Renunciation: Buddhist and Hindu
(Chapter 14 of "Discriminations between Buddhist and Hindu Tantras")
Yogi C. M. Chen
Renunciation is basic in all religions.
1. Christianity: Colossians 4:2, "Set your affection on things above
not on the things on the earth."
2. Confucianism: Mencius 7.2.23, "For mind development there is nothing
better than restricting one's desire."
3. Judaism: Ecclesiastes 7:2, "The day of death is better than the day
of one's birth."
4. Islam: S-Ibranim, B Adham, "Take God as thy companion and leave mankind
5. Jainism: NS99, "I renounce attachment and absorb myself in non-attachment
and the soul only is my support." NS94, commentary, "There are six essential
duties which have been prescribed for a saint, renunciation is the second
6. Sikhism; Nanak M I-309, "Abandon love of family and love of everything."
7. Shinto: Japanese, "Practice the art of giving up."
8. Taoism: C.T. 5, "Whenever there is attachment there is bondage."
9. Zoroastrianism: Mkh. 2:13, "Form no covetous desire so that the demon
of greediness may not deceive thee."
Even the fifth Brahmana of Brhad-Aranyaka Upanishad says, "He who passes
beyond hunger and thirst, beyond sorrow and delusion, beyond old age and
death--Brahmans know that such a soul has overcome the desire for sons,
the desire for wealth, and the desire for world, and live the life of mendicants.
For the desire for sons is the desire for wealth, and the desire for wealth
is the desire for world; both of these are merely desires. Therefore, let
a Brahman become disgusted with learning and desire to live as a child.
When he has become disgusted with both the state of childhood and with
learning, then he becomes ascetic. When he has become disgusted both with
the non-ascetic state and with the ascetic state then he becomes a Brahman."
Although the above is stated, those who profess to follow these teachings
do not renounce immediately, but rather at the age when death is near.
The Hindu system of education is divided into four periods. The first,
from birth to the age of sixteen is a period of study-life called Brahmacharya;
the second from senenteen to twenty-five years of age is a period of home-life
called Grihastha; the third, from age twenty-six to forty is a period of
forest-life called Banaprastha (but they marry in this period); the fourth,
from forty years of age to death is the period of hermit-life called Sanyasa.
In this period of decline, they finally renounce.
In the Mahanirvana Tantra (Hindu) it says: "In childhood one should acquire
knowledge, in youth--wealth and a wife. The wise man in the middle years
will devote himself to acts of charity and piety, and in his old age, he
should retire from the world." Again on the same page it forbids the youth
to renounce early. "No one should retire from the world who has an old
father or mother, a devoted and chaste wife or young and helpless children.
He who becomes an ascetic leaving mother, father, infant, wife and young
offspring is guilty of a great sin. He who becomes a mendicant without
killing his father and mother and woman is a Brahman."
It also states in this book that "The householder should cherish his wife,
educate his children and support his kinsmen and friends. This is the eternal
Therefore, these beliefs contradict the Buddhist scheme entirely. In Buddhism,
it is said in verse 271-272 of the Dhammapada, "Not by mere morality and
duty, nor by much learning, nor even by gain of concentration, nor by lonely
lodging do I enjoy the bliss of renunciation, not resorted to by the worldling".
Again, in verse 75 of the same book it states: "Surely the path that leads
to worldly gain is one and the path that leads to Nibanna is another. Thus
understanding, the Bhikkhu, the disciple of the Buddha should not rejoice
in worldly favors but should cultivate seclusion." Buddha Gautama did not
regard one who had the beliefs of those quoted previously as a Brahman.
He said in the Dhammapada, verse 404: "He who is not intimate with both
householder and homeless ones, he who wanders without an abode, he who
is without desires--him I call a Brahmana."
The Buddhist proverb runs: "A couple is nothing but foes to each other."
