Renunciation and lay life

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This topic contains 12 replies, has 3 voices, and was last updated by  Meshe Mooette 1 year, 6 months ago.

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    I was wondering what level of renunciation is needed to make significant progress using TMI. I was also wondering what level is recommended (not the same thing as necessary).
    Also, is it possible for a person to make progress in TMI without abandoning the usage of unpleasant emotion?
    Thank you,


    Alex K

    Hi Samuel,

    I do not understand what do you mean by “usage of unpleasant emotions”? Can you make an example, please? You can not renounce having an emotion. But, with practice, you can work on how you relate to unpleasant emotions and how to react, i.e. do you act them out or do you allow them to just be and base your action on a wholesome emotion or wholesome intention like compassion or the wish to reduce suffering.

    Renunciation has to be put in the proper context. I am not a native speaker, but “renunciation” sounds often like one needs to give up things that one enjoys, and put hardship on oneself and put on a grim face and endure it. That is not the way to go in my opinion. I find it helpful to examine my motivation to do things. For example, one could say “I renounce eating food for pleasure, and will never eat ice cream again”. Then I would ask, what is bad about having some ice cream and enjoy it? Is it based on craving and desire? Are you eating to much and is it harmful to your body? Can you decide to eat it or not, or do you give in too often or are you completely overpowered by the craving? I think renunciation should come from an understanding of what is harmful and what is beneficial to us and others. This understanding can be the basis of renouncing something. Keep in mind that just having the will to renounce something is not enough. It often is just an idea of some or one parts of your mind and if others are active they will not care much about prior renouncements. This will create conflict and can lead to blaming oneself and beating oneself up for failure to stick to a commitment. You want to work on getting a lot of subminds on board. Mindfulness helps, when you can notice a desire to do
    something, and can examine your intention and if you detect it is based on desire, greed and delusion, you can reflect on how it is harmful to give in. Strong addictions can not be easily overcome. But putting in a pause before acting can, in time, make room for change. Mindful review may be helpful.

    I am not sure if it goes in a direction that answers your question. If you want to know about whether you would need to renounce the life of the householder to make progress, then no, I do not think that is necessary. You also do not need to renounce watching tv. But if you constantly watch tv instead of doing meditation you need to work on that – but renouncing maybe too strong an approach.

    Still, there certainly is benefit in training to resist urges and impose restrictions and work with your desires. But using this as a way to be hard on yourself or even punishing yourself is a danger that should be avoided. It is certainly necessary to acknowledge your weaknesses and cravings and work with them skilfully.

    If you mean renouncing acting on anger or with ill-will. Then yes, the goal should be to “stop that”. But like I said, you can not renounce that and expect it to work.

    Sorry if this does not answer your question or makes no sense. It is hard for me to understand what you are really meaning without some more information.

    • This reply was modified 1 year, 6 months ago by  Alex K.


    Hello Alex,

    I have practiced traditional Buddhism for a few years (before switching to Dzogchen Longde) and don’t need a review of traditional renunciation. What I am looking for is what Dharma Treasure’s attitude is on the subject, to see if this kind of practice is a good fit for my friends.

    What I mean by using unpleasant emotions is deliberately acting on an unpleasant emotion without losing control of one’s self or losing one’s introspective awareness. This is what Shinzen Young calls Zen transcendence. Far from losing control, it is a spiritual practice that changes our experience of unpleasant emotion completely.



    Hi Samuel!

    Well, you can’t get into the higher stages with significant aversion or craving. If we define renunciation as renouncing the belief in self-existence, since that belief is what gives rise to aversion and craving, it follows that one cannot exhibit the higher stages of meditation and awakening without renunciation.

    Using unpleasant emotion- in TMI- I can think of many ways someone following the meditative path using TMI as a guide could use unpleasant emotion. One could investigate the mind-system model, and determine the way the discriminating mind functions in our own experience. One could investigate the beliefs that give rise to those unpleasant emotions- such as the emotionally charged and tightly held belief in an enduring self and other. One could investigate using mindful review practise, so beautifully described in Appendix E.


    Alex K

    Hello Samuel,

    oh I see, I have not heard of that and will look for some information. That sounds a bit like the opposite of renunciation: not renouncing unpleasant emotions or denying them, but applying them as an opportunity to learn and mindfully examine them and their effects. Is there a post / video you can point me to? I’ll also monitor this thread to see what others can share.


    Alex K

    Hi Meshe,

    In wonder how big the role of rational examination and the will to renounce this belief in self-existence is? Does it come on its own, is it purely a result of insight and a non-rational experience / examination of reality mainly from meditation? Or do we need to bolster it with a sort of decision “I do not belief in this” and examine how the view of a self-existing self is false? Is this a case of fake-it-till-you-make it? I can only end with a pop reference: “I want to believe” 🙂

    • This reply was modified 1 year, 6 months ago by  Alex K.

    Hi Alex!

    What a great question.

    Insight develops from intellectual understanding to an intuitive understanding through study, contemplation and meditation. What may have brought you to study, contemplate and meditate?

