Taking

Whoever in this world
Takes nothing not given,
Whether it is long or short,
Large or small,
Beautiful or not,
I call a brahmin.

Dhammapada v. 409, translated by Gil Fronsdal

If we want to behave like a superior person, we abstain from taking anything that hasn’t been offered to us. We don’t push to the front of the line, or take food from someone else’s plate, or assume that something that’s been laid out is meant for us. When we’re unsure, we reflect on whether this tempting item might belong to, or be intended for, someone else.

This description points to the fact that we are often unthinking in our pursuit of selfish goals. It provides a subtle reminder that we are all here together, and that getting and having things for ourselves is a way that we separate ourselves from each other. We divide the world into “me” and “everyone else”. Sharing what we have is a way of bridging this divide.

“Long or short, large or small, beautiful or not” seems to be a poetic way of expanding our awareness to include all forms. Sometimes I am guilty of throwing away things that don’t seem valuable to me when I’m cleaning up. In the past, I might (slightly) redecorate a family member’s home to suit my taste more. What arrogance!

One place I notice wanting things for myself is in art museums. Some of the art is so powerful that I want to take a particular item home. Of course, I can’t, but I am able to acknowledge this desire and to recognise its unwholesome quality. Then I can set it aside and just open to the present experience of enjoyment.

If we work with this principle regularly, we will become more sensitive to our relationship with things. We may identify with our stuff less and be alert to more opportunities for generosity.

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