By Liz Hazell
Stuff. If you’re reading this, you have it.
Some of you may have more, some less, but all of you have it. Does having stuff prevent us from spiritual growth? Can we own stuff and still become enlightened?
Recently a visiting Lama came to my temple and told a story about how she found her teacher. She sat under a tree wearing the only clothes she owned, and stuck her ceremonial knife—the one used to cut through delusion—in the ground.
That’s right—the woman only owns one pair of pants and a knife.
Think about that for a minute while you sit in your comfy chair or on your comfy bed reading this on your laptop or smartphone. This woman lives in a cave and owns nothing but a ceremonial knife.
But not having stuff isn’t unusual for monks, nuns and priests of all religions, not just Buddhism. So the question remains—can we further our path without becoming the sort of person that sells all of her worldly possessions and wanders the Earth? Is it possible to become even a little bit enlightened if we don’t want to become a monk, nun, lama or priest?
My answer is undeniably yes.
I think sometimes people believe that they cannot walk the path and still own stuff. Or be a Republican. Or eat meat. We seem to have painted ourselves into a very restrictive corner. I think that it’s possible to walk the path to enlightenment and still shop at Wal-Mart and eat at McDonalds. You don’t have to give up your giant television or your Apple products.
What you do have to do is be willing to do the work.
Enlightenment takes more than lip-service. It’s more work than saying we’re going to sit on a cushion for a half an hour twice a day, and sometimes doing it (and sometimes being too busy or thinking we are too busy to do it). After all, can’t we get enlightened a little more quickly so we don’t miss an episode of Game of Thrones?
We have to commit to doing the hard work of sitting. It is only when we sit on the cushion that we come to terms with who we really are. Our minds skitter about like mice, darting in and out of the shadows, stealing a crumb and ducking back into the wall.
It’s when we sit there that we come to terms with our deepest fears. Our deepest desires. Our insecurities. Our physical frailty. Our mortality.
We have to commit to doing the hard work of acting compassionately. It’s easy to cuss at the guy who just cut us off in traffic. It’s not so easy to smile and wave, and hope that he gets where he’s going safely. Our modern world has conditioned us to believe that we deserve to be first. We deserve to get the best. We deserve to have everything we need and want, and to Hell with everyone else.
In order to act compassionately, we must put others first. We need to see ourselves as low-man on the totem pole and act accordingly.
We have to commit to living in the space between the emotion and the response. We all see things through the lens of our own experience. My interpretation of an event will be completely different than yours, or the guy’s sitting next to me at the coffee shop. Even if you’ve grown up in the same house, you have lived a different life.
We have to remember when we start to get upset about something, that our emotions are based on our experiences. The person that we are angry at or frustrated with may not understand why we are angry and frustrated. To live in the space between, means that we acknowledge the emotion and let it go. We focus on the relationship, not the grievance.
Can we do all of this while sitting in our air-conditioned homes on our leather couches in front of our 4K Ultra-HD TV? Absolutely.
Because it isn’t the stuff we have that slows our progress—it’s the stuff inside of our heads.
Getting rid of the possessions is easy. It’s getting rid of the junk that’s hard.
Liz Hazell is a labor doula and certified breastfeeding educator. The mother of two children and caretaker of all. She reads, writes, knits, meditates, feeds stray cats, and grows vegetables and flowers. She laughs too loud, cares too much, is loyal to a fault, and hopes that the world will be peaceful someday. You can read more from her at her blog, Dharma Sister.
Editor: Dana Gornall