What is the role of renunciation on the spiritual path or in Buddhist practice? To most of us, what drove us to spiritual seeking in the first place is some level of realization that our obsession with self fulfillment and worldly pleasures can only give us so much satisfaction.

Ego’s game is to maintain the facade, luring you into the false hope and empty dreams of conditional happiness. It will kid you, tempt you, seduce you into never abandoning the quest for ultimate conditional happiness. And for most of us, these games work. We reach the carrot just enough to hope for more. We satisfy the hunger just enough to keep the dream alive.

Renunciation on the Spiritual PathBut someday, after seeing the same movie too many times, we begin to question the malignant antics of self-fulfillment.  We realize that the pursuit of conventional happiness isn’t working.  We’ve got the house, the job, the mate, the perfect family, and we’re still not happy.  Something is still missing. From a conventional point of view, this is a crises.  The external materialistic pursuit doesn’t cut it. These are the questions of a mid-life crisis.

 “You’ve climbed to the top of the ladder only to discover it’s up against the wrong wall.” – Joseph Campbell

It takes courage and honesty to admit that the conventional pursuits for happiness are futile, and instead of seeing this momentous insight as an opportunity for growth, ego translates it into a failure. It says, “Lets regroup and try harder, next time we’ll get it. Let’s wait until that contract comes through, that job comes along, that lover shows up…

A mid-life crisis occurs at any age, whenever we wrestle with the limitations of personal evolution. And when this wrestling match begins, life as you know it will never be the same.At some point, we intuit that there must be more, so we start to question: What’s life about? What do I really want? Why do I do what I do? By merely asking these questions, our unconscious attitudes — “that’s just the way it is” — are brought into the light of consciousness.

This is the true meaning of renunciation, as the delightfutells us:

“What the development of true renunciation implies is that we no longer rely on sensory pleasures for our ultimate happiness; we see the futility of expecting deep satisfaction from such limited, transitory phenomenon. It is important to understand this point clearly. Renunciation is not the same as giving up pleasure or denying ourselves happiness. It means giving up our unreal expectations about ordinary pleasures. These expectations themselves are what turn pleasure into pain… Simply stated, renunciation is the feeling of being so completely fed up with our recurring problems that we are finally ready to turn away from our attachments to this and that and begin searching for another way to make our life meaningful… To develop renunciation means to realize how our ordinary reliance on pleasure is preventing us from tasting a higher, more complete happiness.” Lama Yeshe

As a forest fire burns old growth and prepares the ground for new life, the crisis clears the way for unprecedented personal evolution. Instead of charging ahead with a stiff upper lip for yet another round of self-fulfillment, the crisis begets surrender. From the perspective of self-transcendence, this crisis is magic, creating a burst of sunlight in a dark, stuffy room.

On the spiritual path, the implication is this, we fall apart in order to get back together at  a higher level.

“Chaos should be regarded as extremely good news.” -Trungpa Rinpoche

Excerpted from  my book,The Power and the Pain: Transforming Spiritual Hardship into Joy”

There is also a great article in Lion’s Roar about it.

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