World Scripture, A Comparative Anthology Of Sacred Texts

Editor, Andrew Wilson


Separation From The World

A person with a religious goal cannot brook the standards of worldly life. A worldly lifestyle, seeking pleasure, wealth, fame, and material comforts, will inevitably distract one from pursuing any spiritual purpose. Hence the aspirant must separate himself from the world or maintain some detachment from it. Separation from the world can be achieved either by physical isolation in a monastic community or by living an outwardly ordinary life yet without attachment to its prevailing values.

The scriptures contain numerous admonitions to avoid conforming to the world and its values. The wise man regards the worldly achievement as an illusion; he keeps his mind free of worldly cares. He does not delight in worldly pleasures, but devotes himself to pursuing his spiritual goal. He lives detached from worldly thoughts and sense impressions. He measures achievement by spiritual progress, rather than by the standards of worldly success.

These are followed by passages which deal with the social dimension of separation. A passage from the Midrash ascribes the reason for Judaism's severe ritual and moral injunctions to the fact that God separated the Jews from all the other peoples of the earth. In Buddhism and Christianity, the imperative that the Sangha or Church be a purified and separated environment for the sake of members' spiritual progress requires that miscreants be disciplined and even excommunicated.

We conclude with texts on being in the world but not of the world. Such an understanding of separation from the world is the norm in Confucianism, Islam, and Christianity. But in Buddhism and Hinduism, which have had to contend with the opinion that salvation requires monk hood, this meaning of separation from the world has been the subject of much discussion. The Holy Teaching of Vimalakirti, in particular, praises the householder's life as a middle way between the total renunciation of monkhood and a life of dissolute pleasure. Throughout this scripture, the householder Vimalakirti is an enlightened bodhisattva who displays in sight, powers, and attainments superior to those of the monks.

Do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewal of your mind, that you may prove what is the will of God, what is good and acceptable and perfect.

Christianity. Romans 12.2

Do not serve mean ends. Do not live in heedlessness. Do not embrace false views. Do not be one who upholds the world.

Buddhism. Dhammapada 167

Come behold this world, which is like unto an ornamented royal chariot, wherein fools flounder, but for the wise there is no attachment.

Buddhism. Dhammapada 171

Pleasure lies in gold, silver, women, and delectable objects; Pleasure lies in mounts, soft beds, mansions, and attractions of the palate. With all such pleasures, how may the Name find place in the mind?

Sikhism. Adi Granth, Sri Raga, M.1, p. 25

Hillel used to say, "More flesh, more worms; more wealth more care; more women more witchcraft; more maidservants more lewdness; more menservants more thieving; more Torah more life; more assiduity more wisdom; more counsel more understanding; more charity more peace."

Judaism. Mishnah, Abot 2.8

The streams of this world are dirty and its springs are turbid. Its window dressing and its show is beautiful but destructive. It is a quickly ending deception, a speedily fading light, a hurrying shade, and a weak and unreliable protection. It is so deceptive that it waits till those who abhor it start taking interest in it, and those who do not know its deception are attracted by it, and are satisfied with it, then it shows scanty regard for them, it snares and captivates them, and tying the rope of death round their necks drags them to their graves.

Islam. Nahjul Balagha, Khutba 86

Be in the world as if you were a stranger or a traveler.

Islam. Forty Hadith of an-Nawawi 40

A man came to the Prophet and said, "O Messenger of Allah, direct me to an act which, if I do it, will cause Allah to love me and people to love me." He said, "Renounce the world and Allah will love you; renounce what people possess and people will love you."

Islam. Forty Hadith of an-Nawawi 31

A complete disregard for all worldly things, perfect contentment, abandonment of hope of every kind, and patience--these constitute the highest good of one who has subjugated his senses and acquired a knowledge of Self.

No need of attaching yourself to things of this world. Attachment to worldly objects is productive of evil.

Hinduism. Mahabharata, Santi Parva 329

He who has found the Mother [Tao] And thereby understands her sons [things of the world], And having understood the sons, Still keeps to its Mother, Will be free from danger throughout his lifetime. Close the mouth, Shut the doors [of cunning and desire], And to the end of life there will be peace without toil. Open the mouth, Meddle with affairs, And to the end of life there will be no salvation.

Taoism. Tao Te Ching 52

Dhammapada 167: Cf. Dhammapada 75, p. 674. Sri Raga, M.1: Cf. Katha Upanishad 1.2.2, p. 675. Abot 2.8: Cf. Abot 3.17, p. 920; Luke 14.16-24, p. 674. Forty Hadith of an-Nawawi 40: Cf. Matthew 8.19-20, p. 601. Forty Hadith of an-Nawawi 31: On sacrifice and being loved by people, see John 15.13, p. 979; Hadith of Bukhari, p. 992; Kojiki 110, p. 1066. Mahabharata, Santiparva 329: Cf. Katha Upanishad 1.2.2, p. 675. Tao Te Ching 52: The nature of the world should be understood from the vantage point of knowledge of Ultimate Reality, the Tao. Then it will be seen that things of the world change naturally, in accordance with the Tao. This leads to the concept of wu-wei, non-action, which is to let the Tao operate and not to meddle with things according to human ambitions.

The Self-existent pierced sense openings outward; therefore a man looks out, not in. But a certain wise man, in search of immortality, turned his gaze inward and saw the Self within.

The foolish go after outward pleasures and walk into the snare of all-embracing death. The wise, however, discerning [the path to] immortality, do not seek the permanent among things impermanent.

Hinduism. Katha Upanishad 4.1-2

What is the path of the Word? It is that a person gives up his desire for the world and has a deep yearning for God's world. We should love God's world more than we love any person: parents, children, or spouse.

Unification Church. Sun Myung Moon, 8-9-70

The sage patterns himself on Heaven, prizes the Truth, and does not allow himself to be cramped by the vulgar. The stupid man does the opposite of this. He is unable to pattern himself on Heaven and instead frets over human concerns. He does not know enough to prize the Truth but instead, plodding along with the crowd, he allows himself to be changed by vulgar ways, and so is never content.

Taoism. Chuang Tzu 31

Adepts in yoga speak in the manner of the uncivil, behave as if ignorant, appear like the lowly. They do so in order that men may ignore them and not flock to them; they talk nothing at all. Though realized in freedom, the yogi will sport like a child, may conduct himself like a dullard, talk like one intoxicated. Such a yogi lives in a way that this world of men may laugh, feel disgust, revile, and seeing, pass at a distance, leaving him alone. He would go about in different guises, at times like one worthy, at times like one fallen, at times like a ghost or demon. If the yogi accepts things of life it is for the good of the world and not out of desire. Out of compassion for all men, he will sport on the earth.

Hinduism. Kularnava Tantra 9

To conserve his stock of virtue, the superior man withdraws into himself and thus escapes from the evil influences around him. He declines all temptations of honor and riches.

Confucianism. I Ching 12: Stagnation

Katha Upanishad 4.1-2: Truth is found through meditation and fixing attention on the Self within, not by dealing with the deceptive and transient phenomena of the world. This is a most fundamental statement of Upanishadic philosophy. Chuang Tzu 31: Cf. Chuang Tzu 23, p. 776. Kularnava Tantra 9: Yogis may appear as fools or madmen, be meek or act repulsively, all the while in a state of higher awareness. They may make ordinary people uncomfortable by their disregard of worldly manners and conventions. The biblical prophets were often thought to be crazy: see Hosea 9.7-9, and 1 Samuel 19.23-24. Compare also the Taoist images of the convict from Chuang Tzu 23, p. 776 and of the drunkard from Chuang Tzu 19, pp. 562f. I Ching 12: 'Virtue' has the sense of inner force and power by which one can act decisively and with conviction. It should not be restricted to 'morality,' though virtue in the sense of morality is one source of inner power.

As a sweet-smelling, lovely lotus may grow upon a heap of rubbish thrown by the highway, even so a disciple of the Fully Enlightened One outshines the ignorant worldly people in wisdom.

Buddhism. Dhammapada 58-59

Cast aside from you all attachments, as the leaves of a lotus let drop of the water of the autumn rains; exempt from every attachment, Gautama, be careful all the while!

Give up your wealth and your wife; you have entered the state of the houseless; do not, as it were, return to your vomit. Gautama, be careful all the while!

Leave your friends and relations, the large fortune you have amassed; do not desire them a second time; Gautama, be careful all the while!....

Now you have entered on the path from which the thorns have been cleared, the great path; walk in the right path, Gautama, be careful all the while!

Do not get into an uneven road like a weak burden-bearer; for you will repent of it afterwards; Gautama, be careful all the while!

Jainism. Uttaradhyayana Sutra 10.28-33

For what is a man profited, if he shall gain the whole world and lose his own soul? Or what shall a man give in exchange for his soul?

Christianity. Matthew 16.26

What worth kingship without peace of soul?

Sikhism. Adi Granth, Suhi, M.5, p. 745

Better than absolute sovereignty over the earth, better than going to heaven, better than even lordship over all the worlds is the fruit of a Stream-Winner.

Buddhism. Dhammapada 178

Dhammapada 58-59: The pure lotus flower, which grows in muddy swamps, is a Buddhist symbol of one who leaves worldly life to accept the Dharma, train according to its teaching, and flower as an enlightened being. In Hinduism, it symbolizes one who lives sinless, untouched by the dirt of the world; cf. Bhagavad Gita 5.10, p. 774. Uttaradhyayana Sutra 10.28-33: Cf. Katha Upanishad 1.3.14, p. 672. Matthew 16.26: Cf. Matthew 13.44-46, p. 675; Luke 14.16-24, p. 674. Suhi, M.5: Cf. Udana 13, p. 774. Dhammapada 178: The stage of Stream-Winner is only a low grade of attainment on the way to Nibbana. He sees a glimpse of the goal, and, if he perseveres, he comes to have assurance of attaining sainthood.

Jesus answered, "My kingship is not of this world; if my kingship were of this world, my servants would fight, that I might not be handed over to the Jews; but my kingship is not from this world."

Christianity. John 18.36

Confucius said, "Of T'ai Po it may indeed be said that he attained to the very highest pitch of moral power. No less than three times he renounced the sovereignty of all things under heaven [the throne of the empire], without the people getting a chance to praise him for it."

Confucianism. Analects 8.1

Righteousness, O Wise One, was set up for our choice, to be our blessing, Evil for the godless, for his undoing! Therefore I seek union with the Good Mind, And I forbid all traffic with the wicked.

Zoroastrianism. Avesta, Yasna 49.3

"And ye shall be holy unto me, for I, the Lord, am holy" [Leviticus 20.26]. Even as I am holy, so be you holy. As I am separate, so you be separate. And "I have severed you from the other peoples that you should be mine" [idem.]. If you sever yourselves from the other peoples, then you belong to me; but if not, then you belong to Nebuchadnezzar and his fellows." Rabbi Eliezer said, "How can we know that a man must not say, 'I have no desire to eat pig, I have no desire to have intercourse with a woman whom I may not marry'; but he must say, 'Yes, I would like to do these acts, but what can I do? My Father who is in heaven has forbidden them.' Because it says, 'I have severed you from among the nations to be mine.' He who is separated from iniquity receives to himself the Kingdom of Heaven."

Judaism. Midrash, Sifra 93d

I wrote to you in my letter not to associate with immoral men; not at all meaning the immoral of this world, or the greedy and robbers, or idolators, since then you would need to go out of the world. But rather I wrote to you not to associate with any one who bears the name of brother if he is guilty of immorality or greed, or is an idolator, reviler, drunkard, or robber--not even to eat with such a one. For what have I to do with judging outsiders? Is it not those inside the church whom you are to judge? God judges those outside. "Drive out the wicked person from among you."

Christianity. 1 Corinthians 5.9-13

Sifra 93d: Cf. Abot 3.17, p. 920. 1 Corinthians 5.9-13: Cf. Garuda Purana 112, p. 268; Tract of the Quiet Way, p. 268; Itivuttaka 68-69, p. 269. On the other hand, out of loving-kindness, Jesus ate with sinners and sought to help those afflicted with moral weakness: see Matthew 9.10-13, p. 970; also Romans 15.1-3, p. 979; Mencius IV.B.7, p. 979.

Just as the mighty ocean consorts not with a dead body; for when a dead body is found in the mighty ocean it quickly wafts it ashore, throws it up on the shore; even so, monks, whatsoever person is immoral, of a wicked nature, impure, of suspicious behavior, of covert deeds, one who is no recluse though claiming to be such, one rotten within, full of lusts, a rubbish-heap of filth--with such the Order consorts not, but gathering together quickly throws him out. Though he be seated in the midst of the Order, yet he is far away from the Order; far away is the Order from him.

Buddhism. Udana 55, Elder Sona

Krishna, thou Lord of the senses, though moving amongst the objects of sense, remain unaffected by them. Thou hast indeed shown us the ideal: to live in the world and yet not be of it.

Hinduism. Srimad Bhagavatam 11.1

They are not of the world, even as I am not of the world. Sanctify them in truth; thy word is truth. As thou didst send me into the world, so I have sent them into the world. And for their sake I consecrate myself, that they also may be consecrated in truth.

Christianity. John 17.16-19

The homes of householders who have well-governed minds and have banished their sense of egoism are as good as solitary forests, cool caves, or peaceful woods. Men of pacified mind view the bright and beautiful buildings of cities in the same dispassionate light as they behold the trees of a forest. He who, in his inmost Spirit, sees the world in God, is verily the Lord of mankind!

Hinduism. Yoga Vasishtha

The world of the kami does not transcend that of man, and man does not need to enter a divine, transcendental world to attain salvation. He seeks salvation by bringing the kami into the human world, into the daily life of the home, the marketplace....

Shinto. The Kami Way

Yoga consists not in frequenting tombs and cremation grounds, nor in falling into trances; Nor lies it in wandering about the world, Nor in ritual bathing. To live immaculate amidst the impurities of the world-- This is true yoga practice.

Sikhism. Adi Granth, Suhi, M.1, p. 730

Udana 55: Cf. Lotus Sutra 2, p. 411; Garuda Purana 112, p. 268; Itivuttaka 68-69, p. 269. Suhi, M.1: Cf. Var Sarang, M.1, p. 1013; Qur'an 57.27, p. 951.

Vimalakirti wore the white clothes of a layman, yet lived impeccably like a religious devotee. He lived at home, but remained aloof from the realm of desire, the realm of pure matter, and the immaterial realm. He had a son, a wife, and female attendants, yet always maintained continence. He appeared to be surrounded by servants, yet lived in solitude. He appeared to be adorned with ornaments, yet always was endowed with the auspicious signs and marks. He seemed to eat and drink, yet always took nourishment from the taste of meditation. He made his appearance at the fields of sports and in the casinos, but his aim was always to mature those people who were attached to games and gambling. He visited the fashionable heterodox teachers, yet always kept unswerving loyalty to the Buddha. He understood the mundane and transcendental sciences and esoteric practices, yet always took pleasure in the delights of the Dharma. He mixed in all crowds, yet was respected as foremost of all.... He engaged in all sorts of businesses, yet had no interest in profit or possessions. To train living beings, he would appear at crossroads and on street corners, and to protect them he participated in government.

Buddhism. Holy Teaching of Vimalakirti 2

Holy Teaching of Vimalakirti 2: Among Mahayana texts, this scripture most clearly denies the necessity for the aspirant to enlightenment to become a monk. The logical culmination of the doctrine of Sunyata is the thought that there is no difference between Samsara and Nirvana, for both are empty--see Mulamadhyamaka Karika 25, pp. 91f.; Lankavatara Sutra 80, p. 234. Hence a person may dwell in perfect enlightenment while outwardly pursuing an ordinary life, as long as all thoughts, words, and actions are based upon a mind of compassion, which is the manifestation of Emptiness. Lay Buddhism has been particularly popular in Japan ever since the time of Shinran, who, believing that salvation is by faith alone and any ascetic practice is in vain, abandoned his monastic vows and married. Many of the popular modern sects of Nichiren Buddhism are also lay movements. Cf. Garland Sutra 11, p. 957.


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