What is false-renunciation?

There seems to be a number of different views on what a renounced-life involves and, does not involve - expressed in this forum. We know as Buddhists, that ‘nibbida’ (disenchantment through to revulsion) is a necessary happening in the unfoldment of liberating insight. We also know that the Buddha taught a middle-way. We know that he rejected the extreme asceticism that he had practiced. He was renouncing worldliness when he became an ascetic but it became clear to him that the self-harm it involved was unskilful kamma. Liberation was not about self-torture and it was not about self-indulgence.

After his awakening the Buddha considered turning-away from the people, the culture and, society he was born into and, just leaving them all to their own destiny. He thought it was pointless to help people to understand - what he had understood - as the people around him had to much ‘dust in their eyes’. They could not see ‘anything’ clearly due to their defilements - their erroneous perceptions. Fortunately, he changed his mind and decided that ‘some’ might be able to ‘see’ if they were assisted by him. Their perceptions could be purified - they could gain greater clarity - through practicing the middle-way. He then spent the remainder of his long-life in constant service to others - without discrimination. Trying - tirelessly - to better human-beings so that they could enjoy ‘real peace’ and live harmoniously together with kindness and generosity. He taught people how to find peace in themselves and how to live harmoniously together through caring for each other in practical ways, through helping those in the greatest need and, through looking after the natural world - plants, animals, the creatures in the forests etc. - and those that lived with human beings.

What kind of renunciation is this - that the Buddha practiced and taught? It seemed to involve a great deal of practical (hands on) engagement in his culture and society? Was the Buddha a false-renunciate? If he was a real renunciate why did he not turn away from the world - why should he be concerned with the lives of people and animals - wild and domesticated?


Well, as you note, the Buddha decided to engage somewhat in society only in order to teach. But that was after his enlightenment. He first spent six years wandering, working with a few teachers and ascetic friends at first, and then practicing on his own.

Even after he decided to teach, he never engaged fully with worldly society. He and his followers lived on the margins of that society: sometimes in encampments outside the towns and villages, sometimes wandering further afield and into the forest. They entered towns in order to beg, then left. The monks were repeatedly discouraged from developing special relationships with particular families and households. People who wished to learn about the Buddha’s teaching traveled to him - as far as they could go by carriage, if they had one, and then the rest of the way on foot.


Are you saying the Buddha only had monks and nuns as followers? Did he have students who lived in the towns and cities - as well? Did he go into towns and cities - royal courts and places of power - and teach? Did he eat food in these places, did he walk the streets? Did he teach ordinary folk without discrimination. Without regard for who they were or, what their background was? Did any of these folk become great disciples of the Buddha and do many great deeds for the welfare of one and all? Not just offer teachings, but rule empires and provide for the material wellbeing of others and protect the natural environment? Did they do this because they were wise and inspired by the compassionate and practical implications of the Buddha-Dhamma?

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We are told of a few lay disciples of the Buddha who lived very chaste and restrained lives, and who seem to have grasped the dhamma. But even a devoted disciple like Anathapindika seems to have made it all the way to his deathbed before he heard any real dhamma. The Buddha did accept meal invitations and gave dhamma talks, but the people to whom he gave them are usually portrayed as making no serious advance on the path until they were finally moved, like Ambapali, to leave the world. The Therigatha and Theragatha are filled with the stories and verses of those disciples.

Personally, I think that with the possible exception of Ashoka, no ruler of an empire has ever been a great disciple of the Buddha, and that no person engaged in the inherently violent, territorial and materially obsessed affairs of state and empire can really follow the path.

The Buddha absolutely did turn away from the society and culture he was born into. He was born into a well-to-do Sakyan warrior family. He left his family and home country, and renounced the responsibilities those people would have felt were his duty. The Sakyans were eventually overrun.

The Buddha appears to have had zero political engagement, and is never shown as involved in the slightest way in anything we would regard as a social or political cause or movement in Mara’s realm. He interacts with kings and such not to give them political advice, but to help them work toward liberation - something that they shown are poignantly and tragically unable to even approach in their current lives.


Anathapindika is said to have attained stream-entry the first time he heard the Dhamma from the Buddha himself (well before his death) - stream entry is a rather “serious advance on the path”, in my opinion.


Oh, ok. When did he attain stream entry?


