On Monday I wrote a post entitled, “Letting Go.” The focus was on letting go of destructive behavioral patterns more than attachments to physical things. However, later that day as I was driving in my car, I was listening to the book on CD, You Are Here by Thich Nhat Hanh and none to my surprise, he began speaking about letting go. He began with a version of this story:
One day the Buddha was sitting in the wood with thirty or forty monks. They had an excellent lunch and they were enjoying the company of each other. There was a farmer passing by and the farmer was very unhappy. He asked the Buddha and the monks whether they had seen his cows passing by. The Buddha said they had not seen any cows passing by.
The farmer said, “Monks, I’m so unhappy. I have twelve cows and I don’t know why they all ran away. I have also a few acres of a sesame seed plantation and the insects have eaten up everything. I suffer so much I think I am going to kill myself.
The Buddha said, “My friend, we have not seen any cows passing by here. You might like to look for them in the other direction.”
So the farmer thanked him and ran away, and the Buddha turned to his monks and said, “My dear friends, you are the happiest people in the world. You don’t have any cows to lose. If you have too many cows to take care of, you will be very busy.
“That is why, in order to be happy, you have to learn the art of cow releasing (laughter). You release the cows one by one. In the beginning you thought that those cows were essential to your happiness, and you tried to get more and more cows. But now you realize that cows are not really conditions for your happiness; they constitute an obstacle for your happiness. That is why you are determined to release your cows.”
The author went on to encourage the reader to name his own “cows.” So, I began to try and think of things, physical things, that I had great attachment to. I found this difficult at first. Other things came to mind such as health, because I know I tend to get very unhappy when I feel physical pain and not sure of the cause. I thought of my children. I did think of my car (I love my car!). Honestly though, I could not think of too many material things. Prior to my grandmother passing, I had strong feelings and connections to material items; I saved everything! When she passed and none of us knew what to do with all her belongings, I realized that none of these things mattered. It was an eye-opening experience to see someone’s life memories laid out in front of you; as harsh as it sounds, it just looks like a bunch of junk. It truly had an effect on me and I quickly began to emotionally detach from my belongings.
Even after pondering on all these things, I felt I was missing something. I know I have strong attachments somewhere! I still have yet to put my finger on it. I know I am still working on my attachment to outcomes, to orderliness, and to perfection. Oh that evil word, perfection! Maybe that’s it. Maybe these are the things I need to continue to work on.
It is always a beautiful reminder that our happiness should not be dependent upon that new pair of shoes, or our partner loving us the way we deserved to be loved, or our children getting straight A’s in school. There is always something to think about or to look at and simply be happy. Today for the first time, I sat and ate my lunch without the TV on. I thought about what I was eating. I tasted what I was eating. I was grateful for my food and it nourishing my body. Nothing else existed but me and that food. No worries. No distractions. I set my attachment to the TV, to being in a rush, and to thinking about what was next on the agenda all aside. It was so simple, so mundane, but guess what? It made me really happy.
So what are the names of your cows?