Tesshin began this week’s talk by mentioning the Japanese consultant Marie Kondo. Her contribution is the particularly Japanese way of “Tidying Up.” (For those interested, her website is https://konmari.com/) What is most striking about her method is the practice of picking up each object and asking – “Does this object spark joy?” If the object does, we keep it otherwise we get rid of it. Most importantly, however, even the objects we decide to “part ways with” we are encouraged to THANK!
So what does it mean to thank an inanimate object? Do “things” have anything to teach us, and if so what? Here Tesshin was very clear – your reaction to the inanimate objects says quite a bit about the state of your mind. Do you find thanking a ski pole found in your basement untouched from your college days ridiculous or do you find it inspiring? Tesshin reminded us that Buddhism stresses the interconnectedness of all things. The practice of taking the time to relate to objects is a teaching tool, or skillful means, of reminding us of this power of connection. At some point in time you made a connection with that ski pole – enough of a connection that you acquired it. Now, perhaps in your current circumstances, you no longer need it. (Buddhism teaches us not to cling, after all!) So discarding objects we no longer need is OK; however there is real power in thanking the pole before letting go. In essence, you honor your past and realize that in some small way this object was part of that. After the thanking simply let it go. Keeping the pole beyond this point would be a form of clinging – which we know is not skillful.
Tesshin next mused about how objects are part of your past and why the connection to time and place is so important. Objects form part of the “gestalt” of a place and time. This gestalt is critical to a well lived life free of suffering. Think about well-functioning places – perhaps a zendo or a well-designed office. Every object in that space is working together to achieve a specific purpose. In the Zendo we prize simplicity so that we can focus on the mind. We may have a simple Buddha statue to remind us of the Dharma, cushions to support our zazen, and a teacher at the front to help us when we stray. In the office, however, we would have desks, chairs, computers, and bright lights. These objects would not be useful in a zendo as they would be a distraction. The most skillful thing to do would be to remove them from the zendo. Like place, we see the same thing at various times of our life. In youth, certain objects were critical for our joy and happiness. Later in life, the cast of characters change. Our practice, and what Marie Kondo is hinting at, is to simply recognize this and make sure we part ways with objects no longer bringing us joy by thanking them and then letting them go. This should be a happy, grateful, and somewhat “wistful” experience – not one filled with pain and anguish.
Tesshin wrapped up the talk by reminding us about the “Buddha Nature” in all things – sentient and insentient. There are many koans which test the student on this exact point. He again reminded us that how we relate to the things all around us goes a long way to refining our understanding of life, reality, and the Dharma – the exact lessons which all these koans are trying to teach us!