Rock music about Renunciation of worldly concerns

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When I first began doing Lamrim meditation as my daily practice, I followed the sequence as described by Geshe Kelsang Gyatso in The New Meditation Handbook. Like other treatises on Lamrim, his work is based on Atisha and Je Tsongkhapa

The first five meditations are what’s called the initial scope. They focus on the individual and set a foundation for the meditations that follow. These meditations mix together and build on one another, and after you’ve been doing them for a while, you find that your desire to pursue worldly concerns diminishes and the feeling (or virtuous object) called Renunciation naturally arises. 

Renunciation is the strong desire to find deeper meaning in your precious human life and progress on spiritual paths.

Renunciation is the fuel that propels you on the difficult journey ahead. Renunciation is also the feeling the prevents you from ever turning back. Without Renunciation, your practice is half-hearted, you lack motivation, and when faced with difficulties along the journey, you are more likely to quit practicing entirely. Developing and cultivating renunciation is a critical milestone along your journey to a more fulfilled life.

Renunciation is not an exclusively Buddhist concept. Whether intentionally or not, many Rock musicians channeled this feeling into their work. The videos, lyrics, and commentary below demonstrate Renunciation. I suggest you meditate on them and see what arises for you.

I Can’t Get No Satisfaction — The Rolling Stones

In the post, The biological basis for our unsatisfactory lives, I described how our innate instincts lead to our suffering. It’s an extended commentary on the Buddha’s First Noble Truth. If you find that you don’t understand why you feel a lingering state of dissatisfaction, I suggest you read that post.

The Buddha’s first Noble Truth is dukkha, often translated as unsatisfactoriness. The Rolling Stones weren’t Buddhists, but they certainly channeled the Zeitgeist of the Buddha’s first Noble Truth. 

I can’t get no satisfaction, I can’t get no satisfaction
‘Cause I try and I try and I try and I try
I can’t get no, I can’t get no

The raw emotion of dissatisfaction with everything worldly is palpable in that rock classic.

And yes, those who chase worldly concerns ultimately find no satisfaction.

The initial scope meditations serve as a basis for renunciation. The first is the meditation on your precious human life. You were fortunate enough to be born human with the capacity for spiritual growth. You don’t want to waste this opportunity. Chasing after worldly concerns will only leave you with regrets at the end when you realize that you must leave it all behind. Your spiritual realizations are the only treasures worth having at your death.

Whenever I hear Harry Chapin’s Cat’s in the Cradle, I feel the remorse of a wasted life. The song takes you through the entire life of a newborn son and makes note of how everyone is too busy to make times for the people and things that are truly important.

Cat’s In The Cradle — Harry Chapin

And the cat’s in the cradle and the silver spoon
Little boy blue and the man in the moon
“When you coming home, dad?” “I don’t know when”
But we’ll get together then
You know we’ll have a good time then

When will those good times happen? How much of our lives are spent waiting? When our lives are spent on the Hedonic Treadmill, distracted by worldly concerns, how do we ever expect to reach Nirvana?

Most people spend their early lives believing they will live forever, so they don’t see the need to pursue spiritual paths. Then they spend their middle lives chasing after worldly concerns thinking they may pursue spiritual paths later. Late in life, rather than enjoying the abundance of rich spiritual realizations, the feel regret for wasting their life accumulating items that provide no lasting benefit or satisfaction. With a mind of regret terrified by their impending doom, most people die with unpeaceful minds.

What is the point of chasing worldly concerns? Nothing lasts forever.

Dust in the Wind — Kansas

Another initial scope meditation that supports Renunciation is the meditation on death and impermanence. I find that Kansas’s Dust in the Wind artfully captures the virtuous feeling that arises when meditating on death.

