Cleaning out the Attic: Renunciation vs. Refuge

I was reading Nate DeMontigny’s blog”Precious Metal” and his most recent entry “Buddhist Buzzwords: Renunciation.” I responded to the blog and wanted to post it here as well. Nate’s blog started:

“When I first started reading up on Buddhism, this word, renunciation, really had me perplexed.

“Defined very simply, renunciation is the act of renouncing. Renouncing something is to refuse it, or better yet, to abandon it completely. This is what frightened me. I thought being a Buddhist meant I had to give up everything, maybe this is where you are at to.

“That’s far from the truth though. Buddhism isn’t asking us to give everything up, to pack it up and leave life behind. What Buddhism is asking us is to get rid of the bull, to detach from the harmful objects or states of mind that keep us stuck.”

As lay Buddhists, we normally do not use this word renouncing. It is the term associated with those who are picking up the saffron robes to follow the rules of the Vinaya Piṭaka (rules of the monastic). He sheds his outward attachments, he sheds his emotional attachments, and the five hindrances.

As the Buddha teaches, “A householder looks at his home and thinks that it is too cramped and stifling to remain in this home, and steps away from it into the open air to be free.”

But as lay Buddhists we are not asked to renounce, but to take refuge.

Refuge in Western terms is often looked at as seeking shelter within– and this is the true definition of the word. But the translation from the Pali term “gachammi” really means “to journey with.” This was a common practice and vow in ancient India with gurus and teachers.

The Buddha developed the understanding of the Middle Path (Marga Marga). To that imagery we must see ourselves as following the Buddha, the Dhamma and the Sangha in that journey.

As a monastic there is an abrupt renunciation where all the aggregates outside of his own that he/she carries is dropped to pick up the begging bowl and robes and continue the spiritual path through life.

As lay people, we do not have a renunciant life, but what I call a “relational life.” We continue to walk the path, burdened by the aggregates we attach to (e.g. house, job, family, wife, etc.), but as we journey — instead of renouncing– we liberate ourselves from our burdens gradually.

A great life metaphor for me was preparing to move as I sold my house. So much stuff in the attic. Stuff I haven’t seen since childhood. Stuff I held onto because I thought it was valuable. Stuff I thought would be important to burden my children with when I die and make them carry it around in the attic. I tossed it all and felt how liberating it was. I also saw how much house I had been forced to own just to accommodate “things” that I neither needed nor wanted.

Sweep the attic clean. Liberate yourself from the burden of carrying around “stuff” that you don’t need. Observe the cravings and clingings as you conduct the act of throwing away things you don’t use. See the relation between that suffering of “holding on” and the suffering of “letting go.” See the lightness of being that comes from the liberation from possessing. Possibly donate this “stuff” to those who need it and see the joy that comes from giving.

Then do the same things to the rest of your house.

When you are done with those exercises re-examing your house and life. How empty are both. Do we choose to refill them with more “things” or step outside from the unecessary space and be free?

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Categories: Buddha, Dharma, Four Noble Truths, Lifestyle, Philosophy, Relationships


Joshua Hudson is a license clinical social worker with post graduate certificates in mental health. A graduate of the University of Pittsburgh, he has worked as an healthcare advocate for the Department of Veteran Affairs, Director of Psychological Health for the Air Force, in-patient counselor for inpatient adolescents, child and family therapist; and currently is a Prevention Interventionist for the Air Force creating programs to reduce interpersonal and self-directed violence (e.g. Sexual assault, suicide, alcohol abuse, domestic violence, etc.) in the military


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One Comment on “Cleaning out the Attic: Renunciation vs. Refuge”

  1. November 11, 2010 at 8:09 am #

    It’s Really informative Article

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