thoughts || q & a || kalama || books || photos || tiếng việt
To Have and To Own
Two words used frequently in our daily life that are very vague but quite specific, very specific but quite vague: "Have" and "Own". Since we were young we already had the concept of "Have": "I have a milk bottle, I have a toy, I have a father, I have a mother, I have grandparents, relatives, they belong to me, they are mine." When we were born we had things automatically given to us, our nationality, our birth certificate - and in Vietnam, our proof of residency. What were these things used for? So we could be identified as a citizen, a unit of the community and all that belong to us by default that could not be taken away by someone else. This cultural "convention" has over time become our blood-and-bone definition. Whatever belongs to me is mine and cannot be taken away by anyone. Over the lives and many generations, this concept of ownership is generally accepted by everyone.
But actually the concept of "having" or "owning" is very vague and non-binding. How so? Just for an example if a total stranger meets you and you two like each other and then go steady. You say "I have a boy/girlfriend" or "This boy/girl belongs to me". Then you go further into love and acceptance and decide to get married. You say "I own him/her now ". But what if right at that moment he/she suffers some sudden catastrophic event and dies, or worse, if he/she finds and falls in love with someone else, then those words "Have" and "Own" will turn out to be an irony, a joke. A piece of gold at the jeweler is measured in carats or ounces, but then can be melted and molded into a round things called rings. A couple may get a pair of these and exchange with each other and the rings are now wedding rings. Once exchanged, these people are now linked to each other, belonging to each other, "having" each other, on the basis of the rings, and if they want a bit more security, they can have a piece of paper called the marriage certificate. These objects, the rings and the certificate, can be as stablising as you want them to be but actually can also be just as feeble. By only finding out that the husband is cheating or by knowing the wife is having an affair, these things quickly become useless, painful, ironic and tragic objects.
I have been to many funerals and often witnessed this phenomenon: when caring for their dying patents, people can wait at the bedside, night after night, giving medicines, feeding, cleaning after each feed, pouring spoon after spoon of water, eager to care. But within one split of time, when the parent had stopped breathing and died, the attitude of the children becomes uneasy. For months, they have touched, cared, caressed or even kissed this dying body but now that death has arrived, things change. Once this body was our father or mother, our brother or sister, our husband or wife, with whom we had been so close with, but now it is a cold and stiff dead body and we get really scared of it.
The concept of "having" and owning" must be re-examined. They are very real to use but also are very vague. The are real because as soon as we open our eyes to a new day, we see things we own and possess, this is mine, that belongs to me. But what makes those things yours, to have and to own? Even your parents, your spouse, your family, for many decade are yours to have and to own, but they can be removed, without a trace, from your ownership within a split of a second.
But for every second you think you can still hang on to your possession, calling things yours, making them your belongings, you willingly continue to be a slave to your possessions, just to be able to say to other people you have something. There are things that when lost bring unbearable pain. There are also things we rarely look at or use, but if anyone goes near them we would get angrily possessive - because we already stuck the label "mine" all over it.
A person lacking Dharma's wisdom, living in the lay society, is always mesmerised by the "having" and "owning" concept. The only way to break free from such concept is to practice Four Mindfulness Domains - the constant self-assessment, self-observation to know what we really are. At the start of learning, we think we are somebody on earth. After some learning, we know we are some .... thing. Following further practice we finally realise we are nothing! Always knowing that I am for this immediate moment a something, an existence, a happening that can and will be replaced by some other thing in a split of a second. Good and bad, gladness and sadness. Lao Tzu had said once "After sadness in gladness, after gladness is sadness, there is bad luck in luck, and there is luck in bad luck". Win some, lose some - that's the way it goes.
By practicing the Four Mindfulness Domains we will recognise who and what we really are. Four Mindfulness Domains provides us with a peaceful present. This is not a promise but a very scientific proof. Once you know what you really are, all misinformation you had about yourself will be removed. When you find something that is yours, something that belongs to you, you create a misconception of possession, and this will in turn cause you great suffering. One day when you are able to truly let go, able to see that possession is due to wants and needs, then you will be able to finally get rid of suffering.
Seeing a mishap, an accident happening to another person out on street we may not feel his loss or suffering. But at home, if a glass or a cup with some sentiment attached (like a rare item bought on travel or a gift from a loved one) gets broken, will bring us some grief.
Possession brings suffering.