When looking at the qualities of courage and renunciation, you might notice that these are both important ingredients of any spiritual path. In the Theravada tradition renunciation is at the top of the list in terms of practice and training. For monastics, all of our life revolves around this theme. And the five precepts, the ‘training’ of the lay community, are also very concerned with these qualities.
A little while ago I had a conversation with another group of people and I noticed that renunciation seems to be ‘in the air’. It seems to be a quality of the time we are living in. The state of economy at the moment, the crisis we are experiencing, is affecting us in many ways. We probably all have a feeling of uncertainty, not knowing if and how it will affect our lives, realizing that suddenly we may not have all the resources available that we are used to. We are faced with a situation where we must live with a bit less in terms of material resources.
This might bring up some questions: Where is it possible, without too many changes in my life, to live with less, to need less? What has my life been like so far, in terms of how I spend my material income? If we connect this with our spiritual path, we can see that questions like these are related.
When you embark on a spiritual path, or perhaps suddenly find yourself on one, you will notice that when you move deeper into it, it is asking you for some kind of renunciation. It does not matter which of the Buddhist traditions you investigate; you will see renunciation as one of the steps on this path.
I do not want to go too much into the five precepts and how ‘we should practise them’, but any path you follow will bring up questions like: What are my needs? What are the values I want to develop in this life? What are the values of this path that I have chosen to walk? Can I live these values as much as possible and as much as I would like to?
When we ask these questions, this is where courage comes in. Because we do need the courage to change. We do need the courage to look into our patterns. To ask: What parts of my life need more attention, more mindfulness, more kindness or more compassion? I think the very first step is something like an internal check-up. And I remember having done that myself. What do I see in the way I am living that needs change? One important tool to use here is honesty. Can we be honest in relating to what we find when we do this?
It is up to each of us to make these choices, about where and how we step out of our usual, unreflected patterns of living. We usually become interested in a spiritual path because we see a need and want to change our lives. We look for ways to bring more depth, more meaning, into it. More of the values which are important to us. We look for ways of manifesting them, bringing them to life and living them in our daily experiences.
When you make these internal evaluations, you might find things that you really want to change. There are different reasons for this. It might be because they have become meaningless and no longer make much sense in your life. With these internal check-ups, you might also find things that are necessary for walking this path.
Most likely, you will encounter the qualities of kindness, empathy, compassion or others that will need to be developed further.
This reflection by Ajahn Metta is from the book, The Body, (pdf) pp. 149-151.