But according to Hinduism, a wife is a very dear object. It is written
in the Mahanirvana Tantra: "He should avoid all improper speech and braggart
boldness in her presence. By riches, clothes, love, respect, and pleasing
words should one's wife be pleased." It also teaches the husband how
to keep his wife tightly; even pilgrimage is forbidden to women. It is
written on the same page in the Mahanirvana Tantra: "The wise man should
not send his wife to pilgrimage or to another's house." Even today such
a custom is practiced. I have lived in India for more than 15 years and
have scarcely seen any person's wife leaving her house. It is said that
a girl who is married cannot make one step out of the house until her
There is no such teaching in Buddhism. Verse 341 of the Dhammapada states:
"To beings there arise pleasures that are extravagant and luxurious; sunk in
lust and looking for happiness men undergo birth and decay." Verse 345 states: "Wise
people do not call that a strong fetter which is made of iron or wood or hemp;
far stronger is the passionate devotion to precious stones and rings, to sons
and wives." In Buddhism, everything in this world should be given up. It is written
in verse 416 that he who in this world, giving up craving, would renounce and
become a homeless one, is called a Brahmin. Buddha Gautama set many examples
to encourage his followers to renounce. In verse 55 of the Dhammapada it states: "Sandalwood,
Tagara, Lotus, Jasmine, of all these kinds of fragrance, the perfume of virtue
is by far the best, and worldly pleasures and comforts, even the family, is renounced
for spiritual attainments." In verse 62 there is the following saying: " 'These
sons belong to me, and this wealth belongs to me', with such thoughts a fool
is tormented. He himself does not belong to himself; how much less sons and wealth?"
If the teachings of tantric Hinduism were correct, then Lord Buddha who
left his old father without any son, and left his devoted and pregnant
wife without any already-born offspring, should have gone to hell but instead
he became enlightened because of his early renunciation. Therefore by Gautama
Buddha's own precedent, there are three classes of Sramanas. The first
class is from age seven to thirteen; they are called Sramanas of crow-drivers.
It means that a boy who can drive away a crow can renounce his home and
come to the temple. The second class are from age fourteen to ninteen.
They are called the very lawful Sramanas. The third class is from age twenty
to seventy and are Sramanas who have not yet received the commandments
of a Bhikkhu but are of the proper age for Bhikkhuhood. In his commentary
on the Prajna Paramitra Sutra, Nagarjuna made this statement: "He who is
homeless is a Sramana. He who is a householder is a Brahmana. A Brahmana
learns much knowledge and seeks worldly welfare only, but the Sramana seeks
only the noble path of Buddhism."
Some would say that most of the Buddhist materials quoted actually belong
to the Hinayana sect because there is no need of renunciation in Mahayana;
but the Avatamsaka sutra is a text of the Mahayana school, but in there
the Bodhisattva Teh-Sun-Boy (Good Wealth Boy) taught twelve conducts of
Dhuta: 1. Garments should be of cast-off rags; 2. One can have only three
garments; 3. Meals of only begged food; 4. Meals at only breakfast and
noon; 5. No other food between these times; 6. Only a limited quantity
of food; 7. One's dwelling place should be a hermitage; 8. Among tombs;
9. Under a tree; 10. Under the open sky; 11. Anywhere without preference;
12. One should sit and not lie down. These twelve Dhutas are certainly
conditions of renunciation. Our Lord Gautama was a Bodhisattva before his
Enlightenment and himself set us an example of early renunciation.
Someone might say that the practice of Chan Buddhism does not necessitate
early or late renunciation, and then try to prove the statement by the
saying of the sixth patriarch: "The Dharma of Buddhism is in the world.
You should awake without renunciation."
However, the true meaning of this statement is that if one has awakened
in the world without attachments he has already renounced even if he is
still in the world. Renunciation does not mean that the person has to leave
the world, but that one is in the world without attachment. The Bodhisattvas
see the things of the world and their relative values as well as the voidness
beyond the world. Because of this, they can convert the persons of the
world. If a person is not skilled in non-attachment he should keep a good
distance from the objects of attachment until the concentration of voidness
becomes stronger. Just as a small beginning fire should be protected from
the wind, but when the fire becomes strong, it uses the wind as a helper.
In Chan Buddhist texts there are many examples of renunciation. I will
introduce a few:
l. The Reverend Chan monk Chin-Hwo always wore paper-cloth and never
those made of silk.
2. The Reverend Chan monk Chih-Peng ate the fruits of wild vegetation
and drank river water. He never used fire to cook his food.
3. The Chan monk Hui-man lived in an open grave and never lived in a temple
for even two nights.