    There is a spectrum of faith- from blind faith (that person is a Lama, so everything they teach must be true and will get me out of suffering) to a faith built on logical analysis, grown from direct perception (that teacher is kind, knowledgeable of the path, appears to have realization, teaches with joy and never tires of explaining the path, they are speaking clearly of my direct experiences- so it follows that they can help me).

    An intuitive understanding will appear to “come on its own” like a fine fragrance- but you put all the ingredients in the pot (8 fold path) and stirred it with your practise.

    It seems to me that the refuge and bodhisattva vows are a type of bolstering “I do not believe in this”- even though our actions may clearly show that we do believe in self-existence (such as when aversion and craving arise). They can give us a way to “fake-it-till-we-make-it”, sometimes called candy-cane bodhichitta. Then, since we have made that firm decision to look into this belief, it permeates the day with an investigative flavour- and when we sit to meditate, the data collected there has an organizing principle.

    “Working hard to get my fill
    Everybody wants a thrill
    Payin’ anything to roll the dice
    Just one more time
    Some will win, some will lose
    Some were born to sing the blues
    Oh, the movie never ends
    It goes on and on and on and on
    Don’t stop, believing!” – Journey



    To give examples of what I mean by using unpleasant emotions (to clarify):

    1) According to psychologists people who are experiencing nervousness and reframe it as excitement do better at public speaking and math exams than those who are calm.

    2) According to the “Upside of Your Dark Side” mild amounts of sadness allows us to do better at analytical tasks.

    3) I look healthy, but am in poor health. If I don’t express unpleasant emotion enough, a non-trivial amount of people decide I am lying about my health and become aggressive to me.

    As further clarification, emotions are not states of mind. The state of mind an emotion induces depends on how you view the emotion and what you are used to doing with it. There are styles of Buddhism that try to remove craving and aversion from the unpleasant emotions by transforming the states of mind they induce. Tantric Buddhism, Dzogchen, and Shingon are examples. They use emptiness and non-self as tools for manipulating our emotions so that we can harness them as tools for strategic benefit. These non-renunciant methods are traditionally considered incompatible with Samatha-Vipassana and are accompanied by very different spiritual paths. Trying to take them out of context may be dangerous. It is also important to note that most of these practices are advanced and require close work with a skilled teacher.

    My question is whether or not unpleasant emotions without the aversion will disrupt progress in TMI.


    Hi Samuel!

    Thank you for bringing these topics up.

    I would disagree about tantra and dzogchen being non-renunciate methods. Especially if we are using the definition of renunciation as giving up the belief in self-existence. Rather, they are built on renunciation and require as a basis shamatha-vipassana. To not have that basis would be taking the practises out of context. The tantric practise of working with emotion is deep and powerful, and as you say, requires a high understanding of emptiness and personal selflessness. Those understandings arise from renouncing the view of self-existence.

    All throughout my studies with teachers in the Mahayana, Vajrayana and Dzogchen traditions, this has been emphasized over and over again.

    When working with strong emotions whose flavours arise as unpleasant, if they are actually transformed, that indicates that the empty, impermanent self-less nature has been clearly seen. That can most definitely happen when working with the purifications that happen in shamatha-vipassana training such as TMI.

    • This reply was modified 1 year, 6 months ago by  Meshe Mooette.


    I believe there is some linguistic confusion. By renunciate methods, I mean those which aim to destroy passion. Obviously, tantra isn’t about that! When I use the terms shamatha and vipassana, I am referring to Sutric practices. I would use the Tibetan equivalents to refer to Vajrayana practices.

    I’m curious as to which styles of Dzogchen you are familiar with. It is my understanding that what you are saying is true about the mind series of Dzogchen, but not about the other series.


    Hi Samuel!

    Yes- let’s clarify, how do you understand the renunciate methods as destroying passion?

    The 3 nominal divisions (mind division, space division and pith instructions) of Dzogchen teachings made by Manjushrimitra aren’t self-exclusive, but are more like three ingredients in one cake, or three ways of looking at a jewel, not separate truly.

    Below are 3 quotes to support my previous comments, if we can agree to accept the perspectives presented by Dudjom Lingpa, Dzogchen Ponlop Rinpoche and Patrul Rinpoche as authorities on the subject- or at least accept them as having a broader frame of reference for these topics than we do. (There is also a lovely book by the Dalai Lama entitled “Dzogchen” that contains the same perspective of the shared path being shamatha and vipassana).


    The texts in this series point to just four practices as being indispensable (for all but the most gifted adepts) on the Dzokchen path to enlightenment: śamatha, vipaśyanā, cutting through, and direct crossing over, in that order. Our most condensed texts, the Sharp Vajra of Conscious Awareness Tantra and the Enlightened View of Samantabhadra, explain only these four practices, without elaborating on the preliminary practices or the stages of generation and completion. (Meshe’s addition: stages of generation and completion are tantra- so here too, shamatha vipassana is presented as basis for tantra). Accomplishing these four practices alone is in principle sufficient to achieve any one of the three levels of rainbow body that signify the culmination of the path of the Great Perfection.

