When I think back to my time on earth, I have few regrets. The path I took, the simple life of a monk, allowed me to achieve the highest state of enlightenment. As one who renounced worldly attachments, I was free to lead a contemplative existence and to then share my wisdom with others. That said, I have to admit that if I were to do it all over again, I would probably choose to have at least a few possessions.
Not too many, of course. Maybe 10 possessions—20, tops.
To be sure, desiring earthly possessions only binds one to this life, and all beings must free themselves from the shackles of materialism to reach nirvana. That’s why, if I were to have a few belongings, I’d limit them to just some essentials: a fan, perhaps, to cool myself with, or a candle, so I could continue my study of ancient texts when the sun goes down. It’s not as if owning a candle would’ve halted my spiritual awakening. How could it? It’s just a candle, right?
I’ve always said that it is not objects themselves but our unwavering devotion to them that stands in the way of karmic progress and, ultimately, true awakening. With that in mind, I can’t help but wonder if it really would’ve been such a big deal if I’d had a pen or two to write with—not coveting pens or obsessing over them or anything like that, just having a reliable writing implement that’s great for copying down spiritual insights. If I lost the pen, I’d be absolutely fine with that, but there’s nothing about being liberated from the stranglehold of temporal attachment that says I shouldn’t be able to make a mark on a piece of paper.
And come to think of it, a canteen would’ve been a huge help. I probably would’ve attained perfect enlightenment sooner—a lot sooner—if I hadn’t had to stop meditating beneath the Bodhi tree and walk to the river Niranjana every single time I got thirsty.
I understand, perhaps better than anyone, how vital meditation is to finding the freedom that awaits us at the end of the eightfold path. And you know what would’ve made meditating a hell of a lot easier? A tent. Nothing big or ornate, just a humble cloth shelter to help keep the rain and wind off my body. It’s not as though a tent would’ve stopped me from teaching my disciples to forsake earthly things. I would just say, “Dispossess yourself of all things, except a tent. And maybe a blanket.” Pillows, an obvious worldly luxury, would be forbidden.
Oh, you know what else would’ve been great? A tea kettle. I would have killed for a tea kettle.
A sweater or a jacket really wouldn’t have been the end of the world either, and there’s also a lot to be said for a decent pair of shoes. And what harm would there have been in having, say, a flute? It’d be nice to unwind with some music at the end of a long day of rigorous reflection. Again, I’m talking about very modest possessions here. Nothing you couldn’t easily fit in a satchel, which, yes, would’ve been nifty as well.
How about a little carving of a monkey? Honestly, I think it would’ve been fun to have had that to look at from time to time—a wooden one, nothing carved from precious stones or anything. I can’t imagine not being able to break free from the eternal cycle of death and rebirth because of a tiny monkey figurine, can you?
If I’m being completely honest, it’s not just the lack of possessions I regret. I also probably spent way too much of my time on earth meditating. Just sitting there on the hard ground doing nothing but pondering the infinite day after day when there are so many wonderful things to see and do in the world. I could’ve meditated just once a week and probably been perfectly fine. What a waste. I lived 80 years, and frankly, I blew it. I should have just tried to enjoy myself.
Seriously, why suffer?