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But even if we do understand the beginninglessness and endlessness of samsara’s sufferings, sort of, we are still like barnacles stuck to the bottom of a boat due to our attachment to samsaric pleasures. For it’s not so obvious to us how they’re deceptive. They make life bearable, surely – what’s wrong with a beer?! And what about the passion of romance? Or the R &R of a vacation?
Carrying on from this article.
Nothing, on one level, unless they are keeping us from spiritual progress (which, thanks to attachment, they often are.) We have been going after the places, enjoyments, and bodies of samsara for millennia X millennia, and just where has this gotten us?
The main problem with worldly pleasures is that they are “contaminated” by ignorance, ie, they appear falsely to exist from their own side and we assent to that appearance. Someone or something appears attractive due to our karma, and instead of just enjoying the mere appearance we must be like moths flying right into the flame by believing they are inherently attractive and then exaggerating their attractions until we simply cannot do without them.
Not having non-attachment is like a prisoner being attached to prison food and entertainment. Sure, the billiards are fun, and we enjoy the raisins on our gruel as a treat; but we’re still trapped in prison. Plus it is only a matter of time before we are dispatched back to the dungeons.
This mental asylum
Actually, I have been thinking recently that we are not just in a prison but more like a mental asylum, more like something out of One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest. We are all rendered insane by our delusions — hallucinations are the order of the day.
We have been here since beginningless time. But perhaps we are ready to leave. And there is a Buddha emanation posing as a doctor who knows this and is encouraging us – “There is a whole world for you out there, free from insanity and any form of suffering!”
To begin with, we may be a bit like, “I don’t want to leave! I know it here. I like it here. Plus, I have a thing for that person in the corner over there – yeah, I know she drools and is cranky and is getting sicker and older like the rest of us, but still, she’s cute … And anyway, I like Bingo night. And how those meds make me feel nice and high and dopey. And the way the sun sometimes dapples its way through the murky glass of the windows.”
The doctor may continue to encourage us, “Not only can you help yourself, but you can help everyone else in here. Have you noticed how already some of them showing some interest in you because you seem a bit more free, kind, and insightful? If you get out, you’ll be able to get your friends out too, like we are doing. Everyone has the potential to break free. However mad they are, they never lose the potential to wake up.”
And the doctor would reply, “That’s not true. We know different. You don’t belong here. No one does. Trust us.”
And we should.
What’s the alternative? What happens if we just stay in here?
We need to think that through.
Samsara’s pleasures are deceptive
As explained in this article, samsaric enjoyments are deceptive because they do not make us happy — we are just scratching itches. But even all that scratching is not working because pursuing worldly pleasures actually seems to cause most of our annoyances, disappointments, and heartaches:
Most of the problems we experience come from our seeking satisfaction in the pleasures of samsara when no real satisfaction can be derived from them. ~ Joyful Path of Good Fortune
Attachment weighs us down — like a bird with stones tied to its legs. Even if we sort of know we are in prison, we are still too attached to the billiards or other inmates to bother making a serious attempt at escape. So we have no lift off. We can’t fly in the sky.
Attachment distracts us from love and equanimity. We have some of this, it feels so good when we do; but then someone we think is gorgeous comes along and it’s like, “Sorry caged shelter cats or elderly aunts or countless other living beings, no more attention from me, I’m a bit preoccupied … I’ll get back to you later.” Months or years later we remember them … so what was that about?! Attachment is fundamentally small-minded and selfish.
Also, without renunciation we are attached to the status quo – we are only wishing others freedom from the temporary sufferings of this life at most, not of samsara, because we are attached to things being basically the way they are, just sort of better. And we are not even wishing ourselves to be free from samsara, so we cannot extend that radical compassion to others.
Because attachment is so deceptive, we (me) need to be honest about its workings in our own life — asking ourselves, “Is this true?”
Thinking about the shortfalls of changing suffering helps us develop renunciation, the wish for freedom. As Geshe Kelsang says:
We need to reduce our attachment to worldly pleasures by realizing that they are deceptive and cannot give real satisfaction. ~ How to Transform Your Life
Attachment vs anger
It is more obvious perhaps that anger has nothing to recommend it and causes us suffering because it gives rise to unpleasant feelings whereas attachment can give rise to pleasant feelings (qv, the suffering of change.) Perhaps this is one reason why anger is said to be easier to wash out of the mind – it is likened to dirt in cloth as opposed to the oil of attachment soaked into cloth.
Water from a stone
With non-attachment itself we already feel peaceful, light, contented, and unburdened, and as a result can enjoy everything as a result. Trying to get true or lasting happiness, enjoyment, or bliss out of samsara is like trying to squeeze water from a stone – the harder we grasp, the more uncomfortable we become. Knowing this, we give up the squeezing, relax, and just enjoy the stone without attachment.
Better yet, know with wisdom that the stone is not really there to begin with, so what are we doing squeezing it?!
Renunciation is utterly unlike boredom. Then we have a stable basis for love and wisdom, which make us even more happy and fulfilled. And we also have a very good basis for transforming enjoyments with Tantra – learning how to have our cake and eat it. More on that important subject coming soon(ish), and have a look below in the comments for some very helpful conversation points from a reader.
Going round in circles?
This is an incredible spiritual path, an incredible journey. Without renunciation however, we’re not going anywhere. Imagine being in a boat trying to cross an ocean to dry land, to a transcendent destination. We row and we row and we row, but we get nowhere – just going round and round in circles. This is because attachment is an anchor wedging us firmly into the bedrock of samsara’s ocean, stopping us from traveling to liberation or enlightenment, let alone bringing anyone along with us.
If you have strong attachment today, here is a checklist of things you could bring to mind: (1) Impermanence. This object and state of mind are going to go away, plus I might die today, so do I really want to spend my last day all hung up on it? (2) Emptiness — where is this attachment exactly? We can try pointing to it in our body, our mind, or anywhere else. It is nowhere to be found. (3) The faults of the mind of attachment as above, coming to enjoy the freedom and peace of non-attachment instead. (4) The faults of the worldly objects themselves, eg, the 32 impure substances, to rebalance the mind. (5) You’re not alone in suffering from attachment. (6) As mentioned, see the comments below for a Tantric approach to transforming attachment.
And if you need any further encouragement to meditate on renunciation, check out this other teaching by Gen Losang:
Over to you!