Tuesday, November 15, 2011

Aparigraha - The Fifth Yama

For the month of November, we have been contemplating Aparigraha which can be translated as non-greed, non-possessiveness, or non-attachment.  It is the fifth and final Yama in Patanjali's Eight Limbs of Yoga from the Yoga Sutras and perhaps the most challenging.  Greed, possessiveness, and attachment stem from fear.  The fear of not having enough, not being enough, not recognizing the abundance in our lives, not recognizing our part and place in the flow of life.  In Buddhism, we learn about impermanence.  Things change, that is guaranteed.  The better we get at recognizing impermanence, the less we suffer.  Can we celebrate the people, possessions, and stations in our lives while they are there and recognize the growth that comes in us from dealing with transition, loss, change?  The autumn leaves are a poignant example of this concept as each year they show their utmost beauty just before they fall to the ground.  And, what happens next?  They compost to help fertilize the ground for the coming year's rebirth in spring.  Rumi reminds us in his poem, The Guest House, that loss makes room for some new delight. 

When we consider the Buddhist concept of interbeing, we can work more easily on non-possessiveness.  Thich Nhat Hanh reminds us in his book Peace Is Every Step that without the sun and cloud and rain there would be no trees, without trees and loggers there would be no paper, without food and water to nourish the logger, no logger, etc.  We inter-are with all people and all elements of nature.  When we realize that truth, we can see how when we lose someone, that person will always be a part of us.  We connected to each other in some way, learned something from them, taught something to them, were changed in our lives because of their presence.  This is true whether we consider a pleasant, unpleasant, or neutral person.  When we lose a possession, we can recognize the delight we enjoyed while we had it and realize it may bring the next person joy or some necessary comfort or growth.  Perhaps its loss allows us to grow in some way.  Remember Rumi?  The growth we realize from difficulty in our lives can be as painful and as amazing as the breaking free from the chrysalis to become the butterfly, our next iteration of self getting us closer to our true Self.  Also, when we remember out interbeing with all beings, we can feel compassion or joy for the person who may be blessed by something that has moved on from our lives.

Consider donating some unused items, making space in your home and in your mind from all the burdens of possessions.  Monks and nuns traditionally lived with one bowl and three robes counting on the kindness of the community to provide for their material needs and in return serving them with their spiritual practice.  How liberating would it be to only keep track of one bowl and three robes? 

The Guest House

This being human is a guest house.
Every morning a new arrival.

A joy, a depression, a meanness,
some momentary awareness comes
as an unexpected visitor.

Welcome and entertain them all!
Even if they are a crowd of sorrows,
who violently sweep your house
empty of its furniture,
still, treat each guest honorably.
He may be clearing you out
for some new delight.

The dark thought, the shame, the malice.
meet them at the door laughing and invite them in.

Be grateful for whatever comes.
because each has been sent
as a guide from beyond.

-- Jelaluddin Rumi,
    translation by Coleman Barks

1 comment:

  1. It's a blessing to re-visit in your blog a concept, a poem, a chant that you have shared in class. I intend to remember something but, like a guest, it comes and it goes. Not so your beautiful voice - in poem and chant, comments and cues, your voice is a soothing gift you extend to your students. Happy Thanks-Giving, Angela.