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    Modern version of the Eternal Knot by Charles Huttner
A View on Buddhism
Teksty w jezyku polskim     Deutsche Seiten

ATTACHMENT

PAGE CONTENTS

Some Definitions
What is the problem with attachment?
The suffering of pleasure?
Some notes on ordinary love
Addiction; attachment gone mad
Miserliness
Handling attachment - antidotes


"Grasping at things can only yield one of two results:
Either the thing you are grasping at disappears, or you yourself disappear.
It is only a matter of which occurs first."

Goenka

SOME DEFINITIONS

It may be important to know the following definitions and descriptions in order to understand the problems we have with attachment, and make sense about the ways in which we can deal with them.

ATTACHMENT
Definition: Exaggerated not wanting to be separated from someone or something. (Exact opposite of Aversion) Because the label of "pleasant" is very relative and based upon limited information, Attachment includes an aspect of exaggeration or "projection".
Lovers
Near "enemy" (or not to be confused with): Real appreciation, love and compassion.
Opposite: Wanting to be separated from someone or something: aversion.
Main quality: exaggeration of positive qualities, which can only lead to disappointment. Falling in love will usually fit very well in this category.

LOVE
Definition: Wishing others to be happy.
Near enemy: Conditional love (attachment).
Opposite: Wishing others to be unhappy: hatred --or-- not wishing others to be happy: which is indifference or egotism.
Main qualities: Unconditional, no self-interest, but based on self-acceptance.

COMPASSION
Definition: Wishing others to be free from suffering.
Near enemy: Sorry for someone, pity.
Opposite: Wishing others to suffer: cruelty.
Main qualities: Sorry with someone, com-passion means with-feeling, urge to help.

RENUNCIATION / DETACHMENT
Definition: wanting to be free from all problems of cyclic existence, not wanting objects that cause more misery. It is not, that someone suddenly gets excited, abandons all his belongings and escapes to a cave in the mountains, simply hoping to escape his present problems; these people usually return in a week or two, weak and discouraged.
Near enemies: Not caring about anything or extreme asceticism, suicidal attitude.
Opposite: Attachment to "worldly" happiness; ultimately leading to misery.
Main qualities: Discovery of what ultimately leads to misery and avoiding that.
Lama Yeshe: "Renunciation comes from within, it is inner wisdom, inner knowledge."

WHAT IS THE PROBLEM WITH ATTACHMENT?

Although attachment may at first appear to be much less destructive than anger and hatred, in terms of being caught up in the uncontrolled process of rebirth, it is actually the bigger evil. Attachment to pleasure and ultimately to life itself as our inborn survival instinct, is the main type of misunderstanding that holds us prisoner in samsara.
An example to illustrate attachment that I love:

In the South of India, people used to catch monkeys in a very special way. Actually they let monkeys catch themselves. What they did is cutting a small hole in a coconut, just large enough for a monkey to put its hand in. Next, you fix the coconut to a tree, and fill it with a sweet. The monkey smells the sweet, squeezes its hand into the coconut, grabs the sweet and .... finds that the fist does not fit through the hole. Now the trick is, that the last thing the monkey will think of is to let go of the sweet; and it holds itself prisoner. Nothing could be easier for a human being who comes and catches it.

The Buddha compared desires to being in debt. If you owe money to the bank for your house, every month you have to pay. In the end, you will own the house. With sensual desires however, you cannot pay off the debt; they arise again and again. Hunger, thirst, lust for sex, warmth, coolness, they all come back again and again. Trying to fulfil our desires is like carrying water to the sea; a never ending task and ultimately completely useless.

In some very direct words of the Buddha:

"I have killed all of you before.
I was chopped up by all of you in previous lives.
We have all killed each other as enemies.
So why should we be attached to each other?"

Ajahn Sumedho, in 'Teachings of a Buddhist Monk':

"Desire can be compared to fire. If we grasp fire, what happens? Does it lead to happiness?
If we say: "Oh, look at that beautiful fire! Look at the beautiful colors! I love red and orange; they're my favorite colors," and then grasp it, we would find a certain amount of suffering entering the body. And then if we were to contemplate the cause of that suffering we would discover it was the result of having grasped that fire. On that information, we would hopefully, then let the fire go. Once we let fire go then we know that it is something not to be attached to.
This does not mean we have to hate it, or put it out. We can enjoy fire, can't we? It's nice having a fire, it keeps the room warm, but we do not have to burn ourselves in it."

