The Three Principles of the Path – How to Generate Renunciation

Week 4: How to Generate Renunciation


Thank you for the blessings on the occasion of my birthday. I am not used to birthday celebrations of the modern times, but I’m very grateful.

In the ancient Buddhist tradition, birthdays are not celebrated but rather death anniversaries are instead. This is because people are able to reflect on a person’s whole life—in its entirety.

It’s important to celebrate people, and to celebrate their personhood. May the cause of our positive actions be the cause to help other sentient beings. In moments like these when we have abundance (e.g. food), it is important that we offer such things to the Buddha and also to others that do not have enough to eat.

In Buddhism, our existence happens because our positive actions have occurred in past lives. We all have the potential to be the Buddha. We are to follow the Buddha’s instructions.


Last class we talked about the purpose of renunciation, but in this class, we will talk about how to generate renunciation or to say this more literally, the idea of ‘definite emergence’. (Vietnamese: Tâm xả ly || Pali: nekkhamma)

How to Generate Renunciation

[4] Freedom and endowments are difficult to find
And life has no time to spare.
By gaining familiarity with this,
Attraction to the appearances of this life is reversed.
By thinking over and over again
That actions and their effects are unbetraying,
And repeatedly contemplating the miseries of cyclic existence,
Attraction to the appearances of future lives is reversed.

To generate renunciation, what we first must consider is that the life we’re experiencing is not very pure. If we are too attached to this life (specifically, the appearance of life), there is no way that we can achieve what the Buddha has achieved. There is a reason why the Buddha left the palace life. If we don’t know what the root problem (of samsara) is, there is no way to improve ourselves.

The truth of suffering was the first teaching chosen by the Buddha, because people don’t even realize what the problem (of samsara) actually is. If you are attached to this life (and to happiness), then there’s nothing to achieve. In your early years, you want to achieve wealth and fame (for example), but at the end of the day, you’re spending your whole life on something for which you don’t know its  duration. For example, you could spend 30 years to achieve fame, but after doing so, it could be the case that you might only get to spend a few days before it all disappears.

I once read a Lamrim Explanation (Vietnamese: Bồ-đề đạo thứ đệ; English: “a Tibetan Buddhist textual form for presenting the stages in the complete path to enlightenment as taught by Buddha”). The explanation used the metaphor of jumping from a very high place, like as if one is jumping out of an airplane from a grand height. Despite the height, it might only take 30-40 seconds before a person crashes to the ground. In this metaphor, we are already on the way to reaching the ground from jumping from this grand height, yet we spend so much time dressing up or embellishing ourselves.

What we have to keep in mind is, even if we achieve our ambitions in this life, we don’t know how many minutes we will after achieving what we have set out to actually enjoy “the fruits.” Kids think in the shortterm—they will do everything for pleasures of the current moment, even if it will compromise future happiness. People are often short-sighted, because the reality is that we don’t live for very long.

Therefore, now is the time to create the foundation for future lives. Let’s take a look at today’s verse.

1Freedom and endowments are difficult to find
2And life has no time to spare.
3By gaining familiarity with this,
4Attraction to the appearances of this life is reversed.

The first two lines (superscript 1,2) talks about how to detach from the appearance of this life.
The next two lines (superscript 3,4) talks about how to detach from the appearance of the next life.

There’s no point in sacrificing too much (in this life), because we don’t know how long we will live in order to experience the fruits of what we have achieved. There’s no point in attaching too much concern about tomorrow’s happiness. There’s no point in attaching to tomorrow or to the next life even.

Why is this? Well, as long as we have negative emotions, even if we are reborn as a human or a God, then the same problems would still occur.

There are many gods who fight and kill each other. For example, a god can be attached to a goddess. If a god doesn’t practice reducing negative emotions, then eventually they will run out of their merits. We must always practice in each of our lives we are reborn into.

There were many people who lived next to the Buddha and even got to meet the Buddha. Yet, there were many people who, despite being lucky to be born in the time of the Buddha, still had problems in their lives. This is because the Buddha is not a creator, but a guide. He is a teacher. If you don’t practice, then you will not be saved. There were many people in the time of the Buddha who suffered because they didn’t practice.

If we want happiness, then the thing that prevents us from achieving so, is our negative emotions. Removing negative emotions is the only way to achieve happiness. Removing negative emotions is something that we can do now as a human being – it’s possible to practice now –there’s no point in waiting. We never know if we will have the opportunity to remove negative emotions in the next life. We currently embody the qualities for practice. Hoping that we will be born as a human being again doesn’t mean that we will be in the position to practice the dharma.

