Wednesday, April 28, 2010

you've got to own it

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.


  1. How can I risk this the afterlife/rebith, for a tentative free ride?

    Very good five words. Thanks.

  2. The true renunciate owns nothing, not even their precious religion.

  3. Shel -- In English slang, the phrase "own it" is used in this context to mean "be thoroughly honest," not feign some wisdom you imagine in others or could somehow be aloof from.

    I think that there is no being a 'true renunciate' without first being honest... a very mundane and very thorough-going honest.

  4. According to "own it" means taking pride in what you got. I'm sure that many do take pride in their religion, get a sense of righteous empowerment or snuggling warmth, fulfilling a need for meaning and purpose in a life that was previously shallow and depressed. Could such a person live without their religion? I seriously doubt it. And such a dependency leads to dishonesty, I find.

  5. OK, Shel ... I will brush up on my definitions and semantics.

  6. Definitions change of course, depending on what we can all agree on, or what authority insists on. Take the word 'renounce' for instance, if an authority figure could not meet what that word truly means they could always insists that it means exactly what they can meet, and in so doing they could live honestly. :)

  7. Actually I found genkaku's post particularly poignant - debate me, shel, I have some time :D

    Welcome to the new board ;) Ciao, bud.


  8. It evoked a keen sense of sadness or regret in me also, Abu.

  9. haha! good to see you shel!
    i was wondering where you went-
    i hope you're doing good and i'm also happy to see
    that renouncing your old name didn't change ya!

  10. Dear shel

    Let me re-read ..

    For gen's post, I read it as recognising that the things, the feelings, the like are ultimately our own, and thus what we do and how we are are at the end of our day our own responsibility.

    I have found that it is true.

    For the sadness, for your points, I really don't think we can control another, or how they are, where they are, as we have been through and are going through a process of growth, so are they, so will they.

    Don't be sad dear friend, be well.