The path to Renunciation

Renunciation is the natural outcome when one develops a deep understanding of the insubstantial, unsatisfactory, and undependable nature of sense desires, and what the Tathagata calls "The World," the Five Aggregates.

Renunciation can be challenging for a modern person living a Western lifestyle to understand; it can also be described as letting go, releasing, freeing oneself, not attaching to, abandoning, surrendering, dispassion, cessation, relinquishment, unbinding, and seeing the impersonal, not-self nature of "The World."

When one penetrates the second noble truth, the cause of "suffering," one naturally wants to abandon unwholesome thoughts and views, to free oneself from the perpetual cycle of clinging and aversion, surrender their sense of "self," and relinquish any wants and wishes in regards to "The World", realizing that the Five Aggregates are unsubstantial, not-self, are a result of causes and conditions, a mere phenomenon of nature.

This is Renunciation, the third truth held by the noble ones.

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And what, friends, is the truth held by noble ones of the cessation of stress? The remainderless fading and cessation, renunciation, relinquishment, release, and letting go of that very craving.

MN141

Renunciation doesn't mean rejecting or avoiding all worldly things; instead, it means not wanting to get entangled in the delusions of "The World". It requires a "knowing", seeing that inner peace, free from the stress and unhappiness caused by clinging, aversion, and delusion, is the true path forward.

Renunciation arises naturally from seeing that forms, feelings, perceptions, volitional formations, and cognition are insubstantial, undependable, and that clinging to them causes suffering. As a result of clearly seeing this, one becomes dispassionate, lets go, lets these mind-created perceptions pass away and cease on their own naturally, without clinging or attaching to them.

It's important to understand that Renunciation is not merely a concept, thought, philosophy, or view. It is a deeply felt, whole-body, and conscious process or intention to continually liberate oneself from stress and unhappiness by disentangling oneself from the "World", the Five Aggregates.

Renunciation is rooted in the renunciation of the Five Aggregates themselves and in seeing the body, feelings, perceptions, volitional formations, and cognition as natural processes, created based on past causes and conditions, and subject to the corruptions and distortions of this world. As a result, one does not take the Five Aggregates personally, get lost in their perceptions, or depend on them as absolute, dependable truth. It's the single-minded, continual process or intention to let go of clinging to the Five Aggregates and the stress and dissatisfaction that clinging causes.

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I discerned that thinking imbued with renunciation has arisen in me; and that leads neither to my own affliction, nor to the affliction of others, nor to the affliction of both.

It fosters discernment, promotes lack of vexation, & leads to unbinding

MN19







Renunciation in the Forest

Traditionally, individuals seeking liberation have renounced worldly life by going to live in the forest or some other wilderness. After a few months of separation from village life and worldly desires, the fever or "Fires of Nibbana" would die down. Worldly desires, intentions, and thoughts would subside enough for one to start to see things clearly.

Living in the wilderness for an extended time, the laws of nature become self-evident, namely that everything in nature is infinitely variable, constantly changing, born, arising, decaying, and dying. One clearly sees the interdependence and causes and conditions for all things in nature.

For example, a tree seedling arises from the soil, grows tall, matures, flowers, spreads its seeds, and eventually becomes part of the soil itself. Insects feed on the soil, their feces become fertilizer, rain and sun nourish plants, the wind blows, mountains erode, and rivers rise and fall according to the seasons.

One comes to realize that there is very little in nature to cling to. The notion of big or small, beautiful or ugly, and all judgments of the world find little footing here. One finds that one functions perfectly fine without any thoughts and that speech, logic, and judgment have little use.

One soon realizes that freedom from thoughts, judgments, and logic bring immense inner peace and contentment. Being alone in the wilderness, a new type of awareness arises: the unknowable, alive, mystical nature of the world—an inner "knowing."

Death becomes one's friend and not the enemy as previously believed, as one must remain constantly aware of any dangers, bringing a new aliveness, yet being totally at peace, understanding that fear, thoughts, and self-absorption have no place here.

Reflecting back on village life and the worldly realm, one realizes that the real danger was not the poisonous snakes and tigers or loneliness in the wilderness, but humanity's greed and delusion and mindless actions. By contemplating nature and the worldly life, one starts to develop Right View.

However, when one goes back into a nearby village for food, there still remains attachment, and there is still some fever and allure.






In ancient India 2600 years ago, If one is fortunate enough to find the Tathagata or one of his Arahant disciples, because Right View is partially established, one immediately recognizes and sees the value of the Tathagata's teachings, and the path to final liberation and ending of all worldly desires becomes clear.