I close my eyes, only for a moment, and the moment’s gone
All my dreams pass before my eyes, a curiosity
Dust in the wind
All they are is dust in the wind

Same old song, just a drop of water in an endless sea
All we do crumbles to the ground though we refuse to see
Dust in the wind
All we are is dust in the wind

Oh, ho, ho
Now, don’t hang on, nothing lasts forever but the earth and sky
It slips away
And all your money won’t another minute buy

Dust in the wind
All we are is dust in the wind
All we are is dust in the wind

Dust in the wind
Everything is dust in the wind
Everything is dust in the wind

Imagine for a moment that you accomplished everything you wanted in life. You succeeded in all your worldly affairs. Perhaps you’re Jeff Bezos and you’ve accumulated a $100 billion fortune. Or perhaps you’re Tom Brady and you won six super bowls. While these are amazing accomplishments, both of those men will die, and when they do, they won’t be taking any of their wealth or attainments with them. In fact, if they cling to their attainments on their deathbed, they will feel anguish and sorrow, and they will endure a great deal of suffering. How will their worldly attainments be of benefit them then?

You are going to die. You could die today. You don’t have the luxury of time to waste.

Shortly after your death, your possessions will be disbursed to various people, and your corpse will be disposed of. A form of you remains in the memories of those who knew you. Those who outlive you may remember you kindly, or they may not. You may have a memorial headstone, or no permanent record of you may exist at all. Everything you worked for, struggled against, hoped, dreamed, felt — everything will be summarized by a dash between the dates on your gravestone. Most people won’t have any more details on your life than what’s contained in that dash.

After your funeral service, most people will go back to their self-important thoughts, and thoughts of you will arise less and less often until you are finally forgotten.

A hundred years after your death, everyone who knew you will also be dead (not that they spent much time remembering you anyway), and nobody will visit your gravestone. Even your gravestone will finally be forgotten or destroyed. 

All evidence of your existence will be gone. 

As Styx pointed out in Nothing Ever Goes as Planned: “Even Pharaohs turn to sand, Like a drop in the ocean”. Given these facts, why would you waste your time building castles in the sand?

 

Another of the Initial Scope meditations is concerned with Going for Refuge. There are times in each person’s life where they feel overwhelmed by powers much larger than they can control. They don’t know where else to turn, but each person turns to something when they need refuge. Most people turn to non-virtuous distractions like drugs, sex, shopping, or any of a variety of merit- and mind-consuming nonsense. The fortunate ones turn to virtuous activities like spiritual practices. 

The feeling of going for refuge is a strong force for generating Renunciation. One song that captures that feeling is Bob Seger’s Against the Wind.

The years rolled slowly past
And I found myself alone
Surrounded by strangers I thought were my friends
I found myself further and further from my home
And I guess I lost my way
There were oh so many roads
I was living to run and running to live
Never worried about paying or even how much I owed
Moving eight miles a minute for months at a time
Breaking all of the rules that would bend
I began to find myself searching
Searching for shelter again and again
Against the wind
A little something against the wind
I found myself seeking shelter against the wind

The lyrics above speak to the crisis of faith in worldly attainments that often accompanies a stereotypical mid-life crisis. The burnout that accompanies chasing after things that ultimately bring no satisfaction.

Well those drifter’s days are past me now
I’ve got so much more to think about
Deadlines and commitments
What to leave in, what to leave out
Against the wind
I’m still runnin’ against the wind
I’m older now but still runnin’ against the wind
Well I’m older now and still runnin’
Against the wind
Against the wind
Against the wind

What to leave in, what to leave out. This is the essence of Buddhist practice. Powered by Renunciation, spiritual practice is often a process of negation — removing the defilements and impurities from your mind — filtering out the garbage and keeping the gems.

Jackson Browne’s classic, Running on Empty, speaks to another form of Renunciation, the disaffection with the shallow or even hollow feelings that result from worldly pursuits. Even when it’s good, it really isn’t that good, and it doesn’t last, so dissatisfaction returns. We keep pushing ahead, not because we believe we will find lasting satisfaction, but simply because we don’t know what else to do. We feel there should be something greater, something pure and everlasting, but we have no idea how to find it.

