There is no distinction to be found in the world of having. No matter how much you have, you could always have more. No matter how many people you exceed in wealth there will always be those who are wealthier. If not now, then previously, or in the future, for wealth does not stay in one place. The richest person will be overthrown sooner or later.
In the world of renunciation there is distinction. There is a limit to what can be given up and relinquished, and so it is a scale by which noble people can truly be measured.
It is not a scale of quantity like with the pursuit of wealth. Someone who gives up a million dollars and someone who gives up ten dollars stand as equals if that act leaves them penniless. They both have no money.
The renouncing of material items is not the limit of this kind of distinction, for those two people are both still full of many things even as all their money is gone. They are full of want, full of grief, full of hopes and dreams and sorrows and regrets. Full of ego; full of ideas. Full of desire, as it turns out.
Our most pernicious attachments are not to the things we have but to the things we do not. The chance of striking it rich, the chance of finding our perfect partner. The chance of being liked. The chance of being influential. The mere chance of these things can drive us from the moment we first breathe until our dying day. But these things are even more fickle than material wealth. Opportunities rise and fall like the flickering of a candle flame, and they are just as insubstantial. Try to grab ahold of them and you find they have no substance. Only heat and turbulence.
The things we yearn and pine for are not real things. They are a promise of happiness somewhere in the future, but they come at the expense of a happy present. Would you seek the perfect partner if you loved being in your own company? Would you need others’ praise if you were secure in the knowledge of goodness you’ve done? Do you really care about riches in that fleeting moment of relief when you sink into a comfortable chair after a long day at work? Even if that chair was purchased at a yard sale, it would be more valuable to a tired person than a giant gilded throne.
That answer of course is no, but nevertheless we persist in our seeking and yearning. Thus the scale of renunciation exists to show the true distinction among human and celestial beings. Great are those who can let go of material wealth, and far greater are those who can put down the heavy baggage of eternal wanting.
There are many levels of distinction here. We tread the path not all at once but one step at a time, learning to do without fickle security, then finer material comforts, then further still we wean ourselves off of the attraction and aversion that keep us forever roaming saṃsāra. We relinquish pride, we give up conceit, we subdue restlessness. We dispel all ignorance of the world and it’s traps.
The greatest distinction is that of the enlightened being. Whether they have ornate material possessions or wear rags and eat scraps, they too stand as equals at the greatest rank of those who dwell with spotless hearts. There is no going further, and they can never be unseated. To be fully free is the attainment that can never be stolen or surpassed.
It is worthwhile to honor those who have achieved true distinction in this world, who have truly set themselves apart. To do even that much is an act of renouncing the world! It shows that we understand true wealth, and all good things are born from understanding. Let this be our first act of renunciation – one that won’t cost us a cent. Give up the world’s bait.