theravada, the way of renunciation?

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theravada, the way of renunciation?

Postby jungblood » Fri Sep 20, 2013 12:41 am

hello all,

My name's Lucas... I signed up to this forum because I am interested in learning more about Theravada. I've been practising as a buddhist in the soto zen tradition for some time, but my interested in Theravada was piqued when I learned that it places more explicit focus on renunciation of worldly pleasures... I've often felt that the importance of stepping back from our consumer-addicted lifestyles is not given enough attention here in the US... I'm not speaking here of extremes of asceticism, of course... but I feel that what the Buddha was describing as the 'middle way' would really mean some significant renunciation by the standards of the average Western consumer... it's all too easy to say 'the middle way doesn't mean extreme asceticism, therefore I don't have to give up anything' (i've heard variations on that refrain many times) but I feel in reality the 'middle way' does require, at the very least, consuming less and simplifying my life... otherwise how can I really become less consumed by craving and grasping?

I'd like to hear from people here on the forum if:
1 I'm right in thinking Theravada does place more emphasis on renunciation?,
and
2. if you'd have any recommendations of the main schools/lineages that it might be worth my investigating? [/list]

Thanks so much, from a zen buddhist in New York...
:anjali:
'Renunciation' http://www.accesstoinsight.org/lib/auth ... bl036.html
'Trading candy for gold': http://www.accesstoinsight.org/lib/auth ... candy.html

'The more we really know the Dhamma, the more we can let go. Those who know a little can let go of a little; those who know a lot can let go of a lot.' - Ajaan Lee
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Re: theravada, the way of renunciation?

Postby Ben » Fri Sep 20, 2013 12:47 am

Greetings jungblood

The following article might be of interest to you:

Buddhism, then, is a teaching of renunciation. It remains to see what is renounced and why. The Buddha said: "What I teach is just ill (or suffering) and its cessation." What is renounced, then, is ill, suffering, unsatisfactoriness. But what is unsatisfactoriness? Here is the Buddha's answer: "Birth is ill; old age and decay are ill; death is ill; sorrow, lamentation, pain, grief and despair are ill; not to get what one wants is ill. In short, the five groups that are the object of clinging are ill." These "five groups," taken together, constitute the totality of what we call a "being," and what that being feels to be its "self." They may be translated as follows: form or matter, feeling, perception or ideation, motivation or mental activities, and consciousness. It is oneself, then, that is the source of suffering, and it is self that must be renounced if one would be free from suffering. This is a truth which is recognized by most religions, but only in Buddhism is it fully understood. The feeling of "self," the deep-rooted sense of "I-ness," involves the desire for the continued existence of self. It generates, in other words, greed and attachment, both for the self and also for those things which enhance the existence of the self and make it feel secure, such things as sense-pleasures, possessions, kinship with others, and so on. It also generates hatred for or aversion from what is anti-self, that is, from those things which threaten the continued existence or the happiness of the self by attacking it (or whatever it identifies itself with) or by frustrating it in any way. Thus the self can never be really happy, for it is continually agitated by desires and fears which bind it tightly to the world, and cause the "ill" for which the Buddha has prescribed the cure.

-- http://www.accesstoinsight.org/lib/auth ... bl036.html
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Re: theravada, the way of renunciation?

Postby Anagarika » Fri Sep 20, 2013 1:42 am

Jungblood:

Your fine post struck a chord with me. I think one distinction might be that in Theravada, Thai Theravada for example, there is an adherence and emphasis on the precepts as identified in the Dhamma of the Buddha in the Pali Canon. The Canon's Vinaya ( Monastic Rules) sets out specific rules for the renunciate monks. For the lay practitioner, the 5 precepts are important, and there are 8 and 10 precept practices that involve celibacy, noneating after midday, and renunciation of the use of money, among other issues. In contrast, the Mahayana platforms do not utilize the Vinaya, and the 5 precepts, in my opinion, are seen far more liberally. In Japanese Zen, for example, ordained priests may marry, drink alcohol, and otherwise consume as the nonordained public do. I have been to Mahayana retreats where a "nonmeal" is served in the evening, sort of a way to express the fasting after midday but with a regular meal. To say the least, it struck me as odd that a sangha would pay lip service to the idea of not eating after midday, and then go ahead and engage the lips in an evening meal.

