What am I so attached to?

emptiness take care of the housework
Fire of wisdom?!

Back in this article I was surmising that the reason we don’t go for a realization of emptiness more passionately seems to be because we are so attached to inherently existent things, particularly if they appear nice. That seems to me to be our deep laziness of attachment. There’s a contemplation I do to combat it, so I’ll share it here in case it is of some practical use to you.

(1)    First of all, I ask myself, “What or whom am I most attached to at the moment?” Then I ask myself, “Do I want this person or enjoyment to be real?”

For example, if you’ve fallen in love with someone, do you like the idea of them really being there, existing from their own side, ready at any moment to send you flowers and texts? Or really waiting there for you at the train station, really wanting to see you, really making plans with you, etc.? Or not?!

Sure, it is nice to meditate on the emptiness of difficult conditions like annoying co-workers and ageing bodies, but is it so nice to dissolve our loved ones away into emptiness, to realize they are mere projections of our own mind with no power from their own side to make us happy!? And what about that delicious pizza that’s just been delivered, or that show we’ve really been looking forward to watching  this weekend; what is so fun about those not existing from their own side?

And, in any case, what’s the alternative to inherently existent or real things?! If we get rid of those, what do we actually have left to enjoy?

Anyway, these are the kinds of questions we can ask ourselves. And if we’re honest, we might have to reply that we do want our objects of attachment to be at least a bit real.

(2)    So then I ask myself, what is so wrong with wanting nice things to be real? It seems innocuous enough.

Which is why we need renunciation, or non-attachment, from knowing the faults of attachment. Without this, we’ll never get around to realizing emptiness, even if we’re an intellectual giant.

What is wrong with attachment?

Attachment does not make us happy either now or in future lives. As Geshe Kelsang says in his new book How to Understand the Mind:

“It is important to contemplate repeatedly the faults of attachment and to recognize it as a delusion whose only function is to cause us harm.”

There are a gazillion things wrong with attachment to inherently existent things, and at this point in my meditation I think of some of these, specifically relating them to whatever is my current object of attachment. For example …

attachment vs loveReal nice things and people seem to be over there while real me seems to over here, trying desperately to pull them toward me, to keep them with me, to stop them from getting away. With attachment, we feel moreorless bereft or on the verge of being bereft in every moment. It is impossible to get enough of our objects of attachment – if they send us roses and say I love you one day, we’re happy for a moment, but then we wonder why they don’t do it again the next day, or even the next hour. Perhaps it’s because they no longer love us?! But we need them to! If we set ourselves up in need for reassurance, no one can ever possibly reassure us enough. Attachment causes our mind to become like a yo yo of excitement and nerves when it is reciprocated, and makes us feel like attention-seeking idiots when it is not. Attachment is a desperately insecure state of being. It gives us zero control over our mind. It burdens people the world over. It has done this since beginningless time. We have set ourselves up in need through our own deluded thought processes or inappropriate attention. We have given away the key to our own happiness — now dependent on the behaviors of others or the freshness of the cupcakes. Why we may wonder are serials or on-going TV shows now so much more popular than movies? Perhaps because we can never get enough of the storyline, we need it to go on and on, generally feeling cheated in the last episode.

We can’t be happy with our objects of attachment out of the underlying anxiety that they’re about to end or leave us, and we can’t be happy without them as we miss them, feel hollow, out of sorts. In short, we can’t be happy with attachment at all.

With attachment, it is hard to stay in sync with another person for very long. It is love that puts us on the same wavelength, not attachment.

“Attachment is the principal cause of dissatisfaction. It never causes contentment, only restlessness and discontent.” ~ How to Understand the Mind

Attachment puts our life on hold. Look around at people not suffering from strong attachment right now who are just getting on with having lives, concentrating on whatever it is they are doing without having to watch the clock or feverishly tap into their smartphones every 10 minutes in hope for a sign of reassurance or affirmation from their beloved. Without attachment, and if they have love and wisdom, not only are they having a life, but they’re having a good life, even a great one. And we can too if we recognize that the pain or dissatisfaction or fragility or uncertainty we feel come not from a lover or a lack of a lover, a place/home or lack of one, a job/position or lack of one, etc, but only from our attachment to these. We don’t need it.

functioning adult attachment in BuddhismAnd our attachment, or uncontrolled desire, also causes us to act in odd, sometimes undignified ways that lead to future suffering too. We desperately seek to fulfill our wishes day after day, week after week, year after year, and life after life but, like the donkey chasing the carrot on the stick, we never quite succeed. And in the meantime we create a lot of bad karma, including the karma to continue to feel separated from beautiful things.

