In this excellent interview from dharmacafe.com (via @c4chaos), Alan Wallace says that what often gets translated from Buddhist texts as “renunciation” is something closer to “emergence,” as in when we emerge from childish strategies that don’t work toward something more authentic and fulfilling.
It’s more than a radical disillusionment, like Sartre or Camus… They’re renouncing something, but it ends in something pallid, something sterile and flat… Renunciation [or emergence] is recognizing the vanity of vain desires, the pointlessness of pointless behavior, a lot of which we get very fixated on, on occasion. It’s waking up, it’s growing up, and recognizing, “I yearn for a quality of genuine fulfillment, of meaning, of something that will provide me with some deep and lasting satisfaction.” And that doesn’t mean being chipper and happy all the time; for that you can just take a drug.
So the spirit of emergence: it’s emerging from childish desires… “When I was a child I spoke as child” and that sort of thing. [It’s] growing up, and recognizing that I’m seeking fulfillment, satisfaction, happiness and meaning, and I’m not going to get it by more material acquisition and fame and wealth and sensual pleasures. It’s hopeless; I’ve awakened to the fact that that’s not there. That’s the renunciation aspect, but the spirit of emergence is that definitely, with confidence and certainty, we emerge out of childish desires and emerge towards (and that’s what’s often missing) authentic aspirations and ideals, an authentic way of life that does hold the promise of providing the fulfillment that we seek.
So it’s got to have the dual valence, but you’re right that this is what runs against the grain of modernity as a whole, which is trying to sell us on things you can buy, you can consume, that will keep the GDP growing, and keep us tapping the natural resources and making money for somebody. And [renunciation] is saying: to have enough, a car that runs, clothes that keep you warm, sufficient food that keeps you healthy, this is really quite sufficient. When you’ve got that much, then the world has done enough. That is, the mundane world has provided you to now focus your attention with all your strength, your soul, your might on that which is truly meaningful
—Alan Wallace on DharmaCafe.com (at roughly 1 hour 10 min of this video)