In Buddhism, the Pali word Nekkhamma is translated as ‘renunciation’ in English, which means to relinquish, reject, or disown something. Similarly, Christians may take up this discipline during the period of Lent when they choose to give up something. Broadly speaking, renunciation is a letting go of whatever binds us to ignorance and suffering, or dukkha.
The word renunciation is sometimes off-putting for many people. A common perception of those living a holy life is that they have no fun and experience no worldly pleasure. Indeed, a person who chooses a monastic life would take vows to let go of worldly pleasures and offerings. So how would a lay person practise renunciation in daily life?
It is helpful to think of renunciation as freedom from the grip of desires and cravings. In our modern world, we are often pulled in so many directions by endless distractions. There are endless notifications to check, websites to look up, entertainment, consumer goods, new travel destinations, that we often become caught up in these activities. Inherently, there is nothing wrong with any of these things, however it is the way we relate to them – being caught up or attached to them – that can become a problem.
Essentially, the practise and discipline of renunciation allows us to be in control of habitual patterns and desires that may not be helpful to our lives. For instance, if you notice yourself regularly checking your phone, this habit may be interfering with your relations to others if they find it rude, or interfering with your equanimity.
One way of practising renunciation is to set aside a period of time – a day or weekend perhaps – where you commit to giving up a certain thing. It could be the habit of social media, it could be eating too much chocolate, or anything for which you feel a deep craving. Notice your mind during this exercise. Is it thinking about the thing you relinquished? Is it disturbed? At peace?
This talk given by Gil Fronsdal from Insight Meditation Centre is an illuminating discussion on the relationship between Renunciation and Loss: