One of the best lines I ever saw on a Buddhist bulletin board came in response to some hand-wringing, ain't-it-awful observation that had preceded it. I can't remember what the initial comment was, but it was one of those pseudo-sincere observations about how the Dharma was going to die out or how hypocrisy dimmed the brightness of practice or why-oh-why-is-this-so-hard ... some kind of slick-willy way of arousing sympathy and concern and attention in others. It sounded good. It sounded sincere. It sounded meaningful. But, coming from a person who had a habit of creating such scenes, it was deceitful.
And the good response I read was this: "You've got to own it."
Five very simple words. And yet the implications were, perhaps, staggering. Your views are your views; they are not someone else's views, no matter how much attention of sympathy you can arouse. Your shit is your shit and you can elicit sympathy from now until breakfast, but if you don't own it, if all you can do is make case after case for its objective difficulties ... how can you ever expect to get anywhere? Your religion or spiritual persuasion is just your religion or spiritual persuasion ... you own it as surely as you own the socks in your sock drawer.
Five simple words and yet the implications upend a whole host of underlying longings and fears and confusions.
What I own is my responsibility. It is my hell or my heaven. It is my garden waiting to be tended. My neighbor, who may also has a garden, cannot tend my garden, though the two of us can compare notes about the damned weeds or the beauty of the flowers. To the extent that I own the garden, to that extent exactly the flowers can grow. To the extent that I think some god or airy-fairy mystical situation will salve the scene, well it's nothing but weeds and hand-wringing.
You've got to own it. What a frightening prospect.
I own the religion I choose. It does not own me. I own the circumstances of this moment or this life. They do not own me. As frightening as I may find this prospect -- and it can be pretty frightening -- still, with practice, it can be quite enjoyable.
I own Buddhism. It does not own me. I own God. He/she/it does not own me.
The average soul may hasten to point out the dangers of such a circumstance -- egomaniacs unite! -- but the careful and caring soul will see the fitness of it, the fact that it accords with life. You've got to own it. Not flaunt it, not dissolve into a pool of helplessness, just own it.
If you feel like being a Buddhist, fine. If you feel like being a Christian, fine. If you feel like reading a hundred books and imagining they can set you free, fine. If you simply must have some new gadget or gizmo, fine. If you imagine a relationship or having possessions will make you happy, fine. If you just know you were Queen Nefertiti in your last incarnation, fine. But when you don't own these things and if they own you, it's a case of the blind leading the blind and you can't even find the right-colored socks in your own sock drawer.
Yes, it can be very spooky at first, owning what you can't escape owning. Yes, it can feel like an enormous and endless and confusing weight. But when you really do own it, and when you exercise a little patience and courage ... well, a bit at a time you can learn to relax.
You've got to own it.
After that, it's a free ride.