Sacred geometry

Renunciation and Joy

Renunciation is a central ingredient of the path to Awakening and is intimately connected with our heart's capacity for deep joy, wonder, openness and freedom. What might it mean for us in our lives?
Date9th February 2006
Retreat/SeriesWorking and Awakening - A Work Retrea...


Renunciation is a central ingredient of the path to Awakening and is intimately connected with our heart's capacity for deep joy, wonder, openness and freedom. What might it mean for us in our lives?

So I'd like to talk this evening about something not very popular. I'd like to talk about renunciation. Actually I'd like to talk about renunciation and joy. I just was having tea in the managers' dining room, and one of the managers asked me what I was going to talk about. I said, "Renunciation and joy." And she said, "That's an odd pairing." So we don't often -- they're not two words that we, if we think about renunciation at all, often not two words that we tend to put together. I'd like to explore a little bit what that means.

When the Buddha was awakened, the story goes, he spent a little time reflecting on how he could best show other people, direct other people to a similar awakening. So he spent, I think it was six weeks, reflecting on this. Actually he probably spent his lifetime reflecting on it. But he came up with the eightfold path. So what are the things that we need to think about? What are the things that we need to develop, to reflect on? And I heard about this, I think in the first Dharma talk that I ever heard, the eightfold path. And I thought, "Great." And it wasn't until about fifteen years later that I learnt that actually renunciation was part of the eightfold path. It's tucked away in a sort of dusty corner that doesn't get much exposure. But it is a factor of the path.

I think it's interesting what our reactions to renunciation are as lay people, because we're not monastics. On the very small number of occasions when I've talked about renunciation sometimes to people, you can almost hear them groan ... [laughs] when you say you're going to talk about -- and eyes go to the door, a furtive glance, maybe they can make a quick dash for it before I start talking. [laughs] So it's just interesting to see what the reactions are. Often we just hear about renunciation, and there's a kind of just, "No. No, I don't want to know." There's a kind of horror or just a non-consideration of it: "It's not really anything I'm interested in. Don't want to go near."

There's that on the one hand, or we might get into a thing, "Oh, you know, I guess I'm not really practising unless I live in a cave in the Himalayas or wear nothing but a loincloth or whatever, or stand on one leg for years or something. It's kind of pointless. I'm not really doing it." So if anything, what I want to do tonight is not lay down what the should should be, but just ask, can this question be open for us? Can it be an alive question that each of us is asking for ourselves in an ongoing way? What does it mean for me? What might it mean? Why is it important? What's its place in my life? So not any kind of should about, "Should be like this, should live like that," whatever.

And I feel very much that it's important to ask these questions, because there is, I feel, a very real connection between renunciation and the heart. This question of renunciation has everything to do with openness of heart, with our capacity to love and our capacity for joy. This renunciation is something that actually runs -- again, as I was talking last night, it's one of the qualities that runs through all the really deep spiritual and mystical traditions. So certainly if you look in the teachings of Jesus, there's ample gravity given to renunciation. There's the famous story of a certain young man coming to him and asking, "What do I need to do to open to the kingdom of heaven?" And the first thing, interestingly, Jesus says to him is, basically he goes through a list -- "Follow the precepts," you know? "Look after how you're living in relation to others." And the young man says, "Actually, I already live that way." And then I find a very beautiful line that says, "And then Jesus looked at him, and he loved him." And then he says, "You're lacking one thing. Go and give away your possessions to the poor, and then come." And it says the young man was very rich, and his face fell. He got very sad and just left because he knew he couldn't do it. And then Jesus turned to his disciples, and that's, I think, the instant that he said, "It's easier for a camel to pass through the eye of a needle than it is for a rich man to enter the kingdom of heaven."[1] Jesus is quite an extremist as a teacher.

But it's there in all traditions. I wonder, why is it we brush it aside so easily? I remember quite some years ago, I was in America and talking to a person very involved in New Age kind of stuff, and he said, "All that renunciation -- that's from the past. We've evolved now. Humanity has evolved, and we don't need that any more. It's a lower form of spirituality. Now we have enlightenment in Bloomingdale's." So if you know, Bloomingdale's is like the Harrods of New York, sort of Selfridges. And that was like a higher form of spirituality. Then he said, "Here son, have a cigar." [laughs] He didn't actually say that! [laughter] It's so easy we dismiss it, and we can make excuses or justifications for ourselves. Can it be an open question? Because it is there in the teachings of the Buddha. It is there in the teachings of Jesus. It is there if we look at the poetry of Rumi -- you know, beautiful, the poetry of mystical love, and yet it's full, full of these encouragements towards renunciation.

[7:21] So sometimes we hear spiritual teachings, and we have a tendency to take what we like, and sort of leave what doesn't feel like it suits us. But perhaps in that, we're letting the sort of status quo of our lives go unchallenged. Having spent some time in monasteries in different parts of the world, and talking to the monks and nuns, in certain traditions, it's my experience, it's quite common for them to enter the monastery and have this period of furious renunciation, oftentimes for years. And it kind of builds up a sort of machismo around renunciation. And then hopefully, for many of them, after a while they realize they've completely got hold of the wrong end of the stick. So often for monastics they grab hold of it as an end in itself. [8:33, recording skips] It's not an end in itself, and it's also not something to pump up the self-image with -- so you know, "I can fast for X days more than you can," which is actually a quite common attitude.

The Buddha said something like, he said, "My heart at first did not leap up at the thought of renunciation." He realized it was a good idea, but he wasn't exactly yippeeing about it. He said, "I had to consider the drawbacks of indulgence. And I had to consider the benefits of renunciation."[2] So even for the Buddha, really not an easy one to begin to question.

What is renunciation? What is it? Again, it's interesting, as the Dharma develops in the West, how often there are sort of new definitions of renunciation, a little bit more cushy and more comfortable. I just want to -- hopefully we can have it as an open question and a really honest question. Can we bring a kind of total honesty to these spiritual questions?

If I had to define it, I suppose I would say it's a kind of giving up or cutting down or letting go of certain pleasures in order to experience a higher meaning or to accomplish a more meaningful goal, a more important goal. So actually everyone right here, just by virtue of being here and being on retreat, we're involved in renunciation. Come Saturday night, Match of the Day is going to be on, and I'm going to be here. [laughs] There's all kinds of renunciation going on. The food is very lovely, but there's not much choice. You basically eat what's there. We share bathrooms. You may be sharing a room. There's the renunciation of the schedule. You can't really choose so much what to do at a certain time.

So renunciation -- we're involved in it right now, as I said last night, for the sake of freedom, for the sake of love, for the sake of something that's more important. You could say, "Well, going to the gym -- that's sacrificing something for another goal or for a better goal, or dieting." But in the Dharma sense, that's not really the same, because dieting, for example, often comes basically from neurotic concern with one's self-image, with one's attractiveness. It's bound up in a circle of something that is not leading in any way to freedom. It's actually leading to a deepening of the kind of constriction of self, of self-view, of imprisonment to cultural values, etc. It's leading in the opposite way of freedom. Someone pointed out to me, people don't fast so much any more; they diet nowadays. But renunciation is something that moves us towards freedom. That's what's key: moves towards freedom, moves towards joy, moves towards love.

It's also not a question of self-control, like we're trying to master ourselves in some feat of willpower or something. That's not the purpose of renunciation. So to bring an intelligence into our spiritual path -- if we're taking on certain practices, why? It's for freedom, for love. It's not for anything else. Anything else is missing the point. Some of the pleasures we let go of are not just the obvious sense pleasures, but also the kind of, the pleasure of pumping oneself up, of identifying with a role -- "I'm Mr Big Shot or Mrs Big Shot. This is my important role in life" -- or a power I might have over someone else. There's a certain pleasure to that kind of thing, but that also is in the realm of what is to be renounced, really, if the path is to move deeply.

And of course, renunciation nowadays, it's obvious, has everything to do with the fate of the earth, the fate of the planet, the fate of billions of people. I don't need to -- everyone is quite aware of the statistics and figures of what the implications are of having a certain level of consumption, etc. But the intention of compassion as something that fuels renunciation -- very important, very connected. And more than that, and what I want to go into in this talk is, renunciation has everything to do with opening to joy and opening to some deeper aspect of life which may not otherwise be so available to us.

[14:24] I was reading a while ago, I think it was in Resurgence magazine, which is a magazine that's sort of about spirituality and environmentalism. And there was an article called "The Religion of Consumerism." And there's a quote from it. It said -- quite interesting:

The fact that societies of high consumption tend to be highly secular is not likely an accident.

We tend to think of Second and Third World countries as a bit backward because they don't have a lot of stuff and people live quite simply, and they also have all these crazy beliefs, quite religious or spiritual-oriented beliefs. And we've sort of moved on from that in the West. What has replaced, culturally, the spiritual urge and spiritual hunger? Sometimes we don't even realize it, but it is actually consumerism, consumption. Satisfying those kind of desires has taken the place of a deeper hunger. And one of those two is going to eat the other, basically.

So if we think about the path and we think about factors of the path, and there are all these lists in Buddhist teaching -- there are seven of this and eight of that, and four of this and whatnot. And renunciation is one of them. But these other factors of the path, they have a mutually feeding relationship with renunciation. What that means is that developing renunciation, inquiring into that, opening into that actually feeds, develops our equanimity, our love, our joy, our mindfulness, our calmness, etc. And similarly, equanimity, mindfulness, joy, calmness, all that, feeds, nourishes our capacity for renunciation. So that kind of two-way causality is really common in the Dharma. Positive qualities tend to feed each other.

We think about, what are some of the outcomes of renunciation? If we begin, if we take the risk -- and it is a risk, actually -- to explore this, either in small ways or in large ways in our lives, what might we feel safe to expect? Well, one thing is spaciousness -- spaciousness, and how precious a commodity that is in our lives. I don't know if humans were always that way, but especially nowadays, such crammed-full minds, crammed-full lives. And if we can experiment with simplifying somewhat, not needing to fulfil all those desires. And there can be a spaciousness that opens up, and all the beauty of that. Spaciousness is something that a part of us yearns for, longs for it. We feel burdened by the weight and the pressure, the constriction of all this busyness, all this chasing around. So we yearn for it. At the same time, it might be quite fearful. Our sense of identity may be wrapped up in that busyness, may be wrapped up in the accumulation: "What would I do? Who would I be? I'm not used to space." So we have a very ambivalent relationship with space, with spaciousness. That kind of lightness of being, it's really, it's something that comes with the path anyway, so we're moving in that direction. This lightness of being instead of feeling burdened and heavy.

And as an aspect of that renunciation, this giving up also brings, of course, simplicity and clarity. So to actually know, to know that we're seeing life clearly, we're seeing life deeply. That's so important. We talk about opening to wisdom and cultivating that -- not possible if we're not seeing clearly, if we're not seeing deeply, if there isn't the space to allow that.

That allows an honesty of what it is to be human, that we're not so caught up in acquiring and indulging in this and that and experiencing this and that, that we've forgotten, as we were talking earlier in the question and answer period, we've forgotten about death. I mean, death is going to be basically an end to all that acquiring, all that running around. We're living -- sometimes all this acquisition and indulgence is actually completely fogging the view, completely filling up our sense of what life is. So we're actually not in contact with what it really honestly is to be alive, which is that it's going to end in death.

Renunciation has everything to do with our capacity for a really deep honesty. And as I said, there's spaciousness, simplicity, clarity, honesty, and as I said before, love, and the heart, and the relationship of the heart to renunciation. So as one teacher put it, how can there be a strong and continuous flow outwards from the heart in giving, in care, if there's so much focus and energy going into taking in? There's not room. There's not the space. So our ability to give, our capacity to remain open has everything to do with this question of renunciation. And our happiness, our joy has everything to do with our capacity to have an open heart, to give -- has everything to do with that.

