Renunciation: Life-Denying or Life-Affirming?

I rarely post a blog, but I felt compelled to write this.

Yesterday I was posed a question by a non-Buddhist friend. Because I participate in the pagan community—this question was asked at Kansas City Pagan Pride Day—some find it baffling how I can call myself Buddhist while still entertaining a social life within the pagan paradigm.

I am not, admittedly, pagan. At least, not as pagan as I once was. While Paganism is a beautiful celebratory practice that led me to where I am now, and while I still associate quite closely to my Druid friends, I have outgrown my Pagan clothes long ago and have found refuge in the teachings of the Buddha. (That is perhaps for a later installment).

Back to the question at hand. My friend posited that Paganism and Buddhism are altogether incompatible as a practice. Specifically, that the Buddhist approach and concepts of renunciation, disenchantment, disillusion, and dispassion seem to suggest a life-denying way of thinking.

On the opposite side of this, my friend argued, is a hedonistic tendency among Pagans to embrace life and all its pleasures.

This boils down to a Buddhist renunciation vs. Hedonism. It’s unfair to categorize Buddhism as a life-denying, ascetic path that turns its back on the world (since Buddhism is in essence a Middle Path between hedonism and asceticism). Just as it is unfair to categorize and over-simplify Paganism as a purely hedonistic path. But because Hedonism is what was argued, I will be focusing on that.

There is so many misconceptions revolving around these ideas of Buddhism and renunciation/disenchantment. I hope to clear up some of those with my own understanding on the topics.

I started thinking about these misconceptions of the Buddhist concept of renunciation and disenchantment. What do non-Buddhists usually think of these? Renunciation sounds like a scary word, evoking ideas of giving up all worldly possessions and living in rags, living a life of voluntary homelessness. But this is not what is meant by renunciation.

Renunciation is the first practice of the second stage of the Eightfold Path—Right Intention, or Right Thought. It is a sort of “freedom from desire.” So in this sense, yes, this is incompatible with a Pagan idea of hedonism, which connotes a sort of giving into every sensual desire. But it does not deny pleasure.

Quite the opposite, this idea of renunciation—or a more positive way of thinking of it, generosity—aims at delivering oneself from the pain, worry, and grief that is caused by the pursuit of pleasures of the senses. By freeing oneself from the maddening drive to accumulate more and more pleasurable experiences, one will discover a more profound, refined state of being—that of letting go.

In Buddhism, the most fundamental teachings—the Four Noble Truths—says that dukkha, or the pervasive dissatisfaction and uncertainty of life (popularly “suffering”) is caused, in part, by our constant desire and pursuit of sense pleasures, to gain what we do not already have. This is because we constantly mistake that which brings temporary relief from our craving for true peace and happiness. Things and experiences can’t give us this peace because those circumstances from which pleasure arises will inevitably change and go away. They’re temporary. You’ve never eaten a piece of cake so good that nothing ever bothered you anymore.

Christina Feldman, in her book The Buddhist Path to Simplicity, says this about renunciation: “A life dedicated to depth and compassion invites us to let go of the layers of relentless need and thirst to accumulate that can govern our lives, and to understand the insecurities and anxieties that separate us from ourselves and others. Renunciation is the greatest of all kindnesses . . .

To let go of the things that don’t bring us well-being and peace, it’s helpful to recognize the truth of the matter: that these things are temporary and will pass.

You want the piece of cake, you eat it. Feel bliss? Maybe for a minute. Then you want another piece, or maybe it was too rich and now your tummy is upset. Maybe you regret it. Maybe you are worried because that was a pretty big piece, and now everyone will hate you for taking the best part. Worry, paranoia, regret, more wanting, discomfort.

And is it really the cake that made you happy, or is it the fact that the wanting of the cake is finally gone that gives you a sense of temporary relief?

It’s not a mortal sin for eating the cake. Eat the cake! I like cake sometimes. The fundamental problem is the craving. And it’s really not even the arising of craving that causes the problem, even! It’s the fact that we buy into it, we believe it. We adopt the religious conviction for the time being that the cake/booze/sex/money is a legitimate form of relieving our suffering. But then when we feed into that belief, the relief fades away, transforms back into craving. You’ve never had the Cake to End All Cake. It’s not as if a piece of cake was so good that you never craved cake ever again.

