About Renunciation

renunciation-yogaBecause we feel lack in our hearts, we look for completion in the outside world. The moment we find something that makes us feel even a bit better then we felt before, we grasp that something, we get attached to it. It may be a job, a person, a possession, an idea, an emotion. It could be anything. Its only requirement is that it gives me that lost sense of comfort and pleasure and security and wholeness that I don’t find in my own heart.

The huge problem with attachment is that nothing in this world is permanent, and whatever I get attached to will sooner or later go. The moment it goes away I suffer. The bigger the attachment, the stronger the suffering.

This is nothing new, at least not new for people that can see a bit further than their immediate pleasure. And because of this, since the beginning of time those people that could see the problem of attachment have been attracted to renunciation.

Very often, people talk about renunciation as giving up all—or at least some—of the things one tends to get attached to. Traditionally, the way this is done is by moving away to a place where there are less attachments, like a monastery, or an ashram, or a cave, or simply the country side. Several people have mentioned to me their desire to leave everything and go to India or a place like that. I do believe that in this kind of renunciation there is something quite useful and interesting that can be done as an exercise, like a gym for the soul. I have done it myself.

But many times, especially in the Western world, this renunciation is more like running away from problems than a sincere understanding of the problem of attachment.

In my experience, there is a much more interesting renunciation, one that I can best describe as the deep understanding that nothing  NOTHING  belongs to me. And although this can also be used as an exercise, it is also the truth. We get very attached to things because we know that we can lose them, and we know this because deep in our hearts we know that nothing stays, that sooner or later everything will go.

In this practice, in this kind of renunciation, we don’t let go of the things themselves, we only let go of our attachment to them.

Of course one never knows how attached one is to something, until one loses that something. In general, the way we can lose something is because it is stolen, forgotten somewhere, broken (in the case of material things) or dead (in the case of living things). When any of these things happen (like for example loosing one’s phone) it can be quite difficult (actually, in the case of a phone it can be almost devastating :)). But, beside the difficulty (great or small), dealing with it can also bring the understanding that ‘nothing belongs to me’, and so it can make me see the level of attachment I have to whatever I have lost. To have something lost or stolen or broken can happen to anybody, anytime, anywhere. Besides dealing with the loss—which is something I need to do—I can also use this situation as a time to practice renunciation, to practice truth, to practice the understanding that nothing belongs to me.

Everything has been given to us for a short while to use and enjoy, but when the time comes, everything has to be returned. There is a beautiful quote from Epictetus, 2.000 years ago, that says:

‘Nothing can truly be taken from us because nothing truly belongs to us. Inner peace begins when we stop saying of things: “I have lost it”; but instead we can say, “It has been returned.” 

– But the person that took it was a thief!

What difference is it to you who the giver assigns to take it back? While he gives it to you to possess, take care of it, look after it as something for you to enjoy; but don’t view it as your own, just as a traveler sees a hotel.’

I have a personal example. For the last year or so, but especially for the last few months, I have been experiencing the loss of my youth. In my heart I feel very young and brimming with life, but still, something that has been very dear to me is going away. I can feel it in my levels of energy and I can see it in my face when I look into a mirror. I can clearly see that the beauty and power of youth is walking away. And this is something that will happen to everybody. No matter how rich or poor, no matter how happy or unhappy one is, no matter how healthy or unhealthy, everybody is going to experience it. Of course if one has more money one can do many more things to push away the realization that youth is going, to try to prolong youth a little longer. And people do, especially in our society. There are multi billion euros companies trying to sell to people the fountain of youth… but of course it is only business; we all know it does not work. Youth, like everything else is going away.

Nothing belong to us.

Now, some people may argue that although it is true that youth was given to us, a house (or any possession), a diploma, or even the family we have came out of our own hands. A person may say: ‘nobody gave me this money I have, I earned it with my own effort and work’.

