Nekkhamma (Sanskrit: नैष्काम्य) is a Pali term translated in English as "renunciation" or "the joy of renunciation", but it can be translated figuratively as "to give up worldly life and lead a holy life", which is "free from lust, craving and desires".
Nekkhamma is found in the first part of the Buddhist Noble Eightfold Path, in the group of 'right intention'. The nekkhamma is the third of the ten perfections used in the Theravada tradition.
In the Pali literature
Renunciation as right intention
In the canon of the Pali, the Buddha explains in a parable the background to his enlightenment. He divided his thoughts into two groups. In the first group were those that corrupted his observations, led to suffering and prevented him from attaining nirvana.
These included thoughts related to the senses, malice and ill will. In the second group were the opposite, such as renunciation, benevolence and non-harmful intentions:
"Whatever a monk thinks or ponders, his mind, his attention will turn in that direction. If a monk continues to keep his thoughts imbued with renunciation, giving up his thoughts full of sensual desires, his mind will turn towards thoughts imbued with renunciation.
If a monk continues to keep his thoughts imbued with benevolent feeling, giving up his thoughts filled with hostile feeling, his mind will turn to thoughts imbued with benevolence.
If a monk continues to keep his thoughts imbued with non-harmful feeling, giving up his thoughts imbued with harmful feeling, his mind will turn to thoughts imbued with non-harmful feeling."
The latter three thought contents - renunciation, benevolence and non-hostile intention - constitute the "right intention" of the noble eightfold path (Pali: samma-sankappa; Sanskrit: samjak-samkalpa).
Renunciation and sensuality
Elsewhere in the canon the Buddha gives a detailed comparison of the ideas derived from sense-organism (kama) and renunciation (nekkhamma).
Renunciation as bodhisattva practice
In the Pali literature, renunciation is part of the path to enlightenment. In the Buddhavamsa, the Jataka narratives and textual commentaries, renunciation is the third of the ten "perfections" (páramí).