by contemplativeinquiry

For some time I have committed myself to cultivating “a life of abundance in simplicity, living lightly on the earth”. This has involved a certain amount of decluttering, paring down, and emptying out, which could go further. But ‘abundance’ is still a key term in my commitment, and I don’t see myself as in any way ‘renunciate’. Some people, I know, find themselves and flourish as renunciates, and that is good to know. But I retain reservations about traditional renunciation as a concept, along the lines of the extract below.

“That all the major world religions have a renunciative morality seems at first blush a bit odd since these religions all operate within cultures where accumulating wealth, power and prestige positions people higher on the hierarchy. Accumulating seems to be quite the opposite of renouncing. This seeming enigma is understandable if it is seen as separating the divine from the earthly: Accumulating was the activity that got one ahead in the secular domain; renouncing was the path that got one ahead in the spiritual. Once people’s general mode of thought and behavior became based on the accumulation model, this insidiously got applied to everything, including renunciation, whereby one could accumulate spiritual merit through sacrifice.

“Renunciation is the mirror image of accumulation, with inverted (opposite) values, but with the same structure (hierarchical) and process (striving), and the same measuring, ambitious mentality. The contents (sacrificing versus acquiring) may seem opposite, but this is only on the surface because the form and underlying structure are the same. Accumulation moralities set up standards of purity which serve to measure the quantity of impurity (self-centeredness). They measure how much sin or how much karma has been accumulated (demerits), and then give ways of accumulating merits through sacrifice. So, ironically, renunciate religions are all based on accruing and stockpiling spiritual merit and are accumulative to the core. This is but another example of how either/or frameworks create reactive oppositions that, in an unconscious way, bring about the very thing they are trying to do away with.”

Joel Kramer & Diana Alstad The Guru Papers: Masks of Authoritarian Power Berkeley, CA: Frog Ltd., 1993