This kind of deep love, this deep kindness and compassion that we talk about in the Dharma, service, the will to serve -- they are dependent on renunciation at a certain level, and dependent on that kind of space. So if we're interested in really transforming our life, really transforming the heart, have to inquire into this.

Spaciousness, simplicity, clarity, honesty, love, confidence. Confidence -- so, without even realizing it, how much of our lack of confidence in our ability to feel okay, to be happy, is wrapped up in our connection with things and goods and acquiring, acquiring pleasures? What happens with the practice of renunciation? We actually develop a very deep and unshakeable confidence that we can be, really feel okay, big okay, big happiness, much less dependent on outer circumstances, much less dependent. You know, some people who have been on long retreats say to me, "It seems like all I need is a cushion and a blanket and a little food, and I'm set. And a roof over my head, when it's ..." And it's just the sense, pared down everything, and the sense, unshakeable: "Oh, I understand now, I don't actually need all that stuff." The confidence of heart that gives inside -- it's really a treasure. We don't realize how much of our lives are oriented, eaten away by the kind of fears about, "Will we be okay if da-da-da-da-da isn't there, if I can't have access to da-da-da-da-da?" Oftentimes don't even realize that level of fear going on.

Sensitivity is another aspect. There's something about this whole path that moves towards a deepening sensitivity -- really, really important. When we indulge -- and it's not any great mystery. All this is something to be experimented with. You can experiment. When we indulge or overindulge, what happens to the sensitivity of being? Does it get dulled? What happens to our joy and our capacity for joy when our sensitivity is dulled? Question, question to explore, to know for oneself. What happens to our sense of spiritual urgency, our sense of there's something deep available in life? There's something deep. There are beautiful, deep, rich things available to all of us. And sometimes we feel that, and we feel it deeply as a deep hunger. And sometimes it gets clouded over. It gets dulled because the sensitivity is dulled. What dulls it? Indulgence and that kind of being caught up in acquisition. That tends to dull that kind of urgency, and we need that drive.

So I feel it's important to have a sense of the depths of life that are available for us, to have a sense of life being something deep. And that sense not just being an isolated sense two, three, four times in their life -- which actually is often the case for people. Live their whole lives and they think, "I remember twenty-five years ago, I looked up at the sky and something-something, and something opened." Beautiful. Why does it have to be so long ago? Can that actually be more of something, more of a regular sense we really feel nourished by? This is so possible, so possible. The teacher, the Indian teacher Krishnamurti has this quote. It's quite harsh-sounding, but he said:

We come to the infinite well of life with a thimble, and so we go away thirsty.[3]

It's quite a strong statement. But it's basically saying, are we asking enough of life? Why is it that we end up settling for something much less than what's actually the infinite nature of what's available? We think somehow, "Well, it's not for me." Or just the comfort and convenience of things -- we tend to get sidetracked, and we settle for something much less. Why?

So one of the things -- and you can see it on the retreat, definitely you can see it on the retreat -- one of the things that renunciation begins to do, that being here begins to do, is it begins to reconnect us with our life. Really, and this is the emphasis of mindfulness that I've been talking about, really to feel alive, to know that we're living. Connects us with our earthiness, our physicality. We are human beings. If we pamper ourselves too much, we lose connection with what it is to have a body and all that that means, and the beauty of that, pain and pleasure. Reconnects us, has the capacity to reconnect us, to enable us to reconnect. So much that's sold, so much that's available to us in the culture and probably throughout history is consciously and unconsciously engineered, manufactured, produced, sold to make us a little bit numb, comfortably numb. Just a little bit "Nice, nice, nice, nice, good, yeah, yeah, yeah. Sleep, it's okay." And we like that. Part of us likes that. But what's the cost? What's the cost?

