Skillful Thinking: Overview, Letting Go: Material Objects

Eight Mindful Steps to Happiness (pp. 57-60)

Thinking is very powerful and can make us happy or miserable.  We worry, obsess, have fears, fantasize – all of which can cause suffering.

Skillful Thinking

With Skillful Thinking, we learn how to recognize and deal with the unskillful thoughts that arise.  As with all phenomena, these thoughts have the Three Characteristics of impermanence, inherent unsatisfactoriness, and selflessness.  We do not control our thoughts; we practice mindfulness as they arise.  Skillful thinking is about seeing these thoughts for what they are and knowing that we can let go.

This allows skillful thoughts to arise.

In summary, we abandon and replace.  As we learned in the Third Noble Truth, cessation of attachment (to unskillful thoughts) is the cure.  Practicing Skillful Thinking is a step in that direction.

The Buddha’s words on Skillful Thinking (Right Thought):

“And what, is Right Thought?  Thought associated with renunciation, thought associated with absence of ill will, thought associated with absence of cruelty.  This is called Right Thought.”

  • Renunciation is letting go
  • Absence of ill-will is loving kindness
  • Absence of cruelty is compassion

Renunciation or abandonment or letting go.  This is the opposite of desire or attachment or clinging. As Bhante G. states, “It is generosity in the highest sense.”

Letting Go of Unskillful Thoughts

There are three main opportunities for letting go of unskillful thoughts.

  1. Attachment to material objects
  2. Clinging to People, Experiences, Beliefs
  3. Fear

In this talk, we will address attachment to material objects 

We can take an inventory and see how we are attached to what we own or what we desire.  It is beneficial to do this without judgment and to be open to looking deeply at what it would be like to cease our attachment to specific objects.  This does not mean that we give everything away; it is just that we view material objects as having the Three Characteristics:  impermanent, inherently unsatisfactory, and selfless.  We are seeing through mindfulness material objects as to what they really are.

There is also the opportunity to look at our thoughts about material generosity.  What attachment do we have to practicing generosity?  What keeps us from giving?  If we do give, do we expect something in return such as recognition?  Look at this deeply without judgment.

The Buddha said

“If people knew, as I know, the fruits of sharing gifts, they would not enjoy their use without sharing them, nor would the taint of stinginess obsess the heart. Even if it were their last bit, their last morsel of food, they would not enjoy its use without sharing it if there was someone else to share it with.”

The medieval Jewish philosopher Maimonides lists eight levels of generosity:

  1. Giving grudgingly
  2. Giving less than you should, but doing it cheerfully
  3. Giving after being asked
  4. Giving before being asked
  5. Giving when you do not know the recipient, but the recipient knows you
  6. Giving when you know the recipient, but the recipient does not know you
  7. Giving when both the giver and receiver are unknown to one another
  8. Enabling the recipient to become self-sufficient and no longer in need of giving

These levels do not imply right or wrong.  They merely illustrate ways to reflect on generosity.


  • Reflect on the power of thought and practice identifying unskillful thoughts relating to material objects.
  • Mindfully look at these thoughts without judgments.  What do you find?

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