SuttaCentral

Please help......should I renounce or not?

I had a dilemma for a long time and I need your help please.

I’m from India, 29 years and belong to a conventional Indian family, staying with my parents.

Since last 4 years, I have wished to renounce my conventional life and go somewhere to meditate deeply (vipassana meditation). Its a calling, a constant calling.

Two years back I told my parents but they were shattered to hear this, they were shocked and broken. Since then I quietly resumed my life. They are also concerned about their future, as they are not fully financially independent and may need my help, but it’s not like if I renounce, they cannot manage, they can definitely manage by cutting a few corners, they can live without my financial help, they have that much savings. I have been contributing to the house expenses heavily, almost all my salary so that their savings remain intact. Its like they have enough to live for another 10 years, but what after that if I’m not there. It’s very tricky.

They are concerned about their old age and future. My parents are both in 60s.

Every now and then I deeply wish to renounce and pursue deep meditation. I get confused, is my role to serve them by being there by keeping them financially secure and being there for them in their old age, but this is not contributing to their mind at all, or is my role to uncover wisdom within so that I can inspire them to do the same for their own self.

Should I be there for them in the next few years and once they are no more, then pursue my meditation or should I renounce right now, and walk the path of wisdom so that I can inspire them to believe in and uncover the wisdom inside themselves?

Its an either / or situation.

Either I keep them comfortable in conventional life, and let them move to their next life, or should I challenge myself right now so that even they can challenge themselves spiritually. (they are not that inclined towards spiritual progress)

What is my role as a son?

This is a constant dilemma every day of my life for last many years. I am neither here nor there. I can’t fully function in the conventional life also because of this. Which way should I go, or is there any middle way?

Please help me.

Kind and humble request.

Thank you.

11 Likes

There’s definitely a middle way of practice in lay life & supporting parents. As a lay person you can reach all the way to non-return!

Main priority seems to be to repay what’s difficult to repay:

"anyone who rouses his unbelieving mother & father, settles & establishes them in conviction; rouses his unvirtuous mother & father, settles & establishes them in virtue; rouses his stingy mother & father, settles & establishes them in generosity; rouses his foolish mother & father, settles & establishes them in discernment: To this extent one pays & repays one’s mother & father.” -AN2.32

And additionally, son’s role can be covered by these 5:

“A child should serve their parents as the eastern quarter in five ways, thinking:
‘I will support those who supported me. I’ll do my duty for them. I’ll maintain the family traditions. I’ll take care of the inheritance. When they have passed away, I’ll make an offering on their behalf.” -DN31

Anyway it’s not optional to be at least in some harmony before ordination since ordination isn’t allowed without parents permission:

“Raṭṭhapāla, Buddhas don’t give the going forth to the child of parents who haven’t given their permission.” -MN82

7 Likes

At every stage the practitioner should be able to recognize their position in the suttas and one who has an unfulfilled craving for meditation is experiencing a painful feeling not of the flesh in terms of the second foundation of mindfulness (MN 10).

“There is the case where a monk considers, ‘O when will I enter & remain in the dimension that those who are noble now enter & remain in?’ And as he thus nurses this yearning for the unexcelled liberations, there arises within him sorrow based on that yearning. With that he abandons resistance. No resistance-obsession gets obsessed there.[5]”—-MN 44

Concern about family is resistance to progress and should be abandoned. This can be seen in the Buddha’s own path where attaining awakening was considered a greater good than family.

In practical terms such a practitioner should arrange to stay in a Theravada monastery for a minimum of a month so as to establish a practice and then reassess how they feel and move on from there.

3 Likes

I neither have a strong craving for meditation nor a strong aversion to my present life. Infact, the comforts of the current life are more than tempting. I only wish to renounce because I see no other way. We takes years to gain conventional things, name, education, money etc then how can one expect spiritual wisdom and progress can come without dedicated and intense hard work? That’s what I think, and thus I feel I must renounce but don’t know what to do about my parents who expect me to take care of them, financially and otherwise now that they are getting old. They say you go and meditate after we die. Please share your thoughts.