Moreover, we are not making any effort to escape while we are attached to the objects of self-grasping ignorance–inherently existent things. And, given that we’re attached to many nice real things, this is clearly sticking us down to samsara. Ignorance for sure is what traps us in the prison of samsara, but attachment is like the chains binding us to the wall.

Emptiness is naturally beautiful

Ironically, we think we want real things, but in fact what we are attached to are the hallucinations of our self-grasping ignorance. Inherently existent things don’t exist at all. How can being attached to an hallucination ever work out for us? It is, as Geshe Kelsang says, like chasing a mirage, desperate for its water. If we want reality, we need to understand that the true nature of all things is emptiness – that’s the only reality. And, as it says in Vajrayogini Tantra, emptiness is naturally beautiful.meditation and reality

Empty things and people seem to be naturally beautiful too. We can enjoy anything endlessly if we realize that it’s the nature of our own mind, mere name, mere imputation. That full satisfaction, union, or non-duality is infinitely preferable to the gulf that inevitably separates us from all those nice inherently existent things. Not always grasping, which is inevitably accompanied by some kind of tension in the mind – a tension we are sometimes not even aware of until we are not grasping and it blissfully disappears. And it feels so good to be in control of our own happiness, not dependent on the vagaries of hallucinations.

(3)    So, all that being said, I prefer to have non-attachment for inherently existent objects and the self-grasping ignorance that apprehends them. This non-attachment itself is renunciation. We are already relatively free.

(4)    So, how can I be completely free from self-grasping (and its deceptive objects)? By slicing it with the sword of the wisdom realizing the emptiness of inherent existence, which is its direct antidote. Therefore, I’m going to practice wisdom today and every day. Nothing exists from its own side. Enjoy without grasping.

(5)    I then try to come up with a practical plan to remember to practice wisdom in all the remaining hours of the day. And one of the most fruitful ways is to notice when attachment is arising, be aware of its painful nature, and let that remind me!

old machineryWe were at the Science Museum in London recently and saw a lot of huge industrial machinery down the ages, accompanied by tales of sweat, effort, and immensely hard labor. It was reminiscent for me that a lot of heavy cranking of metal is required to try and get real things to work for us. We toil very diligently to get the external world to cooperate, we spend most of our days doing that. But it seems that life becomes a whole lot less hard work if we can also remember that everything is mere projection of mind. Rather than get the results we seek by tinkering around with the projection, which is as much an exercise in futility as trying to move the frames around on a movie screen, we are better off fixing the projector itself.

Postscript: Nothing wrong with being in love

BTW, there is nothing wrong with being in love. It’d be nice to be in love with everyone! Love is great. Attachment is a delusion whose only function is to harm us, so don’t be alarmed that you’ll lose anything special by letting it go. We can transform our relationships through Buddha’s teachings on the stages of the path of Sutra and Tantra so that we can keep and increase the love, the passion, the bliss, and keep and transform even the desire … but jettison the attachment.

Over to you … What ideas do you have for doing this?

Author: Luna Kadampa

Based on 40 years' experience, I write about applying meditation and modern Buddhism to improve and transform our everyday lives and societies. I try to make it accessible to everyone anywhere who wants more inner peace and profound tools to help our world, not just Buddhists. Do make comments any time and I'll write you back!

52 thoughts on “What am I so attached to?”

  1. Hi Luna. Thank you so much for your wonderful articles- they inspire me greatly. I am trying to work on being mindful of emptiness but it is a constant challenge. It does help make things lighter and less heavy even if I apply the antidote retrospectively. However, I find considering emptiness makes me focus on changing my mind and there feels less of a need to help others if they are mere projections of my mind or if I see them as projections of my guru’s mind. Do you have any advice on how practitioners can continue to increase their love and compassion whilst increasing their wisdom about emptiness at the same time? Thank you

  2. Thank you so much for this master piece. It’s really what I needed and a friend of mine. I’m mediating on emptynes and death. Just bettling with renunciation. Please get you help me with some wisdom here.
    Blessings to you

  3. One of my teachers, Andrew, said that wanting to get rid of aversion is relatively easy, because if feels bad, but getting rid of attachment is harder because it feels ‘nicer’, the feelings of wanting the things you like feel nice and you don’t really want to get rid of them. I try to remember this.