In the Anathapindikovada Sutta (MN 143), after Sariputta gives Anathapindika a teaching on non-attachment, this conversation takes place:

“No, venerable sir. I’m not sinking, nor am I foundering. It’s just that for a long time I have attended to the Teacher, and to the monks who inspire my heart, but never before have I heard a talk on the Dhamma like this.”

“This sort of talk on the Dhamma, householder, is not given to lay people clad in white. This sort of talk on the Dhamma is given to those gone forth.”

It may be that during the Buddha’s own lifetime, when all the teachings were transmitted orally, lay disciples were not instructed very far on the nature of the path.

I’ve never claimed to understand what stream entry is supposed to be exactly, but given the fact that all of us, who now have written down versions of the suttas available, would find those teachings on non-attachment to be quite familiar, one must wonder how much the original lay disciples actually knew.


MN 77 might give some food for thought:

Now there are disciples of mine who live on a cupful or half a cupful of food, a bilva fruit’s or half a bilva fruit’s quantity of food, while I sometimes eat the full contents of my almsbowl or even more. […]
Now there are disciples of mine who are refuse-rag wearers, wearers of coarse robes; they collect rags from the charnel ground, rubbish heaps, or shops, make them into patched robes, and wear them. But I sometimes wear robes given by householders, robes so fine that pumpkin hair is coarse in comparison. […]
Now there are disciples of mine who are tree-root dwellers and open-air dwellers, who do not use a roof for eight months of the year, while I sometimes live in gabled mansions plastered within and without, protected against the wind, secured by door bolts, with shuttered windows. […]
Now there are disciples of mine who are forest dwellers, dwellers in remote resting places, who live withdrawn in remote jungle-thicket resting places and return to the midst of the Sangha once each half-month for the recitation of the Pātimokkha. But I sometimes live surrounded by bhikkhus and bhikkhunīs, by men and women lay followers, by kings and kings’ ministers, by other sectarians and their disciples.

The important part though, is why those disciples described above who were, apparently, more restrained then him still revered and respected him and regarded him as superior, as a true ascetic.


"Ten Duties of the King’(dasa-raja-khamma) … Of course the term ‘king’(Raja) of old should be replaced today by the term’ Government’. ‘The Ten Duties of the King’, therefore, apply today to all those who constitute the government, such as the head of the state, ministers, political leaders, legislative and administrative officers, etc. [Many modern governments have no gender-discrimination etc.]

The first of the ‘Ten Duties of the King’ is liberality, generosity, charity (dana). The
ruler should not have craving and attachment to wealth and property, but should
give it away for the welfare of the people.

Second : A high moral character (sila). He should never destroy life, cheat, steal and exploit others, commit adultery, utter falsehood, and take intoxicating drinks. That is, he must at least observe the Five Precepts of the layman.

Third : Sacrificing everything for the good of the people (pariccaga), he must be prepared to give up all personal comfort, name and fame, and even his life, in the interest of the people.

Fourth : Honesty and integrity (ajjava). He must be free from fear or favour in the discharge of his duties, must be sincere in his intentions, and must not deceive the public.

Fifth : Kindness and gentleness (maddava). He must possess a genial temperament.

Sixth : Austerity in habits (tapa). He must lead a simple life, and should not indulge in a life of luxury. He must have self-control.

Seventh : Freedom from hatred, ill-will, enmity (akkodha). He should bear no grudge against anybody.

Eighth : Non-violence (avihimsa), which means not only that he should harm nobody, but also that he should try to promote peace by avoiding and preventing war, and everything which involves violence and destruction of life.

Ninth : Patience, forbearance, tolerance, understanding (khanti). He must be able to bear hardships, difficulties and insults without losing his temper.

Tenth : Non-opposition, non-obstruction (avirodha), that is to say that he
should not oppose the will of the people, should not obstruct any measures that are conducive to the welfare of the people. In other words he should rule in harmony with his people.

Human beings in fear of the situation they have themselves created, want to find a way out, and seek some kind of solution. But there is none except that held out by the Buddha his message of non-violence and peace, of love and compassion, of tolerance and understanding, of truth and wisdom, of respect and regard for all life, of freedom from selfishness, hatred and violence." - Walpola Rahula

With regard to the question: was Ashoka the only Buddhist emperor? He was probably the most powerful one but there were Buddhist dynasties in what we now call ‘India’ after Ashoka. They were technically empires but not as extensive as Ashoka’s.

