Question: Letting go of attachment is good, but I am disturbed by how a family member developed the habit of throwing away things, which include family items in a brutal and self-righteous way. Surely this is not how Buddhism teaches letting go? The disposed include old photos, books and childhood toys, which left aside, should not invoke attachment? How can I get him to tone it down, and cope with his drastic change?
Answer: Letting go of personally unneeded things, for others’ reuse, if not for recycling is good. What the Buddha taught us to let go of are essentially only the Three Poisons of greed (attachment), hatred (aversion) and delusion (ignorance). If ridding an item, (relationship or matter in mind) expresses letting go of attachment, it is good. But if it expresses aversion, it is not good.
If that thrown away include family items, it is a form of stealing too, which breaks the Second Precept. Relevant family members should inform him that such items can be disposed only with the co-owners’ permission. There must be reasons for the sudden change in behaviour. If that thrown away are family items, he could be unhappy with family members, thus venting his anger through the items? It would be good to have family members chat with him gently, to ask what his frustrations are, so as to seek solutions.
There can be compromise too, by telling him to inform the rest of the family of what about to be thrown away. The items can be patiently sorted through, with explanations given on why they are still cherished or not. It should be noted too, that extreme hoarding of the needless is another problem on the other end of the spectrum. (It is noteworthy that both those with strong attachment and strong aversion tend not agree they are that way, due to strong delusion that gives rise to the first two poisons.)
For record, if wished, photos of nostalgic items can perhaps be snapped before regifting or recycling them, giving them new useful lives. Sometimes, it is through giving away that we prove to ourselves that we are really not so attached, such that we suffer from loss of these items. Such loss of items of attachment can even even flip to become aversion. Thus do the Three Poisons interconnect and interplay.