  4. Beautiful article and comments.Thank you Luna Kadampa and all,much appreciated and loved 🙂

  5. Wow I love this article.. a timely reminder for me. Recognising the point at which all troubles begin is so valuable. I keep repeating the same behavior in my relationships.. leading to misery time and time again. Even recognising that this is attachment and a deluded state of mind is so precious. I can quickly begin to use the mind of wisdom to recognise attachment when it is is arising.. building and transforming my mind.. !

  6. This is a wonderful article.

    At the moment, as during most moments in recent years, I am suffering from attachment……. But I am deeply enjoying using this experience to see the faults of attachment, how it makes us pathetic and foolish. Like you say, by believing that a source of our happiness exists ‘out there’ in that person or enjoyment, we effectively put our happiness there, and therefore make ourself deeply emotionally vulnerable and deprive ourself of any stable happiness. My teacher once said that if we are teaching dharma then we need to know the faults of delusions from our own experience and deeply understand them, so that we are not just reciting or reading about the faults of attachment but actually speaking from our own experience. I am trying to do this.

    So I try to remember repeatedly the faults of attachment–how it makes us pathetic, foolish, unhappy, emotionally dependent, vulnerable, and deprives us love and virtue, the only source of true meaning and happiness in our life–and simultaneously contemplate the benefits of letting go of attachment–the mental freedom, spaciousness, relaxation and happiness we experience. Wow! I therefore try to look directly and unflinchingly at the mind of attachment, what it is telling me, and also to see its faults as they unroll. Usually we focus on the initial good feelings of attachment like the honey on the razor’s edge–the excitement, the initial buzz, the rush, the thrill–without really thinking about its faults. And then before we know it, it’s too late: we’re onto the razor’s edge. So instead, I am trying to spend my time thinking again and again about the faults of attachment, not being deceived by the initial pleasant feelings that it comes with.

    Then finally, with a mind that is deeply repulsed by the mind of attachment, I let go of it by realizing that what I am attached to is just an illusion, an idea, a false projection – it does not actually exist. NOTHING and NO ONE has the power to make us happy. This person, as you explain, does not even exist from their own side. So then, remembering that the object of my attachment, the attachment itself, and I myself, are impermanent and illusory, I can let go of attachment, because there is nothing to hold onto – the object of my attachment does not exist. A beautiful analogy my teacher Pagpa once used is that of a moth that had got ‘stuck’ to his finger that morning when he was trying to take it out of the kitchen – it refused to let go and fly off. We are like that moth: when we have the smallest sense of security and happiness from some person or enjoyment, we cling onto it soooo desperately and tightly, thinking that if we let go of it then we’re letting go of our source of happiness – what is left? But in fact, it is this clinging mind that deprives us of any happiness – it stops us from enjoying the object of our attachment, and everything else. By letting go of our attachment, we can then truly enjoy the object, and everything else, without pain. Our mind is filled with joy, freed of fear, and is truly happy.

    Much help has come from a book called ‘The Way to Love’ by, believe it or not, a Jesuit priest called Anthony De Mello. There is some fantastic advice on letting go of attachment in there. The guru can manifest in many forms!!

    So anyway, i wanted to share some of that beautiful advice that I have received from my teachers. Now it is time to put it into practice, otherwise i will remain miserable and will be like the man that tells his son every day ‘Do not walk outside after dark, it is dangerous’ but then walks out at dark and gets killed. If I’m here regurgitating wonderful advice but not practising any of it, then there is none more foolish than me!!

    Thank you again for your article.

