“Separated from each and every long-awaited companion,
Leaving behind hard-earned wealth and possessions,
Guest-like consciousness abandons its guesthouse, the body;
To give up concern for this life is the practice of the bodhisattvas.”
- the 37 Practices of a Bodhisattva. Verse 4.*
No matter what it is, no matter how much you want it, no matter how long you have it…you can’t take it with you.
There’s a Hebrew proverb that I like that says “There are no pockets in burial shrouds.” That’s the same message. You can’t take it with you.
We know that, of course. We learned this long ago. The breaking down of things has been a part of all of our lives from the beginning. Death is part of that too. We grow up exposed to it. We see it again and again. But it’s still a challenge for us. We carry around with us a sort of deluded thinking. We cling to things as though they are permanent.
Impermanence is a concept in Buddhism. It’s just this obvious and clear idea that all things arise and pass away. This applies to things you own, like your car. It applies to your loved ones. It applies to little things like the negative feelings you have when you have a bad day, or the negative thoughts that flow into your mind that you just feel like you’ll never shake. It applies to really old things like trees and mountains.
And it applies to you. The older we get, of course the more obvious it is.
What’s the point? Why should we reflect on this? It’s depressing.
Atisha said, “Be without attachment toward anything.”
This is the point.
I don’t want to say we shouldn’t love other people or things because they will pass away. I can imagine some people would suggest that but not me. I believe these teachings can be part of our ordinary lives as people with jobs and families.
What I want to learn to let go of is that obsession with accumulating things. We can get obsessed. We can get stressed out about not getting the things we want. We can be unhappy when someone else has something we want.
And when that happens we can remind ourselves, this too will pass. The bad news is all the good things in our life will disappear. The good news is all the bad things will too.
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- all quotations are from “Illuminating the Thirty-Seven Practices of a Bodhisattva by Chokyi Dragpa