OK, but who gave you the capacity to make those efforts? Who gave you the capacity to think about what efforts to make? Who gave you the body with which you could make those efforts? Who gave you the environment where you could make that effort? Who gave you the necessary energy? Who gave you the intelligence to chose the right kind of efforts? Who gave you the organs that could support life in order for you to make those efforts? And who gave you the air and the food and the light that you need?

Let’s say you are good at sports or at music or at business or at planning? Who gave you that capacity? One fine day you realized that for some reason your body or mind was good at some things and so you decided (with the capacity to decide that was also given to you) to make use of that ability and get better at it. But all these things were given to us, not for ever, but only for a while. We are like caretakers. Things are given to us, we can use them and enjoy them, but sooner or later, we need to give them back.

This body is going to go, for sure. There is no doubt about it.

But before that happens, we can practice this renunciation: ‘nothing belongs to us’. Everything that we have has been given to us by Life. I call it Life. At other times it could also be called God, or the Universe, or the Total. The name is really not important. What is important is the recognition that something bigger and more powerful than us has given us everything we have. And renunciation is the understanding that what is been given to me does not belongs to me and so it has to be returned.

I can learn to be grateful for what I have been given and also, I can learn to be open when those things are asked back. In more developed stages, I can even learn to give thanks when ‘the owner’ appears to collect ‘his’ belongings. But this wisdom can only dawn when whatever was given to me was used with gratefulness, and not with demand. This thankfulness is also known as peace.

Renunciation is recognizing truth. And truth is always liberating.


Categories: Reflections

There are 9 comments

  1. Adina

    “There are multi billion euros companies trying to sell to people the fountain of youth… but of course it is only business; we all know it does not work. Youth, like everything else is going away.”

    Do you know the Perfection called the Rainbow Body? The popular song, “Forever Young” by Alphaville, was written with that knowledge in mind (it also appears in the Irish Tradition). While a lot of these lyrics always seemed to be coming out of nowhere, they are actually referencing forgotten things we knew how to do (when scaling the Ladder to Heaven). The multi million euro companies would not have anything to sell, without this deeper collective memory of something that can then be shown as a mirror of the original.

    The problem is not “everything will go” – because in that case, we seem to be blaming the world’s imperfect state, or “things”, for our own misunderstanding. The problem is we don’t know how our mind is to be utilized, and therefore our attachment goes. So when we finally get something we worked for, we don’t want it anymore. This is how our mind works, not “things”.

    Personally I never felt that I had any “youth”, I have always felt old (since I became a teenager – when people started asking about my life). But I know that whatever the feeling we have, we need to face it, so that we don’t choose/say things only because of that hidden feeling.

  2. Adina

    Ha – cave men! :))) And that proves my point, that “cave men” is a myth utilized wrongly (people use it to suggest primitive behaviour, unsophisticated, even violent, etc). Because cave men were actually people who had renounced, or spiritual people, or deep intellectual thinkers (always shown in caves, in the masters’ paintings). Those animals shown in Lascaux, Altamira, etc? They were not being hunted! They represented the Zodiac, the ancient religion of the Stargate…

  3. Adina

    As for thanking the thief who steals your stuff, because you were too attached? I don’t know about that…. maybe, but that seems to encourage a lot of illegal behaviour under the pretense “spiritual”. Since the thief is not some “messenger from on high”, but just another person acting out of his/her own materialistic fears. Therefore, we cannot project a higher will there. If that were present (the higher will), it would manifest without violence.
    What we need are (perhaps) laws that are not so much created around possession of what cannot be possessed. In America, people shoot each other for “trespassing”. That’s way too extreme.

