We often ask: What should we let go of?
Reading a few words from Steve Hagen, the Zen priest, made me realize that the question we’ve been asking all along is wrong.
It’s not about what we need to let go of. In fact, the question has little to do with letting go.
The answer lies not in letting go, but in realizing the truth.
Steve Hagen says:
“The stuff we hold onto so dearly brings pain, only because we hold on to it in the first place. But, if we look closely, we’ll discover that nothing is gained from holding on.
What can we actually take hold of anyway? Nothing. Not our possessions, our thoughts, our feelings, our memories, our minds, our lives, not even those we love. Nothing abides. It will all change. Thus, we don’t really sacrifice anything for freedom, precisely because those things we fear giving up are things we never actually had in the first place.
[…] And it will pass away, but not because you have to give it up. It will all pass away regardless of what you do. And if you don’t try to hold onto any of it in the first place, you’ll see liberation—just as the Buddha spoke of it.”
The question we should ask ourselves is: “What can we actually take hold of anyway?”
We usually try to let go of the things we tend to hold on to. However, it would be wiser to do it the other way around. If we recognize that there is nothing we can hold on to, then we wouldn’t struggle to let things go.
There wouldn’t be “letting go” in the first place.
Knowing from the beginning that there is entirely nothing within our grasp, we begin dealing with things differently. Our distorted view of reality is the main cause of our suffering. According to Buddhist philosophy, “right view” is the first point of the Eightfold Path. To have the “right view” means to see things as they are and not as we wish them to be.
What is the right view of things?
It means to see that nothing is permanent, and nothing is really separate from us. Our dualistic mind—our ego—naturally cuts itself off from other things and people. There’s always “I” and “you,” “I” and “this,” or “I” and “that.” But those are only verbal labels that we need to use for reference. In reality, there is no “you,” and there is no “I.” It’s insubstantial in the sense that as long as we separate ourselves from everything and everyone else, there will always be a problem. Realizing that we are one with everything outside of us make us more compassionate, more aware.
When we develop the right view, we know that—as Steve Hagen says—there is absolutely nothing we can take hold of. Whether it’s our thoughts, emotions, situations, or people, we understand their ephemeral nature—they’re constantly changing. They’re always in a perpetual flux.
We suffer the perceived loss of things and people because our “possession” of them only exists in our imagination. It’s not real. The one thing that’s missing is observation. If we observe—if we really see our experiences as they are—without our mental interference, we’ll realize they’re constantly fluctuating. Understanding the flux, we don’t need to hold on. We see reality as it is and enjoy it as it is.
What does it mean to see things as they are? It means to put aside our own assumptions about the world.
For example, the glass paperweight on my desk looks pretty solid and stable. This is how it looks on the surface, and this is what we see. Nonetheless, this is not what reality is. This is what we assume it to be: intact, whole, solid. The reality is that the glass might break at any moment. I might drop it by accident, or it might slip out of my hand. In a few days, maybe months, or years, there will be no more glass paperweight . This only means that there was no glass paperweight in the first place—only a momentary presence.
To not hold on doesn’t mean renunciation or distancing ourselves from the world. As Steve Hagen also mentions, the Buddha knew that people might misinterpret his words. The Buddha said, “What I call liberation, the world calls resignation.”
So we don’t resign when we see reality as it is. When we understand that everything in this present moment is passing away (including the present moment itself), we become liberated. We experience the liberation that Buddha spoke of all long. This liberation is not physical—it’s mental. To become liberated means to unlock the chains that we have put around our perceptions.
We stop being entangled in expectations. Instead, we experience the present moment without judging it. We don’t cloud it with our own perceptions of how it should be. So long as we overshadow reality with our false-made opinions, we will always dislike reality and find something wrong with it.
Nothing is wrong with the world, nothing is wrong with reality. The universe has always been the way it is right now. It is we who are wrong. Admitting we’re wrong is the first step toward learning how to become right—how to flow with the universe.
**Source: Buddhism Is Not What You Think: Finding Freedom Beyond Beliefs by Steve Hagen