One can now turn their mind inwards to the mind itself, where these same laws of nature reveal themselves. That is, like everything else in nature, the body is subject to birth, growth, decay, and death. One discovers that the "enhancements" created by the five aggregates—feelings, perceptions, thoughts, etc., are not-self, mere phenomena of nature, not necessary for happiness and that clinging to them is the cause of unhappiness.



The Tathagata teaches on the importance of seclusion in order to enter fully into emptiness:








Renunciation in the Modern World

Renunciation becomes possible when one obtains a penetrative insight into stress and unhappiness, its causes, and is committed to putting substantial effort into the inner transformation required for liberation.

Since many of us cannot abandon our worldly responsibilities to live a solitary life in the wilderness or have an Arahant as a teacher, we must create comparable conditions for tranquility and clear knowing to arise and make progress along the path. One needs to create a mental oasis amidst the jungle of the man-made world so that the right conditions to develop a peaceful and imperturbable mind are established.

To develop an imperturbable and peaceful mind, one has to lessen the mind's incessant dependence on objectification, logic, thoughts, and words.

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Objectification is a disease, objectification is a cancer, objectification is an arrow. Therefore, you should train yourselves:

We will dwell with an awareness free of objectifications.

SN 35:207

In the modern world, most people believe that wisdom and knowledge is what one remembers and can express in words. However, true wisdom and knowing do not come from words or logic; they come from insight gained through clear seeing. While words may serve as pointers, if we merely cling to the words without penetrating their underlying truths, liberation is not possible.

Liberation requires cultivating the type of knowing or wisdom that isn't based on logic, words, or thoughts but is inherent in consciousness, sometimes referred to as intuition or, in ancient times, simply as "knowing."

Knowing is seeing clearly, without the objectification created by the Five Aggregates. That is, seeing things as they are, before feelings, perceptions, thoughts, and ingrained habits—and the resulting greed, aversion, and delusion—have clouded clear seeing and the resulting wisdom.

Clear knowing requires reducing clinging to body, feelings, perceptions, thoughts, and mindless habits. It also requires finding enough solitude to allow a deeper level of knowing beyond the confines of conceptual thinking, enabling insights and wisdom to arise spontaneously.

It also requires a complete reconsideration of how we view and interact with "The World," not based on greed, aversion, or delusion, but based on Renunciation, through the Noble Eightfold Path and the Four Noble Truths.

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And what, friends, is the noble truth of the path of practice leading to the cessation of stress? Just this very noble eightfold path: right view, right intention, right speech, right action, right livelihood, right effort, right mindfulness, right concentration.


Right View

Right View is the continual process of seeing the true nature of all things in "The World" in terms of the cessation of stress and suffering. For example, the reality that nothing substantial exists or does not exist, that everything that happens in life is based on causes and conditions, natural forces of the world, and, as such, is subject to change, impermanent, and not-self.

It is our clinging to perceptions of "The World," the Five Aggregates, that causes us to falsely believe that things are happening to us, and that we must take personally the body, feelings, perceptions, thoughts and cognition, thus causing stress and unhappiness.

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Everything exists: That is one extreme. Everything doesn’t exist: That is a second extreme. Avoiding these two extremes, the Tathāgata teaches the Dhamma via the middle.

SN 12:15

Right View is not a word or definition; it is the continual process of applying the Four Noble Truths to every aspect of our life in order to discern unhappiness, its cause, its cessation and the path to it's cessation.


Impermanence, Causes and Conditions

Clinging results from the incorrect "knowing" and mental conditioning that things, even if only for a brief moment, have some permanence. However, to liberate oneself, one needs to have a penetrative "knowing" of the laws of nature—that nothing stays the same for even a second—and that it's the clinging to forms, perceptions, feelings, volitional formations and conciousness: the Five Aggregates that gives the illusion that things have some permanence or substance.

In other words, we cling to perceptions even though what is perceived has already changed. In the modern man-made world, filled with permanent structures and durable material objects, this misconception of permanence and substance is greatly enhanced.

Unlike in nature where causes and conditions, arising and passing away, and impermanence are clearly visible, the modern world is clouded in ignorance and delusion. As a result, modern man fights these natural forces and tries to cling to permanence, or anything substancial.