Regarding the view that the Buddha turned-away from his family - completely renounced them - that would make sense if after his awakening he continued to ignore them and have no concern for their welfare. Instead, shortly after his awakening he began to think of who he could share his ‘findings’ with - this was before his doubt that any one would/could understand. Eventually, when the time was right the Buddha returned to his family members to help them - as best he could. Many of them experienced immeasurable benefits as a consequence!

The Buddha enjoyed seclusion and his own company - as we all do - but he did not shirk his duties as a supremely awakened teacher. We all need time-out to let go of stress and understand our situation. There is no contradiction between this need and the need to help ourselves and others in other ways - as well. His awakening was unstoppable and it keeps on rolling like a force of nature in every arena of life - and living.


I am more interested in the essence of renunciation in contrast to false-renunciation. We all know that there can be the outward ‘display’ - as in a performance - of renunciation but this is ‘false’ renunciation if (the heart is not involved). We could be dressed for the part and follow the rule-book and, be delusional, seething inside with all sorts of cravings and frustrations - even violence. We could be surrounded by comfortable arrangements and not have the ‘appearance’ of somebody who is renounced and still have a heart that is free of desire and full of kindness and generosity. It appears to me that many of us can’t see the forest for the trees?

Exactly, what is renunciation? This question has to be answered before we can say anything meaningful about it. It has nothing to do with appearances! The common-place understanding of renunciation is associated with a kind of theatre? We all have our roles to play in life and some of them are important and of great benefit.

Of all those devoted followers who were sitting on the edge of a town in the forest listening to the Buddha - how many of them were renunciate’s? If I use a fairly superficial criterion I might say: those venerable’s in robes! Its obvious isn’t it?

No doubt there are people in robes that are renunciate’s - no doubt there are people who are in robes (observing the discipline) that are not renunciate’s (inwardly) - they may still have a way to go! No doubt there are people who are not in robes that are renunciate’s - no doubt there are people who are not in robes who are not renunciate’s (they may still have a way to go).

To understand renunciation we have to understand ‘nibbida’ (disenchantment) and what comes next - inwardly? We also need to understand the relationship between these insights and our ability to be of service to others - in every way possible? We may then get a clearer understanding of what the path actually looks like.

Why not be of benefit to sentient beings in any - and every way - we can? Why would we wish to be of benefit to just a few - in our immediate circle - if we could benefit many more? Great awakened teachers give themselves completely and unconditionally to as many beings as they can assist in any way they can. Its a complete no-brainer!

If we understand the middle-way - properly - we may begin to see how the view: liberation is for those people ‘over there’ (not for people like me) is problematic. A view of the practice that sets up this kind of dynamic will lead to a situation where liberation always appears elusive. There is no-distance to travel as wherever we find it - it will not be far away.

Someone may ‘take robes’ and think everything is going to be plain-sailing from here on in - I am now a renunciate and it feels so goooood! I can celebrate my goodness and ‘goodness gracious’ how lucky I am! That may be of benefit but it may also be something a bhikku/bhikkuni may have to ‘see through’ in order to let go and wake up.

I remember ‘Ayyya Khema’ making it clear - you cannot be a monk or nun and wake-up - you cannot be anyone and wake-up! Of course, this has nothing to do with being a nun/monk - in daily life. It seems to me that lay-practitioners need to reflect on the same issue with regard to their own practice?

Nobody wakes-up!

“Do not be a bodhisattva, do not be an arahant, do not be anything at all. If you are a bodhisattva, you will suffer, if you are an arahant, you will suffer, if you are anything at all, you will suffer.” [do not be a secularist or a true-believer - either] - Ajahn Chah


Good reflections -
In my case, whatever level of renunciation I have taken on (I think there are gradations or shades of renunciation, not an all or nothing thing), I have found that in truth, I cannot fully master the mind…various things pour in, conditioned by past kamma or whatever, and this includes “cravings and frustrations” and so forth. My conscious mind wants to be free of these things, but it is not always so easy!

I don’t think I see anything particularly wrong with the external forms of renunciation, as long as they actually involve giving up something unwholesome (say, someone stops drinking, or lying, for example), and are not meant to “show off” to others, and one doesn’t delude themselves into thinking that this level of renunciation is sufficient.

But it is good to be reminded that I still have a long ways to go, and that awakening isn’t really about “me”.

Thank you.


