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Staving off the flood

Staving off the flood

A Crown Ornament for the Wise, a hymn to Tara composed by the First Dalai Lama, requests protection from the eight dangers. These talks were given after the White Tara Winter Retreat at Sravasti Abbey in 2011.

  • When attachment arises in our minds we are completely swept away
  • The importance of practicing and strengthening our precepts and mindfulness
  • Detecting and counteracting attachment when it’s small
  • How analogies can help us to remember what to do in a given situation

The Eight Dangers 19: The flood of attachment, part 5 (download)

Sweeping us in the torrent of cyclic existence so hard to cross,
we’re conditioned by the propelling winds of karma.
We are tossed in the waves of birth, aging, sickness and death:
The flood of attachment—please protect us from this danger!

So we’re done with the flood of attachment, except …

I just thought that this analogy of a flood is really appropriate. Because when attachment comes in our mind, we are just completely swept away with it.

Like when we saw the videos of the tsunami, and how it was just so forceful. And even, you know, because the Japanese, they’re smart and they had erected these huge walls to stop any tsunami, and, you know, the one video we probably all saw many times, where it just completely went over the wall and into the town and the houses, everything, just completely like matchsticks.

And that’s how our mind is when strong attachment comes in. Exactly like that. We’re completely hopeless. Or helpless. We’re not hopeless, we’re helpless at that moment. We’re not hopeless.

Because when the attachment comes, and it’s so strong it’s like our determinations, which are like the wall, or even our precepts, which are—our precepts are sometimes said to be like dams because they stop the flow of the afflictions. And they do. But when an affliction comes very strongly it just goes completely over the dam and everything gets pushed away. And then we wind up in a tsunami disaster in our minds.

Now thank goodness not all attachment is that strong, and the dam holds sometimes. And sometimes we can deflect the wave and it goes in another direction, and so we can stay steady. But we have to really keep practicing with this, and making our tsunami walls bigger and bigger and bigger as time goes on. Because just as that tsunami came out of the blue—who expected an earthquake when they woke up that morning?—sometimes some strong attachment can come in our minds completely unexpectedly, and we are carried away by it.

So that’s why when you’re not having a tsunami you build very strong defenses, you have a tsunami alarm, alert system. Early warning. You have emergency tools. you have arrangements with other countries to help you.

So it’s the same way with us. We strengthen our precepts by making consistent determinations, up and up. If there’s a crack in our wall—like a crack in our precepts—we do sojong (posada) like we’re doing today, we repair it and restore it. We establish relationships with other people who can help us if we have a tsunami. We have an early alarm system, so that with mindfulness we can detect attachment starting to arise when it’s small and stop it right there.

You know, that’s really the thing is to be able to detect it when it’s small and stop it. Deflect it. Oppose it. Do something. But if we don’t have good mindfulness and introspective awareness, then when it comes in the mind we just keep on doing it. It’s like somebody ignoring the early alarm system for the tsunami and, “Well, I’ll just have a few more things to pick up at the store and then I’ll go to the high land.” No, you don’t have any time.” So it is, too, when we have strong introspective awareness, to notice that and then immediately apply the antidote. Not just, “Well, you know, it’s kind of pleasant having attachment, so I’ll just enjoy it for a while and then I’ll apply the antidote.” [Shakes head.] No. Because by the time that happens, the tsunami has hit.

So this analogy of a flood is a really appropriate one. And of course, thank goodness we have things we can do about floods.

At the Abbey we have fire insurance. We don’t have flood insurance. There’s very little chance to have a flood here because we’re up high and it rolls off. So in the same way, in our minds, we try and gain realizations to uplift our minds, and then there’s no chance of the flood of attachment happening. Because it’s gone.

I find these kind of analogies very helpful. Because then when you see something … you know, you’re just walking along and you see some external object, then it reminds you of the analogy and it brings in the whole remembrance of how to work with your mind and what you want to do. So, very very helpful to have these things.

Venerable Thubten Chodron

Venerable Chodron emphasizes the practical application of Buddha’s teachings in our daily lives and is especially skilled at explaining them in ways easily understood and practiced by Westerners. She is well known for her warm, humorous, and lucid teachings. She was ordained as a Buddhist nun in 1977 by Kyabje Ling Rinpoche in Dharamsala, India, and in 1986 she received bhikshuni (full) ordination in Taiwan. Read her full bio.