Spiritual teaching speaks highly of renunciation as the only means for salvation. The spirit of renunciation is difficult to attain and maintain against the challenge of worldly pulls. In a discourse, Sri Mani Dravid Sastrigal drew attention to the description of true renunciation by Yagnyavalkya to Janaka in the Jabala Upanishad when he quotes a list of Paramahamsa Sanyasis who embody the values of Vairagya and Viveka.
In the eyes of many, such people who have truly renounced the world are not enamoured of its material attractions. They may even appear abnormal to many. They continue to live on the meagre food they get unsought. They do not have a dwelling place and keep moving from place to place.
Samvartaka is one such sanyasi who is mentioned in the list. He is the brother of Brihaspati, the purohit of the celestial beings. It is said that once a king wanted to perform a yaga and wished Brihaspati to be the officiating priest. But Indra did not agree to this and so Brihaspati suggested that his brother Samvartaka be asked to conduct the yagna. He told the king that Samvartaka is a Paramahamsa Sanyasi and fully eligible to conduct the yagna. But it would be difficult to identify him since he does not display any external marks or signs to signify his renounced state. Brihaspati told the king that his brother lived near Kasi and that he should try to identify him when he enters Kasi to offer his customary worship to Siva. His proposal was to place a dead body on the city limits and watch out for anyone who, on seeing the body, merely retraces his steps without entering the city. As the king waited, a poorly clad man came walking towards the city and turned away on finding the body. The king followed him and realised that he was Brihaspati’s brother. The reason he turned back without entering Kasi to worship Siva was because it is believed that the Jivatma who dies in Kasi attains Brahma jnana. By paying obeisance to the dead body, he had done worship to Siva.
Krishna’s teaching also stresses that practice of the principles of dharma alone fosters the spirit of renunciation and condemns mere acceptance of external signs of renunciation.