There is a higher chance that you will be born in heaven or in a pure realm if you are able to remove anger. Out of the 7 billion people in the world, the number of those who are Buddhists is very low. By just praying, and not sowing and watering the seeds of dharma, nothing will grow. The flower of dharma cannot grow — praying is probably not sufficient.

1Freedom and endowments are difficult to find
2And life has no time to spare.

The first two lines (superscript 1,2), as mentioned, talks about the way to cultivate detachment from the appearance of this life. To achieve this, look at the words ‘freedom’ and ‘endowment.’ It is said that human rebirth is adorned with 8 freedoms and 10 endowments (see Appendix A). There are numerous conditions that enable us to have qualities to be practitioners. Conditions are so rare, and we are currently adorned with many things.

Therefore, it is better to dedicate our efforts towards something that is stable and achievable. Fame, wealth, and material things in this life is truly transitory. Thus, there is no time to spare with life.

3By gaining familiarity with this,
4Attraction to the appearances of this life is reversed.

Line 4 at the end should be translated as “can be reversed.” That is, attraction to appearances of this life can be reversed.

We can be freed from the appearances found in this life. Time of death can occur at any time. It is only the merit accrued during your life that will be able help you at the time of death (and help towards migrating to the next life). Mountains of wealth will not be able save you.

Some people wish to be born as a king/queen, athlete, or actor in the next life. Even if in the next life you have a life of wealth, if you don’t practice, then it is not going to be helpful for the long run.

5By thinking over and over again
6That actions and their effects are unbetraying,
7And repeatedly contemplating the miseries of cyclic existence,
8Attraction to the appearances of future lives is reversed.

Line 5 that talks about “thinking over and over,” this refers to the law of causality. Specifically, the law of causality is something that won’t betray you. If you practice, then your good practice will not betray you. In comparison, material riches in the world are not reliable. Material possessions can cause suffering. The law of causality will never betray you. We should try our best to engage in positive actions.

Even if you’re born as a human, look at the history of kings and queens. Kings and queens have everything that they want, yet they suffer. In the past year, 2020, so many actors in India who had everything they could wish for committed suicide.

If you are free from your own negative emotions – this is the only thing that is reliable.

Renunciation, therefore, means detaching from samsara. To have the desire to achieve freedom from samsara… this is what is meant by renunciation. This helps create the conditions to achieve Buddhahood. We should have a very strong desire to exit the cycle of existence.

Question and Answer:

1) Lama, for those who now have to work in entertainment or advertisement domains, how they can practice since what they are doing is making people get attachment to the pleasures of the world. They themselves actually would like to achieve the Buddhahood?

I wouldn’t go as far to say that you should give up your livelihood. It’s possible to work in the way that you’re working, so long as you’re not committing violence upon other people. You can eat the same pasta and pizza, just add the flavor dharma in it. If you’re working in the advertisement domain, then inject dharmic principles in your work. For example, be kind to others and commit to positive actions. In this domain of work, there are high egos. Therefore, you might take it as an opportunity to not promote harm to other people. Try not to work on the promotion of alcohol and things that are harmful to other people.

If you’re an actor, then you can use your platform to help others. If you have a lot of followers – you don’t need to tell people to be kind or to instruct people to practice the dharma. If you just take action and set the example, then others will follow.

There are many ways to help people. You might be able to share positive thoughts. You can change someone’s life. If you know a different language, then you might be able to help others by being the vehicle of change. If you know the dharma and you have a platform, then you will be able to share the dharma.

Look within you for your abilities so that you may be able to spread positivity to others. If you give parents dharma, this could help them beyond any material possessions you might give them. If you give them a car, it may only last a few decades.

Everyone has unique qualities that can be harnessed.

2)   I have experienced couple of times where one very dominant person (very influential) who makes very self centered decisions and most of the workers got no options then to follow his decision. During such times not to follow him, I go against him for the good of any other workers. I do take polite steps to share my views but it’s difficult without much support of friends (coz they fear him). So how should I detach from such situations and move on?

