Renounce and Enjoy

The Mind  |  The Monastery   |   Audrey Lin  |   March 27, 2011, 11:40 pm

The view from a morning walk at CTTB

A few weekends ago, I left the monastery for the first time. The shock wasn’t as great as I thought it would be. In fact, the differences I noticed were mostly in myself, and subtly in the environment around me.

Some distinctions were obvious. Like sound. Driving through the City of Ten Thousand Buddhas (CTTB) gate was like crossing a threshold into a world of noise. Coming from an environment grounded in simplicity and spiritual practice, the energy level was loud. Cars. Colors. Music. Words, whispers, shouts. Drinks clanked and food fanned out in every size, shape, and color. Fliers adorned telephone poles while billboards splashed attention away from the clouds.

It was like peeking through a window into a familiar dream. Friends clustered at café tables, sipping in the warmth of each other through trains of conversations about their week. Flustered parent-speeding-with-child around the grocery store. The city streets absorbing weekend traffic, while storefronts and torn candy wrappers glimmered in the sunlight. All the while, flowers bloomed in all directions—catching sight of the horizons of spring.

As I took in these surroundings, I noticed that they reflected a subtle change in me on an internal level. Walking around the familiar streets and settings, I realized that this city—nested with people who had become my family and ideas that had grounded my worldview—no longer belonged to me. It still felt like home, but it was different. I didn’t own it and it didn’t own me.

When we go through our days making a living for ourselves, we might work or study, and arrange free time around friends, family, hobbies and rest. We create it. Directors of our own show, we orchestrate the content of our lives: everything from the clothes on our backs to the books on our bookshelf to the friends that come through our doors.

But since moving up to CTTB, I’ve learned how to un-own. Not to be confused with disown. Simply put, I’ve begun to undo the process of owning. One could say I’ve been practicing how to renounce.

Living here as a volunteer, everything has become a gift:

The room in which I sleep.
The meals I eat.
The heat.
The water.
The mountains. The sunrise and set.
Peacocks, turkey, and deer.
The time someone takes to explain things to me.
The lessons.
The opportunity to choose what work to do, which projects to take on.

I’ve gone from operating on a self-focused level (e.g. buying groceries so I can eat, calling a friend to help me through a dilemma, doing work to advance my life in some way) to one that takes a larger picture into account. Here, the interconnectedness of life is radically apparent. Every meal I eat is prepared with the hard work, skill, and teamwork of dedicated monastics, volunteers, and students. In the same way, classes are conducted, floors are mopped, lawns are mowed, produce is harvested, and the Buddha Hall gets its daily dose of flowers. It’s a completely different mentality. Work here is done in the spirit of cultivation rather than for the sake of a paycheck. You get out what you put in.

The more I operate on this level, the more I watch my attachments unravel.

In this sense, all the work I do isn’t for the goal of achieving something for myself. Rather, it’s done in service to cultivating deeper qualities—things like generosity, patience, diligence, and humility. The more I operate on this level, the more I watch my attachments unravel. I’m relinquished from the burdens of choice. I save a lot of mental energy that once went into deciding what foods to buy and eat or what company to keep.

I learn how to conserve a lot of emotional energy, too. As I practice renouncing, I practice accepting. How to embrace and work with all the curve balls life throws. When I find myself getting frustrated or disappointed because something isn’t quite the way I want it—a project takes on new challenges or I came late to lunch and the food has become cold—it’s not as big a deal because it’s all a gift. Who am I to know the best way something should be done? Who am I to prefer what kind of food is offered to me? The less I own, the less attached I become to seeing things a certain way. It’s like being able to analyze characters in a movie and point out something they obviously can’t see. When something has nothing to do with you, when you hold no personal stakes in the outcome, you can see more clearly what needs to be done.

There’s something that has always compelled me about those who can be happy with very little, who maintain a genuine smile amidst the turmoil and pressures of life.

Of course, this is all easier said than done. I’m just barely taking baby steps and I find myself clinging to the things I own on a daily basis. But it’s a blessing to have the opportunity practice. To be immersed in an environment where the less you own (of matter and mind), the easier life becomes.

There’s something that has always compelled me about those who can be happy with very little, who maintain a genuine smile amidst the turmoil and pressures of life. A wise friend once said something along the lines of: “Wealth isn’t so much about how much you have, but, rather, how little you want. It’s not about accumulating possessions as it is about diminishing needs.”

It reminds me of a story I once read about Gandhi, who at the time of his death owned little more than two sets of wrap around cloths, a pair of spectacles, three sacred books, and a walking stick¹. Towards the end of his life, a journalist asked him, “Can you tell me the secret of your life in three words?”

Gandhi chuckled and answered, “Yes! Renounce and enjoy.”²

¹ Nazareth, Pascal Alan. Gandhi’s Outsanding Leadership. Bangalore: Sarvodaya International Trust, 2006. 21.
² Easwaran, Eknath. Gandhi the Man. Petaluma, CA: Nilgiri Press, 1978.

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