4. The Reverend monk Hsuan-Tai always lived alone and never received
a disciple. When he decided to rest, there was nobody to start the fire
for him. He, therefore, burned himself and sang the following song: "Without
either shave, Or washing in waves, In the fire I burn myself, Enough,
it is quite enough."
5. Monk Rui-Chun lived on a white rocky mountain for forty years.
6. Ley-Tsung lived in Tze-Hu for forty-five years, never taking a step
7. The Reverend Chan monk named Ching-Chen said, "I have lived here
for forty-nine years but my mind still occasionally goes elsewhere."
Chan Buddhism contains a perfect system of renunciation. One must not
only renounce the world and desires and attachments, but also the help
of the guru, his teachings, comprehension of oneself, the three studies
(discipline, meditation and wisdom), the mind and soul, and the Samyaksambodhi.
For each of these objects, I will present one Kung-an to prove the renunciation:
A. An Example of a Kung-an for Renouncing the Help of the Guru.
Once the Chan-guru, Teh-Sun said to his audience, "Tonight I
do not wish to answer any of your questions. He who asks me a question
should be beaten 30 times." A monk who came from Siam appeared and bowed
down before Teh-Sun. Teh-Sun began to beat him immediately. The monk asked,
"Why do you beat me? I never asked anything." Teh-Sun said, "When you were starting
your journey from your country to here you should have been beaten then."
B. An Example of a Kung-an for Renouncing the Guru's Teachings.
Once Hsuan-Sa sat in silence at one of his lectures for a long
time and the entire audience left the hall one by one. Hsuan-Sa said, "You
are all fools. What a great pity! When I speak, you all gather here and
desire to get some sermons which are nonsense, but when I really help you,
you all go away."
C. An Example of a Kung-an for Renouncing the Three Studies (discipline,
meditation and wisdom).
Once a monk asked Wei-Yen:."What are the disciplines, meditations,
and wisdom?" Wei-Yen replied, "Here there are no such instruments."
D. An Example of a Kung-an for Renouncing Self Comprehension.
Once a monk told abbot Shih-Huo, "I came here recently; please
teach me Chan." Shih-Huo repled, "Before your coming, I taught you already."
The monk asked again, "How can I comprehend it?" "Without self-comprehension",
was the reply.
E. An Example of a Kung-an for Renouncing the Mind and Soul.
A monk asked Tao-in: "What is the important thing for a monk?" Tao-in
said, "It is a thing which is unattainable by the mind and soul."
F. An Example in Sutra for Renouncing Enlightenment or Anuttara-Samyaksambodhi.
"What think you, Subhuti, when the Tathagata was with Buddha
Dipankara, did he have any such arbitrary conception of the Dharma as would
warrant him to seek to attain Anuttara-samyaksambodhi intuitively?" "No,
blessed Lord, as I understand what thou hast said to us. when the Lord
Buddha was with Buddha Dipankara, he had no such arbitrary conception of
the Dharma as would warrant him in seeking Anuttara-samyaksambodi intuitively!"
G. An Example of a Kung-an for Renouncing the Self.
Once a monk asked Hsuan-Sa: "How is myself?" Hsuan-Sa replied, "What
is the necessity of your self?"
The Hindu and Buddhist tantric doctrines concerning renunciation differ
greatly from one another. In Tantric Hinduism there are ten sacraments
for all people whether the person will be a monk or still a householder.
There are those relating to conception, pregnancy and the birth of a child,
giving of its name, its first view of the Sun, its first eating of rice,
tonsure investiture, marriage and sacred thread. One mantra to the bed
is as follows: "Hrim, O bed, be thou propitious for the begetting of a
good offspring of us two." The guru permits a disciple to discharge the
duties of a householder according to the rules prescribed in the Dharma
Shastra (Hinduism). For a layman, these rules are better than nothing,
but they are also meant for monks who should have renounced as soon as
In Buddhist Tantra there is a very important doctrine for the third initiation
by which a man can get the "Great-Pleasure-Enlightenment" in this life
time. He who desires to attain such a high accomplishment should renounce
as soon as possible.
The foundation of the third initiation, the path of the "Great-Pleasure-Buddhahood"
is semen, which can be transformed into wisdom-drops. Without wisdom-drops,
the human body cannot be transformed into a light body of Buddhahood.
