The beauty of empty jars

- through Francois Leclercq

Published on

I built a few shelves for our dining room, and they have now become home to quite a few pots.

These are not the pans we use for everyday cooking, far from it. Some of them are only used once or twice a year when vegetables from the garden can be harvested. Others are used every couple of months when we need to cook huge quantities of food for a family gathering.

In a perfect world, they would be cleaned regularly, just like the rest of our kitchen utensils. In fact, since they serve a decorative role, we might even be expected to polish them from time to time. But the truth is that they are somewhat neglected.

There was a time or two where I was horrified to notice a layer of dust accumulating on it!

In those moments, I took them to the sink, washed them well and vowed to ensure that they would never reach such a deplorable state again. Unfortunately, I was never able to keep that promise.

Inevitably, life gets demanding, things get busy and the pots gather dust again.

It's not a great situation, but there is a silver lining. Every once in a while, each of them gets their time to shine. At times like these, they help us can beans, potatoes, and other vegetables which are then stored in our pantry. Or we use them to make a huge batch of spaghetti to help feed the aunts, uncles and cousins ​​who visit us for the holidays.

In those moments, the pots shine. They are the center of our universe and receive all the love, attention and care we can muster. Of course, pots don't have feelings. But I imagine if they did, they would appreciate all the attention and take advantage of the opportunity to feel useful.

It is the fact that they are able to remain empty during times when they are not needed that allows them to be so useful when needed. If we threw them away at a time when there were no big meals to cook or vegetables to preserve, we would be in a very difficult situation when these obligations arose.

And if we filled them with anything while they sat on the shelves, the pans would fill a storage need they weren't made for, and emptying them before cooking would create a much bigger mess than necessary. Only by leaving jars empty for extended periods can we guarantee that they will be available at important times.

In his wisdom, the Buddha declared that desire is the root of suffering. There are many ways to interpret this teaching, but the one that rings truest to me is that we often suffer because we try to fill the metaphorical jars of our lives when they should sit empty on the shelves.

We speak when silence would be more appropriate. We spend money we don't have on clothes to fill an empty dresser drawer. We invite people into our lives who are not good for us because we don't want to spend our nights and weekends alone.

And it feels good temporarily, using every available inch of our lives, but it quickly becomes a problem when we need that space to move, grow, and become our authentic selves.

So, we invite suffering into our lives by collecting a bunch of things that we don't need or need at that moment. The end result is a life filled with endless stress, confusion, and complexity.

This is why Buddhism encourages us to practice non-attachment. When we learn to practice discernment, looking at the objects in our lives with a questioning gaze, it becomes clear what things we need to hold on to. This also becomes evident when we need to let things go.

It's not always obvious when our jars need to be emptied, but there are usually signs. On days when the to-do list seems so long that we aren't able to make a dent, it may be a sign that we should remove some items from it.

And if it seems impossible to keep our home clean and organized, that could be a sign that it's time to declutter, putting away some of the unnecessary items we've accumulated over the years.

Our mind might object to this practice, thinking we are depriving ourselves of something. But the truth is that we are simply setting the stage for more enthusiasm in the future.

Because today's empty pot is the source of tomorrow's family meal.

Namu Amida Butsu

photo of author

Francois Leclercq

François Leclercq is the founder of Buddhist News, a website which aims to disseminate information and practical advice on Buddhism and spirituality. François Leclercq was born and raised in Paris. He studied Buddhism at the University of Paris-Sorbonne, where he graduated in social sciences and psychology. After graduating, he devoted himself to his passion for Buddhism and traveled the world to study and learn about different practices. He notably visited Tibet, Nepal, Thailand, Japan and China.

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