    Ps. I have to admit that recently I have become rather more suspicious of ‘falling in love’. For people with a close friendship, perhaps, there is a genuine mix of love in with the attachment. But for me, I think that most of my experiences have not been of ‘falling in love’ involving love at all. I used to think that they were a mix of love and attachment, and that all the good feelings were coming from affectionate love, but now I’m not so sure… The good feelings seem to me like the initial stages of attachment, and I value the person and ‘love’ them because they make me feel good. But this is not real love – it is not based on renunciation, cherishing them or recognizing their kindness and good qualities, but only on them making ME feel good right now. It is based on self-cherishing. Furthermore, it’s clear that there’s not really much if any love there when they tell me that they’re not interested – if i love them, then why does that cause me so much pain, and no mix of pain and joy at all, just pain….?!! I am tending to think that falling in love, and the joy it brings, is more like a temporary drug trip that makes everything seem wonderful due to rose-tinted spectacles and not due to the mind of love or wisdom which sees things as the truly are. But perhaps that’s just me……

      1. Hehe I’m glad you enjoyed it, and if you wanted to! I do think that there’s so much to be said for not just watching our mind in an abstract way, but really looking deeply at our delusions – where they come from and what they’re saying. The same is true for all delusions I think, not just attachment – if we’re experiencing strong anger, for example, I think it’s very valuable to sit down on the cushion and look deeply at precisely where it’s coming from and what it’s saying. Once we do that we begin to see how absurd it is, and so as we see the truth the delusion naturally drops away. I find this especially useful and if delusions are very strong – if we can’t seem to breath them out or let go of them in the usual way, we have such a unique opportunity to sit down and really look, really learn deeply about where our delusion is coming from. Therefore we can attack it right at the root – by seeing the truth, and challenging, by directly and unflinchingly seeing the absurdity of, our deluded views and beliefs from which our delusions arise (such as ‘My cause of happiness is over there … !’). So another post if you wanted, teehee! 🙂

        1. If you’d like to cobble together an article from both your insightful comments, and perhaps think of a good title and some good pictures and a few headings to break it up, we have a guest article 🙂

          1. Sure, I would be delighted to do that! I will try to do it soon and then I’ll send it to your Facebook page. Thank you.

      2. I agree. This post was so insightful I forgot it was just a comment! I am looking forward to the guest article!!

  7. “Attachment puts our life on hold.” So true! But we don’t seem to notice or mind at the time, do we. Always worth checking if we’re attached, and like you say, what exactly to?! * It’s a sneaky mind, isn’t it, that’s good at pretending non-attachment.
    Tricksy delusion!

    1. Yes, we generally have no wish to think about or be told about the faults of attachment whilst we are in its initial throes, still “enjoying” ourselves 🙂 Better to go in pre-warned and pre-armed next time …

      1. Absolutely! Works as well 🙂
        OK, maybe you don’t get the silly highs of initial attachment; but then you miss those godawful lows as well.
        Thank you for the reminder, Luna.

  8. Thank you for this wonderfully written article! It was truly an eye opener and the need of the hour for me. Puts lot of things in the right perspective like the constant need for reassurance being the most dominat factor in life today! Need to contemplate the beauty of emptiness !

  9. Nonattachment – probably one of the most misunderstood concepts! Instead of creating robots, it leads to the ability to love everyone and everything with great warmth and affection. When I remember this, it makes it so much easier to let go of hesitations.

  10. Such a fantastic article . The reason being that once we realise we are chasing the illusion it frees our mind . We may continue to try but our wisdom becomes so strong that it can’t be moved . In heart jewel geshela talks about mere imputation and why changing the basis of our imputation helps us to eradicate these minds . When I read these words I do actually feel I’ve come home . The desperate search to satisfy that sticky mind of attachment just dissolves away leaving in my mind peace and contentment . 🙂 we are so very fortunate !!

    1. Nice! Love this, been thinking about it today:

      “Once we realise we are chasing the illusion it frees our mind . We may continue to try but our wisdom becomes so strong that it can’t be moved.”

      And thank you for the reference to Heart Jewel. I agree. So lucky i feel to have stumbled upon the liberating wisdom of these teachings and books, like coming home, as you say.

  11. Perfect time to receive this post, as I am enjoying many really beautiful appearances on vacation.  Thanks for the reminders.

    Sent via the Samsung Galaxy Tab 2 10.1, an AT&T 4G LTE tablet

  12. Um I like this post more so the LOVE
    Unconditional love is like the rose we give open and beautiful, they are in abundance and in a multitude of colours like all living beings
    To see beauty and love this way we realise the very essence of Love is to bring openness to all, openness of the true reason we are here to spread that warmth and beauty to all regardless of colour or creed and to abandon greed, to quote my mum here lol “there are no pockets in shrouds” we come into this world without attachment of inherently existent objects of desire and we have no choice but to leave the same way 🙂 be ever great full to our kind mothers lol winks the they were kind enough to allow our place on this earth.

