We might wonder what it would be like if everything we have and own were to somehow be taken away from us. A huge part of human life is devoted to acquiring and then protecting “stuff”, stuff we fear we could lose in one way or another. Indeed, there is an immense business dedicated to providing us with insurance against any potential losses we might incur in the process of day-to-day life. However, though we may currently seem to possess something, if only temporarily, we never actually do. Even our thoughts about any of it are not truly ours. Even our memories. In the midst of everything, we literally have nothing.
Given that, there is no need to aspire towards poverty in any idealistic way, as if there were some virtue to be gained in the process. The real poverty cannot be achieved by gestures of religious renunciation. When one has nothing to begin with, what can they actually surrender? All such conceptual intention is more like a kind of subtle arrogance. When we examine our basic condition, we can recognize that we are totally innocent of any ownership whatsoever, regardless of appearances. We can test ourselves to see if this is true by self-inquiring, “Who are you?”
Being rich or poor in the material sense has nothing at all to do with the inherent poverty of our fundamental nature. We own nothing, not even this body we call “mine”. From the moment we enter this world we are busy fashioning an identity, but a thorough inspection of identity’s essential emptiness will clarify that it is not who or what we truly are. It is not ours to own. Indeed, it is only the sense of some kind of ownership that has made us blind to our true state of perfect poverty. It has made us selfish, left us feeling separated, restless, and alone.
Just as we may amass a great fortune, or alternatively, lose everything in a dream at night, when we awaken in the morning, we have gained nothing, nor have we lost anything. So it is with this life we imagine is ours, along with any accumulations which we believe we have garnered on the way. We may have had many dream-like adventures, many experiences which might have impressed us, but where have they gone? They are part of the bundle of thoughts, memories, sensations, and perceptions which we have assumed amounted to a separate, concrete, and enduring self, but we are not that self. None of it is who we are, nor was any of it ever ours.
Yes, there is awareness, but it too is not ours. The one who imagines that they are the witness of experience also disappears with the scene. Likewise, all concepts of free will and choice miss the point, if one does not first understand to whom they would apply. The main character in the movie undergoes all sorts of experiences. Maybe they were the hero, maybe the villain, maybe the winner, maybe the loser. When the movie comes to an end, where do they go?
They do not return to the light, nor do we. There is no actual reunion, no merger, no entering into the inexhaustible luminosity. Light is never other than itself. When we directly realize our inherent poverty, we are still only ourselves, what we have always been. In human terms (totally inadequate) there was an experiment. The light evolves. It grows more expansive, richer and more radiant through struggle. It divided itself from itself to create a sense of distance, as well as the sense of time it takes to realize itself anew. Why does it do this? Why do we?
This life on earth is a struggle, no matter who we are. Some claim it was created this way, to provide its visitors with an opportunity for rapid growth of character. If so, we have been given a great tool with which to meet the challenge: our essential poverty. Since we come with nothing, possess nothing, own nothing, how can we be harmed? Fear is what makes life difficult. It spawns the poisons of greed, hatred, and ignorance. This realm is infested with fear, but the realization of our essential poverty can neutralize all fear. We begin to recognize that everything which ever was or will be is contained within this exquisite poverty. There is truly nothing to lose. Thus, we become fearless. When we become fearless, we also become humble. We become generous and compassionate in the all-inclusive awareness that every being matters. Thus, we also become willing to sacrifice ourselves for love. In that way, we evolve.