|We always hear spiritual people advised us to let go of attachments. The deeper the love, the deeper the pain when it is lost. Once I had a true love which I thought will last forever but I lost her to someone much younger than me after 5 years of relationship because she wanted a younger man. It took me some time to stop the pain, and finally when I accidentally bumped into her after many years, I was totally relieved and told myself, thanks God. Beauty doesn’t last! For sure! Eternal beauty and love is from Heaven, not Earth! Give your heart to the one that can last eternally.||
The Antique Vase
by Derek Lin
There was a general in ancient China who retired after many
years of military service. Not wishing to sit around doing nothing,
he took up the hobby of collecting antiques.
One day, he sat in his study to admire his latest acquisition –
a small antique vase. It was expensive but worth it. He turned
it this way and that, examining the exquisite patterns that ancient
craftsmen had worked into it.
Suddenly, a careless movement of his fingers caused the vase to
slip from his hands. The general tried to catch it, but its slick surface
was difficult to grasp. He dove forward to try again. It was a close
call, but he finally managed to hold on to it, mere inches from the floor.
The general's heart was pounding rapidly. His breathing was frantic.
He gripped the vase tightly and stood up slowly. After a while, he was
able to regain some composure.
He was relieved to have avoided damage, but something was not right.
Instead of elation, he felt only puzzlement. "In all my campaigns,"
he thought to himself, "charging against the enemy, leading men into
battle, even facing much bigger armies than mine… I never felt as
much fear as I did just now. Why?"
Throughout his military career, the general always recognized the
possibility of losing his life, but it didn't frighten him at all. Somehow,
on this particular day, the possibility of losing the vase frightened
him a lot.
In an instant of clarity, he saw the problem. He had become too
attached to the vase. That attachment was the cause of emotional
turmoil. He looked at the vase again, seeing it in a completely different
light. Then, with his mind perfectly at ease, he relaxed his hands.
The vase dropped and shattered into pieces.
In Chapter 44 of the Tao Te Ching, we read the following two lines:
The self or wealth, which is greater?
Gain or loss, which is more painful?
These are point-blank
questions that go right to the heart of the issue.
Somehow, the vase became greater, or more important, to the general
than his life – at least for a while. What made it that way?
We know the vase didn't make
it that way, because it was merely an
object with no supernatural powers to affect the mind. The problem
had to originate from the general himself. He was the one who assigned
a high level of importance to the vase. It was as if the vase owned him
instead of the other way around.
Countless people have died in
pursuit of wealth throughout history,
and we have all seen those who endanger themselves because of greed.
These are the individuals who assign a high level of importance to
material things. They may think they are acquiring money, but it is
as if they have been acquired by money.
Just as the vase was not the
real source of the general's problem, money
itself isn't to blame. Money can't really make us do anything, so the
question isn't so much why inanimate objects should have so much
power over us, but why we should willingly grant them that power.
We often think of gain as good
and loss as bad, so it seems only natural
to conclude that loss is more painful. But when we consider the vase
from the Tao perspective, we can glimpse a different truth. The
assignment of more importance to wealth can actually lead to gain
being more painful. This may seem totally contrary to our expectations.
The vase can be generalized
to represent anything we are attached to.
The more attached we are to it, the more we fear losing it. Nor is this
fear something that only starts when the loss occurs. Even before anything
happens to the object of attachment, we are already afraid.
For instance, I have a friend
who recently purchased a laptop. It was
very expensive because it was as small and light as a laptop could be.
"Why do you need something so tiny?" I asked him.
"Because I can take it with me anywhere," he said, beaming with pride.
Several months later, I ran
into him at a conference. I noticed he was
using a rather large and heavy laptop. "Hey, what happened to your
new toy?" I asked.
"Oh, I left it at home," he
said. "I couldn't take the chance of having
it damaged or stolen or misplaced, so I brought this older laptop instead."
As I reflected on his words, I
wondered if he realized the irony.
We human beings have this knack for taking actions that seem
perfectly logical at the time, only to have them lead us down the
path to strange conclusions.
The fear my friend felt was
fundamentally no different from the
general's fear. The magnitude of this fear corresponds in direct
proportion to the degree of attachment, and we are the sole cause
of it. Most of us don't think about this much. We accept it as part
of life... but why should we? Why should we live with fear that we
have created for ourselves?
The general's decision to let
go of the vase represents the way Tao
cultivators transcend this problem. It doesn't mean we should also
drop our material belongings and shatter them into pieces. What it
really means is that we need to relax and relinquish our grasping
One sage has compared this to
a thirsty man trying to get a drink
of water from a mountain stream. The man dips his hands into the
stream in order to bring water to his lips. If he does so with clenched
fists, then he will remain thirsty; if he does so with open hands cupped
together, then he will enjoy the cool and refreshing water, as much as
It is the same with life. If
we live life full of attachments, we would be
like the general grasping the vase tightly, or the man thrusting fists into
water. We experience the fear of loss, end up with nothing worthwhile,
and have no one to blame but ourselves.
By being able to let go, we
release the artificial fear that we have created.
Like the general, we can rediscover our peace of mind by loosening the
death grip. Like the thirsty man, we can dip our open hands into the
stream of life and scoop up the clear and sparkling essence of the Tao.
When we look at this essence,
we see in it the exquisite patterns of
existence. They are not the static patterns of human creations, but the
dynamic, ever changing forces of nature, crafted by the divine. It is more
ancient than any antique, for it is eternal; it is more valuable than any
treasure, for it is priceless.
To drink this essence is to
infuse life with the Tao. To bring it to our lips,
we must first open clenched fists. We drink with the mind perfectly at
ease and free from fear. Then, we relax, grasping nothing, so we can
scoop up more water... and bring even more Tao into our lives.