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Thinking about "Attachment" and Buddhism


To the extent people who claim to know something about Buddhism (and this includes you and me!) speak to you in terms of shoulds and should nots, I think they are missing the point. If somebody tells you, "You should not desire [attraction X]," that person has abandoned what I understand of Buddhism for some other controlling agenda.

Buddhism, properly followed, directs you to pay attention to your desires and dislikes, along with the many other sensations, feelings, and thoughts floating through your body/mind from time to time. It doesn't tell you what you should do about your desires and dislikes. It does direct you to act in the present moment, while observing reality, mindfully. Watch your desires, see what happens to them if you try to quench them, see what happens to them if you don't.

I see lots of people get hung up on attachment, thinking that attachments are automatically bad and that we should deny ourselves pleasure because pleasure = attachment = suffering. Attachment is the desire to possess something. Everybody feels this desire from time to time. Desires arise, occupy our minds, and dissipate. Whether you suffer depends on your attitude toward your desires. Do you have insight into what they are, where they come from, and where they lead, or do you follow them blindly?

One of the most important insights about attachment is that it ultimately doesn't work. We can not truly possess anything, because the universe as we know it is in constant flux. Our bodies age and eventually die. Our personal effects wear out, are stolen, or disappear. Our personal relationships grow, change, and disappear. Nothing is permanent, and if we watch carefully we'll see this, and we'll see that our attachments are ultimately futile because we can not permanently possess anything. We can grasp, but we can not hold.

One antidote to feelings of attachment is the pleasure of paying attention to this moment and the momentary presence of the person or item we enjoy, knowing that it won't last forever, and cherishing the love/joy right here right now.


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