Renunciation of Clinging to Short-Term Benefit

Review of the Six Levels of Clinging

We have identified six levels of clinging that we can work on renouncing and developing a determination to be free of. We need to renounce:

  • Our clinging to short-term benefit, and have our main interest be instead in long-term benefit in this lifetime
  • Our clinging to the pleasurable things of this lifetime, and have our main interest be instead in future lives
  • Our clinging to the pleasurable things of future lives, and have our main interest be instead in liberation
  • Our clinging to our own aims, and have our main interest be instead in cherishing and fulfilling the aims of others
  • Our clinging to self-established existence, and have our main interest be instead in voidness
  • Ordinary appearances and ordinary clinging to them, and have our main interest be instead in pure appearances of Buddha figures and mandalas, with no clinging.

Thus, we can see each of these six levels follows the same structure in its formulation. When we formulate each of them in the same way, then we can apply this analytical structure that I have put together to work with each of these levels progressively.

We start with renunciation of clinging to short-term benefit, and having our main interest be instead in long-term benefit in this lifetime. While we work with each of these levels, it’s very important to try to identify how this applies to us in our own actual daily lives. A theoretical analytical scheme is only a framework: we need to fill it in and apply to that framework actual real things from our own personal experience. Otherwise, it’s not effective. In other words, we need to customize the analysis to our own situations.

Renouncing Our Clinging to Immediate Gratification of Longing Desire and Greed

What are we determined to be free of, here? This would be clinging to immediate gratification of our longing desire and greed. This would be, for example, going into debt to buy a new car or a new apartment, without considering our inability to pay it off. Or immediate gratification of hunger by stuffing ourselves with fast food or junk food, without thinking of the long-term effect that it will make us obese, destroy our health and shorten our lives. Or immediate gratification of the desire for a drink, or a cigarette, again without thinking of the long-term effect of that on our health.

This fits into the general structure of engaging in destructive behavior now, because we think it’s going to bring us short-term benefit, but not really thinking in terms of its long-term karmic result. It’s the same idea, just limited to this lifetime. When we speak of karmic results in Buddhism, these are the results that come from building up certain tendencies and potentials that then might ripen in this lifetime, but most often ripen in future lifetimes in terms of our proclivities and tendencies in those lifetimes. Whereas here, we’re talking about something almost mechanical: like you eat a lot of fast food and you’re going to become obese.

Although there is a causal relation here, it’s not a karmic relation of cause and effect. There are many types of cause and effect – not all of them are karmic cause and effect. Of course, we can look more deeply and say not everybody who eats fast food becomes obese, so although the circumstance is eating the fast food, the deeper karmic cause for becoming obese is something much prior to that. For our level of discussion here in terms of this lifetime, we don’t have to go into such precise detail.

Recognizing the Object to Be Refuted

Since Tsongkhapa places so much emphasis on recognizing the object to be refuted, I think it’s helpful at each of these stages if we take a few moments to reflect and see in our own personal cases what would be the object to be refuted here. In other words, what in my own behavior do I do that is just for short-term benefit, immediate gratification of my desires, and which is neglecting the long-term effect of it. Whether it’s over-eating, whether it is buying things on credit, whether it’s not doing any exercise, whatever it might be. In other words, our own syndromes of wanting immediate gratification, which is very symptomatic of our modern times, of wanting an immediate answer to our text message, these types of things. We are getting more and more accustomed to wanting immediate gratification. We need to recognize that syndrome, and then, as we go further in our analysis, recognize its shortcomings.

I think we can come up with many examples of our clinging to immediate gratification, for example our use of mobile phones or text messaging or online chatting – we expect immediately that we’re going to get an answer. Or that we can interrupt anybody at any time and they should immediately take our call, stop what they are doing, and pay attention to us, even if what we are calling about is extremely trivial.

As for the long-term effect of that type of clinging, we’re not efficient in what we’re trying to do, because we’re constantly being interrupted, and we’re interrupting other people as well. So, the long-term effect is that we’re very inefficient and unable to stay focused on anything. And we get very frustrated of course when we get an answering machine when we phone instead of the person we’re trying to call. We make unreasonable demands on others that they always need to be online, and be available 24 hours a day. And some people start to resent us for that, don’t they? Some people do.

[pause for reflection]

Examples of Over- and Under-Refutation

Then we look to see are we over-refuting or under-refuting that. We need to watch out to not go to either of the extremes. For this, we need to use our discriminating awareness. We might already not do certain things that would be more beneficial not to do at all, let’s say smoking cigarettes, but let’s use a more common example of eating junk food.

Over-refuting eating junk food would be, when there’s nothing else available and we need to eat something or else we’ll become too weak and it will be too difficult to work, being inflexible, “No way am I going to eat McDonalds!” Or we don’t take care of any of our short-term needs when they will not be harmful in the long-term. In other words, over-refuting immediate gratification of our short-term needs would be to never take care of our short-term needs, like needing to eat, needing to feed our children. Even if we need to go into debt and borrow money to feed our children, over-refuting would be to insist, “No, I’m never going to go into debt” – and your children go hungry.

Under-refuting would be to say, “Well, if I only smoke a couple of cigarettes a day, that’s okay” or “As long as I don’t get drunk, it’s okay to drink vodka as much as I want” – that’s under-refuting.

I think you get the general principle here, that for each situation, both personal situations and the circumstances that we find ourselves in, we need to be flexible. We need to avoid over-refuting and under-refuting whatever the problems specific to our own personal situations might be. In other words, we set certain limits that we will not go beyond. However, within the parameters of those limits, we need to be flexible according to the situation. Think about that for a moment.


These are very important principles to apply when we’re working on some project in a team. For instance, we’re working in a team and a question comes up. We want immediate gratification with an immediate answer, so we have this tendency to interrupt our fellow workers, no matter what, to get an instant answer to our question. The fellow-workers on our team really resent always being interrupted, especially when they are busy doing something themselves. It creates a lot of tension in the team, and the long-term effect is that it’s detrimental to the success of the project. To over-refute would be never to ask a question. We don’t want to go to that extreme, because we need an answer. A more effective strategy would be to ask our colleague, “I have a question, is this a good time to ask? Or please let me know when you have time to address this.” Also, tell them, if it’s a short question or something complicated, so they know how much time they will need to answer.

I think with these kinds of examples we will understand what we are looking at here is something very practical.

The Cause of Our Clinging to Immediate Gratification of Our Desires

What is the cause of our clinging to the immediate gratification of our desires, without thinking of the long-term effects in this lifetime? Basically, we don’t understand cause and effect. We’re short-sighted in terms of the effects of our behavior. Or our desires are so strong that we’re unable to exercise any self-control, like we’re addicted to cigarettes, addicted to fast food, addicted to social media, addicted to the internet – there are many addictions that we are developing these days.

Also, of course, if we go more deeply, there’s a great deal of self-centeredness: “My desires are so important that I can interrupt anybody, because what they’re doing isn’t important. Only what I want is important.”

There are many disadvantages to continuing in this pattern – over-eating, eating junk food, not doing any exercise, these type of things, which could be also due to laziness. The long-term effect is that it’s damaging to our health, damaging to our economic situation. Or if we live in a country in which the government provides medical facilities, it’s economically-damaging, because the unhealthier our lifestyle is, the more expensive it’s going to be to deal with the medical problems that will come later in life. There are many disadvantages of ignoring the long-term effects of our behavior, in which we just want immediate gratification of our desires.

Considering the Long-Term Effects of Our Behavior, and to Exercise Restraint When There Will Be Long-Term Harm

What are we aiming for? We’re aiming to think of the long-term effects of our behavior, and to exercise restraint from fulfilling our immediate desires when they will bring long-term harm. Remember, we’re not talking about refraining from fulfilling a short-term need when in the long-term there won’t be any harm. We want to look at both the short-term and the long-term effects of our behavior. The long-term effect is always more important than the short-term effect.

Sometimes we even need to do something that is going to be painful now, but in the long-term it will be of benefit, like for instance having some surgery that we need to correct a problem. It’s certainly not very pleasant to undergo surgery, however the long-term benefit is that it will be beneficial to our health for a long-life. We need to develop the habit of checking the short-term effect and the long-term effect of our behavior. Whether we’re dealing with our personal situations, whether we’re dealing with our families, whether we’re dealing with a business that we’re starting, we need to think in terms of long-term and short-term effects.

Over-Estimating or Under-Estimating What We Are Aiming For

We need to avoid over-estimating what we are aiming for, what the effect of that will be, and not under-estimate it either. An example of over-estimating is, even if we stop smoking or drinking, thinking that there’ll be no long-term danger of getting cancer or liver failure: “If I give up cigarettes now, I’ll never get cancer” – that’s expecting much too much, it’s unrealistic. What about under-estimating? That would be: “It makes little difference what I do now, because in the long-term anything can happen.” For example, our money could become worthless with devaluation, so it doesn’t matter if we have a big debt. Or, “There’ll be a cure for cancer in the future, so I can smoke as much as I want now.”

Many people have that fault when they think in terms of the ecology – pollution, global warming. “It doesn’t matter how much carbon dioxide emissions we have, because in the future they’ll figure out how to deal with it” – that’s under-estimating what we are aiming for. Or, “We only have to cut down a little” or “What we do won’t really matter”.

The Benefits of Exercising Restraint

Next, we think of the benefits of refraining from immediately gratifying our desires, and thinking of the long-term effects of that restraint in this lifetime. What are the benefits of restraint? The effect of that would be that we have a long-term strategy of doing exercise and eating a good healthy diet, in order to have good health and a long life.

It’s never too late to change our habits. I started doing exercise at a gym in my 60s; and only when I was 67 did I start doing weightlifting. Why? To try to improve my health, and to try to live a long life, because I have a tremendous amount of work that I want to accomplish, and now at age 70 I’m stronger than I’ve ever been in my whole life, physically. Over-estimating it would be that this will guarantee that I’ll have a long life. Well, it won’t, I could get cancer next week, or be hit by a truck – no guarantee. But to under-estimate would be like most people my age, who say, “Oh, it’s too late, I’m too old to do weightlifting. I’ll just play golf or something less strenuous like that” – and I can tell you, it makes you feel much better to be strong, than to be a weak old man.

