Lama Thubten Yeshe: Renunciation
We would all like to be free from ego mind and the bondage of samsara, but what is it that binds us to samsara and makes us unhappy? It’s not having renunciation. So, what is renunciation? What makes us renounced?
The reason we are unhappy is that we have extreme craving for sense objects, samsaric objects, and we grasp at them. We are seeking to solve our problems, but we are not seeking in the right place. The right place is our own ego grasping; we have to loosen that tightness, that’s all.
According to the Buddhist point of view, monks and nuns are supposed to hold renunciation vows. The meaning of monks and nuns renouncing the world is that they have less craving for and grasping at sense objects.
But you cannot say that they have already given up samsara, because monks and nuns still have stomachs! The thing is that the English word “renounce” is linguistically tricky. You can say that monks and nuns renounce their stomachs, but that doesn’t mean that they actually throw their stomachs away.
So, I want you to understand that renouncing sensory pleasure doesn’t mean throwing nice things away. Even if you do, it doesn’t mean you have renounced them. Renunciation is a totally inner experience. Renunciation of samsara does not mean you throw samsara away because your body and your nose are samsara. How can you throw your nose away? Your mind and body are samsara–well, at least mine are. So I cannot throw them away. Therefore, renunciation means less craving; it means being more reasonable instead of putting too much psychological pressure on yourself and acting crazy.
The important point for us to know, then, is that we should have less grasping at sense pleasures, because most of the time our grasping at and craving desire for worldly pleasure does not give us satisfaction. That is the main point. It leads to more dissatisfaction and to psychologically crazier reactions.
If you have the wisdom and method to handle objects of the five senses perfectly such that they do not bring negative reactions, it’s all right for you to touch them. And, as human beings, we should be capable of judging for ourselves how far we can go into the experience of sense pleasure without getting mixed up and confused. We should judge for ourselves; it is completely up to individual experience. It’s like French wine–some people cannot take it at all. Even though they would like to, the constitution of their nervous system doesn’t allow it. But other people can take a little; others can take a bit more; some can take a lot.
Now, I want you to understand why Buddhist scriptures completely forbid monks and nuns from drinking wine. It is not because wine is bad; grapes are bad. Grapes and vines are beautiful; the color of red wine is fantastic. But because we are ordinary beginners on the path to liberation, we easily get caught up in negative energy. That’s the reason. It is not that wine itself is bad. This is a good example for renunciation.
Who was the great Indian saint who drank wine? Do you remember that story? I don’t recall who it was, but this saint went into a bar and drank and drank until the bartender finally asked him, “When are you going to pay?” The saint replied, “I’ll pay when the sun sets.” But the sun didn’t set and the saint just kept on drinking. The bartender wanted his money but somehow the saint controlled the sun, and didn’t allow it to set. These kinds of higher realizations–we can call them miraculous or esoteric realizations–are beyond the comprehension of ordinary people like us, but the saint in this story was able to control the sun and drank perhaps thirty gallons of wine. And he didn’t even have to pee!
Now, my point is that renunciation of samsara is not only the business of monks and nuns. Whoever seeks liberation or enlightenment needs renunciation of samsara. If you check your own life, your own daily experiences, you will see that you are caught up in small pleasures–we Buddhists consider such grasping to be a tremendous hang-up and of very little value. However, the Western way of thinking–“I should have the best; the biggest”–is similar to our Buddhist attitude that we should have the best, most lasting, perfect pleasure rather than spending our lives fighting for the pleasure of a glass of wine.
Therefore, you need to abandon your grasping attitude and other useless actions and actualize things that make your life meaningful and liberated.
However, I don’t want you to understand only the philosophical point of view. We are capable of examining our own minds and comprehending what kind of mind brings everyday problems and is not worthwhile, both objectively and subjectively. This is the way that meditation allows us to correct our attitudes and actions. Don’t think, “My attitudes and actions come from my previous karma, therefore I can’t do anything.” That’s a misunderstanding of karma. Don’t think, “I am powerless.” Human beings do have power. We have the power to change our lifestyles, change our attitudes, change our habits. We can call that capacity Buddha potential, God potential or whatever you want to call it. That’s why Buddhism is simple. It is a universal teaching that can be understood by all people, religious or non-religious.
The opposite of renunciation of samsara–to put what I’m saying another way–is the extreme mind that we have most of the time: the grasping, craving mind that gives us an overestimated projection of objects, which has nothing to with the reality of those objects.
But you should understand that Buddhism is not saying that objects have no beauty whatsoever. They do have beauty–a flower has a certain beauty, but that beauty is only conventional, or relative. The craving mind, however, projects onto an object something that is beyond the relative level, which has nothing to do with that object, that hypnotizes us. That mind is hallucinating, deluded and holding onto a mistaken entity.
Without intensive observation or introspective wisdom, we cannot discover this. For that reason, Buddhist meditation includes checking. We call checking in this way “analytical meditation.” It involves logic; it involves philosophy. So, Buddhist philosophy and psychology help us see things better. Therefore, analytical meditation is a scientific way of analyzing our own experience.
Finally, I also want you to understand that monks and nuns may not be renounced at all. It’s true, isn’t it? In Buddhism, we talk about superficial structure and universal structure. So when we say monks and nuns renounce, it means we’re trying, that’s all. Westerners sometimes think monks and nuns are holy. We’re not holy; we’re just trying. That’s reasonable. Don’t overestimate again, on that. Lay people, monks and nuns–we’re all members of the Buddhist community. We should understand each other well and then let go; leave things as they are. It’s unhealthy to have overestimated expectations of each other.
This teaching was given at Vajra Yogini Institute, France, in 1982.