The Christmas season tends to stir themes of materialism and simplicity for me. I am reading the book Benedict’s Dharma: Buddhists Reflect on the Rule of Saint Benedict and the little section I came across this morning was on nonattachment. It refers to the monastic tradition but in my life, I find many of the teachings and practices helpful in my non-monastic life. Both Benedictine and Buddhist communities teach about ownership and the risk that too much stuff will compromise one’s spiritual growth. Yet the two communities differ in their teachings. Joseph Goldstein, one of the contributors to the book, explains the difference as he sees it. “A Buddhist wouldn’t echo Jesus’ judgment that ‘It is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for someone who is rich to enter the kingdom of God’ (Matthew 19:24). I don’t think there is a bias against wealth. The Buddha had wealthy supporters who were living householder lives. It’s more a question of generosity or stinginess.”
I have grappled with attachment to things over the years. In fact, that struggle is history for me. At my age most possessions are an annoyance. Possessions mean dusting and storing and reorganizing ad nauseam. I don’t necessarily think that makes me more spiritual than others. More likely it means I am lazy. I admire it when people take delight in what they have. They have an appreciation for the beauty of things that I sometimes lack. Gratitude, after all, is also a spiritual attribute and to complain about or diminish one’s possessions seems not very grateful.
Most people my age are down-sizing and getting rid of stuff. “If the kids and grandkids don’t want it, out it goes,” they say. I anticipate having to face a move some day to smaller quarters. A retirement home, assisted living, a little space with a child or grandchild…who knows? Then I will have to get rid of stuff. I have sometimes looked about my house and asked myself, “What would I take with me? What is meaningful? What is important to me?” The list is getting shorter.
Does this tendency to detach indicate more spiritual maturity? I don’t know. I think it may have something to do with getting tired of caring for the stuff as the old body deteriorates. Nothing much spiritual in that. It is also about awareness of what makes one really happy. During these weeks of recovering from knee replacement surgery, I was stuck at home a lot. I can tell you that the stuff on my walls or on my shelves didn’t do a thing to lift my spirits. Now, able to get out, I find that being with people I find interesting and those I care about is what does it.
That is enough on this! I don’t want to work myself into a frenzy of guilt like that young woman years ago. I need to foster gratitude for what I have rather than contempt. The Buddha suggests generosity. Maybe if I pay attention generosity will unclutter my house of stuff. .