Monday, March 15, 2010

Renunciation - Part Two

Sacrificing external pleasures also frees us of the mental burdens that holding onto them often entails. A famous story in the Canon tells of a former king who, after becoming a monk, sat down at the foot of a tree and exclaimed, "What bliss! What bliss!" His fellow monks thought he was pining for the pleasures he had enjoyed as king, but he later explained to the Buddha exactly what bliss he had in mind:

"Before... I had guards posted within and without the royal apartments, within and without the city, within and without the countryside. But even though I was thus guarded, thus protected, I dwelled in fear -- agitated, distrustful, and afraid. But now, on going alone to a forest, to the foot of a tree, or to an empty dwelling, I dwell without fear, unagitated, confident, and unafraid -- unconcerned, unruffled, my wants satisfied, with my mind like a wild deer."

A third reason for sacrificing external pleasures is that in pursuing some pleasures -- such as our addictions to eye-candy, ear-candy, nose-, tongue-, and body-candy -- we foster qualities of greed, anger, and delusion that actively block the qualities needed for inner peace. Even if we had all the time and energy in the world, the pursuit of these pleasures would lead us further and further away from the goal. They are spelled out in the path factor called Right Resolve: the resolve to forego any pleasures involving sensual passion, ill will, and harmfulness. "Sensual passion" covers not only sexual desire, but also any hankering for the pleasures of the senses that disrupts the peace of the mind. "Ill will" covers any wish for suffering, either for oneself or for others. And "harmfulness" is any activity that would bring that suffering about. Of these three categories, the last two are the easiest to see as worth abandoning. They're not always easy to abandon, perhaps, but the resolve to abandon them is obviously a good thing. The first resolve, though -- to renounce sensual passion -- is difficult even to make, to say nothing of following it through.