While it’s easy for those who have not lived in India, or have not been a part of Jain culture, to roll their eyes at the mention of such extreme asceticism, it is a striking counterpoint to a material world in which millions have sold out for the next new mobile phone, or for a shot at fame and fortune, however fleeting. The heartbreak Dhruvi’s father experienced is real, but other Jain parents are happy to send their children off into deeksha, believing this will be better for them.

Must We Be Cut Off?

The question remains: Is a life totally cut off from modern conveniences the kind of life God wants for His people? Or is there a better way of living that balances the benefits of present-day society with a healthy respect for spiritual matters?

Perhaps it’s also worth asking whether the Sabbath—the Bible Sabbath observed on the seventh day of the week—might figure into this. A look at the words of Jesus might offer key insights here.

In John 10, Jesus talk about the difference between those who would harm God’s children—the “sheep,” He calls them—and what Jesus does to care for His followers. “The thief does not come except to steal, and to kill, and to destroy. I have come that they may have life, and that they may have it more abundantly” (v. 10).

Instead of imposing harsh restrictions and requiring radical extremes of self-denial, Jesus says those who follow Him should enjoy life “more abundantly.” That’s part of the message Christians call “good news”!

Of course, this abundant life does not mean a self-indulgent existence. Instead, we’re supposed to exercise concern for others and help meet their needs. We’re supposed to be “temperate in all things” (1 Corinthians 9:25). And as believers, we covenant that we will follow what the Lord asks us to do.

One of those requests is to observe the Sabbath day and keep it holy (Exodus 20:8–11). In Mark 6:31, Jesus told His closest followers, “‘Come aside by yourselves to a deserted place and rest a while.’ For there were many coming and going, and they did not even have time to eat.” While this was not a specific reference to the Sabbath, it underscores the principle: Even the busiest among us need to experience restoration through rest and contemplation.

On the Sabbath, believers will “unplug” from technology and the day-to-day grind that is our world. Ideally, one’s thinking should shift from the competition of daily life to the contemplation of God and His Word. And Sabbathkeepers will often take time to be in nature and remember the beauty God created in this world.

Most will bathe on the Sabbath day and would ride in a car or bus or train if needed to reach a gathering of believers. Disconnecting from the workaday world does not require the strictness of a deeksha initiation. Instead, it involves resting in what God has done, and trusting Him to sustain us, while also doing that which is necessary to live happily with others.

There are many resources on the Sabbath Truth website that can help you understand how to observe the Sabbath wholly. A good place to start is the free article “Rest in God,” which offers a brief list of suggestions on how best to observe God’s day of rest.

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