A man's semen is lost gradually from the age of sixteen. It is said in
Buddhist Tantra that a man who is thirty-six years of age or older has
no hope to get the achievement of the "Great-Pleasure-Buddhahood" in
In Tibet all the incarnations of sages are brought to the temple from
their home at the age of three. In ordinary families, children are sent
to the temple at the age of seven to study, but according to tantric Hinduism,
all Tibetans are sinners .
Various Tibetan sages have given the same advice regarding renunciation.
Let me introduce a few well-known verses:
1) Four Dependencies: Mind depends upon Dharmas, Dharma depends upon
poverty, Poverty depends upon death, Death depends upon solitude.
2) Three Vajars: A vajra before me called non-shame, Keeps me apart
from my home, And left my parents without warmth. A vajra behind me called
forbear, Keeps me apart from my dear, And left my wife without cheer.
A vajra in me called wisdom, Keeps me apart from saha-kingdom, And will
enlighten me very soon.
3) Four Renunciations from Hindrances: Renounce the native country,
Getting rid of the causal condition of hindrance. Renounce the surrounding
of hate and lust, Getting rid of the objective condition of hindrance.
Renounce the Sorrows, Getting rid of the increased condition of hindrance.
Renounce evil friends, Getting rid of the closed condition of hindrance.
Thanks to my gurus who taught me these verses of renunciation by which
I have been in renunciation for more than twenty years. Although I left
my parents without any other sons, they had many to help them as if they
were sons. My parents lived and died in peace. I also left my wife without
leaving her any funds for her support. However, she is still living in
faith and peace. In fact she has the opportunity to renounce at the same
time that I did and has obtained many blessings by her renunciation.
My good readers, if you want to follow the Buddhist path of Enlightenment,
please begin with renunciation. If you do not renounce, no other advice
given in my work will profit you; and I tell you that the guru that does
not promote and encourage renunciation is a fraud.
For westerners, it is better to practice renunciation in Christianity
rather than Hinduism. I will mention a few examples of renunciation as
spoken by Jesus (who learned about renunciation personally from Buddhists
in India. Please see my Booklet "Still More Please! Part II).
1) The foxes have holes and the birds of the heaven have nests but the
son of man hath nowhere to lay his head. (Mat. 8:20). While I was writing,
a breath of air with a perfumed fragrance passed my nostrils. Thank you
2) Think not that I came to send peace on earth, I came not to send
peace but sword for I came to set a man at variance against his father
and the daughter against her mother and the daughter-in-law against her
mother-in-law. He that loves father or mother more than me is not worthy
of me and he that loves the son or daughter more than me is not worthy
of me (Mat. 10:34-37).
3) While He yet talked to the people, behold, his mother and his brethren
stood without desiring to speak with him. He said, "Who is my mother
and who is my brother", and he stretched forth his hand toward his disciples
and said, "Behold my father"(Mat. 12:48).
4) Sell that thou hast and give to the poor and thou shall have treasure
in heaven; and come follow me (Mat. 19-21).
Appendix: Advice to Hindus
First of all, on behalf of all the Buddhists of this world, I would like
to give thanks to all the ancient Hindus or followers of Brahma for indirectly
bringing about the spread of Buddhism in other parts of the world. Although
China and Tibet had Buddhism before the decline of Buddhism in India, and
yet, if Buddhism had not been threatened by Hinduism, so many Buddhist
sages and saints might not have gone outside India. Now in all of Asia,
parts of Europe, America and Australia, there is the tendency for Buddhism
to flourish. The number of Adherents in Asia alone is 52 million.
We see that lands far away from the birth place of Buddha, India, have
opened their minds to the study of Buddhism, so why should you still hold
on to sectarianism and thereby hold up your progress? Would you not rather
be delivered from the lower self to the higher self, and from the higher
self to the non-self of Buddhism?
Just open your own books on the history of religion and you will learn
that during the twenty centuries that Buddhism was loved and had a home
in India, India was developing its philosophy, arts, science, and literature.
Medicine was studied at its best in the centuries of Buddhist learning.
