Reclaiming Renunciation

This last Sunday our family group had the chance to take a field trip to the town of Wendell, the hilltown where Tahn Pamutto and company spent the summer months living in a tent and walking almsround. There the topic of the day, the parami of Nekkhamma or Renunciation, was made real by seeing different ways of life. Wood stoves, oil lamps, hand pumps for water, and composting toilets were just some of the wonders found there, where people are trying to live apart from the hustle and bustle of modern life. These things were commonplace a century ago but now require a conscious act of renunciation!

Renunciation often gets a bad rap. Many people living with the comforts of modern life feel it is a criticism or a call to become monastics. Even in the Pāli dictionary nekkhamma is equated with the Going Forth, but as a perfection it is something far more important and pervasive. Renunciation is necessary for any practice of the spiritual life.

How could we make a change if we weren’t willing to give up our old ways of doing things? How could we find time to meditate if we didn’t let go of the things that fill up our schedule? How could we afford to be generous if we spend every cent we make on all the luxuries that come our way?

Renunciation is the ability to forego an immediate want or pleasure. Sometimes this is for a known result, like when we go on a diet to lose weight. But other times it is for its own sake. We don’t know what we’ll spend our money on when we hold off on buying the newest gadget the second it comes out. But that’s just the thing – once we’ve restrained ourselves we have infinite possibilities for how we spend that money. Likewise with time and energy and all the things in life that are constantly running out. When we practice renunciation, we create space. And it’s not until we create space that something new can arise.

We had two activities to practice renunciation. The first was a gift exchange with a catch – we were to give someone a gift without buying anything. We had to think of something we had that someone else could use, and let it go. It turned out to be pretty fun!

The second activity was to think of an unskillful thought, verbal pattern, or action we habitually do that we might want to let go of. We wrote these down on pieces of paper and ceremonially tossed them into a fire. As we watched our bad habit burning up, we got to contemplate nibbana! When we let go of something that causes us suffering, the possibilities for new skillful behaviors to fill the void are endless!

Finally, we got to act out the story of Temiya. Temiya was one of the lifetimes of the Bodhisatta as he was practicing the perfections to become a Buddha. The Bodhisatta practiced the renunciation of becoming a hermit or ascetic many, many times – after all, he was dedicated to purity of mind and wanted to spend as much time working on it as possible! But in his life as Temiya, he had to be willing to let go of everything to move towards his goal:

THE STORY OF TEMIYA

Characters: NARRATOR, Temiya, Father, Mother, Sunanda

NARRATOR: This is the story of a lifetime of the Buddha when he was still a Bodhisatta, meaning he was not enlightened yet. He was still trying to master the parami’s and become a really good person. In one lifetime he was born as a king in a very rich and powerful country. In that life the Bodhisatta took it easy and enjoyed himself. He made lots of bad karma as a king because his country was always at war. He had to use violence and steal from other countries to stay in power.

When he passed away from that life he had to leave all the money and power behind. He realized he had made a big mistake! He hadn’t gotten any closer to being enlightened and he had done a lot of bad things. He suffered for a long time because of all the bad kamma he had done.

After a long time, though, he was ready to be born a human again. At that time there was a rich and powerful business family. They had no children, which was a problem because there was nobody to pass the family business to.

MOTHER: Oh, I really want a child!

NARRATOR: The mother of the family was actually a good person for the most part, and eventually her wish came true. The bodhisatta was born as her son. She named him Temiya.

Temiya’s father was not a very good person. He was in charge of a powerful corporation and he made his money in many bad ways. He was very rough and violent towards his competitors, he sold his products at an unfair price, and he would tell lies. He even sold things that hurt people like weapons and drugs.

When Temiya was little he heard what business his father was in and realized it was a lot like the kingdom he had had in his past life. When he grew up he would be expected to do many bad things and hurt people. When he understood this he became very scared.

TEMIYA: I don’t want to be rich and powerful. I want to be a Buddha! I have to think of a way to not be given the family company!

NARRATOR: Temiya tried to think of a way out, but he was very scared of doing bad things. When we are scared it’s hard to think straight. He knew if he ran away his father would send someone to find him. There was only one way – he had to pretend to not be able to see, hear, or speak. If his family believed the act, they would decide not to give him the company when he got older. Then he could live a peaceful life.

So Temiya stopped looking, and stopping responding to his name, and stopped talking. His mother had to feed him with a spoon, and their butler Sunanda had to get him dressed every morning and bathe him at night.

His family was very surprised by the change. They got together one night to talk.

FATHER: I don’t understand. Why doesn’t Temiya respond to us?

MOTHER: He didn’t get sick or hit his head. This is very strange!

SUNANDA: Maybe he is just acting?

FATHER: That’s it! It’s just an act. We must find a way to snap him out of it.

SUNANDA: When a young boy or girl is throwing a temper tantrum, sometimes you can get them to stop by offering them a candy or toy. All we need to do is offer Temiya something he can’t refuse. Then he will give in and respond to us.

NARRATOR: The family got together and planned. They thought of three things that Temiya really liked, and planned to get trick him into revealing he was acting.

[At this time, the group brainstorms to think of three things to try to tempt Temiya with. When they have them, one by one a family member will act out offering the thing to Temiya. Temiya can’t move a muscle, not to look or respond in any way!]

NARRATOR: They tried and tried for years, even as Temiya grew up. In the end it worked. It took a long, long time, but after sixteen years of trying to tempt Temiya the family decided it was impossible. Temiya really was blind and deaf and couldn’t talk. He would never be able to run the company. Father decided it would be a waste of time to keep Temiya around. He knew Mother would never let him go, so one day he ordered Sunanda to take Temiya into the forest – and bury him! That way Mother would never find out.

Sunanda put Temiya in a bag and drove him far away into a forest. Sunanda then dug a hole. When Temiya heard Sunanda working he understood what was happening, and even though he was sad he would be leaving his mother and family, he was very happy that he wouldn’t have to do bad things. He began to cry tears of joy.

SUNANDA: Master Temiya – are you crying? Why?

TEMIYA: Friend Sunanda, it is true. I have been acting all this time. I am crying because I am so happy. My family has finally decided not to give me the company. This is better than doing many bad things that I would regret. My life was short, but I am proud of myself. I was able to get closer to my goal of being a Buddha!

SUNANDA: Master Temiya, you are amazing! It is true, I also don’t like doing bad things. You’ve inspired me to let go of my bad work and try to live a more peaceful life. I’m not going to bury you!

NARRATOR: And so Sunanda and Temiya built a little cabin in the woods and lived there happily and peacefully. One day Father and Mother came to see what happened, and when they saw Temiya so happy and free, they were also inspired. Temiya taught them about Renunciation, and they were able to give up their bad business and live happily for the rest of their days.

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