Honestly, are we not all attached to things? Even if we have very few possessions, there will be certain things we hold dear. (Of course there’s being attached to ideas and other things you can’t touch, but that’s where it gets really tricky, so maybe more about that later…). Let’s take a simple example. I have a watch which I cherish very much, it’s been a gift, fits perfectly and I wear it all the time. I LOVE this watch. Would never give it away. Ever.
I own lots of other things, like most people. But I remember my teacher in India, who did not own a thing. He lived at an ashram and not even the clothes he was wearing were his. What he did own was a watch though, which he had brought with him and which had been a gift. Was he attached to it? Clearly, he didn’t even see the point of the question. He asked back: “Do you think this watch will be sad and cry over me if I give it away?” I thought most probably not. This unfaithful watch would wrap itself around any wrist, really.
“You see – it’s all just YOU, your personal, internal struggle – free yourself from it!” He smiled. But the practical man he was, he added: “There’s nothing wrong with owning things, if you don’t get attached to them but use them as tools.”
It’s OK to own things. But there’s a problem if things own you.
Of course there’s the debate about how much we need. Ironically, the more we have, the more we seem to need. It’s like in the story about the Yogi living in a cave. He lived a happy life without any possessions, just relying on food donations people were bringing to him. However, he started being really popular and people donated more food than he could eat. (Like any good Yogi, he didn’t overeat). So he had to store the food in his cave. This attracted mice who started nibbling at his food and prevented him from sleeping. He thought of getting a cat, which of course prevented the mice from coming, but the cat needed milk. He needed to have a cow so that the cat could have its milk. But the cow needed food, and there wasn’t much growing around the cave. The Yogi started to cultivate some grass for the cow to eat, but realised that the local kids were taking some for their own cows and that his cow didn’t have enough left. So he needed to get a dog, but the dog and the cat were not a match made in heaven…. Full of melancholy he looked back at the time when he had just moved to the cave when he didn’t seem to have any problems at all.
He decided to get rid of everything as there had already been people coming to his cave who wanted to sell an insurance to him (OK, I invented the last bit, but you get my point ;))