The Dhamma advises that a renunciate life is part and parcel of the Path. As you point out, the Middle Way is not one of self mortification, but of renunciation of worldly fetters such that the practice is freed of attachments to activities that do not lead to a skillful life.

Theravada is the School of Elders that practices the Buddha's Dhamma generally in the manner that was practiced 2600 years ago in the Buddha's original Sangha. Theravada Bhikkhus and Bhikkhunis live renunciate lives, with hundreds of Vinaya rules that guide their conduct and facilitate their meditation and study.

I think you'll like and appreciate the level of dedication that Theravada offers. You may appreciate the study of the Canon, which encapsulates, to the best of our understanding, the Buddha's actual teachings. You may truly appreciate learning to meditate as the Buddha instructed, and welcome the chance to learn meditation (jhana) practice in the way that the Buddha suggested to his monks.

As for lineages, you may find local to you a Thai or Sri Lankan Theravada Wat, and there may be in your locale a Wat or temple with monks from the west but trained in Asia, such as Wat Metta in California, or Amaravati in the UK. I just noticed you posted from New York: http://www.bhavanasociety.org/ might be well worth a visit, and the Ven. Bhikkhu Bodhi lives and teaches at a New York monastery http://www.baus.org/en/?tag=bhikkhu-bodhi
Last edited by Anagarika on Fri Sep 20, 2013 1:29 pm, edited 1 time in total.
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Re: theravada, the way of renunciation?

Postby Samma » Fri Sep 20, 2013 2:52 am

Hey Buddhasoup whats with that guy haranguing you at tricycle :jumping:

Hi jungblood yea Western Buddhist probebly tends to downplay renunciation...its just not what people want to hear huh. They want their cake and to be able to eat it too, or however that saying goes. Or are simply too stuck in society, consumerism, tv, workaholics, children, whatever, to dislodge consistently.

You may be interested in bhikhu cintita's book though the looking glass
http://bhikkhucintita.wordpress.com/books-bhikkhu-cintita/
HE was a zen priest and writes about how the focus on renunciation in Theravada largely converted him to being a Burmese Monk.

Its not hard to find essays or talks on the topic:
http://www.accesstoinsight.org/lib/auth ... candy.html
http://www.insightmeditationcenter.org/ ... unciation/
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Re: theravada, the way of renunciation?

Postby jungblood » Wed Sep 25, 2013 9:45 pm

Hi there folks,

Thanks so much for your thoughtful posts, which have been enormously helpful for me... I've been reading the resources your posted as well, and have very much enjoyed taking in perspectives that seem to chime loudly with what I have been intuitively feeling... i'm going to look into Therevada sanghas in my area, and learn more about 'the way of the elders'... I hope you are all keeping well, wherever you are!

All the best,
Lucas
'Renunciation' http://www.accesstoinsight.org/lib/auth ... bl036.html
'Trading candy for gold': http://www.accesstoinsight.org/lib/auth ... candy.html

'The more we really know the Dhamma, the more we can let go. Those who know a little can let go of a little; those who know a lot can let go of a lot.' - Ajaan Lee
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Re: theravada, the way of renunciation?

Postby skandha » Sat Oct 12, 2013 2:08 am

There are actually many teachings in the Theravada suttas in which the Buddha gave guidance to various aspects of worldly life including money, economics, politics, marriage etc. For instance in the Sigalovada Sutta the Buddha even goes into details how to use and save money. He told the young man Sigala that he should spend one fourth of his income on his daily expenses, invest half in his business and put aside one fourth for any emergency. Another that comes to mind is in the Mangala Sutta the Buddha describes the highest happiness and one if it is "To support mother and father, to cherish wife and children, and to be engaged in peaceful occupation — this is the greatest blessing." In fact I find more teachings about non renunciate life in Theravada than in any other tradition. If you search for it you will find a lot more of these teachings targeted at non renunciate.
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Re: theravada, the way of renunciation?

