Renunciation: Wake-up Call
Renunciation is fundamental to the Buddhist path, and all schools of Buddhism in the three vehicles (Śrāvakayāna, Mahāyāna, and Vajrayāna) emphasize this teaching. If we are serious about the Buddhist path, then we can and should reflect on the fundamentals. In this teaching, Phakchok Rinpoche reminds us to reflect on impermanence and on renunciation.
Rinpoche advises us to investigate our situation. Is our career, our family, our house, our fortune, or insurance our guarantee of a beautiful life full of stable happiness? Maybe we think this is the case. But we also like to go to Dharma centers or attend retreats and receive teachings—maybe even practice a little bit of meditation. We enjoy what we learn there, and we may think this makes us a practitioner.
But, Rinpoche asks us to be honest—is this casual approach really what we mean when we talk about practice? Is this applying the Dharma? Sadly, treating Dharma time as a mini-break or holiday shows that we are missing the point. We may think that home is reliable—but can we be sure? Spend some time contemplating this—it’s helpful to come back to this point throughout the day.
What about the basic teaching of impermanence? Feelings are not permanent—nothing actually is, right? But, we ignore that and rely very heavily on impermanent thing—we think they make us secure. So, when we are dying, do any of the things we feel secure in really help? When we die, will our job save us—or our family—or our feelings? Of course not!
Think about this very seriously—doesn’t this produce a scary feeling? We may feel a little bit empty inside if we contemplate this. And why do we have that empty, shaky sensation? Because we don’t really have a strong sense of renunciation. But Rinpoche says that this is a big problem—he notes that really understanding renunciation is as important as understanding mind nature! And it takes time for our renunciation—our desire to be free to grow. The Buddha explained how we need to understand this and that we need to place our practice first.
Rinpoche here jokes with the Singapore audience that renunciation is difficult in such a busy city. Everything else in life seems so important—how can Dharma be most important?
Rinpoche says he feels this himself when he visits big cities. But we shouldn’t think this is the only place this happens. Most of us modern people can relate to the same issues—we have so many pressing issues in our lives—and do we really want to give this all up? What tends to happen is that even if we want to practice, we have all these demands on our time. And then we just put Dharma as one more thing on the list. Renunciation is not so easy in these situations.
Renunciation From Within
Moreover, renunciation needs to come from within—it is not about seeing others’ suffering and wanting not to experience that! Instead, we need to examine our feelings and our emotions and experiences. When we see other people suffering, we practice compassion—that’s important in our training. But, when we ourselves experience difficulties, then we remind ourselves of what really matters. Renunciation does mean to be detached—so we can investigate our own attachment.
What are we really attached to? Really experience this by sitting back and saying, “Everything is impermanent. I can’t rely on anything.” Feel this authentically—what happens? Can you get into the depth of this experience?
We choose to come to the Dharma because we want to transform our minds. But often, Rinpoche observes, we get caught up in the habitual patterns of our lives and color the Dharma with those tendencies. We’re actually very skilled at transforming Dharma into saṃsāra—worldly activities. And we can blame modern technology, but that is not really the problem, is it? Instead, we can blame our own ignorance and our lack of renunciation.
Transformation comes about through genuine self-reflection–not repeating what we’ve heard or read in books. We examine our own character and behavior and see what we discover. This is how we really transform—and we do this by being honest about our own situation. We aren’t all going to leave everything behind and go away to the mountains forever—and we can acknowledge that. Very serious practitioners with deep renunciation don’t waste any time at all. This doesn’t mean they can’t interact with us—these great beings can practice and watch a movie at the same time. But most of us aren’t like that—and we need teachers like this to interact with us.
Renunciation As Opportunity
Renunciation is a benefit because it startles us–it wakes us from our sleep of ignorance. We’re all asleep in saṃsāra, right—24 hours a day! But renunciation reminds us not to waste time. When we understand this, we remember that we have the power to transform—and then we truly can use this power well. Unfortunately, when we’re dying, we don’t have that power or that time. But right now, we can take advantage of this precious time.
Take this time wholeheartedly—seize this opportunity!