For example:

Death is actively hidden in modern society. People often pass away in hospitals, and their bodies are kept in coffins. It's entirely possible for someone to live their entire life without ever seeing a dead body in person. People live in such a way as if they will live forever, even when death surrounds them. For example:

Fish and meat are packaged in a manner that disconnects us from the reality of consuming dead animals. We fail to acknowledge that these neatly packaged deceased creatures are gradually decomposing within their wrappings. Nor do we reflect on the fact that each animal had a birth, a life, and ultimately met its end.

The point is not to make a judgment on whether eating meat is good or bad. Instead, it's understanding that due to our attachment to perceptions, we often fail to realize that death permeates every aspect of life and that everything is constantly changing. Instead of acknowledging this truth, we tend to cling to life and fear death, rather than recognizing it as a natural and valuable process.

In the same way, people are obsessed with preserving various aspects of life, such as youth, beauty, wealth, health, power, and traditions. This leads to stress and dissatisfaction because nothing in life can be preserved through clinging to perceived "attributes."

To liberate oneself from "The World," one must contemplate every aspect of one's existence, including one's desires, views, and habits, and recognize their insubstantial, unsatisfactory, and undependable nature, until one has developed complete dispassion for them, understanding that there was nothing of any substance to be passionate about or cling to.

For example, understanding death lets us live free from the fear of death and makes us more alive, not wasting time on senseless delusional activities.

Only by "knowing" or seeing the "world" as it really is, as unsubstantial, constantly changing, arising and passing away due to causes and conditions, and not-self does natural dispassion arise, resulting in letting go of clinging to the Five Aggregates.


Not-self

The process of establishing Right View also involves understanding the fabrication of "self", how we cling to and personalize existence, which can be described as the "ego", "doer," "thinker," "cognizer", etc.,

Renunciation is the deconstructing of the fabricated self by seeing that since everything in this world is based on causes and conditions and impermanent, and the result of natural forces, nothing in this world can be taken personally as self.

As clear "knowing" becomes established, one realizes that what we assumed to be the self is actually unsubstantial, a result of clinging to the Five Aggregates.

Renunciation arises from the understanding that the outcome of all actions is determined by causes and conditions, rather than by our ego's control over the situation or our actions in the present moment.

For example, an athlete doesn't instantly become a "good" athlete; it is from natural ability, training, and practice that together result in a good athlete. At the time of competition, a good athlete lets go of any thoughts, worries, and just competes. If any adjustments need to be made, they are made naturally, based on past experience. There is no "doer" trying to manage or control anything.

In other words, one doesn't become identified with the process or take results personally, as this is clinging. Instead one pays full attention to, and takes the necessary steps towards becoming a better athlete.

Simply put, if one has trained properly and is better than the competition, then the causes and conditions are in place for one to win the competition.

Renunciation requires letting go of attachment to any outcome or any expectations. Renunciation is the letting go of the I, the sense of me, the sense of this is mine, this is myself and seeing everything as an impersonal process.

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And what is right view that is noble, taintless, supramundane, a factor of the path?

That which is wisdom, the faculty of wisdom, the power of wisdom, the investigation-of-states enlightenment factor, right view as a path factor, in one of noble mind, taintless mind, who by developing the noble path: this is called right view that is noble, taintless, supramundane, a factor of the path.

MN117


Right Intention

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And what is right intention? The intention for renunciation, for freedom from ill will, for harmlessness: This is called right intention

Right Intention is the intention for renunciation, the single-minded, continual intention not to get entangled with anything in the "world" and to let go of any clinging to the "world": thoughts, feelings, desires, aversions, pains, pleasures, interactions, sense of being, and anything that can be perceived through the Five Aggregates, even the slightest movements of the mind.

Just as past unwholesome intentions create unwholesome karmic actions that ripen in the present, leading to stress and unhappiness, one can turn this stream into the path of liberation by letting go of all unskillful intentions and replacing them with Right Intention: the single-minded, continual intention for renunciation, for freedom from ill will, for harmlessness.

Based on Right View, once Right Intention for Renunciation is fully established and continually reinforced, Right Intention acts as the "power", the catalyst for all future actions on the path. This provides a joy that enables effortless motivation to continue the practice. Without Right Intention for renunciation of the Five Aggregates, liberation is not possible.

Renunciation and letting go are based on the understanding that intention is the "power" behind one's actions. Once single-minded Right Intention is in place, and one understands that success is based on establishing the right causes and conditions, the mind will naturally find a way to bring about the intention naturally.