3 Likes

Despite all the talk about renunciation in the suttas, the Buddhas also talked about the responsibility people have towards their family (parents, wife, husband, children, etc.). We also need to keep the Buddha’s teachings on compassion in mind when making any decision. Ultimately, I don’t think anyone can tell you what to do in this situation. This is a very big decision that has major ramifications for you and your parents. So this is something you need to decide for yourself. There’s nothing wrong with remaining a layperson and continuing to practice until your parents have moved on to their next lives.

Like paul1 said, I’d spend some of your vacation time in a monastery to see what monastic life is really like. It’s very easy to romanticize, but monastic life is much more mundane than most people realize. Do you know where you would ordain? In India? Sri Lanka? Thailand? In a strict forest tradition? Do you know if your idea of monastic life accurately reflects what life in a monastery is really like? I think you can’t really make the decision to ordain until you’ve answered these questions and have some significant experience living in a monastery.

4 Likes

Totally! This is not an either/or situation. All the time spent worrying about this you can spend practicing, instead. If you are torn, why not find an acceptable compromise? Go on retreats, make time for daily practice, do what’s needed towards your parents (only you can decide what the healthy limit is).

This is black and white, all or nothing thinking. You can work and practice very hard right here, right now. Many people dedicate their lay life to practice while taking care to fulfil their worldly duties, there is a recent thread about it.

Like Paul alludes to it may be worth examining why you feel called to do deep meditation, specifically. That’s not the goal of Buddhism, or rather, there are many different ways to develop wisdom and insight, including in lay life. If you really want to discover some useful wisdom you could reflect on this - what do you think this deep meditation will bring you? What do you think it will take you away from?

6 Likes

Precisely: By establishing yourself in the fruit of stream entry thus becoming a source of true benefit for them.

No amount of economic support can pay off your debt. But if you attain something real, your example will make such an impression on them (your near-renunciation already did!) that they will naturally incline towards taking the Dhamma seriously in the future. Maybe you’ll even have a chance to teach your family, like the Buddha and Sariputta did.

And even if you can’t teach them, raising a child who goes on to become enlightened is great karma for them and will benefit them much more than the few years of rice you could give them as a lay person.

You need to keep in mind the larger, karmic perspective and how valuable this opportunity is to get out.

9 Likes

I think, if your parents need your support for living, you should not be a monk.

4 Likes

But didn’t Buddha also need years of intense practice? Isn’t it better to practice diligently for hours than an hour a two. Doesn’t it take years of meditation to purify the mind? Won’t I be in a better spiritual position to inspire my parents on the path if I am developed myself? I see my parents suffering in many ways, and conventional life doesn’t seem to have any answers to that. I thought by walking the path, I might do a higher duty to my parents than just being there with them till they die.

1 Like

These are questions that keep your mind agitated with worry, and you will not receive clear answers (from your own mind or from anyone else). What’s worse is that they can keep you stuck in inaction! You only need to decide what you are doing right now, not what you are doing (say) in one or five or ten years time. Break it up a little, create some room for yourself! If you want to work hard and practice diligently, do it now. If you want to take care of your parents, do it now. You cannot determine now what life path will be best for yourself or your parents in the future.

Your intention matters more than you think. Trust that if your intention is to dedicate your life to the dhamma, you can start right here in your current circumstances. Who knows where it will lead; if after some years you realise you must ordain, you still can. You can also make the care of your parents your dhamma practice. I’m sure there will be ample opportunity! Relationships are a great space to practice the eightfold path, especially right intention, speech and action.

5 Likes
  1. You don’t have siblings?

  2. It’s permissible for monks to support parents from the alms food they get, sharing food for that day. So, at least, they cannot die out of hunger.

  3. Find a monastery with parental support, or you can imagine that after 10 years, you might have enough disciples and supporters to have them help your parents. However, this does mean that you’re not going to go to totally hermit monk lifestyle for all time, maybe only after the first 5 years for a while. You’ll have to learn how to teach as well. (Note: I mean hermit for the first 5 years as in minimal interaction, loves to stay in your kuti kind of monk, not as in totally self retreat, never meet and talk to anyone kinda lifestyle.)

