Thursday, October 22, 2009


I was checking out a local zen center last month and stumbled upon a blog they create. The post I happened to reach that day was about Layman Pang and his act of putting all his worldly possessions into a big ol' body of water.

The author focused on the multiple ways to understand this story. What jumped out at me in particular was his focus on the assumption we make in reading such a story that the decision to go to the lake happened one day - like a bolt out of the sky - and that was that.

He argues that such types of renunciation - acts of detachment - often require more time, thought, and energy than we foresee when first we conceive of them. And part of the journey of letting go is the multitude of steps along the way wherein we must question, falter, convince, and recommit ourselves to our chosen path.

That really resonated for me. And so I spent a long time thinking about Layman Pang, this particular story, and what lessons it might hold.

In this time of "reduce, reuse, recycle" it's difficult to conceive of simply destroying the bulk of our possessions. Even if we've taken the step of simplifying our lives and really looking over what we need, what we value, and what we can let go of in order to enjoy more freedom and peace in our lives (be they tangible or intangible things)... we still most likely feel some impulse or urging to not let those things go to waste. To do something useful with the detritus or at least see if they can be reborn/reimagined/repurposed in some other way or by some other person.

We had a huge garage sale before moving to Evanston. We were moving from a two-story, 4 bedroom home with extra rooms into a two-bedroom, one bath apartment - and we knew downsizing was not just something to consider as we played with the idea and struggled to embrace the concept of simplification. It was downright necessary or we were going to be miserable and overburdened with belongings.

So... we had two sales and ended up parting with many, many things. A good experience, a good boost to our bank, a good way to finally let go of some estate items I had been reluctant to relinquish, and ultimately successful because our apartment feels livable, at least.

When we got here, I realized there was even more from which I could metaphorically unclench my fingers. So much extra stuff I was holding onto and carting around. Stuff. Just stuff. With no real purpose in my life and very little in way of being a source of joy or impact.

Which is when I encountered the post about Layman Pang... and began to wonder why in the world he did not sell his possessions, donate them, reuse them, etc. Why destroy them? Why dirty up the Earth with one's old things?

My guess, lately, is that he did it as an act of compassion. You see... when we pass along our unwanted items to other people, we are relying on their sense of need and their expressions of attachment to rid us of our own. We successfully unhinge ourselves from the imagined importance of the fifth trinket on the right behind the dusty doodad on the highest shelf... only to pass it along to some all-too-willing person who has not yet recognized his or her own displaced act of need.

Layman Pang, I think, wanted to spare those around him from the fate from which he had finally extricated himself. Why perpetuate that form of greed, that type of attachment, that consumerist mentality to which so many of us is accustomed? Instead... he selected that which he no longer needed, threw it into a boat, rowed out to the middle of a lake, and chucked it all into the water. Good riddance. May you never trouble another.

I consider that a compassionate act. One that is difficult to emulate in modern times because it would be littering to toss all my stuff into Lake Michigan, and I can't just start a huge bonfire in the backyard, and I do believe that some items would actually be of use to other people. But I think about Pang's act a lot, and I continue to ponder my role and responsibility in shedding the attachments of my life for which there is no longer room or purpose. How do I do so in the most loving and respectful way possible?

I suppose I'll let you know if I figure that one out.

May you see the attachments in your life with clarity; may you deal with your "baggage" (in whatever form it may take) with compassion for others.

1 comment:

  1. I think about this a lot. I agree, though, in the fact that I can't just throw things away (or toss in the Mississippi!), what to do? I try very hard not to bring more stuff into my life. I have enough. The hard part is other's realizing that you would prefer to have their company/presence then a "burdensome" trinket. It also difficult to simplify when your partner is not of that same belief ;-)