So in order to solve this problem, we have to be generous with this craving: give it not the attention it wants, but the attention it deserves: be mindful of it. Watch it with curiosity. Where does it come from? How does it feel? How long does it last? I bet you’ll find some really interesting observations.

In short, the difference is this: You can let the cravings govern your choices, or you can choose to govern your cravings.

Pay attention to them and see which ones bring about a deeper, truer happiness.

The idea of disenchantment, disillusion, and dispassion are all intrinsically tied up with renunciation. When you recognize the truth that experiences and sense pleasures will never bring a satisfying end to your suffering, you begin to rely so much on those devices to bring you happiness.

The Buddhist definition of disenchantment is quite a literal one: we become not-enchanted. We dis-enchant ourselves. Enchantment can be viewed in a theatrical way as a spell cast over us. It is our job to break that spell.

What are we enchanted with? What is the illusion? As I mentioned earlier, the illusion is that we think sense pleasures will bring us happiness. To become disillusioned is to recognize the illusion and see past it.

It is not to abandon the world wholesale, just the false advertisements! It is to stop believing everything we think. We can see the world around us as it is: always changing, unreliable in its promises to deliver us happiness and peace.

All of this is not diametrically opposed to hedonism. In fact, to be on the opposite side of hedonism would be a life-denying ascetic approach, which Buddhism is not, either. Instead, Buddhism takes a Middle Way approach between the two. What Buddhism denies, or renounces, is our enchantment with the world. Renounce your reliance on the craving of sense pleasures, not necessarily the sense pleasures themselves.

It’s like clenching your fist upon your desires: your fist grows tired, cramped, painful. What renunciation is not is to turn your hand over and spill the desires onto the floor (that would be the other side of the desire coin: aversion).

What renunciation is is to open up your palm skyward, hold your desires gently and kindly so you can reveal it and see it for what it is, illumined by the brilliant light of awareness.

When you stop clinging so tightly, you can gain a broader perspective and realize there is a deeper peace to be found outside the paradigm of striving for sense pleasure. We can break down the limiting illusions we buy into and see the world for what it truly is.

The mouse races inside the maze to find the alluring origin of the delicious smell of cheese. When she finds it, she eats it. Then, there is no more cheese. She is placed at the beginning again and the trials begin again, unbeknownst to the mouse to only repeat the process infinitesimally. Besides, she is not interested or even aware of the process occurring: she doesn’t know that obtaining the cheese effectively and inevitably leads to the restart of the trials. All she knows is she wants the cheese.

If the mouse was to look up and realize she could climb the maze walls, she would see the other mice running the same process. She could watch the process unfold. She might even realize the futility of trying to obtain the cheese, always destined to do it again and again. What once seemed so important now seems like a pointless endeavor. Instead, she finds that she could find the edge of the maze and jump safely to the ground, finally free.

As the Japanese poet Mizuta Masahide illustrates quite beautifully: When my house burned down I gained an unobstructed view of the moonlit sky.

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The King of Dreams is HERE

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Today’s the day. The King of Dreams is finally available! It’s HERE!!

These last few weeks leading up to the release of the King of Dreams has been full of trials, if I’m being honest. About a week or so ago I received what I thought would be the last pieces of the puzzle: the actual album itself. Accept, they came misprinted by what we finally discovered was a printer’s error.

The final CDs came just a few days ago, just shy of the release date. That was a close call!

I’ve been sick for the better part of a week. I’ll spare you details, but hopefully I’ll regain my voice in time for the May 6th album release concert at Mojo Mamas in Independence, MO! (I had the same thing happen to me last September as I prepared my performance at Kansas City Pagan Pride Day, and barely managed to scrape by that concert thanks to some piping hot ginger lemon tea!)

Anyway, The King of Dreams is available at my bandcamp page, where you’ll also receive two bonus tracks. But it’s also availble on CD Baby!

I still have to scrounge up enough energy to mail the perks for the contributors and Dreamers from the album creation campaign. Sorry for the delay!

Hope to see a lot of you out at the album release mini-tour!

Sweet Dreams,

Bran

TOUR DATES

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Dreams Come True

A few days ago marked the end of the King of Dreams Album Creation Campaign. For two months, I ran a campaign to raise funds for the manufacturing of my upcoming album The King of Dreams and its companion coloring book A Book of Idle Dreams.

The campaign was a huge success.

When I started this campaign, I didn’t think we’d even get this far. I knew I’d need at least $1300 to afford the manufacturing and distribution of the album, which as far as production costs go isn’t bad (since I produce my own music, there’s no studio/production costs on my part. Which may or may not be a good thing!).

