Renunciation is about wanting to put an end to Samsara: the endless cycle of birth, aging, sickness, and death.
Buddhist Renunciation explained by a Buddhist teacher
In this short article, we will cover what Renunciation is and what it isn't for lay-practitioners; how to cultivate it; and, why it's so important to attaining Awakening and Enlightenment.
Buddhist Renunciation isn't about asceticism or giving up pleasures and the finer things of life; believe it or not, you can renounce and still have those things. Rather, genuine Renunciation is about rejecting our unskilful attachments to the things that make us unhappy.
Don't worry, this will all make sense shortly.
So, what is and what isn't Buddhist Renunciation, more specifically?
While the depths of Buddhist Renunciation are not within the scope of this brief article, it helps to understand Renunciation if we take a moment to understand the underlying motivations for taking it.
Renunciation starts by cultivating the motivation to put effort, concentration, and mindfulness toward the release of our attachments to the deceptively attractive aspects of life that, despite being the source of predictable dissatisfaction within our lives, we somehow still manage to mindlessly gravitate toward anyway: anger, talking behind peoples' backs, and alcohol are common enough examples of catalysts that frequently get people into unwanted/unintended situations.
At the highest level, renunciation means giving up the tendency to always wanting to think and act in ways that try to maximise pleasure.
But that's only where it starts.
You see, that's because genuine Renunciation isn't really about renouncing our attachments to those types of superficial pleasures, or any pleasures for that matter. It's about renouncing our overwhelming attachments to things much deeper and more fundamental than "pleasure." Renunciation can serve as both the unshakable committent to, or attainment of, the process of releasing our attachments to the existential: to taking birth, to having a body, and to existence as a whole. Buddhist Renunciation is about wanting to finally put an end to Samsara: the endless cycle of birth, ageing, sickness, and death. This isn't to be confused with Nihilism, or having any sort of death-wish. It's about the release of our clinging to our incorrect views of self, reality, and suffering which is at the very core of the Buddha's first teaching: the Four Noble Truths.
(note: the paragraphs above really do deserve to be unpacked, as there is a lot there that I am skipping over, but I assume that the reader has a solid understanding of the Buddhist world view and has read the suttas, so perhaps another time--or email me.)
So, how do we cultivate this determination?
We do this by reading and listening to the core teachings of the Buddha and by contemplating the lessons deeply to come to understand them and use our logic, reason, and analytical skills to change the way we think, speak, and act; this in-turn re-wires our intentions and motivation to lean toward more skilful and positive states of mind and action. It's at this point when life just starts to become easier.
From this we can actually start to generate the unshakeable motivation that leads to genuine Buddhist Renunciation: the effortless motivation that acts as an inexhaustible fuel source to power our practice with a focus on putting an end to our endless cycle of birth, ageing, sickness, and death.
Renunciation can only be achieved as the result of a clear understanding of the Buddha's teachings on Dukkha and the end of Dukkha. There is no other way.
The good news is that Buddhist Renunciation isn't something we have to put much effort into. It develops naturally as a by-product of skilful study, practice, meditation, and by coming to have repeated insights into Dukkha. Doing these things correctly will organically cultivate a strong determination to be free, Renunciation.
But, why is Buddhist Renunciation so important?
Because Awakening and Enlightenment are impossible to achieve without it.
It's only through a holistic and dedicated practice of (1) cultivating our discipline (sila), (2) our concentration (samadhi), and (3) our wisdom (panna), coupled with (4) skilful instruction, that Awakening and further progress down the Path can be made attainable by anyone, in this lifetime.
Fortunately, you don't have to wait for full Enlightenment to enjoy the fruits of your practice. If you are true in your practice, then you get to experience all the wonders of spiritual attainments and progress along the way! However, without building the proper foundations for genuine Buddhist Renunciation, Enlightenment will be forever out of reach.
I think it's worth pointing out that Stream-entry (aka Awakening) is a really big deal, in fact, there is no Buddhism without it, and it cannot be achieved without deep insight into Dukkha which drives the unshakeable insight leading to Buddhist Renunciation. Not an intellectual renunciation, mind you--no, that won't do--but one that is anchored in a deeply rooted and skilful aversion to suffering, Samsara, and for taking another rebirth...any kind of rebirth.
And that's what Buddhist Renunciation is in a nutshell: "a deeply rooted and skilful aversion to suffering, Samsara, and for taking another rebirth...any kind of rebirth."
Buddhist Ācariya and Anagārika
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Michael Turner is a pre-monastic ariya-puggala and a full-time Buddhist anagārika; and he is also a deeply accomplished streamentry mentor and applied-dharma teacher. He emphasises and teaches the practical application of the Buddha's teachings in our everyday lives to overcome our human problems that stand in the way of making measurable progress toward Buddhist enlightenment and he is particularly adept at explaining them in ways that can be easily understood and practiced by Western Buddhists. He has been meditating and cultivating the views and techniques that generate indestructible resilience, inner-strength, and direct experience for almost 30 years and has helped countless numbers of students and peers enhance and course-correct their practice to make veritable progress along the path toward Nibbāna.
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