Should I renounce everything to achieve enlightenment?

Renunciation is a classic spiritual practice and I see value in it, but it will not lead to achieving enlightenment.  Enlightenment is not achieved…because upon enlightenment there is a seeing that nothing is gained and the “me” who could achieve is an illusion.  Renunciation may weaken the sense of a “me” through giving up “my” and “mine”.  However, this should not become an accomplishment.  “Look at all that I have given up!”  In this way, it subtly sustains the fiction of a “me”.

Renunciation is a giving up “my” and “mine”…so even the thought of “look at my achievement in renunciation” does not arise.  Renouncing everything does not really mean giving away everything and becoming a hermit in the woods.  That would be merely physically getting rid of material things.  But if in the woods, the hermit is still thinking about fame, wealth, sex, etc…then what did he or she really renounce?

True renunciation happens in the mind…it becomes an attitude.  One becomes a caretaker of material things, but not the owner or possessor.  In this way, one becomes like a bank teller.  You are surrounded by money all day and work with it, but you are not attached to it.  You do not worry about the money.  If a bank robber shows up one day and robs the bank, you do not grieve the loss because you don’t feel like you lost anything…it was never yours.

Renunciation is a practice of letting go…or not holding onto anything.  While it can become an egoic practice (there is a “me” letting go of or renouncing things), I do see value in it.  However, I do have some words of caution regarding this practice.

  • Don’t make it a burden.  If you can’t let go of something, then accept that you can not let go at this time.  You can’t let go, because you are holding on.  So investigate the hows and whys of the holding on.  Deeply seeing what is going on is often enough for it to drop away on its own.
  • Don’t get trapped in a never-ending practice and thereby distracted from the root – the “me”.  There really is no end to the clinging and repelling of the “me” – as long as the “me” is believed.  The “me” is partly sustained by this clinging (holding on) and repelling.  It is the “me” that tries to hold on and tries to repel.  So inquire into the “me”.  If the “me” is seen through…much of what you want to let go of will fall away on its own accord.
  • I would also say it is more efficient to delve into the roots of the illusion of ownership and possession…than to try to let go of individual things.  If you see through the illusion of ownership and possession, then the holding onto any “possession” falls away.  If you see through the illusion of holding on, then you won’t bother trying to hold on and there will be nothing to let go.  Always try to go to the root illusion rather than the individual manifestation of that illusion and ignorance.

True renunciation is not an action (something done) and not an egoic activity, but a way of being (i.e. non-grasping) due to no longer being fooled by the illusions of the mind.  Things can never really be held onto in the first place…if this is realized, then there is no need to let go…no need to practice renunciation…because you don’t try to grasp/hold on in the first place.

This can be done while still living in the world.  There is something called a householder yogi.  Such a one has renounced the world but still lives in it.  It is very possible to be very spiritual and/or enlightened…and yet have a day job, have a family, pay bills, etc.  The householder yogi simply does not think “my” job, “my” wife, “my” children, “my” family, etc.  Nothing is clung onto or repelled.  To be in the world, but not of it.

Becoming a hermit is not the only way to enlightenment (ongoing myth really).  Sure, living alone in a cave or in the woods may be conducive to peace and quiet and stillness.  So it may be easier to be at peace, quiet, and still in these surroundings.  But, peace, quiet, and stillness are found within.  So it is quite possible to meditate in Times Square in New York City, if one has found the quiet and stillness within.  The location does not matter, because peace and stillness that is found within is wherever you are.

Ultimately, enlightenment is not caused by where you are or how little you have.  However, in a way, enlightenment could be called a renunciation of the “me”…letting go of “me”.  Not as a practice or doing, which requires a “me”, but as a way of being without a “me”.

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Modern-day house-holder yogi and lover of what-is; living in peace, contentment, and joy.