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"Thoughts On Renunciation" by Ven. Thubten Chodron

8 April 2010

The Buddhist community includes monastics and lay people. Both are necessary for the preservation of Buddhism. However, monastics choose a life of vowed simplicity, a life directly related to the preservation and dissemination of the Dharma to benefit others. They are the core of that lifestyle that all Buddhist practitioners are committed to.

The sangha (monastics) works all the time, but our work is not linked to the market place economy. For us, time is more important than money; we don't seek happiness from having possessions, romantic relationships, or societal status, but spend our time on internal cultivation and benefiting others. Sangha lifestyle is 24-7, and our "job" is to become enlightened.

Renunciation doesn't mean to give up happiness, but to give up suffering and its causes and to cultivate genuine satisfaction and joy. Since cyclic existence continues without break, we aspire to make our Dharma practice just as consistent. We "relax" in a different way from laypeople, because we have chosen to abstain from what is usually called "fun."

Each of the three Higher Trainings involves a level of renunciation. The Higher Training in Ethical Discipline involves giving up destructive actions of body and speech; the Higher Training in Concentration necessitates abandoning distractions, and the Higher Training in Wisdom relinquishes mistaken views and grasping at self. True simplicity is to let go of self.

While as monastics we voluntarily give up certain things according to our precepts. In addition, we may choose to give up other things for a while as a training. For example, by living in community, we explore what happens to our minds when we don't have our own space, our favorite food, or our own vehicle. We watch what our mind does when we give up our preferences and voluminous opinions and follow the abbot or abbess's instructions. We take as a practice letting go of the duality between having our own time to do what we want and participating in community practice sessions and work periods. We grow by renouncing having our own way when we live in a community in which decisions are made either by consensus or in some cases by majority vote.

While renunciation often has the implication of giving up, it also involves keeping. We keep precepts; we commit ourselves to attaining enlightenment. We preserve key aspects of the precious monastic tradition that has played a major role in passing the Buddha's teachings from one generation to the next for over 2,500 years. May these teachings spread in our world and bring peace in the hearts and lives of all beings through our practice of them.

Ven. Thubten Chodron is an American Buddhist nun in the Tibetan tradition, who teaches meditation and Buddhist psychology and philosophy worldwide. An author of several books, she is founder and Abbess of Sravasti Abbey, a Buddhist monastic community in Newport, Washington.


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