Master Tova’s niece, Chantall, had recently arrived from the land of the Maori to care for her aunt in her final days. The first thing The Master requested was that Chantall clean out her bedroom closet.
“It would be my pleasure Auntie. Where would you like me to put everything?”
“Just clean it out first, then we’ll figure out what to do with it.”
Chantall went to work and was surprised to find such an array of items packed into such a small space. She pulled out three bags of clothes, ten pairs of shoes (including some sequined platform clogs), a shredded bed roll, five pairs of candlesticks (which were melted almost to the wick), fifteen unmatched socks, a pair of rusty engraved silver scissors, scroll after scroll of some ancient texts (which she could not read and did not understand), two balls of yarn, a broken knitting needle, seven lightweight blouses (with stains and various colored material), a large pair of men’s pants, a moth-eaten velvet hat, an earring, nose ring, ankle and wrist bracelets, an array of playing cards, a begging bowl, an ochre-colored robe that had turned almost gray, a wooden chess set, two brass bells, some old letters (which she planned to read as soon as her Aunt drifted off to sleep, as they appeared to be love letters), a drawing of an elephant sitting in meditation, and a necklace with a green emerald pennant in the shape of a Bodhi tree. Clearing out the closet took much longer than she’d expected.
“Now what Auntie? What would you like me to do with all your things?”
“We must first clear out the closets of our mind, before we can be free,” Master Tova replied. “A mind cluttered with ideas, thoughts, the past, the future, or desire, will never find freedom.”
“Okay,” Chantall said, “but what do you want me to do with all this?” She nodded towards the high pile of Master Tarantino’s possessions.
“That? That is nothing more than a collection of matter, which had been stored inside a container of matter. Holding on or letting go of material objects makes no difference. It is our attachment to people, places, or things which causes suffering and keeps us on the endless wheel of karma.”
“Yes. I understand Aunt Tova, but where should I take it? What do you want me to do with it?”
“Oh, I don’t know. Just leave it. Better yet, why don’t you take what you wish, give some to your mother, and distribute the rest to charity?”
“I’m not sure how to say this Auntie, but most of this is useless. It wouldn’t even be worth donating.”
“Then burn it all. Light a pyre and reduce it to dust, just as I will soon become.”
“As you wish.”
Chantall took load after load out into the light of day, built a fire, and started throwing Master Tarantino’s material goods onto the fire. She kept the ancient scroll, the necklace, and a bell. She tried to retrieve the love letters, which she’d inadvertently thrown in with everything else, but it was too late. Then she returned to her aunt’s room.
“It is done Auntie.”
“Excellent. Now you are free. There is nothing holding you back. You can move on.”
“Those were your things, not mine.”
“Are you sure?”
“Yes, I’m sure.”
“Well, it doesn’t matter, does it? Desirelessness is a trap and desire is liberation.”
“Don’t you mean . . . oh, never mind.”
As Aunt Tova drifted off to sleep, Chantall quietly tiptoed out of her room, wondering what she would have found in her aunt’s love letters, and berating herself for having inadvertently thrown them into the fire.
Chantall told this story to her mother after she returned home from caring for Aunt Tova. Her mother wrote it down and later passed it on to an undisclosed student of her sisters community.
More stories of desire at: Zen Master Tova Tarantino Toshiba: The Illustrious and Delusional Abbess of Satire.