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Verse 79: Freeing the mind from attachment

Verse 79: Freeing the mind from attachment

Part of a series of talks on Gems of Wisdom, a poem by the Seventh Dalai Lama.

Gems of Wisdom: Verse 79 (download)

Who knows that happiness which is forever free of bondage?
Those who have released attachments to the things that bind the mind.

Attachment is really what binds us to cyclic existence. Ignorance is the root of cyclic existence. Attachment, craving, clinging, grasping, all of this is what binds us, and keeps us continually cycling in cyclic existence.

We can really see that in our mind. When we are very attached to something our mind is in captivity. Our mind is not free at that moment because it’s saying “I want this. I want this. I don’t want that. I need this. The world should give me this.” The mind is completely stuck in this mantra of “I want this, I deserve this, I’m entitled to this, the world should give me what I want….” And there’s no freedom in the mind.

You can see it even over small things. I remember, before I got ordained, and you were with your friend going out to dinner and they want to eat Chinese food, and you want to eat Italian food, and it’s like, “Well I’m really attached to my Italian food, and I want to go to an Italian restaurant.” And they said, “No, I’m attached to my Chinese food, I want to go to a Chinese restaurant.” And then you start arguing. Initially it’s over which restaurant to go to. But then it becomes a bigger deal. “You always insist on doing it your way!” “No I don’t, I just give in to you all the time because you’re so dogmatic and inflexible.” And then pretty soon you’re in the middle of this huge fight. Simply due to the kind of food you want.

Meanwhile you go out to the restaurant, you spend maybe half an hour ordering the food. Because that’s how you bond with the other person. “Oh what’s on the menu, what do you want, this, this.” And then call the waiter. “Does it have this, does it have that, can you substitute this, can you substitute that?” And, “How big is the portion?” So, you know, it takes a half an hour before you discuss with your friend and then discuss with the waiter or waitress, and then you order. Then the food comes. By that time you’re talking to your friend, you eat the food, you don’t taste it, and it’s done. And for all that there was this huge argument before, where one party is left unhappy and feeling trampled on and not listened to, and the other one feeling, “I got my way, I get to eat the kind of food I want, and that person’s going to have to just suck it up….” [laughter] We get really egotistical. All out of attachment. Don’t we?

Meanwhile the poor waiter or waitress is like, “When are these people going to leave the restaurant. I hope they don’t come back.” Because we drove them crazy, as well as the cook. Because instead of carrots cut this way, can we have carrots cut that way….

What I’m getting at….and we see it in our lives, don’t we?….we get so attached to small things. Sometimes it’s a small possession. “I want this rug.” Or sometimes we’re attached to praise. “Come on, I need some nice words, I don’t feel so good about myself, so say some nice words to me. And if you don’t, then I feel terrible and I’m going to cry. And then you’ll feel terrible because I’m driving you crazy because I’m crying. And then maybe you’ll say some nice words to me after that to make me feel better. But actually, you usually don’t because you’re so fed up because I’m too busy crying to pay attention to anything else….” Right? [laughter] So we want some sweet words.

Or we want a good reputation. Like, “my review at work is coming up and I’ve go to really impress the boss, so I’m going to come in early, and I’m going to stay late. And in the meantime I’m going to get so tense that I’m going to drive everybody crazy around me. But I’ve got to have that good review and that good reputation at work.”

All the time, “I want. I want. I don’t want. I don’t want.” I mean, it’s the “terrible twos” our whole lifetime. Yes?

So the mind is not free. The mind is not free. And that’s what can be very deadly. You can see it when we get attached to “I” and “mine.” It becomes deadly. We put ourselves totally in prison.

Real freedom is when you don’t want anything. When you don’t want anything, then you’re satisfied with whatever you have. People might say, “Well that sounds very boring. Wanting things is the spice of life. It gives you something to do on Saturday, like go to the mall and look in all the windows and have craving arise, one thing after another, as well as covetousness, one thing after the other. And it’s patriotic. It’s good for the economy. It does well for the nation to want things. And if you don’t get things then how are you going to have happiness?” But then you get things and then you have to take care of them. And it’s a headache.

Somebody just emailed me that they have a house on a lake somewhere on the east coast—not where they live all the time, but…. So, all the pipes burst, because it’s so cold on the east coast. So, whatever you have, then you have the hell realm of that thing. House hell. Computer hell. Car hell.

And then attachment to people. Oh my goodness. People go crazy over attachment to somebody else. It’s like, “I’ve got to be with this person.” And what are you attached to? Somebody who has ignorance, anger, and attachment. I mean, at least if you were attached to the Buddha you’re attached to somebody who’s sane, who you could learn from. But if you’re attached to somebody with ignorance, anger, and attachment, then what? Your attachment and their attachment. Your anger and their anger. You have everything squared. And that’s why they call it the “nuclear family.” [laughter] Because this attachment, it drives you crazy and the other person crazy.

[In response to audience] So what about somebody who’s very attached to initiations. “I want this initiation, I want that initiation, I want the other one.” And then they want to see one Rinpoche after…. “Oh, this Rinpoche, that Rinpoche….”

Okay, I think that boils down to attachment to reputation. I think that’s what it boils down to. “I want the reputation of having a lot of initiations.” “I want the reputation of having my picture taken with so many important people. With their autograph on the photo.”

I think most of them, they don’t practice the initiation afterwards. Whatever the lama tells them, they usually ignore unless it’s something they already wanted to do. So it’s not that they’re really seeking the Dharma or seeking wise advice. It’s just another way to get some kind of reputation or some kind of praise.

There’s one of the lines in the seven-point training of the mind about “bringing a god down to the level of a devil.” That’s it. You take something holy and you immerse it in your own samsara. It’s quite sad.

So, freeing your mind means freeing the mind from attachment. And just practicing “whatever I have is good enough.” Not only on the realm of possessions. Whatever praise I have is good enough. Whatever reputation I have is good enough.

Until your mind goes, “No it’s not!”

And then you have to look at your mind and say, “Well what do you want?” “I want this this this this….” And then you say to your mind, “And then what are you going to do when you get all of that?” And then the mind doesn’t know quite what to say. You know? “Well, what am I going to do when I get all that fame, when I get all that love, when I get all that attention, and I get all the things that I want. Then what am I going to do?” Freak out. Go crazy.

Whereas, if we actively in our hearts cultivate an attitude of contentment—and I’m not talking about indifference. Contentment is not indifference: “Whatever I have, I don’t care. I don’t care about anything. I’m free of attachment. I don’t care. You can do what you want.” That’s not contentment. That’s not satisfaction. That’s also an afflicted mind.

But when you have real contentment and satisfaction then you look around at whatever you have and you say, “Wow, I’m really fortunate.” Whatever it is. Look what I have. This is amazing. The friends I have. Or the opportunity. Whatever it is. How fortunate. And then feeling satisfied.

We can always improve in the future in terms of our qualities and things like that. But in terms of external things, cultivating a mind that is content brings so much freedom.

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.