Buddhism 101: ‘Letting Go’, and all that jazz

One of the Buddha quotes currently making frequent rounds on Facebook these days goes something like (I’m paraphrasing, since my Pali is a little rusty anyway): ‘…the important thing in life…is how well you let go’…

Let’s assume for the sake of discussion that that quote is accurate and correct, if not entirely complete nor definitive. Now that’s interesting, because I’d always credited Buddhism (from Hindu precedents) as advocating ‘non-possession’. But ‘letting go’ is not ‘non-possession.’ ‘Letting go’ implies that there was previous possession, and that’s an important point. I think I was wrong all these years.

Cutting to the chase (there’s my Hollywood influence): Renunciation is the important act. For renunciation to occur, there has to be something to renounce, i.e. prior possession—of thing(s). Renunciation is meaningless without something to renounce. This has multiple repercussions, for the actor and the act, the perceiver and the perception. For example: what’s more impressive, or important, a rich man giving away his wealth or the poor man who never aspires to any in the first place?

(The previous example works best when circumstances are more-or-less equal among all players, which is not always the case, I realize. But it IS frequently the case, and it SHOULD be the case, and the argument still holds, nevertheless. It can even be extrapolated to the extreme, but that doesn’t seem necessary. A little bit of renunciation can go a long way. A lot of renunciation can be a dangerous thing.)

I remarked off-the-cuff to a friend recently that I feel like I’m seeking material success just so that I can renounce it. Touche’. That’s even better; IF you (and I) can actually go through with it, because then not only is your wealth at stake, but your time, and your efforts. Casual observers might think you’ve wasted your time, but really it’s just the opposite. You’ve made a conscious deliberate act of… of… self-determination, more than self-sacrifice. The self is realized through an act of non-self, i.e. non-possession.

This is the world of possession, of stuff, of temptation. How can one avoid possession in a consumeristic world so full of it (pun)? It’s not easy. But people are the main possession, not always a bad thing, true, ‘fishers of men’ and all that rap, but frequently manipulative and hurtful, so not always good, either.  Love should be about more than possession, I’d say.

We even possess our thoughts and emotions, unwilling to ‘let go’ of something that happened weeks, months, even years ago—not good. This is where the ‘let it go’ attitude really comes in handy, for everyone, even if it is just a metaphor and largely symbolic act. But ‘letting go’ of bad thoughts and foregoing personal manipulations are top goals in living a good life, I’d say.

We sometimes even try to possess our lives, as if they were things, the silliest thing in the world IMHO. I have to suppress a laugh whenever I hear someone talking about ‘loving their life’ as if it were a thing. To me this is the ultimate in misplaced possession. Loving life is one thing—good. Loving ‘your’ life? Weird, IMHO…

But renouncing wealth is the toughest thing for most people, especially those who’ve worked hard for it. Now the Buddha was no slouch, but he was born rich—nice work if you can get it, saving the world and all that. Where do I apply?  Frankly I think it will take a miracle for the world as we know it to survive. But if it does, many of the necessary changes will have to be internal ones.  Let’s get started.

Disclaimer: I make no claim to any special knowledge or enlightenment, degrees or pedigrees—except a BA in philosophy. I’m simply thinking out loud, externalizing the thought processes that I go through all the time, but publicly instead of privately, usually ‘lost in thought’ so to speak… I think we’re all lost, to some extent. Feel free to comment.