Love and Attachment:
What the Buddha really meant by Attachment
The principle of non-attachment is at the core of the Buddhist philosophy, but like so many spiritual concepts, it is misunderstood and even distorted by both newcomers to the Buddhist philosophy and well-meaning monks that simply cannot grasp this deep meaning.
This misinterpretation of what Buddha really meant by Attachment is most common among young people, and as they begin to explore Buddhism, they rightly ask. If this philosophy is supposed to be about harmony, why does it spend so much time saying that life is inherently full of suffering (dukkha), and why is non-attachment its goal, and why does it recognize emptiness (shunyata) is an important step toward enlightenment?
All those things sound the opposite of living in love and harmony, it even sounds a little depressing at first glance.
The confusion among newcomers is partly because of the word non-attachment, and partly because the personal frame of reference for women is much, much different than that of men.
So let’s explore the concept of non-attachment as was intended by the Buddha and which later became an integral part of the Buddhist philosophy. To understand it, though, you’ll need to understand its place within the overall structure of basic Buddhist philosophy and practice. The basic premises of Buddhism are known as the Four Noble Truths.
THE BASICS OF BUDDHISM
The First Noble Truth: Life is “Suffering.”
The Buddha taught that life we currently know is full of suffering, (this is the closest English translation of the word (dukkha). The word has many connotations, including “dissatisfaction,” which is perhaps the translation that might be a more accurate translation.
So to say that life is suffering means, really, that there is always an underlining feeling that the people who are closest to us are not entirely under our perfect control. A recognition that this vague dissatisfaction leads to suffering is what constitutes what Buddha called the First Noble Truth.
Buddha taught that is was possible to know the reason for this “suffering” or dissatisfaction, though, and that it comes from three sources.
First, we are dissatisfied because we don’t really understand our true nature. This confusion is most often translated as ignorance or (avidya), and its principle feature is that we aren’t aware of why we interconnect with people. We imagine, for example, that there is a “self” or “I” or “me’ness” that exists independently and separately from our biological nature. This is perhaps the central misconception identified by Buddha, and it leads to the next two reasons for (dukkha) or dissatisfaction.
The Second Noble Truth: Here Are the Reasons for Our Suffering
Our reaction to this misunderstanding about our separateness from the biological world leads to either sexual passion / deep friendship / playful love. These three forms of love are all transitory forms of love that at their core is a biological need, but that this biological need is only temporary and will ultimately lead to dissatisfaction within the relationship and this dissatisfaction with then leads to aversion or hatred and Suffering.
It’s important to know that the Sanskrit word for the first concept, (Upadana), does not have an exact translation in English; its literal meaning is “fuel,” though it is often simplistically translated as meaning “attachment, but a more meaningful translation would be emotion.” Similarly, the Sanskrit word for aversion/hatred, (devesha), also does not have a literal English translation. But together, these three problems—ignorance, emotional attachment and aversion—are known as the Three Poisons, and a recognition of them forms the Second Noble Truth.
Now, perhaps, you can begin to see where non-attachment (emotional control) may come into the picture since we will later see that it is an antidote to one of the Three Poisons.
The Third Noble Truth: It Is Possible to End the Suffering
The Buddha also taught that it is possible NOT to suffer. This is central to an understanding of Buddhism—the recognition that a cessation to suffering (dukkha) is possible. The essence of this cessation is nothing more than to unplug from the delusion and ignorance that emotionally fuels the love/hatred game that makes life so unsatisfying. The cessation of this suffering of course has real-world consequences within our relationships and our worldview, since this could be understood in to context of Neo taking the Red Pill and disconnecting from the Matrix.
The Fourth Noble Truth: Here Is the Path to Ending the Suffering
Finally, the Buddha taught a series of practical rules and methods for moving from a condition of suffering (dukkha) to a permanent state of satisfaction.
Among those methods is the famous Eight-Fold Path, a set of practical advisory recommendations for living, designed to move practitioners along the route to living a life of self-awareness.
THE PRINCIPLE OF NON-ATTACHMENT TO LOVE
Non-attachment, then, is really an antidote to the emotional attachment and clinging that the “I” associates with its biological needs, and this is what was described in the Second Noble Truth. For if emotional attachment or clinging is the cause of the condition of finding life unsatisfactory, it stands to reason that non-attachment is a condition conducive to satisfaction with life, a condition of self-satisfaction.
It is important to note, though, that the advice is not to detach or un-attach from objects but to see that Buddha’s idea of “things” is referring to the people in your life that effect your experiences because of this unspoken biological agreement, and rather than attach the “I” or “self” to this biological need, which would then poison the self and create suffering or dissatisfaction. One simply recognizes the biological as a bodily need, but detaches the emotions of the self from this inherent but natural state.
Now this is not fundamentally a new idea and most other philosophies seek to achieve this same state of grace, for example the ancient Greeks were just as sophisticated in the way they talked about love, recognizing six different varieties. They would have been shocked by our crudeness in using a single word both to whisper “l love you” over a candlelit meal and to casually sign an email “lots of love.”
When we simply relax the illusion that we have a “self” that exists whole and is completely in control of every aspect of our lives, we suddenly recognize that there is no need to cling to love. Love is as much an illusion as it is real, it is simply the illusion to imagine that we exist as this “I” as a single controlling entity separate from the rest of the biological world.
The Sheep is ignorant: for only animals can know of greed beyond excess and not see the futility of their indulgences, never knowing that their nature is the innate programming of their birth
To live in the footsteps of the Buddhahood means that we recognize loves biological roots and to attach or cling to love is the source of our suffering.
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