The Three Principles of the Path – The Purpose of Generating Renunciation

Week 3: The Purpose of Generating Renunciation

I would like to draw attention to the topic of greetings. You might be familiar with the word namaste or namaskara as a very common greeting in India.
Nama means “I pay homage” and -skara refers to Ishvara, or what is known as the “the greater God” in Hinduism.

The meaning of namaskara, therefore, is “I pay homage to the greater God in you.” People who belong to religions like Hinduism do not pay homage to those who are not Gods. Therefore, when such people greet another person, they direct their greeting to “the greater God in someone”.

Buddhists do not believe in an ultimate savior. Instead of saying namaste or namaskara, Buddhists in India say namo Buddhaya which means “I pay homage to the Buddha.” Such a greeting may help us be more positive. Paying homage to the Buddha can remind us of something positive, and the wonderful teachings that are the Dharma.

Now that we have discussed greetings, I want to mention again about the way important texts are structured.

In major texts, like The Three Principal Aspects of the Path, the format of such texts is as follows:

The first stanza states what the text is going to be about. That is, it states the subject.
The second stanza states for whom the text is intentioned for. Who will be the students of this text?
The stanza states the target audience.

So why do we need to generate renunciation?

Renunciation means to not get attached to samsara (and worldly pleasures). Renunciation (as a mindset) means to develop the wish to get rid of samsara. Renunciation is a mental factor. Renunciation is a wish to achieve liberation—to achieve freedom suffering.

Samsara is full of suffering. Anything in the realm of samsara is something that you need to give up. Giving things up doesn’t mean that you need to throw things away. You can exist alongside worldly things. The most important thing is that you must not be attached to the worldly things you co-exist with.

Why is there a need for renunciation? Today we will look at the third stanza as follows:

[3] Without the complete intention definitely to be free from circling,
There is no way to pacify attachment seeking pleasurable effects in the ocean of circling.
Also, by craving for cyclic existence, embodied beings are continuously bound.
Therefore, at the very beginning seek renunciation.

Stanza 3, LINE 1: “Without the complete intention definitely to be free from circling,”

The English translation here is not as clear as in the Tibetan.

Please let me translate this literally:
Stanza 3, LINE 1 should read:“Without proper renunciation there is no method to seize the desire to achieve the result of happiness in the ocean of samsara”

Stanza 3, LINE 2: “There is no way to pacify attachment seeking pleasurable effects in the ocean of circling.”

Again, the English translation here is not as clear as in Tibetan. Please let me point to a few words:
Instead of ‘attachment’ here, we should use ‘wish or desire to achieve.’
Instead of ‘pleasure’ use ‘result of happiness.’ The ‘happiness’ here can refer to physical happiness, but this happiness mostly refers to ‘mental happiness.’
Instead of ‘circling’ use ‘cycling existence/samsara.’

Samsara and the illusory nature of happiness:

There are many people in this world that desire the happiness that comes from samsara. Many people want to practice the Dharma simply because they want to be reborn again as a human. They see animal lives and they don’t’ desire to be animals. However, even if you are born as a human being, it still means that you’re still stuck in the cycle of existence. That is, many humans still suffer.

Therefore, it is important to seek freedom from samsara, and not to cling to the happiness derived from samsara. This human rebirth is such a wonderful opportunity for which you can achieve so many things. This life is the foundation (and opportunity) that you can build future lives. You can do something in this life for all sentient beings. Despite such a grand opportunity, people instead spend their whole life trying to get a good job or get a good salary. People work so hard for something that they don’t know how long it’s going to last. Everything that a person has achieved in this life, (i.e. reputation, car, house), they don’t really know if they will have time to enjoy the things they materially acquire. Suppose you materially achieve something in this life, how long will they be with you?

By the time you acquire the material possessions you wish, you might be 40 or 50. At this age, will you have the time to enjoy what you have acquired? Working may be ethical, but one should also consider this. Let’s say that you work really hard, and you acquire enough wealth that your children or grandchildren don’t have to work. Are your children and grandchildren supposed to spend their whole life just in consumption? What is the meaning of their existence when they only have to consume.

All of this being said, there are some positive things and inspirational things you can learn from samsara. With all of the food we’re eating, we should do something to digest the food (for this it’s okay to work). But you shouldn’t work as if you’re going to live forever. Because once a person doesn’t work (or stops working), then the body also gives up such things. The body always needs some kind of activity or work (so that the body can go on).

What I’m saying is, in life, it’s very important to live comfortably. However, at the same, to live an ethical life is also important. Therefore, you shouldn’t work for reputation or material only, because it’s not certain whether you will be able to enjoy such things. We may die at any time. Instead of spending so much time to achieve things that only last for this life, we should be building a foundation for other lives. (So that we can be free from samsara).

Even if we’re born in the God realm or human realm again, we will still suffer. Unless you’re free from samsara, the suffering will never leave. The body itself gives pain. When you get older and older, there won’t be anyone else that causes suffering except your own body. To give an example, I know people who have gotten cancer. Even if such people want to practice the dharma, the cancer destroys their peace of mind. If a person has practiced Buddhism and Dharma before, they can deal with it nicely. However, if a person must start their spiritual practice after getting cancer, this is very difficult.