Since we live in democratic places, majorities are everything. However, this doesn’t mean that majorities hold correct views. The majority can be influenced by many things. In fact, many human beings in this world are in samsara (because they hold ignorance). Majority of people won’t understand, or they will disagree with you, especially if you try to convince them of emptiness. Try to inspire one person first. If you cannot say something direct to someone, then wait. It’s always important to wait for the right time. Because saying something directly to someone not at the right time could lead to a worse outcome. It’s important not to get stressed out, and it’s important to be patient. You must wait for the right time. If what you want to say may not be effective, then wait for the right time.

I would now like to end the talk by saying that everyday, you might find it helpful to recite the “Eight Verses of Training the Mind”

By Teak (Noted down from The Teaching on 13 April 2021 by Lama Nawang Kunphel)

Appendix A:

The 8 Freedoms:

  1. Freedom from being born in the hell realm: If you are born in hell, then you will not be free to
    practice dharma.
  2. Freedom from being born in the hunger ghost realm: If born as a hungry ghost, all the time would be spent to satiate hunger that there would not be time to practice dharma.
  3. Freedom from being born in the animal realm: Animals can’t practice dharma that much because they live in fear of being hurt by other animals.
  4. Freedom from being born as a barbarian: We see the importance of practicing dharma while
    barbarians do not.
  5. Freedom from being born as a long-lived God: There are some God realms where you live for a very long time. In fact, such Gods may just be sleeping while other Gods live in the desire realm.
  6. Freedom from being born with wrong views: If you don’t believe in karma, if you don’t believe
    that love and compassion are strengths, then you won’t be free to practice the dharma. Some
    people believe that practicing dharma is a sign of weakness, which is not the case.
  7. Freedom from being born in a time without the Enlightened Being or dharma: We are born in a time when the teachings of Buddha still exist. If we are born in a time when the Buddha’s teachings are not alive, then such reality would be truly unfortunate. We won’t be able to understand the teachings and methods of the Buddha, especially to practice positivity.
  8. Freedom from being born as deaf and mute: We have the ability to discuss how to be positive, and have the ability to listen to the dharma.

The 10 Endowments:

The first 5 endowments can be found within oneself:

  1. Having been born as a human being.
  2. Having been born in a central region where the Buddha appeared.
  3. Having been born with all of one’s faculties: Having the five senses, which helps us.
  4. Being engaged in an appropriate lifestyle that is in line with the dharma: For example, we
    should feel fortunate that we don’t make a living out of cheating others or killing animals.
  5. Having faith in the sacred teachings. We should feel fortunate about having faith. Some people believe in cheating others. We believe in the teachings of the Buddha, and we believe
    in karma. We believe in living in harmony with nature.

The next 5 endowments that are found in external circumstances:

  1. The fact that an Enlightened Being has appeared.
  2. The fact that the Enlightened Being has shared the teachings. Even if an Enlightened Being has appeared, this does not guarantee that such a being would leave any teachings behind. In some time periods, an Enlightened Being has not left behind any teachings.
  3. The fact that the teachings exist. Although an Enlightened Beings gave teachings, we should feel fortunate that the teachings still remain.
  4. The fact that the teachings are practiced. We should be grateful that the teachings are taught
    and that there are commentaries to explain how to practice.
  5. The fact that there are kind-hearted people willing to share the teachings.

 Appendix B:

Eight Verses of Training the Mind
By Geshe Langri Thangpa


With the wish to achieve the highest aim,
Which surpasses even a wish fulfilling Gem,
For the benefit of all the sentient beings
May I hold them dear at all times.


Whenever I interact with another,
May I view myself as the lowest among all,
And, from the very depths of my heart,
Respectfully hold others as superior.


In all my activities may I investigate my mind,
And as soon as affliction arises
Since it endangers myself and others
May I face it directly and avert it.


When I encounter beings of unpleasant character
And those oppressed by intense negativity and suffering,
As though finding a treasure of precious jewels,
May I cherish them, for they are so rarely found.


When others out of jealousy
Treat me wrongly with abuse and slander,
May I take upon myself the defeat
And offer to others the victory.


Even if someone I helped,
Or in whom I have placed great hope,
Gravely mistreat me in hurtful way,
May I view him still as a sublime teacher.


In brief, may I offer happiness and benefits
To all my mothers, both directly and indirectly,
And may I quietly take upon myself
All the hurts and suffering of my mothers.


May all this remain undefiled
By the stains of the eight mundane concerns;
And  by understanding all things as illusion,
Free from clinging, may I be released from bondage.