Cutting the Threads


Roberto La ForgiaIt doesn’t take much reflection to realize that everything you think of as “yours”…will, in the not-too-distant future, belong to someone else—if it is not discarded altogether. A friend’s mother recently died and he had been sorting through her belongings. He was able to take his time over this, and he noticed that gradually each object “returned to itself.” It was no longer identified with his mother; it was no longer a part of her. There was just a vase; just some writing on paper in a language that he and his sister couldn’t read. 

In his elegy to a poet friend, Don Paterson says that death came and “gently drew a knife across the threads/that tied your keepsakes to the things they kept.” If you reflect in this way, you will see that the practice of generosity is a wisdom practice, because it’s aligning you with the real truth of things: what you think of as yours, as part of your identity, is only temporary. As Shantideva says: “Abandonment of all is Enlightenment and Enlightenment is my heart’s goal. If I must give up everything, better it be given to sentient beings.” 

From Not About Being Good: A Practical Guide to Buddhist Ethics, by Subhadramati © 2013. Reprinted with permission of Windhorse Publications.

Illustration by Roberto La Forgia

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jackelope65's picture

My wife and I moved to Costa Rica from Maine. I had kept works of Shakespeare from high school in Australia until we sold our house. I remember this young woman looking at the books with such joy that reminded me of when I first read Shakespeare and going to his plays with my high school class. But I had not looked at them for years. Though we were selling the books, her joy inspired me to give them to her and just writing this comment has rekindled the joy I had as a teen as well as giving the books away, despite the fact that they were not worth much monetarily. Giving is such a treasure.'s picture

After mid life I would flirt with my spouse letting her know she was my Mother. While this was a period of accepting our age differences and growing old. I pay my respects to my natural Mother who taught me that giving is the only blessing you can receive from others. It seems odd that she taught us that giving was something you receive, but my Mother who was filled with a genuine quality of human compassion let us know that all efforts to gain by what we produce will be futile until we are ready to learn from others and give back a spirit of peace.

jmgreen's picture

I have been on the path to purge for the last 3-4 years. The ebb and flow of ease or otherwise to let go are true lessons. The journey to focus on true priority and true meaning, true purpose, sometimes the ease surprises me. For a second. Then my thoughts go to the "thing" or the "treasure" and I am back to my clear path and then equate appropriately value as it fits into that true purpose. It then quickly becomes another's "thing" or "treasure". :)

freekenney's picture

This is one of the clearest and most beautifully articulated books on Buddhist ethics I have read. We had a similar experience recently, and a family fight erupted over some of the "stuff". How sad that some value "treasure" over love of family!

analogdoc60's picture

this was particularly poignant as I am going thru my own things and moving after 40 years..needing to examine my attachments and what wrenches to imagine in another's possession, such as a treasured art collection that m=not only belongs in a gallery but us too large to fit on a wall that will accommodate me in
my later seventies! Dr. Diane