There is an often-told story in my tradition about the Thai Forest tradition master Ajahn Chah and his apparent attachment to a certain drinking glass. Sitting around with some other Buddhist monks, nuns, and lay students discussing dharma and enjoying some tea, someone asked Ajahn Chah something like, “You’ve been teaching us about impermanence and how everything is constantly changing. You’ve told us that being attached to anything in this transient world will always cause us to suffer. Yet it appears that even you, who has renounced all worldly possessions, have become attached to that special drinking glass.”
Ajahn Chah replied with something like, “It is true, I do enjoy this drinking glass. I like the way it holds my tea. I admire the way the sun shines off it, at times creating tiny rainbows. This is my favorite glass, but I do not cling to it, because to me this glass is already broken. I know that my time with it is temporary and precious. So I enjoy this glass while it lasts, but I am fully aware that eventually it will fall from the shelf or be knocked over and shatter. And when that happens I will say ‘of course.’”
I heard this teaching early on in my Buddhist practice and it was a very important guide for me on how to relate to change and impermanence. This was tested a few years ago when my 1964 Chevy Impala lowrider was being test driven by my mechanic, who was working on the hydraulic suspension system. The car bottomed out as he drove over a large metal construction plate on the road and the frame was ripped in half. My prized possession was wrecked.
When I got the news, I experienced anger and sadness, but I reflected on Ajahn Chah’s broken glass and said to myself, “Of course, this lowrider too was already broken.”
Noah Levine’s latest book isThe Heart of the Revolution: The Buddha’s Radical Teachings on Forgiveness, Compassion, and Kindness. Thanks to Noah for providing the above photo of his lowrider in its heyday.