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Joyful Renunciation

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I was confused for a long time about renunciation. This is not entirely my fault. In the Buddhist monasteries where I ordained and practiced, renunciation was a physical, ritual, communal, and obligatory action. Every few days we shaved our heads to signify cutting off delusion. We lived as simply as possible and renounced worldly accomplishments by turning away from professions that made a lot of money. In many spiritual traditions throughout the world, internal renunciation is symbolized and catalyzed by physical acts: shaving the head, living in poverty, departing from family. The idea is to change your body in order to change your heart and mind.

The mistake I made along the way was believing that renunciation is supposed to hurt. And I've actually heard this message echoed in dharma centers in the West as well as Zen monasteries in Japan; at the end of retreats at Spirit Rock, for example, I've heard the instruction to donate an amount that "hurts."

But renuncia…