  4. Save your own money first, don’t spend it all on parents, save enough, give them all to parents one lump sum.

  5. Find supportive friends who’s willing to support your parents if it comes down to it.

  6. 10 years of savings planning for retirement is not actually a lot. Get a financial planner for your parents.

  7. Passive income. May take 5 years or so to establish, in the meantime, work on your practice, sincerity, to continually convince your parents to give permission for renunciation. This means all your holidays are for meditation retreats. I managed 4 of them in one year. Holidays are holy days.

  8. Reflect that you’re in a much better position than a lot of people who are in debt. Don’t worry too much. Work on getting permission that’s the main obstacle. The financial stuffs is never enough, greed cannot ever be satisfied.

5 Likes

Hi, I just wanted to say I appreciate your honesty and concern, and to say your parents are lucky to have you.

To care and look after parents is a blessing. To renounce is also a blessing. To be able to choose between two blessings is a third blessing!

I am sure you will find your path when the time is right. :pray:

20 Likes

[quote=“dayunbao, post:5, topic:20631”]
Like paul1 said, I’d spend some of your vacation time in a monastery to see what monastic life is really like. It’s very easy to romanticize, but monastic life is much more mundane than most people realize. Do you know where you would ordain? In India? Sri Lanka? Thailand? In a strict forest tradition? Do you know if your idea of monastic life accurately reflects what life in a monastery is really like? I think you can’t really make the decision to ordain until you’ve answered these questions and have some significant experience living in a monastery.[/quote]
I too agree with the above

3 Likes

I have known people who have renounced. Then unrenounced. They are still Buddhists, still enthusiastic about the dhamma. Circusmstances make that happen.

Have a backup plan and backup resources in case it does not work out.

5 Likes

Very wise advice. Don’t burn any bridges.

5 Likes

Just curious about how one would do that in practice. How can you keep

in practice?
I understand you are supposed to give up all your possessions when ordaining. Or are you allowed to keep them at least for some time?
I also imagine that anyways it would probably feel strange living on alms food if you have not given up your possessions.

1 Like

Good question.

The people who I knew who unordained had family and friends willing to help them get back on their feet.

1 Like

Here’s some of the advices I had heard.

  1. Vinaya said no receiving new money, doesn’t explicitly says must abandon current money. Current available money could be used in the legal “bartering” by monks. Eg, leading the seller to the place where the money is kept, the seller gives the item and take the amount on the seller’s own initiative, the monk cannot speak in any way to order the bartering. Once the money is used up, no more new money.

  2. From Ajahn Brahm, given the high rate of disrobing, it’s good to have everything in a bank account, let family hold onto it, after 5 years or 10 years, when one knows one is stable, let the money go to the family. At this point, it maybe just verbal saying or transfer name etc. I think transfer name can be done much earlier, if family is reliable.

  3. This is especially for those who ordain late in life, but has already collected some minor or major fortune of wealth. Who knows if they can adapt to the monastic life? And if they really say donate everything out, if they cannot make it in the monastic life, it’s like throwing away their decades of work and being poor and unemployable. Worse is if they are single, or has no kids to help take care of them.

  4. For my case, I had my lay laptop and phone with me still, even after going forth. I gave my debit card etc to my parents, my wallet is more for identity card, driver’s license etc. Although, at some point I should get rid of wallets too, too easy to give rise to misunderstanding. So one advantage of ordaining young, parents can help a lot.

8 Likes

How old are you when ordaining ?

I think it’s good if you can share this experience to others, what do you think ?

Also how do you convince your parents regarding your intention to ordain ?

1 Like

Hopefully, 32 (this year). 31 when I went forth last year.

You want the experience of monkhood, you come join in. Haha. A bit different from retreats, but monastery stay is close enough, better as a novice rather than a yogi, at least you got to deal with robes, bowls, and no money.

Long time ago, I asked my parents if they wanted to ordain once upon a time. They said yes. But their parents forced them to marry. I think it’s settled from there, the rest of the time, I just need to be firm to not find a girlfriend, or if I fall in love, don’t tell my parents least they see this as an opportunity to change their mind. And don’t listen to them if they asked me to get a girlfriend/ marry. And go for a lot of retreats.

4 Likes