The cost is actually our joy, our capacity for joy, and spiritual joy, some sense of something deeper in life, just a sense of something more deeply available to us, whatever name you want to give that. Rumi, the Sufi poet, mystical poet, has a lovely poem, short poem. And when he says "You" in his writings, in his poems, he's talking about this deeper sense that's available to human beings, a sense of God, you might say, a sense of just something that is, in a way, ultimately fulfilling.[4]

[29:25 -- 29:56, poem]

I remember one of my teachers saying, "If it's cold and rainy out" -- so we had a lovely day today, but who knows. This is England. "If it's cold and rainy outside and you see, you don't feel like going for a walk, go for a walk." Why? Because what's going on there, and we don't realize it, something in the heart is closed a little bit. It's just closed down. Our receptivity is closed a little bit. So we don't feel like it -- go for a walk. And encourage the heart to open. Allow the heart to open. And he said, "If you're hungry, sometimes, don't eat. If you're tired, if it's late and you're tired, or if you're tired and it's not late, don't go to sleep. Stay up. Stay up when you're tired." Again, no shoulds here. It's a radical -- awakening is something radical. It's something completely that turns everything inside out and on its head. All the values, all the cultural values, all our predispositions -- it's just back to front, and sometimes it needs a back-to-front approach. So no shoulds. But can we even have the willingness, the openness to maybe even think about questioning or experimenting?

It's interesting to me. I touched on this last night. We want to be happy. Everyone wants to be happy. It's part of the human condition, a very wonderful thing. But it's quite rare, I think, for people to be passionately dedicated to happiness. It's quite rare to meet someone who's completely devoted to happiness and everything that that means. I remember when I lived in the States, there was a meditation centre, and we would have these ongoing classes meet every week. For a period of time we did this exercise of investigating the different kinds of happiness that there are available. So whatever it is -- a nice meal, a sunset, someone saying, "Hey, you look great today," or "You did a good job," or feelings in meditation, or the joy of giving, or kindness, the whole range. Just to be open and to really bring an open questioning to the whole spectrum, the whole range of depths of happiness, all the different kinds of happiness and pleasure, the different ranges of pleasure. And to begin just to notice the whole way it all works, the progress of happiness. Some happinesses are very short-lived, extremely short-lived. Some happinesses are quite long-lived.

I remember about a couple of years ago working in India at a leprosy community. One of my jobs there was playing with the blind and the deaf children. There were two schools within this leprosy community. The kids didn't have leprosy, but they were blind and deaf. And one of my jobs in the afternoon was to just play with them. We had nothing. We had a little sponge ball. That was it. And we would make up games. It was lovely. It was absolutely, really a complete privilege. Even still, when I reflect on that and reflect on having been part of that, there's happiness there. There's the joy there. Now, earlier today, I had a chocolate-covered rice cracker. [laughter] And I'm reflecting on that right now, and there's not much ... [laughter] There's not much in the way of joy going on!

Can we really bring a real investigation to happiness and what it means? There are different kinds of pleasure. There are different kinds of happiness. Are we committed to happiness? Noticing, how does the happiness come? How does it last? How does it dissolve?

Similarly, interesting, this exploration of happiness, this exploration of joy, the kind of expectations that we have around what's going to give us that sense of joy and what maybe isn't. So years ago, in another life -- no, not another life. I shouldn't say that. Years ago, I was working as a composer, as a musician, and living in the States, and sort of getting by, you know. Sort of out of the blue, a very well-known orchestra decided that it would play one of my pieces. This was a big piece and a huge, like, "Wow!" And all my community of musician friends and other friends said, "Fantastic! What a great career break, blah blah blah blah blah."

I remember they flew me to the place of the concert and all this. And it was a complete disappointment. There was all this excitement about it, but the actual fact of it was, for different reasons -- it was not enough rehearsal time, this, that. So something that there was a great expectation of happiness from didn't deliver, ended up being actually a very stressful experience with the not enough rehearsal time.

After I got back, I think it was a day or two later, I was doing my laundry and took it to the laundromat about five minutes' walk away, carrying my laundry. I think I was coming back with my laundry. And sun was shining, came through the clouds, and just the light falling on the houses, on the street, falling on the trees, falling on the houses, carrying my laundry, plodding along. [laughs] And just something in me opened. Just presence was there. I was present. I was connected. The simplest, most mundane thing, and there was this happiness that welled up.

