"Grasping at things can only yield one
of two results:
Either the thing you are grasping at disappears, or you yourself
It is only a matter of which occurs first."
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.
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".
Near "enemy" (or not to be confused with): Real appreciation, love
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.
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.
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
Opposite: Attachment to "worldly" happiness; ultimately leading
Main qualities: Discovery of what ultimately leads to misery and
Lama Yeshe: "Renunciation comes from within, it is inner wisdom,
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
"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
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
"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
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
We don't like criticism, but like to criticise others.
^Top of Page
ADDICTION: ATTACHMENT GONE
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
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.
A story By Ven Master Hsing Yun: from Merit
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."
“One man can conquer a thousand times
thousand men in battle,
but one who conquers himself is the greatest of conquerors.”
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
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
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.
See the teachings by Lama Yeshe on Lama
The Benefits of
Zen Meditation in Addiction and Recovery
A good set of links on Buddhism and addiction at Buddhist
Open Mind on Buddhism
& the 12-Step Process: An End to Suffering
at Bodhi's Homepage on addiction
by Pema Chodron on addiction
by the Traleg Kyabgon Rinpoche
Some addiction counseling programs incorporate a more spiritual approach in its treatment of patients.
I can resist everything except temptation.
If you find a good solution and become attached to it, the solution
may become your next problem.
Tell me what you need and I'll tell you how to get along without
It matters not whether you win or lose; what matters is whether
I win or lose.
Girl: "Say you love me! Say you love me!"
Boy: "You love me.."
September 11, 2011