Wednesday, August 10, 2005

On Renunciation

The new issue of What Is Enlightenment? features a short column by noted Zen teacher Cheri Huber, founder and resident teacher at the Zen Monastery Practice Center in Murphys, CA, and the Mountain View Zen Center. In her column ("Enlightenment is the Easiest Way in the World to Live"), she talks about the nature and value of renunciation as a crucial element of the spiritual path.

Too many people think of renunciation as giving up sex, or certain foods, or drugs, or money, or whatever the individual's particular weakness might entail. Yet what all of these things -- and so many others -- have in common is that they are things onto which the ego grasps. Renunciation is about seeing the ego for what it is -- an illusion -- and learning to undo its grasp on the things of the world and on its desire to have things its way.

"The ego wants this and doesn't want that. It is always in pursuit of something -- that's what keeps it at the center of the universe." However, Huber suggests that "people don't even know what the ego is; they can't tell when it's in charge. They really believe they are their ego. So we need a structure that enables us to begin to see ego for what it is and to differentiate between ego -- that which believes itself to be continuous and real and living outside of life -- and the Self -- that which was here before we were and will be here after we are not."

Huber concludes with the following wisdom teaching:
Enlightenment is the easiest way in the world to live. What's hard, grim, grisly, depressing, miserable, and oppressive is ego. And when we're identified with that little illusion of a separate self, we don't realize that the whole universe is behind us. That little ego is, in fact, an illusion, and everything that is true and authentic -- all of the love, the awareness, the gratitude, the expansiveness, the generosity, the kindness -- that's who we are. That spirit is who we are and it's calling us home. But the ego's onslaught, which tries to keep us in its grip, is awe-inspiring. So anything that gives us a little lift up and offers us a clearer view, anything that reveals ego for what it is, is helpful. That's the real value of renunciation.

I call my own form of renunciation coming undone. It's an ongoing process based in mindfulness practice that attempts to see the ways I allow my ego to shape my perception of the world, to define who I am. What Huber advocates is not easy. Most of us can spend our entire lives working on this one small element of enlightenment, and to have done so will be a major achievement. The path is the purpose.