Nekkhamma pāramī : renunciation
Third in our list of perfections (paramis) is renunciation. WAIT! Don’t skip over this one – it’s not what you think. It’s not a case of eliminating all the things you like and doing only the things you don’t like. Rather, it’s setting aside a lesser pleasure or joy to experience a better, deeper pleasure or joy. Delayed gratification is a type of renunciation. Sharing something with others rather than hogging it for ourselves is a type of renunciation. Not saying hurtful things when we can just keep quiet is a form of renunciation. In the moment it might feel like a sacrifice, but that is just the ego talking.
Nekkhmamma (renunciation) means not helplessly following our impulses, but understanding the bigger picture. It means being calm and reasonable enough to see that hurting others never ends up feeling good to anyone. It’s sticking to our diet or non-consumption of alcohol – difficult in the moment, but way more rewarding in the long run. It could also mean not making promises we can’t keep.
This is the quality that allows us to step back, reframe the situation, and do what’s best for everyone involved, whether that’s keeping quiet or doing something that’s difficult for us to do. What we are renouncing is a small and selfish aspect of ourselves, to make space for our big-hearted, generous qualities to bloom.
Here’s a story about a king who became a monk, apparently giving up everything:
Now at that time, Ven. Bhaddiya Kaligodha, on going to a forest, to the foot of a tree, or to an empty dwelling, would repeatedly exclaim, “What bliss! What bliss!” A large number of monks heard Ven. Bhaddiya Kaligodha, on going to a forest, to the foot of a tree, or to an empty dwelling, repeatedly exclaim, “What bliss! What bliss!” and on hearing him, the thought occurred to them, “There’s no doubt but that Ven. Bhaddiya Kaligodha doesn’t enjoy leading the holy life, for when he was a householder he knew the bliss of kingship, so that now, on recollecting that, he is repeatedly exclaiming, ‘What bliss! What bliss!'” They went to the [Buddha and reported their suspicions. The Buddha then called Ven. Bhaddiya Kaligodha to him.] …the Blessed One said to him, “Is it true, Bhaddiya that, on going to a forest, to the foot of a tree, or to an empty dwelling, you repeatedly exclaim, ‘What bliss! What bliss!’?”
“What meaning do you have in mind that you repeatedly exclaim, ‘What bliss! What bliss!’?”
“Before, when I has a householder, maintaining the bliss of kingship, 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. This is the meaning I have in mind that I repeatedly exclaim, ‘What bliss! What bliss!'”
— Ud 2.10, translated by Thanissaro Bhikkhu