What is there to grasp at?

letting go 3If something doesn’t remain for even a moment — if it is gone as soon as it arises — then what is there to hold onto??! (Carrying on from this article.) For example, we meet someone we like – but if they’re gone the moment we meet them, what is there to get attached to? If we go out for a meal with some friends, and each moment is gone as soon as it arises, what is there to grasp at? If someone unfriends you on Facebook, who is there to get upset with? They’re already gone. A new car or iPad — gone as soon as we’ve got it — what is there to get attached to? We can enjoy people and things moment by moment, but as nothing remains for the tiniest moment there is nothing to get stuck to with attachment. And however unfairly people behave, we can avoid the futility of holding hurt in our heart.

We don’t have to cover everyone and everything with the superglue of permanent grasping so that they cannot change and/or so that we cannot see them differently.

Key insight of Buddha

friend or enemyThis is the heart of Buddha’s key insight into why there is suffering in the world. Suffering doesn’t come because we are bad, it is not inflicted on us by some creator, it doesn’t come randomly out of nowhere – it all comes because we grasp. We grasp at something being there when in reality it isn’t. Grasping at my friend/enemy being there is grasping at an illusion, a rainbow. He cannot be found. And this simple act of grasping is the cause of all our suffering because if we like the thing we are grasping, we develop craving because we think there is something there. If we don’t like it, we develop anger or the wish to destroy it.

What do babies do?

Gen Samten shared a tale of his school days learning about the instincts of new-born babies — sucking and grasping. It apparently has no control even over its eyes. It also has a third instinct, which is yelling! Yelling, sucking, and grasping. The baby grasps: if it likes it, it sucks; and if it doesn’t, it yells. This seems to indicate the existence of past lives — the moment we pop out we carry on from where we left off. Then we grow up. And what is the definition of growing up? Learning to pretend to be a rational, thinking human being while still grasping, sucking, and yelling?! And we wonder why we suffer!baby yelling

Subtle impermanence cuts through all that because it teaches us there is nothing to grasp at. As soon as something has arisen, it has gone. We can ask ourselves, if we are attached to a person: “This person went the moment they arose. What am I getting attached to?”

Perhaps this makes us nervous, particularly if we really like someone, “I don’t like this!” As soon as we realize that we ourselves, for example, are gone the moment we arise, just gone, we want there to be something we can hold onto and say “me”; but there isn’t. Gone. Gone again. Gone again. As soon as I try to hold onto something it is not there anymore.

Pure states of mind instead of grasping

But when we can let go, we open up to experiencing pure states of mind such as love and compassion. Grasping always gets in the way of these. For example, if we grasp at someone, how can we love them? For if they are pleasant we develop attachment, if unpleasant, anger. The only way for our love to be pure is to love them without grasping at them as being there to love.

“But how can I love someone who’s not there?” we may protest.

One answer I think is that positive minds are always in the present moment. With love, we want that person to be happy now, wherever they are. With compassion we want them to be free from suffering. With patience we accept whole-heartedly whatever is arising in the present moment. With wisdom we go with the flow of life and deathfleeting appearances to mind. Delusions on the other hand always seem to be ranging over the past and future. This tells me something else about why it is a good idea to learn to live in the moment, and that it goes both ways — we are also able to live more in the moment when we cultivate these positive minds.

Also, in Ocean of Nectar page 28 Geshe-la explains compassion observing phenomena, which observes living beings who are realized as impermanent and wishes to protect them from suffering:

Because living beings are impermanent they are transient like the moon reflected in rippling water.

This is a deeper compassion because we realize that one profound reason why living beings suffer is because they are transient, imputing themselves on a fleeting (and entropic) body and mind, but, not realizing this, they experience permanent grasping.

Also, most people enjoy rainbows. And we can’t find them – that is one of the loveliest things about them.

I would like to hear your examples in the comments section as to how understanding subtle impermanence has enabled you to let go of grasping and other delusions and been a catalyst for positive minds such as love.

Surfing analogy

Has anyone here ever gone surfing? Our ability to surf doesn’t depend upon grasping but upon letting go. We have to go with that wave — and if we grasp and want to find security by freezing time, it won’t work. We know everything is changing, not remaining even for a moment; so the only way to surf that is to move with it. And that is part of the joy of surfing.

Life is like a wave, it doesn’t stay put even for a moment. So surf it. The daily situations in our life are different waves — am I surfing this wave or trying to freeze it to find security?

Old photosbasis of imputation changes naturally

Thanks to the kindness of some friends, my stuff recently arrived in a truck from Florida, including statues, clothes, and photos. When I look at these, especially the photos, although I recognize them, they now look subtly (and not so subtly) different — they are brand new old photos. Life events and relationships between now and when I last saw these photos a few years ago have totally changed, and so has their meaning, their existence.

Final installment is here!

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!

17 thoughts on “What is there to grasp at?”

  1. It is not until career, children have become adults and age set’s in, that the realisation of impermanence of a precious human life, gives time for reflection. Meditation on suffering in all it’s forms, human, animal, the environment, becomes meaningful. I would probably not have considered deep thought such as this, had it not being for the immense good fortune of encountering the Three Jewels in which I rejoice with each breathe I take. It is giving me the tools of patient abiding, fearlessness and confidence, that my and others lives are important, thus aiming to achieve the ultimate, the cessation of suffering of all living beings.

  2. Your analogy of surfing the moments of life is wonderful! Since meeting Buddhadharma, I’ve been practicing letting go, letting the moment happen with compassion and a happy mind. Fortunately, there have been many opportunities to use this happy mind!
    I rejoice!

