We don’t have a good category for someone who renounces material desires. Asceticism is the word, and ascetics are not valued or respected. We’ve got cults, communes, monks, transients, and so on. Each is problematic for their own reasons.
I recently learned about the Sannyasa life stage of dharma. The renunciate lives dedicated to spiritual things, and I think that’s great. But the society they function within is accustomed to and reverent towards such a practice.
There’s a sort of Western mythology of the monk, no doubt from wuxia / kung fu films, beatnik poetry, and the like. One could walk that path, but something in it resembles our insatiable attraction to consumerism. It’s like a putting on of something else, rather than an elimination of all things.
In our society, there’s no room for renunciants, defined as deviants, and I feel like that’s something that causes us to all miss out. If there were space — and I mean consideration, not physical space — for intentional renunciates, those who rejected political theatre, consumer addictions, and every passing fad, I think we’d be a happier society.
Image: Simer Haer/The Cascade