  4. raluca

    Thank you Carlos for this post, perfectly timed.
    Adina, there are different layers of this reality.
    Spirituality is an inner state and a recognition that behind this materialistic layer of the world, which is forever changing, something permanent remains untouched and unchanged…this can be called God, Grace, Love, Life…and is our true reality. The means by which we come to this understanding are given to us, in many ways. Some lessons are repeated many many time over many lifetimes they say…until we cannot but recognize the truth.
    From this perspective, if the thief came your way to take something from you, this very action was intended in the higher order to happen to you both, for the only reason of evolving and “learning” of both of you. This is the spiritual point of view.
    From the material and more immediate perspective, the thief is a wrong doer and if caught he will pay for his actions by the laws of man…and he should, too, because this is his lesson to learn, just as for the spiritual seeker the lesson is to never get attached because nothing is yours to begin with, even if it appears to be. Since you came into and will leave this world without any possessions, even without your body, this is a simple acknowledgement 🙂
    The law of man obeys the higher order cause nothing can be apart form it, not even pain, violence, fear, etc. So punishing the thief is important and it was never about dropping the laws of the world as we know it and start inviting thieves and wrongdoers in our life….But,as we all know, sometime wrong can be right,from a different point of view. And we all experience the “kick in the ass”, the pain, that one or two moments later becomes a huge step forward. So pain has its own purpose in this world, even if it is disturbing to us all… It is this disturbing quality that makes it useful on the path of spirituality…and sometimes, because of the strength of our attachements-which become huge stones we carry along the path towards recognising the truth- to remove them, a very powerful or even violent (re)action is needed. It does not make any sense from a narrow perspective…it can only be seen futile hurt and injustice…but has all the sense from a wider one. And we all reach a point where we see it, cristal clear…
    So thankfulness is not toward the wrong doer, alone or appart from the rest of the wider perspective, but towards Life’s teaching and help…The thief could be seen as the hand of Life, but his mind knows nothing of this higher role he is playing. He is only concerned about what you call his materialistic fears. So thanking him directly will most likely say nothing to him, except that by the laws of man alone, you have lost your mind 🙂
    As I thanked Carlos for this post in the beginning of this comment, is not because I imagine that Carlos magically wrote this for me… He wrote it because of his reasons. But form a higher and wider perspective, his post reached me just on time, in a moment of my life when it is reassuring to be reminded of the truths he spoke of. Therefore I am grateful to both-Carlos and Life, who, just to get things more complicated, were never two different things to begin with :))))

    1. Carlos

      Thank you for your comment Raluca.

      Following what you say, I like this quote also from Epictetus:
      ‘An important sign of a higher life is inner serenity. In order to acquire this, it is necessary to buy tranquility and peace of mind by choosing a wiser response to whatever happens.’

      As you say, the most important thing is always to recognize that there are different levels of reality, and so we can ‘chose a wiser response to whatever happens’. That is where our highest possibilities as human beings are.

    2. Adina

      Raluca, I get your point. Mine was that we need to be realistic about “spiritual matters”. Precisely because there are several layers and we don’t know so much. There seems to be a bull***t spiritual current nowadays, which “thanks the wrongdoer” or asks you to look inside when someone else does something bad – asks you to ask yourself “what did I do, to invite this into my life”. This is nonsense, and it is called “blaming the victim”. We are not responsible for other people’s actions. Let’s just thank terrorists and murderers, then, because they take away lives to which those people were “too attached”… The problem is: the lesson – if there is one – is made impossible to learn. No-one has the right to condemn someone else to Eternity. There is rightfully placed Guilt, and misplaced Guilt (these are different). Yes, I understand the terrorists are the result of something from the past (Crusades, etc)… but I do not have to believe that they’re serving a higher role. There’s nothing higher about it. THEY are told that there is. And this is the result.

      I was just talking about the Rainbow Body – I do not “possess” it, I am it (or rather, it is me). Therefore I do not leave the world without my body. Not this time ;-D You see, leaving the world without your body is one of those misunderstood aspects, which is the result of various religions and beliefs that “Afterlife is more important than Life” (so thank the wrongdoer, because he makes you a Martyr, etc). However, without the understanding of Presence, the Afterlife is just a lie. Just like “learning lessons” is merely a System of Thought we impose on ourselves when we cannot perceive Life. Ultimately, there is no lesson… you just are.