Wrong Intention and wrong effort is the false belief that the outcome of one's actions arises solely from their effort, what they are "doing" at that moment, thus leading to a misguided notion of a "doer" and a perceived necessity to constantly engage in judgment and action.

Wrong Intention is also expecting a specific outcome. The moment we start expecting a certain outcome, this brings stress and anxiety.

In reality, it is the mistaken attribution of results to a "self" and the persistent compulsion to take personally and react to the present moment that primarily causes stress and unhappyness in one's life.


The Tathagata explains how to develop Right Intention by dividing thoughts into two kinds, wholesome and unwholesome, and how single-minded intention leads to Jhana, Right Concentration and then ultimately to letting go of all intention:


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And where do these unwholesome intentions cease without remainder? Their cessation too has been declared. Here a disciple, having secluded himself from sensual pleasures… enters and dwells in the first jhana; there these unwholesome intentions cease without remainder.

MN78


Right Speech, Right Action and Right Livelihood

When one has the Right View that nothing in this world is substantial, inherently satisfying, or worth getting entangled with, and is imbued with Right Intention—the single-minded intention to transform all past actions and intentions into Right Intentions—this manifests as Right Speech, Right Action, and Right Livelihood.

One has the Right View that everyone's behaviors or personalities, including our own perceptions, views, thoughts, and actions, is based on Karma—the past conditions that have shaped our identity and therefore does not take anything personally.

One understands and interacts with people the same way that one understands and interacts with forces of nature. That is, people have become who they are, based on past conditions and circumstances, such as the influence of family, society, religion, language, peer pressure, institutions, social media, advertising, and life circumstances. These past causes and conditions have shaped how they interact in the present.

One understands that because of past stress and unhappiness, people develop unwholesome behaviors and habits as a mechanism to cope and to release the underlying stress and unhappiness.

Just like storms in nature, when too much stress builds up, it blows up and gets released as unwholesome behavior, for example, anger, greed, selfishness, lying, harsh speech, dishonesty, sexual misconduct, intoxication, and physical harm, etc.

Because of this, one does not judge anyone, or overly reacts to others' unwholesome behavior in the present or takes things personally. One understands that causes and conditions have brought them to this unwholesome state and that any unwholesome behaviour is nothing to be taken personally, but instead treated with good will and compassion.

As many forms of unwholesome behaviours can only be brought out and addressed when we interact with others, the practice of Right Speech, Right Action, and Right Livelihood allow us not to get entangled in the storms of human existence. It is our protection when interacting with others, it is the path for creating an imperpetuable and peaceful mind, leading to liberation.


Right Effort

One of the goals of the gradual path is to develop a tranquil, unwavering mind that remains undisturbed by emotions, thoughts, cravings, and aversions.

Due to ingrained behavioral patterns and inner restlessness, the mind needs to be "tamed" to break its habit of constantly grasping and clinging to the "world".

Using our analogy of the "good athlete," once the mind is tamed through practice, it can practice or perform tasks without being disrupted by emotions, thoughts, or the excessive need to judge or control the present.

"Right Intention" serves as the driving force behind actions, while "Right effort" applies this intentional power by letting go of clinging, and developing a mind free of obstructions and ignorance. Right Effort is the development of the right causes and conditions, based on past experience and correct practice rather than judging and trying to manage the present.

"Right effort," which is comprised of alertness, diligence, and ardency, is the practice of abandoning unwholesome states and developing wholesome ones. This leads to a clear mind devoid of distractions, suitable for doing any task effectively.


Right Mindfulness

Right Intention is the "power" and serves as the driving force behind Renunciation, Right Effort is developing a mind that is clear, diligent and on its task.

Mindfulness is the "knowing" that discerns causes and conditions, greed and aversion and how we take the Five Aggregates personally.

Normally, we perceive ourselves in a three-dimensional world as separate from objects of the world, what the Tathagata calls "fabrications". Right Mindfulness is when mindfulness is established in memory at the Five Aggregates and not the objects of the "world", the fabrications of the mind.

When awareness is fully established in awareness itself, at the Five Aggregates, in memory, there is discernment—what is called "knowing" this is Right Mindfulness.

Instead of mindfulness established at the objects of the "world", which causes new fabrications to cloud clear "knowing", one abides in memory, the Five Aggregates, aware of the mind and body, keeping track of changes as they happen, seeing causes and conditions as they arise and pass away.

Discernment or intuition or "knowing" arises when mindfulness is sufficiently free from objectification, judgments, logic, words, or thoughts for the mind to see causes and conditions clearly. As a result, the mind becomes dispassionate when it sees that all things pass away naturally, and it is our clinging to them that causes stress and unhappyness.

