Buddhist Buzzwords: Renunciation

When I first started reading up on Buddhism, this word, renunciation, really had me perplexed.

Defined very simply, renunciation is the act of renouncing. Renouncing something is to refuse it, or better yet, to abandon it completely. This is what frightened me. I thought being a Buddhist meant I had to give up everything, maybe this is where you are at to.

That’s far from the truth though. Buddhism isn’t asking us to give everything up, to pack it up and leave life behind. What Buddhism is asking us is to get rid of the bull, to detach from the harmful objects or states of mind that keep us stuck.

The concept behind this is, without the object of attachment, our grasping will lessen thus allowing us to offer ourselves up to things our minds wouldn’t normally be open to.

By renouncing “me” for instance, this opens us up to truly see there is a “we”. We can begin to see the the separate life we lead is not so separate after all, that our actions not only affect ourselves, but affect those around us locally and globally.

I don’t want to get to far off topic, so the “me” and “we” column will come another time. The whole point is, renunciation doesn’t mean our life is over, it means our life can finally begin! All in all, renunciation means to just let go.

My intention with these “Buddhist Buzzword” columns is to break down the words that confused me, in hopes to dispel your confusion. I am no expert, even after a few years of practice, I am still a newbie. My word is not gold, hell it’s barely iron pyrite. These are just my interpretations and I hope that, if anything, they are of some help to you.


  1. I am glad that my sharings are helpful. You always provide a very sincere post, and your work with the blog swaps has introduced me to a lot of other great work on the “WWW” that are really providing great daily insight to Buddhist living. So I am actually honored when I am allowed to share my contributions to your blog.

  2. Thanks for clearing up what is obviously still some confusion on my part, Joshua. I’ve appreciated all the comments you’ve made lately and thank you for taking the time to explain your thoughts.

  3. As lay Buddhists, we normally do not use this word renouncing. It is the term associated with those who are picking up the saffron robes to follow the rules of the Vinaya Piṭaka (rules of the monastic). He sheds his outward attachments, he sheds his emotional attachments, and the five hindrances. As the Buddha teaches, “A householder looks at his home and thinks that it is too cramped and stifling to remain in this home, and steps away from it into the open air to be free.”

    But as lay Buddhists we are not asked to renounce, but to take refuge.

    Refuge in Western terms is often looked at as seeking shelter within– and this is the true definition of the word. But the translation from the Pali term “gachammi” really means “to journey with.” This was a common practice and vow in ancient India with gurus and teachers.

    The Buddha developed the understanding of the Middle Path (Marga Marga). To that imagery we must see ourselves as following the Buddha, the Dhamma and the Sangha in that journey.

    As a monastic there is an abrupt renunciation where all the aggregates outside of his own that he/she carries is dropped to pick up the begging bowl and robes and continue the spiritual path through life.

    As lay people, we do not have a renunciant life, but what I call a “relational life.” We continue to walk the path, burdened by the aggregates we attach to (e.g. house, job, family, wife, etc.), but as we journey — instead of renouncing– we liberate ourselves from our burdens gradually.

    A great life metaphor for me was preparing to move as I sold my house. So much stuff in the attic. Stuff I haven’t seen since childhood. Stuff I held onto because I thought it was valuable. Stuff I thought would be important to burden my children with when I die and make them carry it around in the attic. I tossed it all and felt how liberating it was. I also saw how much house I had been forced to own just to accommodate “things” that I neither needed nor wanted.

    Sweep the attic clean out, then the house, then literally clean the house out of your life.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s