"Grasping at things can only yield one of two results: Either the thing you are grasping at disappears, or you yourself disappear. It is only a matter of which occurs first." - Goenka
In Southern India, locals catch monkeys in an innovative manner. Or rather, they allow the monkeys to trap themselves. By cutting a small hole in a coconut, just large enough for a monkey to put its hand in, they fill it with a sweet. The monkey gets a whiff of the sweet, puts its hand into the coconut, wraps its hand around the sweet and suddenly realizes that its fist cannot be pulled back out of the hole. Ironically, the monkey never thinks of letting go of the sweet and becomes a prisoner to its own greed and desires. An easy prey for its human predator.
While it’s easy for us humans to be smug about the monkey’s folly, the story in truth applies to our own human desires and greed. Trying to fulfil human cravings and desires is like emptying the ocean on the inland – an endless task and ultimately utterly futile.
The 40 period of Lent which commences with Ash Wednesday today offers us the perfect time to reflect on our lives goals and desires, renew wherever we are in that process, and renounce that which we have understood as being meaningless to our evolution. These 40 days become a period of Divine Analysis and Therapy for Christians and many others around the world. It’s a time to go back to our basics and segregate our superfluous wants from our essential needs. A time to renounce the needless excesses of our body and mind.
Reflection is critical for meaningful renunciation. 6 key steps include:
1. Self Observation – Do I really need that person or thing? Am I exaggeratedly attached to its perceived qualities?
2. Apply Wisdom – Comprehend your excessive attachment to that object or person. Let go if required to be free. Be wiser than the monkey.
3. Ponder on Impermanence – Everything and everyone eventually returns to dust! Now how vital is that object or person to you?
4. The Inconvenience of Attachments – Every object we own and every relationship we have brings its own share of burdens. Weigh its worth carefully.
5. Reflect on the End Result of Attachments – Desires can many a time lead to theft, crime, addiction, abuse and even war. Isn’t such attachment equivalent to distress and suffering? Are the repercussions that follow worth it?
6. Death is the only Reality – What is the worth of that attachment or object at the moment of death? The purpose of reflecting on death is to bring a real change in the core of our being. Contemplation on the reality of Death opens our inner wisdom and vision to what really matters, and what we intend to do with our lives here on earth.
Every choice is a renunciation. To select one thing is to turn your back on another. Renunciation is not about abandoning your loved ones but embracing the entire world as your family. Renunciation is not about shaving your head, but dispelling negative emotions and thoughts from the insides of your mind. It’s not about discarding accountability, but rather concentrating on results that can benefit many. In a nutshell, renunciation encompasses the higher qualities of mercy, compassion, tolerance, forgiveness and love for all.
As Shunryu Suzuki rightly sums up, “Renunciation is not giving up the things of the world, but accepting that they go away.”