It's important to understand that clear "knowing" cannot arise if the mind is trying to interact with the present, by judging, micromanaging, incessant thoughts or any act of will. This is why Right Mindfulness requires abiding or resting in memory.

Right Mindfulness is effortless because awareness, discernment, and memory are always present, inherent in conciousness. When one stops anticipating changes in the future and instead is established in memory, the mind naturally becomes calm because there is no longer the stress of interacting with or taking anything personally. The mind has nothing to do, it is simply paying attention and cannot change what has already happened in memory, even if it happened a split second ago.

This calm state free of formations results in clear "knowing", seeing things clearly as they really are, the rising and passing away of phenomena without clinging to them.

Right Concentration

Right Mindfulness refers to mindfulness fully established within the Five Aggregates, or memory. When Right Mindfulness is fully established, it directly leads to Right Concentration.

Concentration can be better understood as having a collected or singleness of mind.

Usually, people's minds are scattered, occupied with numerous processes, thoughts, intentions, feelings, and perceptions or "formations". Attention is divided among various lingering thought processes, some of which remain beneath the surface, ready to emerge under the right conditions.

Concentration involves releasing all these scattered mental processes or formations and consolidating attention into a unified single-minded process, imbued with Right Intention, for the purpose of "knowing."

In the context of mindfulness of the body, this entails collecting all attention and directing it to the memory of the body, keeping track of changes in real time, without letting any stray mental processes or formations obstruct singleness of mind.

Simply put, concentration is letting go of all formations and abiding in memory so that clear knowing can arise.



A discourse on the prerequisites of right concentration that emphasizes the interrelationship and mutual support of all the factors of the eightfold path. It covers both the mundane and super mundane versions of the path:


After one has obtained 'Right View' and one's thoughts are imbued with renunciation or 'Right Intention,' and when one has penetrated the Dharma and Eightfold Path practiced by the nobles, and therefore gained an unshakable faith in the Tathagata's teachings, this creates the causes and conditions for one to enter the stream. One's thoughts and actions are single-mindedly intent on liberation.

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In a person of right view, right intention comes into being. In a person of right intention, right speech. In a person of right speech, right action. In a person of right action, right livelihood. In a person of right livelihood, right effort. In a person of right effort, right mindfulness. In a person of right mindfulness, right concentration. In a person of right concentration, right knowing. In a person of right knowing, right release.

AN 10.103


The Tathagata asks Sāriputta about the four factors for stream-entry: association with good people, hearing the teaching, proper attention, and right practice. He also defines the “stream” and the “stream-enterer”:


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A virtuous disciple should properly attend to these five aggregates subject to clinging as impermanent, suffering, a disease, a boil, a dart, a misfortune, an affliction, alien, disintegrating, empty, and not-self.

There is a possibility that a virtuous disciple, properly attending to these five aggregates subject to clinging in this way, may realize the fruit of stream-entry.

SN22.122

How one might know if they are a stream enterer:



Abiding in Renunciation

Learning to abide in renunciation before starting the gradual training can bring joy and provide confidence, motivation, and the right frame of mind to begin the practice.

Abiding in renunciation is the continual fading, ceasing, renouncing, relinquishing, releasing, and letting go of craving and clinging to the Five Aggregates.

Simply speaking, it's the abiding fully in body and mind, continually letting go of everything, and experiencing the continual release:

In brief, staying aware in real time, abiding in body and mind, and continually letting go of absolutely everything.

When abiding in renunciation, there's no need to enter a meditative state or "trance"; simply keep your eyes open as usual, staying alert and awake.

In the beginning, it might be helpful to visualize letting go by directing what is being let go to a spot outside the body, such as letting go through the top of your head, bottom of your feet, your hands, or wherever it feels appropriate.

The breath can also be used to let go, letting go of everything using the outbreath, making the out breath extra long and when breathing in, taking in any good feelings and perceptions from release of stress.

When causes and conditions are in place—namely that one's mind is not disturbed and can keep their intention single-mindedly on renunciation—one should start to experience joy and release.

On the other hand, having incessant thoughts at the beginning of the gradual path is normal. One will need to emphasize the practice of Sila (virtue) and Guarding the Sense Doors to attain a sufficient level of peacefulness to feel the joy of renunciation.



Shortly after the Tathagata’s death, Venerable Ānanda explains the core teachings of the gradual path: