There are also those who, claiming enlightenment, insist that they understand the non-substantial nature of reality. Boasting that the disease of materialism cannot infect them, they try to prove their immunity by carefully shunning all earthly enjoyments. But they, too, are in the dark.
-Han Shan Deqing
Going around saying you’re enlightened is kind of like going around telling everyone how great or patriotic you are. If you have to say it, I’m not sure I can believe you. “I totally understand Emptiness” would be a weird thing to say too. I think we all struggle a bit with ideas like Emptiness. Han Shan is warning us not to be boastful.
Don’t tell people how Enlightened you are. It’s better to show them anyway.
And there are those who want to prove how unattached they are. Giving up things is great. It shows great willpower and hard work to refrain from doing the harmful things that we enjoy. But, again, we need the right reasons for this. Giving up things as a way to show off isn’t real renunciation.
And also, there’s a part of the Buddha’s story that’s relevant here.
Siddhartha, after he left his father’s palace, went on a spiritual journey. He was trying to find teachers to help him figure out the problems of human existence. He wanted to understand suffering and the way out of suffering. He studied with some teachers for a while and didn’t really find what he was looking for. Then he found some guys who were essentially starving themselves to attain Enlightenment. They thought that the body is the problem and if we can just force the body to let go of all the things it needs, then the mind can do it’s work and take us to Enlightenment. So these guys just walked around naked all the time, barely ate, and didn’t sleep. They just denied themselves all comfort in life. Siddhartha tried this and it didn’t work. It was only after he tried starving himself that he realized that the road to Enlightenment is a middle way, something in between indulging every desire and starving ourselves. It was only after this that he sat under the Bodhi tree and attained Enlightenment, becoming the Buddha.
So, maybe we don’t need to shun all earthly enjoyments. Maybe if we try to do that we are just trying to show off.