Week 44 - The Noble Eightfold Path: Right Thought I: Renunciation

Joseph moves on to the second step of the Eightfold Path this week, Right Thought. He emphasizes an often-overlooked truth, the power of habit and habitual tendencies. In understanding that our actions are conditioned by our thoughts, we can recognize the major role that thought plays on our path. There are two classes of thoughts: those rooted in desire, ill will and cruelty, and those inclining toward renunciation, goodwill and compassion.

The Buddha, as an unawakened Bodhisattva, questioned why, while he understood the effects of renunciation, his heart didn’t “leap up” when considering renunciation. He realized he had not adequately seen the drawbacks of sensual pleasure and the rewards of renunciation.

Joseph addresses the Buddha’s recognition of the value of renunciation by speaking of the experience of non-addiction. He describes various forms of addiction and then speaks of wise restraint, offering the wisdom (and comfort) that renunciation is a gradual process.

Three ways to practice renunciation are made clear and can be seen as accessible:

1.   Change habit patterns

2.   Practice the wisdom of No

3.   Cultivate an unshakable mind.

He concludes with Ajahn Chah’s direct and encouraging words:

“If you let go a little, you will have a little peace. If you let go a lot, you will have a lot of peace. If you let go completely, you will have complete peace. Your struggles with the world will have come to an end.”


1. How does Joseph Goldstein’s description of renunciation compare to your personal understanding and utilization of the word renunciation?

2. Of the three modes of cultivating renunciation: Which one would you consider the most challenging: wisdom of no, renunciation of complexity, or change of habit? Why?

3. Do you see renunciation as peace? How?

4. If you have practiced renunciation based upon the precepts, what has your experience been?

5.  Has there ever been an incident in which the thought of renouncing or giving up something made “your heart leap?”

6.  What does your inner two-year old demand or want?  How do you handle it?

7.  Do you find that you cling to moments of pleasant mind states in your practice when they occur? What do you do?


1.  Pay attention to moments of transition from being lost in sense desires to being aware of them. Don’t just acknowledge your awareness of the desire but note the freedom felt of its absence.

2. Reflect upon your daily routine; what habits or sense desires have become so familiar that you normally don’t even notice them? Make a simple change to your routine.  How easy (or difficult) was it to make the change?

3. Open a catalog or your favorite magazine, thumb through it and note when you feel an urge of wanting/desire when you see something you like.  Why do you feel the need or desire? What plays out when you see an item you want? How do you feel when you let go of the wanting? How long does it last?

4. How can you practice the wisdom of “no”? When you notice you have been lost in a sense desire or habit, ask: Is this action skillful or unskillful? How easy or difficult is it to “walk away”.