A follower of the Way does not possess anything selfishly.

On first glance, this is really straightforward: don't be selfish with possessions. Like all first glances at the precepts, held loosely, that's pretty good advice. Looking deeper, what's really the problem here? Isn't a follower of Way allowed any fun? Can't they at least hold on to their freaking iPods?

Precepts six, seven, eight (this one) and nine all deal with various aspects of one's orientation to the experience of what we know as the Self. Really, the fundamental problem is that we don't find a self at all, so there's nothing to do the selfish possessing. But, that's pretty obtuse and not a helpful orienation for an examination of ethics for a lot of people.

I am going to borrow a friend of mine to serve as an example here. I have a dearly beloved life-long friend who owns a number of iPods. He has both several different iPod models and also multiple copies of the same iPod model in various colors.

He is still, however, in possession of one pair of ears and is therefore prevented from enjoying more than one iPod at a time. While owning multiple iPods to use with one set of ears seems like an obvious mis-match to me, this doesn't seem to concern him.

Not long ago, I came to be in possession of a model of the iPod that he does not own. I quickly noticed that it was a superfluous device in my life, i.e., I had several other devices that performed exactly the same functions, so I was considering what to do with it because I am not in the habit of retaining excess possessions, In fact, I continually, actively seek to purge myself of excess possessions. I was discussing this problem with him and he asked me to give it to him.

I considered doing so, for in many ways such a gesture was very satisfactory. The device would have gone to loved one, it would have been cared for, and I would have been rid of it. But, I didn't do this because I felt as though to do so would be feeding a delusion that is vexing my friend. This delusion goes to the heart of the message of this precept, which is why I discuss it here.

A follower of the Way does not possess anything selfishly because doing so directly leads to suffering and delusion. Once I realized what was really at stake here, i.e., my very happiness, peacefulness and satisfaction with my life, I realized that there's nothing I can possess that has any real and lasting influence on my well-being. The only thing I really need to be satisfied and at peace is reality itself, and it is always available to me all the time. However satisfying I may find the acquisition of something like an iPod, that feeling always fades. If there is any peace and satisfaction to be found in an iPod, even briefly, it is fleeting and illusory.

Chasing after these solutions in this way is like quenching thirst with sea water. It just makes you thirstier. I didn't give my iPod to my friend not because I wanted it for myself. I didn't. I didn't give it to him because I didn't want him to have it, I did. He's occupies exactly the role in my life that I wanted the receiver of this device to occupy. I didn't give it to him because it felt wrong to offer sea water to a thirsty friend.

Selfish possession is a direct route to misery. First, there is the belief that there is true comfort to be found in some object. Then, there is the belief that comfort is something that can belong to me, that there's some separately-existing individually-identifiable entity that can experience comfort apart from everything else. Finally, there's the notion that comfort itself can persist. Each of these notions is delusion, and to the extent that one invests in these delusions one plunges further into pain and misery.

So, while it is of course necessary to posses things--I have a computer, clothes, furniture, books, an iPod, a bicylce, etc--it is not necessary to possess things selfishly, that is, to be beholden to the belief that I have to have these things in order to be at peace. I don't. Each of these possessions can be replaced, and I would survive without any of them.

Beyond that, many of these things are likely to out-live my physical body. Probate law notwithstanding, who is there to "own" these things after I die? If I don't own them after I die, do I really own them now? This computer I type this on had a life before I came to be in possession of it. It was manufactured in China and spent the first few weeks of it's existence in a shipping container on a boat, being "owned" by Apple computer's shareholders. If I sell or give it to someone else, what changed about it, really? Is it a different computer when Apple "owns" it than it is when Richard "owns" it? It seems not.

This "possession" is just a shell-game of ideas we have. Nothing really changed about this computer when I came to "own" it. Nothing about it will really change when I cease to own it. There's no reality there, this is emptiness itself.

So, with no true comfort to be found in possessions, and no real entity existing to assume possession anyway, a follower of the Way does not possess things selfishly.

Next - A follower of the Way does not harbor ill will.