We need to have a long-term strategy for health, in terms of exercise and diet. It’s very important. We’ll be much more effective in what we do in life if we feel good, physically. Feeling good physically definitely does affect your state of mind. Another example: the long-term benefit of saving money and not buying or spending above our means – hopefully, unless our currency completely crashes, which I know is a worry here in Russia – is that this is going to help us in later life. So, we try to make wise investments.

Germans are very good at this. It’s very interesting how the German mentality regarding debt is so much different from many other countries that build up a huge amount of debt. There’s a reason for this. In general, Germans do not buy things on credit – it’s a general trend – and the reason for that is that the German word for debt, Schuld in German, is the same word as guilt. If you buy things on credit and you go into debt, you’re guilty, you’re a bad person. This is very deep in the German mentality. Of course, that’s completely different from America or some other European countries where there’s no problem going into debt, so there’s a big conflict. There’s some wisdom in the German approach, though associating debt with guilt and being “not a good person” is perhaps not so helpful.

Preventive Measures and Planning for the Future

What do we do once we renounce thinking of only our short-term benefit? We plan for the future; we take preventive measures to try to avoid problems later in life, like exercise, like a healthy diet, like putting away savings, or making some sort of investments. We don’t just spend every penny we earn when we have excess income. Obviously, if you don’t have excess income, that’s not an issue.

If you do this in the business sphere, if you're planning a project, make it in such a way that it can adapt to future developments, and not something that is restricted. Think in terms of long-term strategy, not just short-term.

Overcoming Our Clinging to Short-Term Benefit

What is the method to overcome our clinging to short-term benefit, and to develop the determination to be free of it? It is basically to think of cause and effect, what the long-term consequences of our behavior will be, at least in terms of probability – what it could be. And be realistic about it.

There’s a lovely story in one of the ancient Chinese classics that I like very much, it’s the story of The Foolish Man of Song – Song was an ancient kingdom in China. Once, there was a farmer in the ancient kingdom of Song. One day, he went to his field and next to a tree stump in the field he found a dead rabbit. During the night, a rabbit had run and smacked into this tree trunk and had died. After that, he gave up farming his field and sat all day next to the tree trunk. People asked him, “What are you doing?” He said, “I’m catching rabbits!”

So, if we are going to adopt a long-term strategy, have a realistic one, not like the Foolish Man of Song catching rabbits. We need to have a realistic view of cause and effect, and then exercise self-control.

Self-Control, Concentration and Discriminating Awareness

As in the standard teachings on renunciation, we need self-discipline: so self-control, concentration, and discriminating awareness of what’s helpful and what’s harmful. And we need to watch out for the obstacles that prevent these three essential trainings.

  • Watch out for regret when trying to exercise self-discipline – for instance, regretting not having that Big Mac at McDonalds or something, “I really wanted that and I regret that I didn’t order the French fries as well, they’re so delicious.”
  • Watch out for sleepiness, dullness, flightiness of mind, mental wandering and so on, which make us lose our concentration on the course that we want to follow.
  • Watch out for indecision, indecisive wavering doubts, for example: “Is it going to be helpful or not so helpful to do exercise.”

When we start to have those doubts, then laziness comes in, so we need to discriminate correctly: it will be helpful. Even if we don’t feel like going jogging, or doing exercise, we do it anyway, because we have made that decision that this is beneficial. We’ve discriminated that this will be helpful – discipline. Even in terms of hormones, when we work out, we get a dopamine high from that, which gives us more strength of mind.

Recognizing the Ways in Which We Already Refrain from Short-Term Gratification

The last point is to have confidence that we can do this, we can think not just of short-term gratification but long-term benefit, because we are able to refrain from immediate gratification in other areas. Short-term gratification: We’d love to stay in bed and sleep longer in the mornings, but we give up that short-term gratification because we think in terms of the long-run. I have to get up, I have to feed the kids, I have to go to work, etc. So, we are able to exercise self-restraint and not just gratify our short-term wishes. Or if we want to go to some teachings by a great lama who’s coming and visiting here, or going to India, we are able to save up money. We refrain from immediate gratification because we’re looking at a long-term goal later in this lifetime. So, we are capable. That gives us confidence.


Another thing we could add would be, what would hinder our being able to put this into effect. For instance, the bad influence from certain friends, who say, “Come on, have a drink, smoke with us, go to McDonalds. Why do you want to go to the gym and do exercise? That’s stupid.” Another example is misleading friends who say, “What’s the matter, you don’t like me? Have a drink with me!” – which I think is an issue here in Russia. In certain social situations, if the other person is insisting that you have a shot of vodka with them and you refuse, it could ruin the interaction or the entire relationship. So, you have to be a little bit flexible, but in terms of a long-term strategy, it is best to try to avoid that type of company and getting into that type of situation. There are many such things that could hinder our good plans; we need to watch out for them.

In short, just as in a business enterprise, we need to have a logical framework in which we plan our strategy, I think it’s very helpful to have that same type of approach in dealing with our own inner development. Then it becomes much more effective.