Public hospitals which the Buddhist princes established in every city were
probably the true and practical school of Indian medicine. All the kings,
such as Asoka, Menandra, Kaniska and Harsa had done a great deal of good
karma for your forefathers. It is said "King Harsa... forgot sleep and
food in his devotion to good works in accordance with Buddhism." Upon the
decline of Buddhism all arts and sciences also declined. Much of what was
achieved was also under Buddhist influence and bore the mark of Buddhism.
In that splendid book, "History of Civilization of Ancient India", Mr.
R. C. Dutta states: "It was in the Buddhist age that the most brilliant
results were achieved in astronomy... for six centuries after 1200 A.D.
the history of the Hindus is a blank."
Certainly before Buddhism India was filled with believers of Vedic Hinduism
or Brahmanism. Since Buddha Gautama's noble preaching in India, many emperors,
kings, and sages of Brahmanism converted to follow him. In fact, Lord Buddha's
first five disciples were all Brahmins.
Ajnata Kaundinya came from a wealthy Brahmin family of Bronavastu. He
had studied the Vedas well and was one of the Brhamins called by King Sadahodana
to ascertain the future of prince Siddhartha. He was the oldest of the
five Brahmins who practiced asceticism with the Bodhisattva Lord Gautama
and was the first of the disciples to comprehend Buddha's teachings. Ajnata
Kaundinya was praised as the chief of the long standing devotees of Buddha.
After attaining Arhathood he retired to a forest with the teacher's permission.
It is said that he was served there by the elephants of the forest.
Bhadrika was the second Brahmin who comprehended Buddha's teachings. The
third was Dasabala-Kasyapa who belonged to the Vasettha family of Kapilavastu.
He became a satapana on the second day of Buddha's visit to Risipattana.
Mahanama and Asvajit were the juniors of the five and the last two to
derive benefit from the teachings. Mahanama made a very good impression
on Citta-Ganapati who received the gift of abhilakshana (earnest desiring
of wisdom), while Asvajit became famous for attracting Sariputra to Buddhism
by uttering the verse "Ye Dharma hetuppabhava..".
Purnamaitrayaniputra was the son of a rich Brahman of Dronavasty in Kosada.
He had twenty-nine ascetic disciples, all proficient in the Vedangas. He
appraised his disciples of the advent of Gautama Buddha and of the delivery
of the first discourse at Benares. All thirty ascetics went to Benares
and sought the ordination which was given by Buddha.
Once King Bimbisara received Lord Buddha but he and his retinue were surprised
to see the great Jatila ascetic revered by them sitting along with the
disciples of Buddha. They were perplexed about who was the leader of the
congregation. In order to remove their doubts, the Jatila declared that
he had realized that his five wives and self-mortification were of no avail
for putting an end to desires and arresting the cause of repeated births
and so he had become a disciple of Buddha seeking Nirvana. The Buddha then
delivered a discourse to the King Bimbisara on the non-existence of soul
or I-ness and on the impermanence of worldly objects. He disproved the
existence of a permanent self by this argument. "Why should such a self,
the lord and master, subject itself to worldly miseries? Why should there
be any necessity of developing the notion of I-ness regarded as the cause
of birth and death and hindrance to final liberation? Hence in the latter
stages there could be no doer, no knower, no Lord and no such thing as
When staying at Bahupetrakacaitya between Rajagriha and Nalanda, there
came to Buddha a Brahmin sage called Kasyapa Agnidatta who ,as a Brahmanical
sage, had once been a very rich householder of Rajagriha. He was perplexed
with doubt about the identity and difference of body and soul. After he
had met Buddha, he discarded his old faith about the existence of the body
and soul and did not seek existence in the Arupa-Brahmaloka to which he
Hutatanta was a learned Brahman teacher to whom King Bimbisara granted
the income of the village of Khanamata for the maintenance of his academy.
He was going to celebrate a sacrifice in the Brahmanical fashion when Buddha
intervened and replaced his sacrifice with one of his righteous conducts
and moral observances.
Sonandax was another famous teacher of the Brahmanical Shastras. Although
much older than Buddha, he declared himself a lay follower of Buddha.
Heniya and Sela were ascetics who attained jatulas toward the end of Buddha's
life. Heniya's 500 followers got admission into the Sangha as ordained
Brahmayu was 120 years old and a Brahman teacher of Mithila. He invited
Buddha and his disciples to his house and entertained them for a week.
He was converted and died soon after this meeting while becoming an Arhat.