John Snelling, from 'Elements of Buddhism':

"If the basic project of mainstream Buddhist practice is to unmask the ego illusion for what it is, one of the main prongs of attack is directed against desire. Desire gets a very bad press in the Buddhist scriptures. It is a poison, a disease, a madness. There is no living in a body that is subject to desire, for it is like a blazing house.
Now, desire lives and grows by being indulged. When not indulged by the application of ethical restraint and awareness, on the other hand, it stabilizes and begins to diminish, though this is not an easy or comfortable process, for the old urges clamor for satisfaction for a long time.
This kind of practice cuts directly against the main currents of modern consumer society, where desire is energetically encouraged and refined to new pitches and variations by the powerful agencies of marketing and publicity. But it also cuts against the more moderate desires-for family, wealth, sense-pleasures and so on sanctioned in simpler, more traditional societies, including the one into which the Buddha was born. We can never be at peace while desire is nagging at us."

^Top of Page

THE SUFFERING OF PLEASURE?

It can be a sobering experience when one deeply reflects in meditation on what we normally describe as pleasure. The Buddha said that relative to the blissful experience of release of cyclic existence, everything within cyclic existence is suffering. (See also the first of the "4 Noble Truths".)
Can this make sense?
Please take a few moments to reflect the following thoughts, while taking a pleasurable experience in mind:

- In how far is this "pleasure" simply an escape or a temporary forgetting of daily problems?
- How nice would it be if I kept doing this without interruption for a few days?
- How fulfilled do I feel by this experience after 5 minutes, 5 hours, 5 days?
- To achieve the same great feeling as the first time, do I need more of the same the next time?

The Buddha concluded that putting our energy in grasping for temporary pleasures is not only useless, it creates many problems, also karmic actions which we had better avoided.

From a Buddha's point of view this is exactly what sentient beings do all the time; holding themselves prisoner with their attachment to temporary pleasures and life itself.

"Let me tell you about the middle path. Dressing in rough and dirty garments, letting your hair grow matted, abstaining from eating any meat or fish, does not cleanse the one who is deluded. Mortifying the flesh through excessive hardship does not lead to a triumph over the senses. All self-inflicted suffering is useless as long as the feeling of self is dominent.

You should lose your involvement with yourself and then eat and drink naturally, according to the needs of your body. Attachment to your appetites - whether you deprive or indulge them - can lead to slavery, but satisfying the needs of daily life is not wrong. Indeed, to keep a body in good health is a duty, for otherwise the mind will not stay strong and clear."
From Discourses II

SOME NOTES ON "ORDINARY" LOVE

- "Love with attachment consists of waves of emotion, usually creating invisible iron chains." Ordinary love tends to create bonds that may turn very unpleasant.
- Ordinary love is based on selfishness: attraction to others because they help us.
- Ordinary love is often based on opinions like beauty and status, which may be quite irrelevant or even obstacles for being able to live happily together with the person.
- Exaggeration and projection are the main reasons that ordinary love leads to disappointments. To illustrate this some words from M. Scott Peck on "ordinary love":

"The myth of romantic love is a dreadful lie. Perhaps it is a necessary lie in that it assures the 'falling in love'- experience that traps us into marriage. But as a psychiatrist I weep in my heart almost daily for the ghastly confusion and suffering that this myth fosters. Millions of people waste vast amounts of energy desperately in an attempt to make the reality of their lives conform to the unreality of the myth."

- "Being in love" may be a very exciting emotional condition, but is it really happiness, or is it often mixed with a fair amount of suffering?
- Attachment gives us the feeling of: How can this relationship fulfil MY needs? Real love would ask: What can I do for the OTHER?
- Attachment based on selfishness: if you are good to me, I am good to you. Altruistic love is based on equanimity: one realises that others are like me and want happiness. It is wishing others to be happy just because they exist.
- Attachment leads to possessiveness: MY husband, MY wife, MY friend, MY family. Did you ever realise that we cannot own people, unless you believe in slavery? Possessiveness leads to FEAR of losing, fake affection out of fear, overprotection, craving, jealousy or even the feeling: I can't live without her/him/my car/my cat/chocolate/pizzas/my job/my jewellery/my music....
- Is the perfection we think to see in the loved one really there, or do we simply close our eyes for the negative qualities?
- Is the perfection we are looking for achievable? An old Sufi tale as illustration:

