True renunciation

Students often ask me, What can I do to bring about my awakening? What are the methods, the techniques, the meditations, the self-inquiry that will finally dissipate the clouds of illusion and reveal my true nature once and for all? My response is always the same: Awakening occurs in a moment out of time and arises from the depths of the mystery; nothing you do can make it happen, and in fact actively seeking it as another experience to add to your spiritual resume just makes it more elusive, since the mind that tries so desperately to escape from the prison of separation is the prison itself.

If techniques won’t necessarily help expedite awakening, what will? Of course, sitting quietly and inquiring with genuine curiosity into the nature of reality and the self may make you more awakening prone. But perhaps the most powerful approach is not a technique but a view, an attitude, an insight—what I call true renunciation. You see, no matter how many books we may have read, we’re culturally predisposed to believe that we can find satisfaction, happiness, and fulfillment in the manifest world, the world of relationships, work, experiences, material possessions. I’m surprised at how many sincere spiritual seekers still harbor this view, though often at a more subliminal or unconscious level. 

Perhaps you believe that life is supposed to be fair, or comfortable, or kind, or free from hardship, and when it proves otherwise you become angry or depressed. “Sure, I get that I’m not in control,” you may think, “but don’t I have a right to expect life to fulfill certain basic needs? Otherwise, what’s the point of participating?” I suspect this sense of entitlement is far more common in the comfortable middle-class world most of us inhabit. If we don’t get what we want, we’re accustomed to throwing a tantrum and demanding to speak to the person in charge. Whereas in much of the world you count yourself lucky if you have food on the table at night.

This attitude is precisely the one that the Buddha’s basic teachings are meant dispel. Yet many folks who come to the nondual teachings these days by way of books and videos may not receive this fundamental spiritual orientation. In fact, they’re more likely to be imbued with the New Age belief that you can manifest the ideal life in the material realm—career, house, car, partner—if you only think the right thoughts.

Buddha, on the other hand, taught that life is inevitably characterized by suffering. Remember, this was a man who was born as a prince and had all the perks that New Agers crave. But his contact beyond the palace walls with sickness, old age, death, and renunciation cut through the phantom comfort of his ephemeral paradise, and he could not rest until he had discovered the truth beyond suffering.

The journey begins with this basic, entry-level renunciation. You don’t have to shave your head, quit your job, leave your family, or go off to an ashram or monastery. But you can resolve to turn your outwardly focused attention back upon itself to find the ultimate source of happiness and satisfaction right here, in your own heart and spirit. 

The life you construct for yourself, based on accomplishments, stories, life experiences, possessions, is just that—a construct, made of words, concepts, mind-stuff, and entirely lacking in substantial, abiding reality. You simply won’t find fulfillment there. In this moment, free of thoughts, memories, beliefs, identities, plans, free of the construct, who or what are you? This question, in one form or another, leads to the deeper fulfillment and the ultimate meaning, beyond meaning, that you seek.