Postby Anagarika » Mon Oct 14, 2013 3:42 pm

skandha wrote:There are actually many teachings in the Theravada suttas in which the Buddha gave guidance to various aspects of worldly life including money, economics, politics, marriage etc. For instance in the Sigalovada Sutta the Buddha even goes into details how to use and save money. He told the young man Sigala that he should spend one fourth of his income on his daily expenses, invest half in his business and put aside one fourth for any emergency. Another that comes to mind is in the Mangala Sutta the Buddha describes the highest happiness and one if it is "To support mother and father, to cherish wife and children, and to be engaged in peaceful occupation — this is the greatest blessing." In fact I find more teachings about non renunciate life in Theravada than in any other tradition. If you search for it you will find a lot more of these teachings targeted at non renunciate.


Skandha, my reading of the Mangala Sutta suggests the Buddha was commenting on these blessing that accompany skillful conduct on the part of pay people, as well as discussion of the standards for the renunciate monks. "Self-restraint, a holy and chaste life, the perception of the Noble Truths and the realisation of Nibbana — this is the greatest blessing." Renunciation forms a strong part of the Buddha's recommendations for a skillful life, and the expectations for the monks was of course detailed in the Vinaya. It seems to me that to the extent that lay people can infuse their lay life with features of renunciation of certain sense pleasures, they move that much further down the path. I like the fact that the Buddha set a fair standard for lay folks as well as the Bhikkhus...it would have been unfair had he chastised the lay people for not meeting the Vinaya standards of the monks . Rather, it is the Buddha's equanimity that really shines in this department.
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Re: theravada, the way of renunciation?

Postby Virgo » Wed Oct 16, 2013 11:36 pm

What I find Lucas is that practicing sila, and the rest of the path, is challenging in our society to some degree. For example, people at work constantly want to talk bad about others, people lie a lot in society, they are sneaky, people find it usually a little strange if you don't drink even at weddings or other such events (which I don't), and so on. You see, we protect our karma well. We want to develop ourselves and our minds. We (Buddhists) have different guiding principles and a different mindset to some degree than most others in Western societies. Which makes things difficult because you don't want to feel like a separatist (at least I don't), an elitist, etc., yet you may find it hard to get along fully with the people around you because of these differences. The best course of action is to limit socializing - not stop it - but just limit it - an d keep to a circle of friends that you know and trust (if you can attain those). Other than that, yes, what is the point of all this consumerism, the next this, the next that,.. I phone 5..6 whatever! It is great to have "things" but people can take it way too far (here in the West that is).

What do you think Lucas?

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Re: theravada, the way of renunciation?

Postby rohana » Fri Oct 18, 2013 6:36 am

Not just the value of renunciation, but one of the things that you see in the Pāli canon is the emphasis on dispassion toward saṃsāra; the Buddha and his disciples are constantly exhorting others to "get out" (e.g. "Long have you thus experienced stress, experienced pain, experienced loss, swelling the cemeteries — enough to become disenchanted with all fabricated things, enough to become dispassionate, enough to be released."). Saṃvēga - a sense of spiritual urgency is to be cultivated; after all, the goal of vipassanā is to see the three characteristics which leads to dispassion(virāga) and a desire for delivarance. It's dispassion which is supposed to make the mind let go, leading to the break through of stream-entry. And since it's prominent in the Pāli canon, it seems to get emphasized a lot more in Theravāda, which perhaps make Theravāda not seems as inviting by modern, especially Western, standards.

From my POV it seems like these attitudes are not as emphasized in some other traditions. (Perhaps it's because the bōdhisattva is not in a hurry to get out of saṃsāra?) I'm not trying to disparage on any other school here - there are great teachings in those schools too; it's just that Theravāda seems to take a more "harsh truths for grown-ups" kind of attitude - an attitude which the Tathāgata seems to have emphasized in the canon. Which of course, doesn't mean mean there's plenty of joy to be found as well - renunciate or not.

    "With much laughter, blitheness, content and gladness he realizes the ultimate meaning, nibbāna, thus it is laughing understanding."
    - Paṭisambhidāmagga
"Delighting in existence, O monks, are gods and men; they are attached to existence, they revel in existence. When the Dhamma for the cessation of existence is being preached to them, their minds do not leap towards it, do not get pleased with it, do not get settled in it, do not find confidence in it. That is how, monks, some lag behind."
- It. p 43
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