"One afternoon, Nasruddin and his friend were sitting in a cafe, drinking tea and talking about life and love.  His friend asked: 'How come you never married?'
'Well,' said Nasruddin, 'to tell you the truth, I spend my youth looking for the perfect woman. In Cairo I met a beautiful and intelligent woman, but she was unkind. Then in Baghdad, I met a woman who was a wonderful and generous soul, but we had no common interests. One woman after another would seem just right, but there would always be something missing. Then one day, I met her; beautiful, intelligent, generous and kind. We had very much in common. In fact, she was perfect!'
'So, what happened?' asked Nasruddin's friend, 'Why didn't you marry her?'
Nasruddin sipped his tea reflectively. 'Well,' he replied, 'it's really the sad story of my life.... It seemed that she was looking for the perfect man...' "

To summarise: our own projections, selfish expectations and exaggerations are the foundations of attachment and the unavoidable disappointment.

We want to get love, rather than give love.
We seek understanding, rather than trying to understand.
We seek self-confidence, rather than respecting others.
We seek praise and encouragement, rather than giving praise and encouragement .
We don't like criticism, but like to criticise others.

^Top of Page

ADDICTION: ATTACHMENT GONE MAD

Sogyal Rinpoche writes (I think from the Tibetan book of living and dying):

"All we need to do to receive direct help is to ask. Didn't Christ also say: ”Ask, and it shall be given you; seek and ye shall find; knock and it shall be opened unto you. Everyone that asketh, receiveth; and he that seeketh, findeth”? And yet asking is what we find hardest. Many of us, I feel, hardly know how to ask. Sometimes it is because we are arrogant, sometimes because we are unwilling to seek help, sometimes because we are lazy, sometimes our minds are so busy with questions, distractions, and confusion that the simplicity of asking does not occur to us. The turning point in any healing of alcoholics or drug addicts is when they admit their illness and ask for aid. In one way or another, we are all addicts of samsara; the moment when help can come for us is when we admit our addiction and simply ask."

Basically, the same methods that work against attachment are effective against addiction, but one needs to realise that mental transformation via meditation and reflection can be effective, but it is not an instant-solution. We need to realise that addiction is usually a result of underlying problems/frustrations; it is no secret that addiction and depression often go hand in hand, so apart from the physycal addiction there is usually a lot of healing needed. Whether smoking, driniking, over-eating, using drugs, being addicted to sex, excessiely watching TV or computer-addiction, there is usually an underlying frustration or problem we try to forget by absorbing ourselves in something else. So, although meditation is certainly not an instant solution, it does work on a deep level to gradually transform the mind and gain some control over it, as is usually needed in serious cases of addiction.

Several people have tried to adapt the 12-step program for Buddhists (as the traditional 12-step program was strongly formulated in terms of a belief in God), this one from Lion's Roar Dharma Center.

The 12 Steps of Liberation
1. The truth of suffering. We experienced the truth of our addictions – our lives were unmanageable suffering.
2. The truth of the origin of suffering. We admit that we craved for and grasped onto addictions as our refuge.
3. The truth of the end of suffering. We came to see that complete cessation of craving and clinging at addictions is necessary.
4. The truth of the path. We made a decision to follow the path of liberation and to take refuge in our wisdom, our truth, and our fellowship.
5. Right view. We completely see our life as it is. Our goodness is indestructible. We are willing to acknowledge and proclaim our truth to ourselves, another human being and the community.
6. Right thought. We are mindful that we create the causes for suffering and liberation.
7. Right speech. We purify, confess and ask for forgiveness straightforwardly and without judgment. We are willing to forgive others.
8. Right action. We make a list of all persons we harm and are willing and able to actively make amends to them all, unless to do so would be harmful.
9. Right livelihood. We simplify our lives, realizing we are all interconnected. We engage in active compassion. We select a vocation that supports our recovery.
10. Right effort. We acknowledge mistakes and relapse as part of the path. We continue to practice these steps with joyful effort.
11. Right mindfulness. Through prayer, meditation and action we follow the path of truth, being mindful moment by moment.
12. Right concentration. Open to the spirit of awakening as a result of these steps, we will carry this message to all people suffering with addictions.

