When it comes to separating from attachment to sense pleasures that bring us suffering as well, Buddhism is very practical. There’s a method called simply ‘letting go’ that anyone can experience the benefits of, which is encouraging every step of the way…
We don’t have to give up everything at once, but when we let go even a little, it creates more space inwardly, and some peace as well. In the teachings on meditation, this is a factor that makes it easier to settle the mind, and cultivate clarity.
A skillful means in Buddhism is what gets us from one place to another. It is provisional. Once we see the benefits of letting go of sensuality, and views, and contention, and find greater peace and well being, it leads onward. I especially like how accessible this practice is, and how we can see the results right away.
In Revisiting the Jhanas I wrote that
Nekhama is sometimes translated as relinquishment, renunciation, or letting go. Bhante Gunaratana describes this factor as generosity, but also describes it in his talks as temporarily giving something up. This can be taken all the way up to the renunciation of all of samsara, but there are levels to it along the way that are helpful to know about and to practice.
He says, for example, that we can give up something as simple as a single piece of chocolate, and once we begin looking for attachments, or thoughts and interests we can set aside for a time, we find that we are creating a sense of space, and freeing up our energy to practice.
Bhante makes clear in his book, Beyond Mindfulness in Plain English, that we can consider the setting aside of interest or involvements as something temporary, and provisional, as in, for the purpose of getting us from one place to another.
Until we practice deep meditation and develop insight, we are suspending the activity of the kilesas, or hindrances. We are pacifying them for a time. Their roots are still there in us, and are only removed later. This practice, of jhana, and all that it consists of, is a means to that end, and to the end of all suffering.
Renunciation does not mean renouncing the world, or home, or life. It has a deeper meaning. It simply means any letting go. We can let go of greed, or a piece of chocolate – that is renunciation.
We can let go of an additional pair of shoes when we were thinking of buying them. We can let go of that thought. That is also renunciation.
Renunciation (letting go) covers the minutest thing to the largest thing that we give up.
Renunciation in a deeper sense means having a thought (the mind) that is letting go of things. In meditation, this becomes extremely practical, useful, and meaningful.
When we try to gain concentration, greed can arise. At that moment, even temporarily, we can let go of that greed… That letting go is renunciation. (letting go)
Joy and happiness (sukha, well being) arise as a result of suppressing hindrances. It is a joy also to know we are on the right path. Let us try to regain this same joy and happiness.` The basis is letting go of attachments, and greed, and cultivating wholesome thoughts, of metta, and karuna.
The joy and happiness that then arise is temporary, but they are still very powerful. They support our gaining concentration…
This is so much more skillful than wrestling with our negative, destructive emotions. Setting them aside for a time is do-able, and what’s more, it introduces us to other before unimagined possibilities, other paradigms, not thought of before.
We need a method that allows us to approach and actualize a new way of being. Letting go works very well here.
Part of the problem, I think, when it comes to transforming the deeper level of the mind and emotions is the identification one some level with one, the I or the ego who has acted or experienced in the past. Even in a subtle way, this perpetuates suffering of a kind. Ajaan Pasanno said
If there is any hint of self, a position is then taken and the whole realm of samsara unfolds.
The practice of simply letting go as a skillful means avoids all this. It’s something we can do and feel the effects of almost immediately, of greater peace and well being.
There’s another teaching that relates here, on what they call the nutriments. If we can practice the withdrawal of interest and attention from the objects of our attachment, the feeling fades. We can do the same with objects of aggression. Withdrawing energy brings relief, and allows us to settle down more deeply. It’s like we are withholding the energy these need to grow, and so like a plant we don’t water, whatever feelings there are, whether they be of anger, or compulsion, and attachment, whither and then vanish. We can experience this as an enjoyable, temporary liberation, and this is onward leading. It allows for other possibilities.
It’s with good reason that modern teachers warn us of what they call spiritual bypassing. This is where a person avoids what is difficult, and maybe even believes they have overcome that problem, only to have it return. Buddhism is deeper than modern psychology though, and only those who meditate know and experience its deeper benefits.
From letting go, as a provisional means, we are able to settle more deeply, touching peace in a new way, and being nourished by that. Beyond that even, by cultivating insight, we are able to uproot the causes of suffering themselves. In The Heartwood of the Bodhi Tree Buddhadasa Bhikkhu outlines the progressive method in full:
The Buddha spoke first of nekkhamadhatu (the element of renunciation) as the cause for the withdrawal from sensuality;
Seeing nekkhamadhatu, the element of renunciation, is the cause for the withdrawl from sensuality because it is its antithesis. Seeing the element that is the antithesis of sensuality is called seeing nekkhamadhatu. Being unconsumed by the fire of sensuality is nekkhamadhatu. The mind that withdraws from sensuality is a mind that contains nekkhamadhatu.
The Buddha wanted us to completely withdraw from those things, to use nekkhamadhatu as the means to withdraw from sensuality, to use arupadhatu (the formless element) as the means to withdraw from absorptions of the fine-material plane, and finally to use nirodhadhatu (the element of cessation) as the means to withdraw from the conditioned, so that all the manifold types of confusion converge in emptiness. (the wisdom realizing liberation)
This is what is offered in full by taking up the skillful means of letting go.
May all beings benefit.