Part of a series of talks on Gems of Wisdom, a poem by the Seventh Dalai Lama.
- Attachment is exaggerating the good qualities of an object and clinging to it
- Why we meditate on impermanence, unsatisfactoriness, and selflessness
Gems of Wisdom: Verse 25 (download)
What is the negative omen indicating the advent of many misfortunes?
The exaggeration of beneficial qualities in the object that appears to the senses.
Hmm? Wouldn’t you know it? I say, looking in this direction and seeing the cookies behind.
Yes, this is our big problem is that we exaggerate the beneficial qualities of whatever our senses encounter. And if we don’t exaggerate their beneficial qualities, we’re either exaggerating their negative qualities or we’re totally zoned out and apathetic.
But here, really dealing with the exaggeration of the positive qualities. And you can see, we do this all the time. I mean, certainly with sense objects.
With food: “This is going to be so wonderful.” Or you meet somebody: “This person is just fantastic.” Or you get this job and it’s the ideal thing you’ve always wanted to do. Or you get some new robes the perfect color, the perfect texture. “Oh, so beautiful.” You know? You make a big deal out of whatever appears to the senses. You know? Similarly with music: “Oh this music is great, I want to play this song over and over again….”
The reason that this is a bad omen is because when we exaggerate the good qualities of something then we exaggerate its importance and we exaggerate its ability to bring us happiness. And because it’s based on exaggeration we then develop unrealistic expectations, we cling to the object or to the person, and then when it doesn’t live up to what it’s supposed to be we’re disappointed, disillusioned, let down. And then we get angry and complain or get depressed or whatever.
This also happens in the Dharma. Sometimes when people first come to the Abbey or to a Dharma center or something and it’s like, “Ah, this place is fantastic! I love it! It’s the best place ever.” And then they expect everything to always be as it’s appearing to them at that moment. And then, of course, when the honeymoon wears off then it’s like, “Ugh, oh god, it’s the same old thing as everywhere else.”
And again, that comes from exaggerating the good qualities. Not seeing something accurately. And whenever we do this, even if it’s for something good like the Dharma, we just set ourselves up to be disillusioned and disappointed.
It’s really a pity—especially when that happens in terms of the Dharma—because people then blame the Dharma, but actually it’s just the mind that has exaggerated things.
And it’s like, “Oh, the Abbey is so beautiful!” And then winter comes. And the person’s never seen snow before. And they go, “Ahh!” Or they come here when it’s snowy and they feel comfortable, and then the summer comes and they go, “Oh it’s so hot, I can’t stand it!”
Again, it’s very interesting to do a little bit of a life review and see when we have exaggerated the good qualities of someone or something and what the effects were on us and on other people. And not only the internal effects of getting disappointed or upset or whatever, but then how that turns into action and we blame whoever or whatever it was for not meeting our expectations when in fact our expectations were on the moon.
The thing is to try and see things accurately, and that’s why we meditate on impermanence, so that we understand that things are not permanent, they aren’t going to last forever, they have the nature of being in constant change, constant flux. We meditate on samsaric things having the nature of being unsatisfactory. So then we just see, yes, unsatisfactory nature. It’s not going to make me everlastingly happy. And there’s going to be—whatever good thing I have—there’s also going to be problems that arise in relationship to this.
We don’t meditate in this way to get depressed. We meditate in this way to prevent the depression. Because if we see things more accurately then we accept them for what they are, enjoy them for what they are, without expecting them to be so wonderful.
And then we also, to dispel the exaggeration, we meditate on selflessness, seeing that things don’t have some kind of inherent essence. And especially in this regard, [things don’t have] some kind of inherent attractiveness to them. Because this is what the exaggerating mind attributes is [points] those cookies have inherent ability to make me happy. They have happiness inside them. So when I put them in my mouth I instantly feel happy. Because they have beauty, tastiness, and everything inside of them.
And that’s the way that we regard things, when we exaggerate something, and then we overeat, or we take one bite and it’s not so good, or who knows what?
Really spend some time noticing when we’ve exaggerated things. And really looking back in our life and seeing the effect of the exaggerating mind, what jams it’s gotten us into.