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Varieties of attachment

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.

The Eight Dangers 16: The flood of attachment, part 2 (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!

Okay, so we’ve been talking about the flood of attachment, “sweeping us in the torrent/current 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 like I said yesterday, here we’re talking very generally about craving, especially the craving that causes us to create negative karma while we’re alive, and especially the craving that arises death. But it’s also talking about attachment in general.

And so we can get attached to anything. You name it. Put us in the proper conditions and we will get attached to it.

So attachment is a mind that exaggerates the good qualities of someone or something and then we cling on to it. So we might look around and, you know, we’re not attached this carpeting. If anything it’s kind of dirty and some people even have aversion for it. [Laughter] “Let’s replace it as soon as we can!” But put us in the proper condition— If you’re really cold at night and this is the only thing you have, then you become really attached to this carpeting.

So it’s not wise to think, “Oh, I’m over attachment to different things.” Because just the situation changes and our mind clings again.

So we cling to material things—that’s kind of obvious, isn’t it? And we have our preferences—what we like, what we don’t like. And we mistake wants and needs: “I NEED to have chocolate!” Well that’s true, isn’t it. It’s not you WANT chocolate, you NEED chocolate. Yes?

And our comfort. We’re very attached to our comfort. Don’t like anything to be uncomfortable at all.

We’re attached to our friends and relatives. Don’t want to separate from them.

We’re attached to our body. Cling on to our body. Want to keep it comfortable and well protected.

And we’re attached to praise. We like to hear nice words about ourselves.

We’re attached to reputation. We want a large group of people to think that we’re extraordinary.

And we are attached to our ideas.

So it’s good to look in our lives and see which specific objects we are most attached to and how that attachment runs our lives.

Another way you could express attachment is by addiction. And so now we have Alcoholics Anonymous and Sex Addicts Anonymous, and Gambling Anonymous and Narco Anonymous and Shopping Anonymous … And these are all things that are based on attachment.

So there’s an element of exaggerating the importance of something and then clinging to it. So attachment is a mind that is not in line with reality. It’s out of line with reality. But we believe it’s true, and that’s why we feel, you know, “I really want/NEED these things.” You know? And then the more attachment we have, then the more upset we get when we can’t get what we want. Or when we get it and somebody interferes with us. Then we get really upset.

“What do you mean I can’t have?!” You know that one?
“So-and-so has it, why can’t I? It’s not fair!”

So to really do some examination in our lives and what objects are we most attached to among all those different things I listed—and there are many I didn’t list. And how does that attachment manifest in my life? What does it make me do? Because when we really examine, we see just how attachment gets us involved in all sorts of unhealthy things. And it makes our mind so miserable, and so dissatisfied. Because when we don’t have what we’re attached to we’re just stuck in, “oh, but I want …” And so miserable. And then we compete with others, we get jealous of other people because they have it and we don’t. We get arrogant because we have it and they don’t. So there are so many ramifications of attachment in our lives that cause problems here and now, and that make us get involved in actions that are the karma that influence where we’re born, what we experience, what kind of habitual tendencies, and so on, we have in future lives. So it’s really important to deal with our attachment.

And it’s hard to work with attachment. Because unlike anger—where you feel lousy when you’re angry—when you have attachment there’s this element of sparkle. And when you get what you’re attached to you’re so happy that we can’t think that anything would be wrong with it. Because I’m happy. What’s wrong with being happy? Well nothing’s wrong with being happy. But the kind of happiness we get from the objects of attachment doesn’t satisfy, doesn’t bring us peace. It just brings more trouble and more problems.

There’s a lot here to think about.

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.