Mahali was a Licchavi dweller, probably a follower of Purana Kasyapa,
who believed in the existence of the body and soul. He met Buddha at Kushinagara
and became his devotee.
In the Semyutta Nikaya there appears the names of many Brahmins of Kosala
and Sakyan territory who approached Buddha with their queries and after
listening to Buddha's thoughts-provoking replies, became monks, lay-devotees
Converts were made throughout the whole of India and not just among the
Brahmans. Jains also were converted to Buddhism, however, I cannot note
all the conversions. Do you think that those converted Brahmins of ancient
times were fools? One should seek the truth only, in spite of any other
The way that Buddhism in Asia flourished is easily known, so let us turn
our attention to the study of Buddhism in western countries.
Since the 18th century A.D., Europeans have been studying Buddhism. Brian
Hodgson, a British resident in Nepal, got some Northern Buddhist Sutras
(in Sanskrit) in 1821 and sent them to the libraries of Calcutta, London
and Paris. Thereafter Eugene Burouf of France began to study with deep
devotion, and his disciple Max Muller of Germany, Emile Senart of France,
and Heinrich Kern of Holland, Wassily Wassilijiew and his disciple Minayeff
of Russia all studied them diligently. Mr. Wassilijiew also received a
copious extract from the Avatamsaka Sutra. At the same time the Pali Southern
Buddhism current of study was flourishing too. T. W. Rhys-David of England
founded the Pali Text Society which was a great step forward. From 1881
until now this society has published many Pali canons and all the important
works of Pali non-canonical literature including commentaries. Recently
(1955) the Pali Tripitaka concordance was prepared by scholars like Mr.
Woodard and others. It was edited by E. M. Hare and has proved very useful
to Buddhist scholars.
As for Tibetan Buddhist studies, Alex-Csoma de Koros made a daring journey
in 1818-1823 from his native Transylvania to India. Having learned Tibetan
from the monks of Ladakh, he was able to write the "Tibetan Grammar" and
"Tibetan Dictionary" (1834).
Dr. Evans-Wentz, of America, our contemporary, edited what is considered
the four most important books on Tibetan Tantra: "Tibet's Great Yogi Milarepa",
"The Tibetan Book of the Dead", "The Book of the Great Liberation", "Tibetan
Yoga and Secret Doctrines."
Samuel Beal and Joseph Edmiss of England, Csoma of Hungary and Anton Schiefner
of Germany were diligent and earnest scholars of Chinese Buddhism.
In France, Germany and England, at this time, Buddhism is not only studied
but practiced. There are also today many Buddhist monasteries and centers
of practice in the United States.
In the noble country of India we find the Buddhist Text Society, founded
in 1892 in Bengal. Among the important centres of Buddhist studies in India
are Santiniketan in West Bengal, Patna and Nalanda in Bihar and Maharashtra
respectively. Poona and Baroda are the active centers in Western India.
To the east, the University of Calcutta has produced several Buddhist scholars.
Only a few years ago the late Bodhisattva Dr. Ambedkar gave a great impetus
to the revival of Buddhism in India by founding the Buddhist Society at
The revival movement will spread throughout India. Why should Hindus cling
to their old ways without any further progress? Buddhism does not demand
that you stop practicing your religion but only that you make some additions
to it to enable you to obtain the final truth and real liberation.
In ancient times, many Brahmins who were staunch believers in Brahmanic
rituals and practices expressed their admiration for Buddha's attainment
and teachings. They usually became lay-supporters of the religion without
giving up their Brahmanic faith. King Harsa believed that Buddhism was
the only religion which would satisfy his spiritual needs, but out of a
deep sense of filial piety, he continued to worship the gods of his forefathers
which did not seem to him to be incompatible with his devotion to Buddhism.
In China also many Buddhists kept their faith of Confucianism, even after
their conversion. Moreover, the gods of Hinduism such as Brahma, Siva and
Indra are all the protectors of Buddha. Accept the truth!
With deep compassion, I beg you to study Buddhism first and then your
whole lifetime will be filled with its practice. By doing this you will
attain a goal which is beyond Brahma and the higher self. The main purpose
of this book is to try to do this. You the converted ones who are fellow
countrymen of Lord Buddha will be our leaders in Buddhism throughout the
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