Sudatta Sutta:

Apparently the Pali version of this Sutta does not explicitly speak about Anathpindika (Sudatta) attaining stream-entry - however, it seems that this part does appear in parallels (agamas?), and the story is fleshed out in greater detail in the Pali commentaries. Anathapindika was already quite developed in mind, and was known for his great generosity before encountering the Buddha.

Stream entry is the cutting off of the three lower fetters: personality view, belief in the efficacy of rites and rituals, and skeptical doubt (specifically, doubt in the Buddha, Dhamma, and Sangha). It also seems to entail having fulfilled a certain level of virtue (5 precepts), and having penetrated the Four Noble Truths with wisdom. Some say that a stream enterer has “glimpsed Nibbana”. It is a state that one cannot fall back from. The stream enterer is destined to attain full enlightenment in a maximum of seven lives. The Buddha said that the attainment of stream entry was far greater an accomplishment than becoming sole sovereign over the entire earth.

Interesting question…


That’s Jataka stuff, no?

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Anathapindika is a fascinating example too because he was a 5 precept lay devotee, stream enterer. He was also very rich being the biggest donor to the Sangha, we would typically not think of someone who is rich as a renunciant, but it could be said he was renouncing his wealth to benefit the triple gem. Clearly an exceptional person, but it does show that renunciation takes many forms.

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One question then is who wants to benefit only oneself or just a few. And if a person would step forward, how would this position be censurable in light of the Buddha dhamma? Excerpts from AN 4.95:

“Monks, these four types of individuals are to be found existing in the world. Which four?

  • The one who practices neither for his/her own benefit nor for that of others.
  • The one who practices for the benefit of others but not for his/her own.
  • The one who practices for his/her own benefit but not for that of others.
  • The one who practices for his/her own benefit and for that of others.
    […] The individual who practices for the benefit of others but not for his/her own is the higher & more refined of these two. The individual who practices for his/her own benefit but not for that of others is the highest & most refined of these three. The individual who practices for his/her own benefit and for that of others is, of these four, the foremost, the chief, the most outstanding, the highest, & supreme.

Slightly more detail is given for these kinds of individuals in AN 4.96 and AN 4.97.


True renunciation is not of external things but of the DADs (Desires, Aversions, Delusions). To renounce the DADs does not require to become this or that (e.g. monastics) as becoming is the result of DADs not eradicated.


yes - our beautiful Jataka wisdom and kindness. :heart_eyes:

We are an opportunity for goodness to arise in the world. Is there any part of samsara - cyclic existence - that is not in need of love and affection (human warmth)?

“Even as a mother protects with her life Her child, her only child, So with a boundless heart Should one [cherish] all beings” - Metta Sutta

Every bit of human goodness helps us on our way. - we encourage and support each other. It does not matter what we do and ‘how much’ - we do the best we can with what we’ve got. We can benefit so-called self/other in so many ways - we are spoiled for choice! Ideally, we should benefit others in every way possible - we protect (each other) from dangers - those born and, to be born.

This is why we care about the health and wellbeing of the natural world. Its like looking after your mother/father/child (same-same). This is why we have compassion and help others in need and, help those who are treated poorly. None of this is rocket-science - the Dhamma is common-sense - a young-one can wake-up to the ‘way it is’.

By caring for ourselves we care for others and vice versa - there really is no difference. Water the roots and the leaves grow - a plant has roots, a stem/trunk and foliage - its all one living system. Where would we be without others? We would be cut-off from our life - dried up and shrivelled - in need of love and proper care.

‘Our’ sangha is a garden and we are flowers in that garden. It is a place of quiet and compassionate cultivation and service to others. We are all sangha-dassa’s helping the Buddha-Dhamma to flourish for the benefit of everyone. We may start-off believing we are weeds but that was always just a way of looking - the fault-finding mind up to its usual shenanigans. We are something ‘beautiful’ just like the Dhamma - beautiful in the beginning, middle and, end - this is why we love ourselves as best we can. We acknowledge, forgive and, learn as there is nothing else worth doing.

The Dhamma is that which sustains and liberates. This is the Dhamma - pure and simple. Trust in your own goodness - liberation may be closer than our own nose - may you be well and happy! :heart_eyes:


Yup, SA 592 picks up immediately where SN 10.8 ends, giving us the Stream Entry of Anathapindika.


and thank you Dhamma-mitta