  3. Wonderful article 🙂 I like impermanence because it allows people to be free from what \ I stuck to, so I can give them space to grow. Thank you for sharing your wisdom and allow us to better understand Dharma. It gives me a lot to contemplate in the daily life.

  4. What is also ‘gone’ is the sub-vocal dialogue conceiving a linear compartmentalization of ‘the three times’ or ‘moments of perception’. Meditating on subtle impermanence draws us into the wonderful silence of mahamudra in which ‘mahamudra’ is also gone because it leads us to consider what is ‘it’ that’s gone, where did ‘it’ come from, where did ‘it’ go. There is no coming and going, production and cessation….Many answers appear upon arrival. Over-analysis constantly conceptually trying to access answers without resting sub-vocal labeling prevents arrival. Sshhhhh.

      1. Thank you for reply Luna. Your article is wonderful. I would like to clarify how my initial reply contains more than meditation on the conventional nature of mind. Thinking about permanent-grasping and its object is not enough to achieve stability on this subject. That will come from putting permanent-grasping to rest by apprehending the absence of its object – permanence. In the process of contemplation and concentration, as is obvious from your sharp wisdom, we begin to identify the permanence and permanent-grasping within our own consciousness. This process helps us to understand dependent-relationship, labeling, and how to identify and rest in the conventional nature of mind, as well as identifying self-grasping and inherent existence. In these various ways the spacious experience of engaging the topic subtle impermanence draws us into mahamudra, which is not merely the conventional nature of mind.

        When someone considers more deeply ‘who is there to love if nobody is there’, they will discover how persons and phenomena exist both conventionally and ultimately, in relation to their own consciousness. That the language used to describe the object of permanent grasping is similar or the same as that used to describe inherent existence, this helps to draw conclusions about the more subtle subject of the union of the two truths, and it therefore reveals how the nature of our mind and it’s objects are the same nature as the Guru’s mind. It is therefore important to always remember that by meditating on the Guru’s views, we are mixing our mind with the Guru.

        When permanent-grasping subsides and we have the spacious experience of phenomena being a transient momentary constellation of mere appearance, that quiet allows us to dissolve other concepts more deeply into the mahamudra itself. Concepts such as ‘being in the moment’ or that there is a ‘past, present, or future’ dissolve, and everything becomes unified in mahamudra. For me, remembering the larger context of a meditation such as subtle impermanence makes the meditation very practical.

        Thank you for stimulating deeper meditation with your wonderful insight!

  5. I have to admit, this subtle impermanence stuff doesn’t do it for me. Probably mostly because it requires way more disciplined, concentrated attention than i’m capable of. But also something about it feels too sweeping, too negating. My goal isn’t to go through life as a dial tone, unmoved by the experience. I want to be moved by all of it. But not so much that i’m undone by it; that i stop living it before it’s actually over. If that makes sense?

  6. Can we find the object of our grasping — find it with wisdom? Not conventionally, after all it is mere name. If, with the wisdom of understanding emptiness, we CANNOT find it, what, WHAT is there to hold onto, to grasp after? Conventionally we grasp after that which/those who do not exist. Changing subtly from moment to moment as we are ourselves leaves not a thing to hold onto.

    It does,indeed, lighten our burden….we can let all that useless, ceaseless suffering go. Good-bye to you, outer problems.

  7. Subtle impermanence helped me quit smoking- I realized that I was grasping at an “addicted self” that “needed” a cigarette. When I accepted that this fixed self didn’t exist, it was much easier to begin the process of letting go of the addiction. 🙂 I’m now approaching one year tobacco-free.

  8. Amazing, succinct and Oh So Powerful dharma! Thank you Luna!
    ……”And what is the definition of growing up? Learning to pretend to be a rational, thinking human being while still grasping, sucking, and yelling?! And we wonder why we suffer!” (I loved this bit!) We are all neurotic and psychotic desperately pretending to be psychologically stable; this is interesting but also very sad and a pathetic statement about samsara. Your article brought to mind two songs written but not finished, one which uses the surfing analogy:

    [Em7] Stand on a [C]wave with [Em7] out falling [C] in
    Like the[Em7] flame[C]of a candle be[Em7] still in the[C] [wind]
    Keep your [Dm] eye on the sky while the [G] clouds move through
    When [Dm] you can do this every [F] thing will be [C] new [C]

    The [Em7] man on the [C]mountain, one [Em7addD] day became [C] wise
    He[Em7] simply stopped[C]seeing every[Em7addD]thing with his[C] eyes
    He [Dm] told everybody just [G] what he had seen
    Said if [Dm]you can see nothing [F] something will be [C] seen [C]

    A verse and chorus from the other song: ‘The Crack’
    Verse When the [C] earth [Gm] quakes and your[C] heart [Gm] shakes
    And the [C] ground opens [Gm] up be[G7]neath your [C] feet
    [C] Slip into the [Gm] crack and [C] don’t look [Gm] back
    [C] There’s nothin’ [Gm] left for [G7] you to [C] see

    Things [G] coming and [C] going at the [Gm] same [G] time
    Is the most [D7] sublime [G] Rhyme
    Things [G] coming and [C] going at the [Gm] same [G] time
    Is the most [D7] sublime [G] Rhyme

    Thanks again

    Sean in Windermere

    1. Hi Sean, once again i credit Gen Samten for the baby example and lots of other bits of this article too 🙂 Hard to be emotionally healthy while we are grasping at everything all the time, careering between attachment and aversion, but love helps us.

      I like those lyrics. Amazing that people can “hear” the music by reading the chords — they are a foreign language to me.

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