I recently dined with a man involved in a wide range of businesses. "They say the economy is recovering," he noted, "but I do not see any sign of that. I may be driven to hang myself in despair at this rate." Just then I realized that the scroll behind him said, "Possessing nothing from the beginning." My friend had been joking, of course, about killing himself, but the bold words of a well-known Zen master seemed to hold for us a timely lesson. Saying, "It seems as if the Buddhas has over heard our conversation and is explaining the Dharma for us." I looked at my friend. He looked back at me, and we suddenly started laughing.
That event reminded me of a similar incident I had heard about. Long ago, a wealthy merchant who had gone bankrupt, set off on a journey in search of a place to die. At a cheap inn he had just crawled into bed when he saw these words on a folding screen: "Born naked into this world, what can we possibly lack?" This brought him to his senses. "I started out with nothing," he thought, "yet here I am bewailing the loss of my fortune and thinking of killing myself. What foolishness!"
The Bible teaches the same thing: "Naked I cam from the womb, naked I shall return whence I came. The Lord gives and the Lord takes away; blessed be the name of the Lord" (Job 1:21).
The Buddhist concept of emptiness (sunyata in Sanskrit) is a complex one to explain in philosophical terms, but Shakyamuni presented it in simple everyday terminology, telling us that our attachments are what cause us torment.
It is because we cling to money and things, to position and reputation, that we suffer. We hall all grieved at one time or another at the loss of something precious. It is at times like these that we should remind ourselves of our origins. Remember that you were born naked and will die naked. A human being originally possesses nothing.
I should point out here, however, that the attachments Shakyamuni referred to were those of greed, of excessive desires. He was not talking of the wish for psychological fulfillment or enhancement.
Buddhism for Everyday