Saturday, November 4, 2006

Getting sucked into attachments

I recently received an email about a previous post I made regarding attachments, requesting further comment...
In your recent post on attachments, you stated something like
the following:

"One of the primary delusions is that we have an intrinsic
existence (unchanging, isolated reality), and so there is a
sense of incompletion, that we need to become, that we need to
achieve, that there is a hole in our very being that needs to be

I don't see how a notion of intrinsic existence causes a "hole
in our very being that needs to be filled." I may be
misunderstanding what you've written. There are times when I am
quite attached to things even while I realize they are transient
and only temporary. Even if I don't exist, it doesn't matter --
if I can get a rush out of the moment or avoid something

First, some things to bear in mind. I am not "officially sanctioned" in any sense, i.e. training as a spiritual/religious teacher, dharma transmission, ordination as a Buddhist monk or priest, etc. Hence the part in the title of the blog where it's a shared exploration, that is, folks who read here can basically "peek in" and dialogue about where my life or practice is taking me. I can't say where it will take anyone else.

Second, my academic explanation was intended to serve as a platform to discuss why academic explanations fall short, so if it did, then I suppose, point made ;o).

With that in mind, as per the quote, I referred to intrinsic as signifying the qualities of being isolated and unchanging. That is, self-sustaining and non-interactive. So it isn't just "things" that are sometimes seen as intrinsic, but more importantly ourselves, giving rise to a fundamental and unique essence (sometimes depicted as a soul or the equivalent). Hence there is a "self" and there are "events" and "things", and this self can long for, possess, and lose these things. An intrinsic being can be lonely, can be inadequate, can be unfulfilled, stemming from a perception of being apart, being separate. It is this basic perception that can create what I summed up as a "hole in our being" (or more accurately the deep-seated illusion of a whole based on the delusion of essential separateness). As I wrote, this isn't something of which we are directly conscious, but it is the root of craving concerned with being "complete". This is different than simply wanting a trifling pleasure. Experiencing pain or pleasure, and enjoying or disliking either, is not necessarily this kind of deep craving or attachment.

On the other hand, one can still see things and experiences as transient, but if they are seen as fundamentally (rather than relatively) distinct from oneself and the rest of existence, then the basic error is still there, as is the danger of becoming attached to them. The alternative is to recognize and appreciate these things, but not to connect them to any perception of fundamental fulfilment. This is separate from having goals, or wanting to accomplish things. The question is, what is the point? If one is unattached (i.e. not seeing the action, speech, or thought as fulfilling the aforementioned hole), one can see them for what they are, not what they "do (strictly) for ourselves". We don't need to fix ourselves. We can focus our energy elsewhere, and without the hidden ulterior motivations our attachments give us, our behavior is transparent. We study to study, not to boost our self-esteem so that we think ourselves clever. There is nothing to prove. We may choose to study because we are interested in a topic, or to learn a useful skill, and that is that. The same with other actions, speech, and thought - with work, with play, with conversation, with eating, with using the toilet. Buddhism suggests that our motivation sans attachments will be compassion for beings still suffering from them, for what it's worth.

The other thing is that emptiness is not absence, it is not a lack of substance. It is a lack of constancy, a space or potential for unfolding, through which all phenomena, ourselves included, are constantly reborn and through which we are connected. It is vital and potent. So, then, it is supposed that if one realizes this and is free from attachment, there is more to each precious and unrepeatable life than trying to avoid fleeting pain or floating from transient pleasure to pleasure.

I don't know if that helps or makes my previous post any clearer, but thanks for the question!

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