But still, it was a lot of money to ask for in my opinion, and I always hate asking for money. Money isn’t why I make music in the first place, but it’s unfortunately a vital piece of the puzzle if I want to continue making music.

Fortunately, people are awesome.

I thought that optimistically we might be able to reach half of the goal–if we were lucky! But no, everyone blew me out of the water with their generosity. We raised over $300 above the goal!! Everyone who contributed ROCKS!

All 32 contributors made this dream come true. I couldn’t have done it without them!

I’m busily putting everything together now: I received the coloring books last week or so, and the CDs, t-shirts, and stickers are on their way soon!! I’ve finished putting together the Moon Man charms for the Dreamers! I just have a few things to wrap up, and hopefully I’ll have everything shipped out before the 1st.

And then . . . the tour!

The end is nigh!

The Album Release Mini-Tour begins May 6th!

TOUR DATES

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The King of Dreams Campaign!!

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Visit the Campaign page and find out how you can help!

The time has come for The King of Dreams. The album I’ve been working furiously for almost a year. The album has evolved, shapeshifted, and finally is ready to be born into the world.

Unfortunately I don’t have the King of Dream’s magic bag of sand to help bring this dream to life.

I have had some wonderful people help to get this album to where it is, and I am so thankful for such talent and support. And while I’m wrapping up the last bit of recording and engineering bits, now comes the next big step of getting it where it needs to go.

Which is where YOU come in!

 

Making music is awesome and fulfilling, but it can get expensive. That’s why I’m launching this Indiegogo campaign! This is your opportunity to not only help me out in bringing this creative project to fruition, but to also procure some really cool stuff in the process!

I need help raising $1300 to cover what production and distribution costs of this album I have left to tackle. It’s a steep hill for a solo independent musician, but with a little help, it’s more than doable!

The King of Dreams is not just an album. As this project has evolved in the writing and recording process, it’s expanded into a multidimensional exploration of the world of dreams. Not only is there a 13 track album, there will be a book that is part lyric book, part COLORING book! Yes, a coloring book directly inspired by the songs! Think of it as a companion to the album. As I said, multidimensional!

When you donate to this cause, you have the opportunity to reserve not only a copy of the album, not only a copy of the coloring book, but so many more rewards and perks, as well. From really cool sticker bundles to a full disc of bonus tracks, to the special opportunity to become a DREAMER.

At the DREAMER tier of donation ($50) and above, you become one of my beloved Dreamers. You will not only get all the cool perks of the tiers below (autographed CD, stickers, bonus disc, coloring book), but you will receive a hand-crafted certificate of appreciation and also get your name immortalized in the album credits itself. Also, all the Dreamers will receive an exclusive handcrafted King of Dreams charm only available to Dreamers! How cool is that? And the more you give, the more you dream. You can even nab one some of the original artwork that went into the coloring book, personal Skype concerts, and even a personal house concert!

 

So, a pagan folk music album about dreams…the Sand Man, fairies, shapeshifters, time travelers, moon goddesses, wanderers, things that go bump in the night…it has everything you could dream of! (I couldn’t resist!) And the world needs more dreams! We need to inspire more people to dream big, and this is my attempt to do just that. But now I need all of you DREAMERS!

We might not reach the goal. That’s always a possibility. But the goal is not an absolute. It’s a target to aim for. A dream, so to speak. And if we fall short, at least we made it that much closer! We made an impact, and you’ll still reap the rewards and perks all the same. Every dollar helps.

Money doesn’t grow on trees, but Facebook does! Wait…no, it doesn’t, but it IS free! Please share to all the corners of the webiverse! Tell your friends about it, tell your enemies about it (it might just make them your friend in the long run)! Every little “share” and every cent helps!

I can’t wait to share this with you all!

Sweet dreams!

Bran

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Singin’, Coughin’, and Making It Work!

This last month has been one of excitement and exhaustion!

Over a month ago I developed an extraordinarily annoying cold that lasted the whole month (I still have a few coughs here and there, but it’s pretty much been gone for the last week or so!). I had a horrible mucousy, wet cough, congested sinuses, and I just sounded horrible.

And in the midst of the sickness, I played at the Kansas City Pagan Pride Day 2016 on September 11th. That was probably when my cold was at its worst, but somehow I was able to convince it to let me sing. And I did surprisingly better than I thought I did! I had to chug piping hot tea in the middle of each song, but I made it.

