Modern Bodhisattva’s Way of Life: Attachment Separates us From What We Desire

Shantideva first looks at our attachment to people.  

(8.5) I, who am decaying moment by moment, have attachment to others
Who are also decaying moment by moment.
As a result of this, I shall not be able to see
Pure, attractive objects for thousands of lifetimes.

The beauty that we perceive in others and the relationships that we have cannot last and do not last.  Such things are impermanent.  One of the easiest ways to overcome our attachment is to consider how attachment itself functions to separate us from the objects of our attachment.  It is because we want these things that we must let go of our attachment to them.  There are two reasons why this is so.  First, the mind of attachment grasps at a separation between ourselves and the object we are attached to – we are here, the object of our attachment is there.  The more we develop attachment, the more we strengthen this perceived gap of being separated from the object in our mind.  Second, attachment functions to burn up the merit we have to even be able to see objects of attachment.  Once the merit is gone, such objects cannot appear.

Acting out of attachment functions as a cause to be separated from those things that we presently enjoy, such as the people we find attractive.  Beauty disappears, and certainly as a result of our deluded actions, it will not reappear. Our attachment to people we find attractive will lead to our being with people we find unattractive.  Interesting isn’t it how, how grasping at permanence is such a strong foundation for our attachment.  It leads to the disappearance of attractive things.

(8.6) If I do not see someone whom I find attractive,
I become unhappy and cannot place my mind in concentration;
Yet, when I do see that person, I find no satisfaction
But am just as tormented by attachment as I was before.

This is the classic story of attachment.  We are convinced that the satisfaction of our desires can be accomplished by having the object of our attachment, so we go in search of it.  But even when we get it, we do not find the satisfaction we seek, and in fact are left with even more attachment because we fed the beast.  The solution here is to pierce the illusion that there is happiness in the object, and instead reprogram our mind to think that happiness lies in the cultivation of virtuous minds.  Then, we will naturally be drawn to that.  We also need to realize that every time we feed the beast of our delusions, we do not avoid the suffering of not having the object of our attachment, we guarantee having to experience it again. 

For example, when people try to quit their addictions, their mind of attachment tells them that they suffer because they are depriving themselves of the object of their attachment and it lies to them that they will feel better if they indulge in it.  No!  The reason why they suffer from withdrawal now is because in the past they did indulge; and if they indulge now, they simply guarantee that they will once again have to experience the suffering of withdrawal later.  Our attachment tricks us into thinking something that is exactly backwards from the truth.

(8.7) Having strong attachment to other living beings
Obstructs the correct view of emptiness,
Prevents renunciation for samsara,
And causes great sorrow at the time of death.

How can we understand this?  When we have strong attachment for somebody, we are necessarily grasping at them as existing externally to us and ourselves as existing independently of everything else.  This obstructs the view of emptiness.  Also, when we have attachment, we are assenting to there being happiness in samsara, and this belief is the exact opposite of the mind of renunciation which does not seek to find a ‘good part’ of samsara, rather it seeks exclusively to wake up from this contaminated dream.  Whatever attachment we have not conquered during life, it will manifest strongly at the time of our death tempting us to turn towards it and thus once again go back into samsara.

This attachment particularly manifests in the form of our relationships with others.  We think that we can find happiness if we had a relationship with somebody else.  It is true that we can have much happiness in a relationship but not from the relationship.  The happiness comes from our mind in that relationship, not from the relationship itself.  Relationships can also be a source of great misery and frustration.  It all depends upon our mind.  Whether we are with somebody or not with somebody, in truth, makes absolutely no difference.  If we are unhappy without somebody, we will be unhappy when we are with somebody because we will bring our unhappy mind with us.  If we are happy alone, we will be able to be happy with somebody for the same reason.  Being confused about this, we grasp at relationships and then are never happy, either in one or without one.

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