Path of Transformation» Meditation

Renunciation for Householders: Detachment with Responsibility


Renunciation features as an important topic in Buddhist teachings. In this audio recording from a Question and Answer session hosted in 2017 for the updated version of A Glimpse of Buddhadharma, Phakchok Rinpoche responds to questions submitted by students about issues we face with our practice. This segment addresses the issue of renunciation. What does it mean to renounce? And as householders, how should we think about renunciation?

Rinpoche gives advice here based on his personal experience as a family man living in a busy, modern environment. First, he explains how he personally deals with this issue using the example of his attachment to watching internet videos. When he examines this type of attachment, he has learned that it only provides temporary happiness. Then he recognizes that such happiness will not benefit him when he dies. This is is not the type of happiness that can bring liberation. Renunciation, Rinpoche reminds us, is something to practice now—before something happens.

Renunciation does not mean hating our spouse, our family, or our house. That would be a misunderstanding! Instead, renunciation really means the importance we place on the Dharma. By placing importance on the Dharma, we have a holistic approach to our life. Through renunciation of this type, we can see, for example, our children or our spouse through the Dharma. Then when we interact with our family or friends, we keep the Dharma in mind. We then learn to see unskillful activities such as shouting at our spouse as the breaking of samaya, or sacred commitment. We consider things beyond personal feelings and learn to see through the eyes of compassion, devotion, and commitment.

Rinpoche explains how there are two levels of renunciation.  First, there are all the mundane things that we are attached to. We can understand why we renounce these because we won’t carry them with us as we die. That doesn’t mean we have no pleasure or reject everything.

Instead, Rinpoche says that he personally reminds himself to not strongly cling to things he likes to do. In this way, we can remember that worldly pleasures won’t bring us complete freedom. We can come to understand that attachment is always attachment; we shouldn’t kid ourselves. For example, we receive no benefit if we fixate on worrying about what will happen to our children long after we die. If we are honest, we realize that these kinds of attachments don’t bring happiness on either the worldly or Dharma level.

We can love and care, but we should not forget detachment. Our love should not be an iron grip that is crazy or intense. Of course, it is harder than living like a monk or nun, but we can train in this way. The basic point is that we learn to develop emotional detachment. That does not mean being irresponsible. Detachment is an emotional state, and it can and should accompany responsibility. But irresponsibility means being lazy. This is an important point to understand—that irresponsible actually means lazy.

Renunciation means we should be detached, but not irresponsible. Every bodhisattva has renunciation, but that does not mean they are irresponsible. In fact, they are the most responsible beings in the world! In this talk, Rinpoche gives a recent example of how a responsible, but detached practitioner acted to prepare for his own death.

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