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Jammin’ at KCPPD

And almost a month after that on October 6th, I had a tremendously awesome opportunity to host a house concert at my spiritual refuge, the Rime Buddhist Center, here in Kansas City. And joining me was the incomparable Mama Gina.

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Rockin’ the Rime

If that wasn’t enough to make me giddy with excitement, we had another special musical guest show up. Celia Farran. She played a couple of songs in between my set and Mama Gina’s.

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The Three Bards

I also had the honor of having my friend and amazingly talented artist Brian Wesley Nutt II show off his epic artwork.

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And I’m doubly excited because he’s doing my album cover for The King of Dreams.

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This is a preliminary mockup of the cover, featuring the moon man, which I did myself 🙂

So as you can see, I’ve been very busy! Hopefully this month is just as productive, but perhaps a bit more laid back!

Peace!
Bran

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A Blog Post about Playing Music! What else Did You Expect?!

I haven’t talked much about my last few gigs, amidst my focus on my upcoming album slated for an early 2017 release The King of Dreams.

So I thought I’d spend the next few minutes talking about my last two gigs! Over the last few months I’ve had a few festival gigs, and I thought I’d share those experiences here! In June I played at Three Gates Gathering in southern Missouri. It was a delightful gathering with some awesome people! The first night, Rowena of the Glen performed her rocking witchy music. The next night I took the stage for what proved to be a really fun set! Here’s a video of just one of the songs I played, “Brothers of the Night.”

Here’s another snippet of another song from Three Gates, a song to appease the rain, which fell for a good half hour to an hour before my performance! My song “Thunderbird.”

And two months later on August 27th (which, at the time of writing this, was yesterday) I played the Turkish Culture and Food Festival here in Kansas City, run by a fantastic interfaith organization the Dialogue Institute. I didn’t really know what to expect from this going into it, but I already knew they would have a nice range of performers already there: a dance group from Burundi, a Native American drum band, and of course Turkish folk music and dance! I was supposed to play at 3:15, but everything was running so smoothly that I hit the stage half an hour earlier.

I opened with a song I’ve never performed before, a song to emphasize the Dialogue Institute’s mission of interfaith dialogue and understanding through diversity, “Clouds in Every Flower.”

I also performed a never-before-performed song “Garden of the Mind,” which was not only a first for me performing it in front of people, but also it was a first for me to feature harmonica too!

I’ve got two more gigs coming up in the next few months, one in September for Kansas City Pagan Pride Day, and on in October, a house concert with Mama Gina! Stay tuned for updates about both of them!

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Announcement! NEW ALBUM!

Here it is, folks. The first official announcement for my next album! I released my second album, The Hour Before the Dawn, in April, but my third album was already in early production by then. I felt like I was rushing into things starting another album before the one before was even released. But, when the Awen hits, it’s advisable to let it flow!

This third album can be seen as kind of a prequel to The Hour Before the Dawn, since Dawn is about the dawning day, this new album logically can be seen as a precursor—an album of the night, of dreamtime.

It’s called The King of Dreams, and as you can guess, it’s all about dreams.

The King of Dreams has been the album I’ve really wanted to record since the beginning. I knew it would have to wait until I knew exactly what I was doing, but boy it was worth the wait. I’ve had a blast working on this album, and I can’t wait to share it with you all!

The title track opens the album, inviting you to ponder dreams, to watch the rising moon and see the mysterious face of the Man in the Moon: the emissary of sleep, the sand man. The King of Dreams. The rest of the album unfolds from there and takes you down a moonbeam road to the realm of the fae, the shores of Selene, the garden of the mind, the court of nightmare, the outer reaches of space and time, and all the way to the dawn of a brand new day.

I’m also super excited because I got some really really cool artwork coming my way for the album cover. A friend and co-worker of mine does fantastic spacescapes (you can find him under Orbium Cellar Paintings on Facebook), and as soon as I saw his art I knew I needed some for the cover. I have the artwork in hand, and I can’t wait to show you!

So when can you expect to be able to hear The King of Dreams? Anticipate an early 2017 release—March most likely. Keep an eye out for some audio glimpses at the album, more news of the release, and how you can help! I’ll be posting updates primarily on my Facebook page. I’m really looking forward to releasing this manifested dream to the world!

Keep on dreamin’ those big dreams.

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