"The topic of this issue’s forum, renunciation, does not lend itself to easy answers. For some, the word evokes basic questions about how much we need versus how much we want, what is ours to give and what holds us back from doing so, and specifically, as Buddhists, the relationship between our investment in practice and what we get in return. For others, an act of renunciation can look like just another attachment, a story people tell themselves about how spiritual they are. To really let go, they say, you also have to let go of letting go.
Renunciation can be submission to a schedule that is not of your own making; it can be the offering of all things to all beings; it can be the act of embracing things just as they are. Renunciation can be a radical intuitive leap beyond all preferences. And it can also be the choice to sleep on the floor even when you really prefer to sleep on a bed.
However we define the term, we cannot avoid it. The Buddha’s story—our story— starts not under the Bodhi tree but years before in a palace, with the young prince Siddhartha tiptoeing past his sleeping wife and newborn son, through the gates, and into the darkness, vanishing into poverty and solitude. We call this choice, this midnight escape, the Great Renunciation. But why? Is it great because of what he left behind, or because we are unsure if we could do the same?
How do we know unless we try?
The fact is, we do try. In small ways and large, we enact and reenact Siddhartha’s departure—and his stealth. This morning while most people were still sleeping, lovers slipped quietly away to meditate with a sangha across town. Mothers and fathers snuck nimbly down hallways and around toys to do prostrations in the kitchen. Workers set off in buses to retreats far away, spending their hard-earned wages to do so. In these ways and many more, we become intimately familiar with our palace walls, knocking them down, rearranging them, jumping over them, coming back, starting over.
In the conversation that follows, our panelists—three teachers from three different traditions—examine the role of renunciation in our life and in our practice. They encourage us to discover what lies on the other side of the walls we’ve built, beyond mine and yours."
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