Just to begin to trace and investigate expectations of happiness and what actually does give happiness. Where does happiness, where does joy come from? These questions are really, really important for us to ask, to inquire into joy. And we can get so clear about the answers that no matter what advertising says what, no matter who offers you what money, no matter what teacher says what, we're actually clear, really clear about where happiness comes from and where it doesn't come from, where it's just a waste of energy. And we can be unshakeably clear about that. Often our assumptions and beliefs about happiness -- we don't deeply examine those. So just an invitation there.

What is it that feeds joy and the sense of spiritual joy? Being in nature, that connection with nature -- which is actually free, you know. No one owns the stars. No one owns the moonlight. I heard a while ago, McDonald's corporation made a bid to send up huge satellites that would have very bright lights and make these huge golden arches, M, in the night sky. [laughter] I don't know who it was, but they were declined permission. But this is -- it's free, you know. The things that are free are often the things that are most deeply fulfilling. The qualities of heart that give rise to joy, love. The sense of community, the joy that comes from community.

So we think sometimes of renunciation as a sacrifice: "I'm giving up this." And then, like ... [gasps] "Okay, what am I going to sacrifice?" But actually, can we turn the question on its head: "What am I willing to sacrifice? Am I willing to sacrifice my capacity for joy? Is that really something that I want to go through my life having sacrificed because I'm caught up in something else, in the momentum of something else? So, really, what am I willing to sacrifice?"

One of the things that aids renunciation, that gives us courage to renounce is wisdom, is insight. It's one of the fruits of insight. So we begin to see, as practice deepens, as we become more aware, more sensitive, that to grasp on to anything, to try and hold it, grab it, "Me, I want," that very motion is a contraction of being. And we begin to become so sensitive that we can feel even the most subtle grasping. We begin to feel the suffering involved in that. Now, some graspings are so obvious in their suffering, but actually all grasping, all movement of grasping is felt as suffering. And the mindfulness can actually become so alive, so sensitive that we're aware of the barest movement of grasping. And we know, it's very clear, unmistakably clear: grasping and suffering are actually one and the same.

To begin to inquire into grasping and its impacts in our life on all kinds of levels. And as we talked in the question and answer period today, the contemplation of impermanence. We spend so much energy chasing this and that and trying to get. Just to remember to reflect repeatedly on its impermanence. So I won't go into it again here now, but also, as I said earlier, are we living knowing about death? Are we living remembering death? All this acquiring, all this grasping, all this getting, all this brief sense pleasure -- it's in the context of death. Now, that sounds terribly grey and morbid, maybe. But it's not, as we touched on earlier in the question and answer. Something that gives a beauty, a preciousness, a meaning, a vibrancy, a brilliance to our life, to the moment. Can we live remembering death? Can we reflect, too, that a lot of the stuff that we chase is empty of value? You know, with maybe a necklace or a ring or something, whatever, it has no inherent value. It's just society has agreed that these things are supposedly wonderful. Or a certain car, or the way it looks or whatever. Can we actually not be so brainwashed by that -- in other words, social conventions?

And oftentimes to begin also to see the emptiness in another way: when there is a sense of peace, okayness, openness, love, is there then a sense of some little pleasure, some little acquisition? How important does that seem? When I don't feel so okay inside myself, then there's the need. Then I go out to grab, to get. The value that I invest, the value that a thing appears to have, is dependent on how my heart is. Heart okay, heart wide, heart open -- little value out there, in that sense. Heart afraid, closed, feeling impoverished -- all the things I need. See that. There is no inherent value in things. And we see things that we tend to think I own -- "I own this, I own a house, I own this" -- is there really such a thing as ownership? All it can ever be is just moments of impressions of something in awareness. I say, "I own this watch," or "I own a car," or "I own a house." It's actually a myth. There's a myth to ownership. All that's happening is there are moments of awareness where there's, you know, a visual sense of some bricks or something. Where's the ownership, really? It's a myth, if we go deep, if we see deep in meditation.

