November 30, 2019

It May Be Better Not To Have

The less I need, the better I feel. 

Right now I own less stuff than at any point in my adult life. And I feel great.

Poet Charles Bukowski felt that way, and I am sure monks feel that way, too. If you want to live as simply as possible, you may also know this feeling.

Henry David Thoreau said something along the lines that a perfectly prepared person could walk away from their village with nothing, and experience no problems.

It is a fortunate, and rare, person that could pull off such a feat (Peace Pilgrim comes to mind). But imagine the unlimited freedom one must feel in that unencumbered state.

This is something to remember during a time we are being arm-twisted to give gifts to everyone, whether they need anything or not. 

Here's a liberating thought - perhaps they would be better off without a gift. It is hard to fathom in an acquisitive culture, but it may be better not to have, than to have.

Sometimes when I am gifted something, my first sense is that it is a burden and responsibility that I would rather not have. I own something I may not need, my life is complicated, and my carefully nurtured simplicity has been thrown out of whack. 

Gift giving is a nice thought, and comes from a good place.  In the times such as we live in today, though, not gift giving might be even nicer. 

Not just today. It has always been this way. 

In this regard I give you Chinese Chan Master Ummon Zenji (862-949 CE). He would remind his students that: 

"however wonderful a thing is, it may be that it is better not to have it at all."

I end with my own Zen koan: 

What is the gift of no gift? 

And my answer (does a koan have an answer?): 

Freedom, simplicity, joy.


  1. Anonymous12/01/2019

    Owning less ad simplicity cultivate new insights into the world. Meditation on it's own is not enough as letting go of stuff and concepts enables space for a different view of this universe.It's interesting when you reach a certain place past masters become interesting to read and once obscure sayings become clearer. Then they eventually fall away. Acceptance as things are is important as we begin to understand that the illusion people think is real is real to them - so in a kind of way is real, lol. Culture and beliefs just grow like trees on sit like stones, worn away by time.

    1. Owning less can change your life for the better. A radical thought in today's world, and perhaps always. Our accumulation has been increasing for a very long time.

  2. Gift giving as Christmas is a wonderful tradition, but has been so over killed by the nature of our society. It is hard to fight this, but I try. I love Christmas, I love the traditions, the cooking, the food , the family. I just try not to over do on material things and use and reuse what I have.

    1. Your Christmas sounds great. It is a very nice time of year if one can ignore all the pressure to buy.

  3. Anonymous12/02/2019

    I see the giving as something we can do for others who really do not have enough. We could donate food for hampers or donate our time to serve Christmas meals to folks who have no family. We could donate money for people who cannot afford the basics like shelter, food and education. And of course we can still share delicious traditional food with our families and friends if we wish. As for myself, I am in the fortunate position to really have no needs or wants. Blessed indeed.



    1. Back in the day gift giving was a tradition, but only to the poor and those that really needed it. A mini re-distribution of wealth, if you will. Mass gift giving at Christmas did not start until the 1900s when advertisers began using Santa Claus to push their wares.

      What a wonderful feeling to be content with what you have. That is the best gift of all.

  4. Anonymous12/02/2019

    My boyfriend and I agree that often gifts we receive create a burden of responsibility we don't want. And it's why we don't give many gifts either - we don't want to put that burden on another. Really like the Master Ummon Zenji quote; yes, it is often best to never own that "thing" at all. Which is why I'm really grateful for our local library. It of course has books, movies, magazines, video games that folks can check out (no need to buy it), but they now have a "Library of Things" where you can check out to use things like a sewing machine, a ukulele, binoculars and a bird watching books, power drills, etc. It's a cool idea - gives people a chance to try/use many things without purchasing. It's a new program, sure hope it works out. -- Mary

    1. A public library is perhaps one of the best gifts civilization has to offer. I would love to have access to a library of things. What a wonderful idea.


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