Sunday, May 20, 2012

You Can't Take It With You

LRB, in an article on Gary Snyder:

In Kitkitdizze, there are tools everywhere, racks and stacks of them, useful objects respected like artworks. Blades, chisels, axes, boots, helmets, guns. The actor Peter Coyote remembers Joanne Kyger laughing about ‘how much stuff Gary had to store so that he could go off to Japan and live simply’.

George Carlin:

So you keep getting more and more stuff, and putting it in different places. In the closets, in the attic, in the basement, in the garage. And there might even be some stuff you left at your parents' house: baseball cards, comic books, photographs, souvenirs. Actually, your parents threw that stuff out long ago. So now you've got a houseful of stuff. And, even though you might like your house, you've gotta move. Why? Too much stuff! And that means you've gotta move all your stuff. Or maybe, put some of your stuff in storage. Storage! Imagine that. There's a whole industry based on keeping an eye on other people's stuff.

I used to scoff at people who had storage spaces. If you had so much stuff that you needed to put some of it in a place where you couldn't even get to it, then you had too much stuff! And now here I am having to deal with my own stuff...

There's an idea that a good Buddhist should have no stuff at all. She should only own one bowl and two robes. She should live off the good graces of people who respond to her calling to the truth by supplying her with food and shelter.

That's a nice ideal. Buddha's original group of monks and nuns were able, it is said, to live like that in Northern India 2500 years ago. But times have changed. I doubt many people could live like that in Northern India today let alone anywhere else in the world. I also have nagging doubts about Buddha's original monks actually having lived that way even back then. For one thing, to "leave home" in those days meant going a few miles or less away from home. Which meant you could leave your stuff there if you needed to. I'll bet you a case of doughnuts a lot of monks and nuns did just that. Of course, some were probably very strict with themselves about this. I just doubt that all of them were.

There are lots of misconceptions about contemporary Buddhist monks with regards to stuff. For example, one would think that a guy whose nickname was "Homeless Kodo" probably owned nothing but his robes and a change of underwear. In fact, the word yadonashi (宿なし, homeless) that was applied to Kodo Sawaki referred to the fact that he did not have his own home temple like most Zen teachers. He did, in fact, have a home to live in. What's more, his student Kosho Uchiyama complained that as Kodo's attendant he was required to lug mountains of Kodo's books whenever Kodo went out on the road to lead retreats. Homeless Kodo had stuff.

Having come from a family of slobs and borderline-hoarders, I have to say that I'm pretty proud of my ability to be tidy and unencumbered by too much stuff.