We might want to ask ourselves sometimes, in quiet times, or to, in a way, reflect ahead onto our deathbed or the moment of our death, and to ask a very deep question and say, "What forces have been or are really driving my life?" It's not an easy question to ask. Is it forces towards comfort, convenience, security, a certain amount of sense pleasure? Or is it a drive, a current towards love, towards freedom? How would we feel on our deathbed looking back and realizing that most of the current was really about being comfortable, being safe, being secure? How would we feel in that moment? And you can't go back then and change it. Not an easy question.

Just to raise all this as possibilities for questioning, possibilities for experimenting. Do we dare to experiment here? Do we dare to challenge our habits, to challenge our assumptions, our beliefs about what it is that we need? And say, "Hmm, I wonder what it would be to just eat bland food for three months." [laughs] I don't know, just a figure, just a possibility. Because of health reasons, that was something I had to do for about nine months, I think. And I remember at first, I was here, and it was quite challenging. And I remember one occasion in particular. It was someone's birthday, and the managers brought out these two huge trays of chocolate cake. [laughs] I'm very keen on chocolate. And sort of plunked it down, and ... [laughter] And I was on this plain tofu, plain rice, and plain steamed vegetables diet for nine months. And it was very hard at first, you know. And then self-pity comes in. [laughs] But after a while, I really began to see this connection between ... If I feel okay, as I said, if there is a sense of inner well-being, that stuff really, really doesn't have the same impact. What would it be, not necessarily with food, but just with something, to deliberately challenge and see?

Mindfulness -- we talk about mindfulness and sensitivity. They are acquired tastes, in a way. So usually we look for our sense of fulfilment in either something really exciting, some big event or something, or in pleasure. There's something that I think people who practise a while, it's almost like mindfulness itself becomes something -- it's a very delicate kind of pleasure, a lovely kind of pleasure. The sensitivity of the being is something that we come to really cherish, much more than getting, or some big, you know, bungee jumping off the Eiffel Tower naked with a glass of champagne or whatever. It's overrated. [laughter] Begin to develop deeper tastes, and a much deeper sense of fulfilment.

And similarly, I feel great benefit in hanging out sometimes with people who have deliberately chosen a life of simplicity, either lay people who are doing that or monastics or religious people. Something that rubs off, something we see: "Look at that person! Has absolutely nothing, and they're beaming all the time. What's going on? And here am I, who has this, this, and this, and whatnot, and all this choice, and I'm struggling." It's really the impact, as the Buddha says, he calls it "association with the wise," so say "association with the renunciates" -- really, really wonderful thing. Or to come together as Saṅgha and to explore this question together, to support each other in these kind of questions. What would it be to simplify our lives? How can we do that? How can we support each other in that? How can we brainstorm and make that something real? Enormous power of community, of people coming together and supporting each other in these questions.

So really, the main point was just, can we at least be willing to have the question be alive? And it may be possible that a preoccupation with comfort, preoccupation with convenience, with sense pleasure, with security, it may be that it closes the flow, closes our access to much deeper and wider emotions. And I don't just mean emotions around self-story and my history and my trouble. I mean much wider, maybe the kind of emotional life that we're not even that familiar with. It may be that there's something about that kind of preoccupation that actually just collapses that avenue a little bit, collapses that opening.

I just want to finish. There's a really beautiful poem by Mary Oliver, and this is really what she's talking about.[5]

[51:07 -- 54:26, poem]

  1. Mark 10:17--24. ↩︎

  2. AN 9:41. ↩︎

  3. Cf. a similar quote by Krishnamurti in Pupul Jayakar, J. Krishnamurti: A Biography (New Delhi: Penguin, 1986), 255: "We go to the well with a thimble and so life becomes a tawdry affair, puny and small." ↩︎

  4. Rumi, "The Freshness," The Essential Rumi, tr. Coleman Barks (Edison, New Jersey: Castle Books, 1997), 266. Archived at, accessed 2 Nov. 2020. ↩︎

  5. Mary Oliver, "Am I Not Among the Early Risers," New and Selected Poems, Volume 2 (Boston: Beacon Press, 2005), 124--5. Archived at, accessed 2 Nov. 2020. ↩︎

Sacred geometry
Sacred geometry