To stop samsara, you must get rid of negative emotions. That’s the only way to get rid of suffering. You must have a proper desire and motivation. Samsara is only temporary worldly happiness. Having the proper renunciation is the only way to detach from happiness derived from samsara.

Stanza 3, LINE 3: “Also, by craving for cyclic existence, embodied beings are continuously bound,”

We are continuously controlled and tied in samsara because of the craving for samsaric pleasures. Therefore, to practice the path (to reach enlightenment) and to generate Bodhicitta—these are very important. We are so attached to worldly happiness; we are tied in samsara, and not able to get rid of samsara.

 Stanza 3, LINE 4: “Therefore, at the very beginning seek renunciation.”

Look closely at the animals and insects, and the way they spend their 24 hours. That is, all the animals care about is food and a safe place to live (a place where other animals won’t eat them). That’s all they care about. People sleep for 6-7 hours, wake up, and look for this and that. For example, they wake up and get coffee, work, party, and eat dinner. All of these activities, and for what? What is the purpose of such activities—why are they doing all of these things? The work of someone does leads to temporary happiness (it doesn’t last for very long). There are only very few people who think about the next life. Those who believe in a greater God, they don’t understand the concept of a next life—they only believe in an afterlife in heaven.

If you look at people’s intentions – it’s mostly for wealth, and they mostly want wealth for reputation. This is how majority of people spend their whole lives. Remember the 8 freedoms and the 10 endowments we talked about last class.

Whatever we achieve in this life, sometimes, having a lot of wealth itself becomes an obstacle. You have to spend a lot of time to take care of wealth. Yes, having wealth can help to facilitate the Dharma, to reach more people, but you also have to spend a lot of time worrying about wealth.

Let me say this in another way. If you cannot speak Japanese, there is no way to teach Japanese to others. If you cannot keep yourself safe, how can you save others? It’s therefore important that everyone work towards the next life. If you want to help the sentient beings, practise the path. You will then have more chances to help others in future lives.

Instead of desiring to be reborn as human, or accumulating merit to be reborn as human or a God, use your practices to get rid of samsara. Even if you don’t get rid of samsara in this life, because of good karma, you will have a good life automatically. If you aim something higher, you don’t have to worry about the things that are small.

For example, if you wish to become enlightened like the Buddha, then you don’t have to cling to be reborn as a human being. You will have merit to go beyond being human.

The Buddha talked about three types of suffering (Skt. triduḥkhatā; Tib. སྡུག་བསྔལ་གསུམ་, dukngal sum, Wyl. sdug bsngal gsum) —

  1. suffering of suffering (Skt. duḥkha duḥkhatā; Tib. སྡུག་བསྔལ་གྱི་སྡུག་བསྔལ་, Wyl. sdug bsngal gyi sdug bsngal)
  2. suffering of change (Skt. vipariṇāma duḥkhatā; Tib. གྱུར་བའི་སྡུག་བསྔལ་, Wyl. ‘gyur ba’i sdug bsngal)
  3. all-pervasive suffering of conditioning (Skt. saṃskāra duḥkhatā; Tib. ཁྱབ་པ་འདུ་བྱེད་ཀྱི་སྡུག་བསྔལ་, Wyl. khyab pa ‘du byed kyi sdug bsngal)

When Buddha explained the truth of suffering, the Buddha talked about:

  1. Suffering from suffering. This is caused by physical things (i.e. body parts)
  2. Suffering from change. This is the nature of suffering. You might feel pleasure, but as long as it is samsaric happiness, all the pleasure will give is suffering in the long run. For example, when people drink alcohol, they may feel nice when they drink, but that’s the happiness of samsara. Over time, you will desire it more and more, and in the end you may have to get rid of your liver.
  3. All-pervasive suffering. No matter what we are experiencing—temporary pleasure or suffering, or even a neutral state—we are always setting ourselves up for future suffering. Why? Because our present conditions are direct causes for future states.

If a person is attached to fame like many actors and actresses, they spend their whole life trying to be famous. But what will they have achieved truly in the end? The fame might be grand when they’re young, but when they get older (when they lose their followers or see others who are more famous or attractive than them), they will be in a depressed state. Take Michael Jackson for example. What did he really achieve? He was seeking too much fame and passed away. All his wealth – was he able to truly spend all of it? Artists when they are older, they physically won’t be able to dance as well in old age. They might feel jealous of other people. Unless you’re a good practitioner, you will likely be filled with ego and fear of losing the things you have. You might be in the constant fear to lose. If you don’t practice dharma at this time, who knows what will happen if you are reborn as a human being the next time. That is, you might be reborn as a human being where you don’t have the conditions to be able to practice the dharma.

For all these reasons, we should try to see the importance of generating renunciation. To generate renunciation means to reflect on some points such as:

  • the impermanence of life,
  • the great opportunity to be born as a human being,
  • the ability to take refuge in the Buddha,
  • the opportunity to have good teachers around.

Today we have talked about the purpose of renunciation, but in the next class, we will be talking about how to actually renounce.

By Teak (Noted from the Teaching on 03 March, 2021 by Lama Nawang Kunphel)