    1. so kind they are. I sometimes think that the love of mothers (and fathers) everywhere is all that holds this world back from complete insanity 🙂

  13. Great article on attachment! In Ocean of Nectar Geshe-la explains that when a suitable recipient receives teachings on emptiness he or she will develop an unmistaken view of emptiness and as a result develop many special qualities. He will treasure the view of emptiness as his most precious possession. The last line really struck me! What if I saw whatever level of understanding of emptiness I had as my most precious possession, or if I saw my Buddha Nature as my most precious possession, or any Lamrim insight? In meditation I started to ask what do I see as my most prized possession? I am finding this a great question to ask whenever strong attachment, anger or any delusion arises. Its usually one of the 8 worldly concerns.
    I just love to think about seeing any virtuous mind as my most precious possession.

    1. Hey, cool, thanks for sharing — what is my most prized possession? That is a great question, similar to asking what do i really want most out of my life? Clarifying.

    2. Great question about what we value most….I too think my understanding of emptiness is my most prized possession. I am getting on in years and slightly less forgetful, and I hear stories of serious memory loss syndromes in old age. I often think that if I have only one thing I can remember as long as it is Emptiness I could handle the situation. Hard to tell though, it’s theory and imagination until it is experienced. So far I have not been overly concerned about lapses of memory with conventional reality….sean

  14. I’m fairly new to your blog but I am really enjoying it!
    I especially liked these two lines inthis article so they are worth repeating in case someone missed them:
    “…and in the meantime we create a lot of bad karma, including the karma to continue to feel separated from beautiful things.”
    “We toil very diligently to get the external world to cooperate, we spend most of our days doing that.”

  15. This is a wonderful reminder at the beginning of my day. When attachment arises I love to remember the story of Milarepa and the thief who tried to rob his cave. When Milarepa encountered the thief looking for things to take, in the dark if the night, Milarepa said – take what you will, I can find nothing of worth even during the day so I doubt you will find anything now. It is a wonderful way for me to remember the futility of attachment. Thanks…

  16. Thought provoking article. There are (from my side) a hierarchy of attachments in my life – things that I work hard to keep: my wonderful wife, that I have a nice home and a job.

    Without these I feel that I would fall deeper into the harsh ordinary reality of Samsara, and thus like animal beings not be in such a great position to have the freedom to maximize this precious life.

    1. Geshe Kelsang has said there is nothing wrong of course with having nice partners, homes, and jobs — we are humans and need human conditions — however we don’t need attachment 🙂

  17. I am attached to all of the typically dangerous aspects of samsara…pleasure, people, experiences, bodies etc. But…I have learned about other important aspects of attachment; there is something called “meta-attachment” which is attachment to my mind. I have no valid reason to value my mental functioning. My experience tells me it is unreliable, fallible and dangerous. Yet I see myself taking refuge in my own mental capacities much too often. My mind projects samsara, yet I am attached to it. Another subtle attachment is to my time, and this usually leads to a lack of generosity or miserliness and self-cherishing. So I have been asked to help with Venerable Tharchin’s personal care these coming weeks in Glasgow KMC before he teaches at Manjushri Centre, and I expect that my attachments will be slightly singed in the process.

    1. Interesting. Thanks. One of the root delusions, wrong views, includes holding false views as supreme, for example. And then just in general we can be attached to our own ideas, opinions and beliefs — just these ephemeral thoughts! These seem real and important because we are only looking from one point of view, our own! Can be useful to examine my own thoughts regularly in the mirror of Dharma to see just how much this type of attachment keeps me stuck, closed minded, prideful, unable to learn from everyone else.

      As for attachment to time … I know exactly what you mean 🙁 One of the most useful gifts i think we can give someone is our time as we do value it so highly and often don’t want to share it. A balance needs to be struck, somehow, between time needed for our own reflection etc and time given over to others, with an understanding that these don’t have to be contradictory.

      Hey, have fun in Glasgow, and you’ll no doubt be dealing with your attachment to heat up there too 😉 ?!

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