MISERLINESS

A story By Ven Master Hsing Yun: from Merit Times

The Normal Hand Opens & Closes

A devotee told Chan Master Moxian, "My wife is extremely stingy. She will not spend even a penny on charity. Could you please come to my house and talk to her about engaging in benevolent deeds?" Very compassionately, Chan Master Moxian agreed.

The next day, when he went to the devotee's house, the wife came out to receive him. True to her miserly nature, she did not even offer Chan Master Moxian a cup of tea. Chan Master sat down and held out his fist, asking, "Madame, look at my hand. What would you think if my hand remained constantly in a fist?" The wife responded, "If it remained in a fist, then your hand is deformed! Something must be wrong with it."

Chan Master repeated her words back to her, saying, "It is deformed!" In the meantime, he opened up his fist and held out a flat palm to her, asking, "Were it like this all the time, what do you think?" The wife responded, "That would be deformed too!"

Seizing this opportunity, Chan Master immediately came to the point, saying, "Madame, you are right! A constant closed fist and a constant opened palm are both deformed. It is the same with the way we use money. If we are always close-fisted, only concerned about getting more money, but never consider giving, we are deformed. If we are always open-handed, only thinking about spending but not saving, we are deformed as well. Money should flow like a smooth current. When it comes in, it should flow out too. There should be a balance in your receiving and giving."

HANDLING ATTACHMENT

One man can conquer a thousand times thousand men in battle,
but one who conquers himself is the greatest of conquerors.

The Dhammapada

The following antidotes can be applied throughout daily life, but are profound meditation exercises as well.

ANTIDOTE 1 - Observe Yourself: Do I exaggerate positive qualities of things I am attached to, are they really worth all my troubles? Is it really worth to work hard for days, weeks or months to have an hour of fun?

ANTIDOTE 2 - Use Your Inner Wisdom: Discover how exaggerated attachment is and how desire works against oneself. Try to be wiser than the monkey and let go of the candy to be free.

ANTIDOTE 3 - Reflect on the Unsatisfactory Nature of Existence. This is also called the First Noble Truth. How much fun is fun really, and how much is it forgetting the pain? Do desires ever stop or is it an endless job to fulfil them?

ANTIDOTE 4 - Reflect on Impermanence. How important is the person or object: everything will end someday, people die, things break.

ANTIDOTE 5 - Reflect on the Problems of Attachment. Lying in the sun is great, but it quickly leads to sunburn. Eating nice food is great, but it leads to indigestion and obesity. Driving around in big cars is great, but how long do I have to work to enjoy this?

ANTIDOTE 6 - Reflect on bodily attraction (lust for sex). Loving someone is great, but what happens when the "honeymoon-days" are over? But what is the body really? What more is it than a skin bag filled with bones, flesh, disgusting organs and fluids?

ANTIDOTE 7 - Reflect on the Results of Attachment. Greed and craving lead to stealing and all kinds of crime, including war. Addiction to alcohol and drugs are simply forms of strong craving; they destroy the addict and the surroundings. Uncontrolled lust leads to sexual abuse. The feeling of greed, craving and lust in themselves can be easily seen as forms of suffering.

ANTIDOTE 8 - Reflect on Death. What are all objects of attachment worth at "the moment of truth" or death?

ANTIDOTE 9 - Emptiness. The ultimate antidote to attachment and all other negative emotions is the realisation of emptiness, see more in the page on Wisdom.

For more meditations, see the List of Sample Meditations.

LINKS

See the teachings by Lama Yeshe on Lama Yeshe Archives.
The Benefits of Zen Meditation in Addiction and Recovery
A good set of links on Buddhism and addiction at Buddhist Recovery
Open Mind on Buddhism & the 12-Step Process: An End to Suffering
The links at Bodhi's Homepage on addiction
Article by Pema Chodron on addiction
Relationships by the Traleg Kyabgon Rinpoche

Some addiction counseling programs incorporate a more spiritual approach in its treatment of patients.

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Just for fun:

I can resist everything except temptation.
Oscar Wilde

If you find a good solution and become attached to it, the solution may become your next problem.
Robert Anthony

Tell me what you need and I'll tell you how to get along without it.
Anonymous

It matters not whether you win or lose; what matters is whether I win or lose.
Weinberg

Girl: "Say you love me! Say you love me!"
Boy: "You love me.."

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Last updated: September 11, 2011