Buddhism and renunciation: beyond pleasure and pain

Posted by on Oct 24, 2012 in Buddhism | No Comments

When we’re born we’re on autopilot, more or less.

We like some things (pleasure = giggling, super-cute baby). We don’t like other things (pain = screaming totally-not-cute baby, especially at 4am).

As we get older, most of us learn about how time passes. The bad stuff doesn’t last forever. The good stuff might be along any minute.

We stop being so frantic. Things come, things go – we know this. When we get older still we realise we can’t even count on our minds, our looks, our bodies. Eventually we even have to let go of our lives.

Renunciation as growing up

In one way, Buddhist practice can be seen simply as the ability to submit fully to that natural maturing process, and to give it a push every now and then so we learn sooner rather than later how to let go. By the time we get to the end of our lives, hopefully we’re prepared.

If we could control everything in the world, a sane person would try to satisfy their cravings.

Rich people often give this a go. It usually takes a few spins through rehab before they learn that this path tends not to lead where it looks like it’s leading.

Because things are the way they are, sanity must be about letting go. This is the true meaning of ‘renunciation’ – at least from the Buddhist perspective.

It’s not about giving up, it’s about growing up. It shouldn’t be painful.

The practice of cultivating contentment is more important than the practice of putting up with pain. (Having said that, a full and profound exploration of unavoidable pain can be a very rich practice indeed).

One way to move in the right direction is *within reason* to move away from the pain and pleasure way of making decisions. Instead, we choose the skilful and avoid the unskilful.

I’ve talked about ‘skilful’ and ‘unskilful’ elsewhere. Essentially we’re talking about living ethically.

Mental and emotional states that are grounded in generosity, love, contentment, honesty, mindfulness and insight into the true nature of things are considered skilful.

Mental states that are grounded in craving, hatred, lies and manipulation (usually in pursuit of something we’re craving) or a clouded, delusional mind are considered unskilful.

Buddhist practice is essentially helping you to move from seeking pain and avoiding pleasure towards skilful behaviours. Since skilful behaviours are, from a Buddhist perspective, grounded in positive mental and emotional states, they are inherently pleasurable and rich experiences. Fortunately, they also lead in the direction of peace.


You’ll see I’ve removed the ‘comments’ section of my posts. This is because I wasn’t getting many comments from people about Buddhist stuff, but I was getting an increasing number of comments about adult webcams and viagra.

So instead, please send me an email if you have any comments. I may incorporate them (anonymously) into future posts. And anyway, it’s always nice to hear what you’re thinking about the blog, and what you’d like to see on it.



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