    In comparison, the Vajra Essence presents a more elaborate account of the path to achieving the perfect enlightenment of a buddha, beginning with a brief reference to the four common and seven uncommon preliminary practices, then proceeding through śamatha, vipaśyanā, a wide range of practices in the Vajrayāna stages of generation and completion, and finally the two phases of practice of the Great Perfection. These texts repeatedly state that to practice the Great Perfection, it is indispensable to achieve śamatha—in which the mind dissolves into the substrate consciousness and you experience bliss, luminosity, and nonconceptuality— heart of the great perfection and to realize the emptiness of all phenomena, the goal of vipaśyanā.

    2. The Nature of Mind: The Dzogchen Instructions of Aro Yeshe Jungne
    By Khenchen Palden Sherab, Khenpo Tsewang Dongyal, Patrul Rinpoche

    “all Dzogchen meditation, including these instructions by Aro Yeshe Jungne, involve practising the unity of shamatha and vipashyana. This is true even when the names “shamatha” and “vipashyana” are not explicitly mentioned. In Dzogchen, relaxing without focus and without distraction is shamatha, and seeing the true nature exactly as it is is vipashyana”.


    The Path of Meditation journey consists of three stages:

    1. Shamatha-Vipashyana, which includes “calm abiding” meditation, or shamatha, and vipashyana or “clear insight,” also called analytical meditation.
    2. Mind Training (lojong in Tibetan), at which stage Nalandabodhi students rely on traditional Indian and Tibetan Buddhist instructions to train in the qualities of loving kindness, compassion, and bodhichitta, the heart of awakening.
    3. Further Journeys: Following the mind trainings, and in consultation with your Practice Instructor, a Nalandabodhi student may request to begin ngondro, the series of preliminary practices unique to the Vajrayana tradition. These practices prepare the student to enter into the profound practice paths of Vajrayana, Mahamudra, and Dzogchen, under the guidance of Dzogchen Ponlop Rinpoche, who presents these traditions based upon authentic transmissions that have been passed down from master to student for centuries in India, Tibet, and, now, the Western hemisphere.

    • This reply was modified 1 year, 6 months ago by  Meshe Mooette.


    Hello Meshe,
    thanks for the clarification – I think we were in agreement on Dzogchen to begin with, but are merely used to different notations. What I meant by what I wrote earlier, was that trying to take methods out of Dzogchen or Tantra and combining them with TMI without knowing what you are doing, or understanding the systems you are borrowing from, is dangerous. I believe we agree here.

    For a summary of what I mean by renunciation:
    (for clarification, I am not referencing David Chapman as an authority, but merely as an effective communicator)
    Because the TMI method doesn’t seem to use this kind of renunciation, but is highly effective for getting results, I am very interested in understanding what kind of renunciation is used and how it works.


    Thank you for sharing that article to show what you mean by renunciation.

    One thing I appreciate about TMI as a book, is it’s subtlety. When you train in shamatha, that is the same thing as the first step of renunciation described in that article, don’t you think?

    “Renunciation simply reverses this causal chain. You avoid sensory contact, especially with objects that fuel craving. (“Objects” here includes people and experiences.) If your external environment is extremely bland, the raging fire of lust gradually subsides, and suffering decreases.” (quoted from the article)

    Shamatha training as presented in TMI leads to an equanimous mind- which is a mind in which craving is not arising. Even if you didn’t go to a cave, you still must make some significant lifestyle alterations to meditate even an hour a day, consistently. Reaching the higher stages requires extending this equanimous non-craving mind to the whole day (mindful review practise helps with this).

    “Memory and habit keep some flames burning, so the second phase of renunciation is internal. Vipassana disassembles all mental structures, until there’s no machinery left in which suffering could occur. This too is a process of disconnection and inhibition.” (quotes from the discussed article)

    In TMI, techniques are introduced in the chapters on the later stages that are intended to generate insight experience (vipassana). As a whole, TMI the book is more focused on shamatha, but I find it skillfully weaves in models and suggestions at all the stages that can lead to profound insight. Appreciating the “a-ha” moment of spontaneous awareness after mind-wandering, for example.

    It seems to me that as time goes on, and the commentarial material on what the Buddha said expands, things get said, things get written that apply to certain people at certain times. We need to be able to figure out what applies to us, and when.

    The article says that the 1st step for a sutrayana approach is contemplation of suffering to generate revulsion. I can see how that would bring someone to the path. Just like having the death of a loved one might wake a person up to the fact that even good things and relationships are not lasting sources of happiness.

    I like how I have heard Culadasa frame the 1st Noble Truth- ” pain is inevitable, suffering is optional.”

    Here is a comprehensive article by Culadasa, covering explicitly what has been subtly woven into TMI:–what-the-buddha-thought–handout.pdf

    Here too is a link to an article by Culadasa that may illuminate the understanding and use of pleasure and joy in meditation practise:

    All the best!

    -DT Teacher-in-Training

    • This reply was modified 1 year, 6 months ago by  Meshe Mooette.
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