We are lost.

But we are willing to move at the speed of desire going who knows where. This desire, if ignored, is the slow descent into a lasting malaise and lifelong melancholy. This desire, if properly channeled, is the fuel for powerful Renunciation.

Running on Empty — Jackson Browne

Looking out at the road rushing under my wheels
Looking back at the years gone by like so many summer fields
In sixty-five I was seventeen and running up one-on-one
I don’t know where I’m running now, I’m just running on

Running on (running on empty)
Running on (running blind)
Running on (running into the sun)
But I’m running behind

Looking out at the road rushing under my wheels
I don’t know how to tell you all just how crazy this life feels
Look around for the friends that I used to turn to to pull me through
Looking into their eyes, I see them running too

Daily life for most people is an endless loop of running on the Hedonic Treadmill. We expend tremendous energy pursuing our worldly concerns only to end up back where we started. Like Lewis Carroll wrote in Through the Looking-Glass in the voice of the Red Queen, “it takes all the running you can do, to keep in the same place. If you want to get somewhere else, you must run at least twice as fast as that!”

After years and years of running on the Hedonic Treadmill just to stay in the same place, many people recognize the futility of what they are doing and long for something different.

This recognition of the futility of worldly concerns and the longing for something that is truly satisfying is Renunciation.

For those who are fortunate enough to encounter true spiritual teachings when they feel Renunciation, they have a real opportunity to change the direction of their life. Renunciation directs you down the road less traveled. As Robert Frost wrote, “Two roads diverged in a wood and I – I took the one less traveled by, and that has made all the difference.” Green Day’s song Good Riddance, stands out to me because it speaks to the power of Renunciation to direct you where you need to go. 

Good Riddance — Green Day

Another turning point, a fork stuck in the road
Time grabs you by the wrist, directs you where to go
So make the best of this test and don’t ask why
It’s not a question, but a lesson learned in time
It’s something unpredictable, but in the end it’s right
I hope you had the time of your life

When you come to recognize that worldly concerns never engender lasting satisfaction, what do you do with that information? Do you act on this information, or do you climb back on the Hedonic Treadmill? 

Renunciation isn’t bad news. When I first started to feel Renunciation strongly, I felt a sense of despondency, as if I were losing something precious by giving up that “I” whose desires were so important.

Renunciation is good news. With Renunciation, you can abandon cherishing the “I” and discover that cherishing other people is the key to lifelong happiness.

My favorite song of Renunciation is Three Dog Night’s Shambala. When you feel Renunciation strongly, when it really takes over your life, it’s a joyous feeling that opens your heart to what is real and meaningful. Few songs capture this feeling, and none that I have found capture it as well as Shambala.

Shambala – Three Dog Night

Wash away my troubles, wash away my pain
With the rain in Shambala
Wash away my sorrow, wash away my shame
With the rain in Shambala

Everyone is helpful, everyone is kind
On the road to Shambala
Everyone is lucky, everyone is so kind
On the road to Shambala

How does your light shine, in the halls of Shambala

Shambala is the mythical Pure Land of Tibetan Buddhism. It’s an allegory for the pure state of mind that results from spiritual practice. The mental training of Lamrim meditations work to wash away the troubles, pains, sorrows, and shame that lead to suffering. Rather than life being seen as an obstacle to be overcome, the journey to Shambala leads you to helpful and kind people, who like you, are lucky to be on the road to Shambala. 

I strongly desire to see my light shine in the Halls of Shambala. After reading this, I hope you feel that desire too.

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I am Anattā. Not my real name, of course, but that’s the point. I selected the moniker Anattā because in Buddhism, my primary spiritual practice, the term anattā refers to the doctrine of “non-self”. In more practical terms, I chose the name Anattā because by writing anonymously, it’s far easier to be completely candid and honest. Further, there is no danger of my writing becoming tainted by any desire for self-aggrandizement. I write primarily to improve my own understanding of these topics, but my deepest desire for writing on this site is to help others.