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Buddhist Mindfulness #32 Renunciation


We talked about being a monk involving renunciation.
Of the ten perfections (pāramī) it’s probably the one I find the most difficult. In terms of something like truthfulness is easy to understand that it has immediate beneficial results and you can see the effects if you lie. But renunciation is more problematic because if you take it to an extreme you’re into asceticism. It’s also where you make a decision
to renounce and then you fail in that volition, then you’ve got guilt
and all those sort of things coming up. But why are you renouncing?
What is the purpose of the renunciation? I’m all one for failing at things.
I don’t find failing at things the problem. Because that’s how I get better at something. So, it’s the absence of self-concern with regard to something not working out quite as well as you wanted, that means that you can try again, you can do it again and perhaps even do it better next time. So, you’re turning your weakness into a strength, gradually over time. So, it’s understanding
what the purpose of the renunciation is. If it’s to fulfil the pāramī because you’re told you need to fulfil the pāramī, then, in a sense, you’ve misunderstood. Whereas for you, perhaps, truthfulness, you understand the underlying purpose behind the truthfulness and, therefore, it’s not an issue. And I go back to that example in the Pali Canon of the king who renounced his kingdom and was sat under a tree going “bliss, bliss” (Udāna 2.10). Because he had got
something back for his renunciation. Yes, he let go of a burden. But I suppose I see renunciation as a form of control. So I will control by will, these Urges? That’s where the learning has to go on. A monastic is celibate and that is part of the choice of going into a monastery. I found that a tremendous relief, I have to be honest.
“Ah, I don’t have to worry about that anymore.” That doesn’t mean that the desire for, however we shall put it, doesn’t come up. Of course it comes up. Why?
Because I’m a human being. Because it’s in our DNA.
Because we have to keep the species going. But as soon as you start to understand that, that it is actually a perfectly normal desire, that, in and of itself, it’s not reprehensible. It is just what it is. It only becomes reprehensible
when we fall into sexual misconduct, which is taking an advantage of others
in order for our own sexual gratification. When you become aware of that,
it means that, far from it being a kind of suppression or repression of those urges, you experience it fully, you acknowledge what it is and it is very energising. You’re not fighting with the desire, you’re acknowledging it, you’re just choosing not to act upon it. Now, just to carry on that just a little bit more. You asked me what I found
difficult about recluse-ship? Every spring, without fail, I would, unconsciously, go into my teacher’s office and say, “I’ve really got to leave, I’ve got to disrobe” and he’d just laugh at me and ask me why, and I’d make up all these reasons,
but we know what it was, it was spring. It’s like the sap was rising all around me
and I’m just a part of all that and finally, after a few years of getting used to that, I really cracked that whole sexual instinct. So, it’s not hammering down the desire,
it’s understanding it. But you understand it through renouncing
the acting upon it. Doesn’t the word
renunciation imply an active component? So there’s mindfulness of the arising of a desire
and then the renouncing it? Using another example. I renounced my interest in music
when I became a monk, didn’t I? I had no access to music other than the contents of my head, which I can assure you remembered every single track of
every album I ever owned and I would repeatedly go over a very small little riff in my head in meditation endlessly, until I got over that. But I had renounced, I had renounced the worldly life, including music, right? But that doesn’t mean I don’t like music, I didn’t stop liking music. I had renounced something that was small to gain something greater from that renunciation. It didn’t prevent me from enjoying music and it doesn’t prevent me from enjoying music now. Now I’ve left the monastic order, I can go to a gig, I can listen to music all I like. But I had renounced the dependency upon that for my happiness, essentially. Recognising that music comes and goes,
it’s very ephemeral. Beautiful, fun, interesting, but ultimately wasn’t gonna set me free from dukkha (suffering), so I renounced it. And that’s the beautiful thing about the training. At the end of the training the world comes back to you, but now it’s been transformed, you understand it in a way you hadn’t before, and there’s no dependency upon those things but you can still enjoy them. Does that get closer to the issue? I’m just thinking, in a monastery it’s obviously easier, you’ve made a definite decision to renounce. Obviously in a lay life you’d still have access to your record collection and the rest of it. And what’s wrong with that? Nothing, I suppose. No, it’s only a problem if there is a reliance on those things for your happiness. But don’t we all have that through watching TV programs and eating food and whatever. Well, eating food, we would die if we didn’t eat food, you wouldn’t die if you didn’t watch EastEnders. It’s a question of
understanding the true nature of these objects. When somebody comes in for a week’s retreat, they are renouncing their mobile phone, the internet, the TV, radio, their loved ones, for a week. We’re not saying you’ve got to get rid of them, we’re not saying it’s wrong to have them. It’s the dependency upon those things for your security. (“Those things”, your loved ones are not things, but you understand what I mean) It’s the dependency upon [them] for your sense of purpose, wellbeing, self-view, happiness, whatever it is. Whatever it is you use those things for
to make yourself feel whole, those things cannot do it,
they’re not up to it, whatever they are. It’s not necessarily renouncing the object,
it’s renouncing them for the time being. So if somebody comes in on a retreat and they are taken away from their normal routines, their normal lifestyle, their normal people and things it shows up your cravings,
it shows up what it is that you depend on really, really clearly and then you can start looking at those underlying desires, really bring them out and see them for what they are. I go back to my example of going to see my teacher in the spring. Eventually, I looked at what the problem actually was and the problem was not whether I had sex or not. The problem was not understanding what was going on and when I looked at it, I came to understand it and now I can either be in a relationship or not be in a relationship, it doesn’t matter. So, in that sense, those thoughts weren’t renounced. The mindfulness of them
and the effect of (not) indulging them brought a natural release of them, a natural letting go of that thinking or that indulgence in fantasies. It’s a combination, you have to put in the restraint
in order to see what is actually taking place. You can’t just act out of the desire, if you act out of the desire you’re just continuing to ignore so you have to put some kind of restraint in. But it’s not a forceful repression or a suppression, you want to see what’s going on. So you, as it were, renounce the worldly object, you renounce acting upon the impulse, in order to see the impulse more clearly. But there are aspects of that whole process that you need to see, which is the province of Insight meditation. You need to see how transient, unsatisfactory the things of the world are and your attachment to the things of the world and the actual process of mind itself. The actual habit of mind needs to be fully comprehended and seen, ultimately, that it is not-self, that none of these component parts can be depended upon for your happiness. So, it’s transcending the whole problem through wisdom, eliminating the attachment through wisdom and transcending it. That means you can still enjoy
the things the world has to offer, it’s not a question of
absolute right and wrong about them. it’s a question of whether you’re suffering or not. And the suffering comes from passionately craving and attaching to things in the belief that those can give you ultimate satisfaction. And when you discover that it is impossible, you let go. And that renouncing is completely spontaneous and natural and unforced
and there’s no repression, no suppression and from that point on there’s no restraint required because it’s been thoroughly comprehended and so the renunciation is essentially letting go of a dream. Thank you

Jerry Heath

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