What could possibly motivate someone to renounce everything for the dharma? Before we think about that, let us define what renunciation means since spiritual teachers rarely use that word anymore. All Buddhist texts refer to renunciation as a high quality to work toward developing. Inept renunciation means rejecting what we need and want, and now we have to reluctantly give it up. Some will think that there is something that they really want to own that has to be given up even before they get it. Both of these meanings are untrue.
Years ago a student sent me a frantic letter, “Rinpoche, I’m just so confused because I feel like I want to achieve enlightenment, however, what about Susie?” (Well, I don’t know Susie!! What about Susie?”) “I promised her that I would marry her, but if I should go for this enlightenment, then I have to renounce everything and what about Susie? She’s expecting this, and not only that, I was sort of expecting to have children! You telling us about all this enlightenment stuff and now I have to renounce all of that? Well, what am I going to tell Susie? Maybe it is possible that I could get enlightened, but Susie’s here with me now. She is something that I want and I know I can get her. Whereas, this enlightenment, I’m not so sure that I’m going to be able to finish what I start. Right now I’m thinking you are asking me to give up everything that I like.” (Rinpoche: not true).”And I don’t know about enlightenment.”
In the west, many are receiving strong Buddhist practices, often without the supporting renunciation teachings that are a part of the practice. Perhaps some meditators will understand in time, on their own, but many do not. For the very interested lay practitioner who is not free or capable of life-long monastic vows, there are in-between stages. For them, it is reasonable to consider the difference between renouncing what they like entirely or bringing that lure into a careful balance. “Could I reduce the attractions and the compulsions that consume the best part of my energy and time? Could I apply that energy and time toward something more valuable?” It is possible to have correct renunciation and still lead a lay life. Just not easy! ~Domo Geshe Rinpoche~~~