      So, when you speak of that something which remains untouched, unchanged, underneath – God, Grace, Love – you seem to express our culture’s “materialistic fears” after all, because you don’t know the truth. The idea of a God who is “outside the world” or Matter, comes from alphabet-based cultures, whose thinking was shaped by the apparent ‘eternity’ of an idea written down in words made from abstract letters, over real objects or beings who were always changing. Other cultures did not have this concept and they did not “leave the world” (ever). They stayed here. Their spirituality was always disregarded by so-called “high religions”, while the Hindus Valley Civilization was likewise influenced by self-serving/political/racist dogmas which people seldom know how to detect. So taking great care is advised.

      I do not mind not being serene, when I have to. I also do not mind being serene when I can. So this is important to realize, because often (as Carlos says) people want to run away from problems and hide into some make-believe world. And that, to me, is one of the biggest causes of heartache and pain we experience. If we are to choose a wiser response, we need to be wise and love/respect *ourselves* as human beings. Many religions did *not* do this, so pay attention please. We often try to justify their texts by coming up with our own wisdom and interpretation from within… but it is futile. I do not think that what I suggest here comes from “a narrow perspective” (on the contrary). I see outside the box in saying that the thief or wrongdoer is not acting like a “higher role” at all – maybe an energetically vampirized one.

    3. Adina

      “Until we cannot but recognize the truth” – see, that is perhaps the problem. My truth is not yours, and my spirituality is not dependent on fitting in with your idea about what it is. So when I stand up for my own truth, the typical response from “spiritual people” is to label it a narrow perspective. And yet, I have a wider perspective than the unchallenged ideas that have been running around for many ages – to the same results every time? (Maybe I have direct knowledge of “many many lifetimes” I believed this, too, and I’m making a stand now? It’s not “they say” anymore, in that case… it is “I know”).
      I apologize – I never meant any of my words *literally* (about thanking). I did mean them as a state of mind or awareness. And what I write has to do with my own real spiritual inclination, there…
      Therefore, as Anakin Skywalker said: “I’m a person, and my name is Anakin!” (he rejected the label “slave” given to him). ^_^

      PS: I totally believe in the kind of sychronicities you mention – “Carlos didn’t think about me specifically, but his post sends me this message I relate to in a personal way” (I get them all the time, they are the Native American way of perceiving the world, as well as being mentioned by Jung). However, that non-linearity described there has very little to do with the type of institutionalized abuse humans will inflict on each other due to their beliefs in an eternal, unchanging “essence”. That abuse was my aim in my comment – again, because of my real spiritual inclination… From my spiritual perspective, I do not make these distinctions between “immediate material stuff” and “non-immediate other stuff”, “man”, “God”, etc. Those distinctions are called hierarchy – and from what I know, they are not part of a spiritual inclination.

  5. raluca

    Adina, when I referred to the narrow perspective, it was with its literal sense, not a judgment. Just as in looking at things from the keyhole versus opening the door. And is not a quality of the mind/person, to be able to choose where to look from. It is always the keyhole in the beginning…Is just that, after repeated experiences, we become aware that the bigger picture will be someday available and refrain from judgment right on the spot, because it’s a flase judgment due to lack of understanding.
    “Blaming the victim” is from a paradigm- a psychological one- therefore the science of the mind, while “thanking the wrongdoer” and “everything is happening because it all relates to you” is from a different paradigm. If we mixed them, it gets very confusing. I think this is what happened in our message exchange. I was not talking from a psychological perspective. Therefore the truth I was referring is not one for each, as we all have, due to our minds, different perspectives on life or even on what spiritual search is…Unfortunately we have only words to describe things which are otherwise indescribable, besides the real experience that, as you say, can never be shared, only lived.

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