Loving without clinging
Bangkok, Thailand — Adhering to the Buddhist concept of non-attachment does not mean you have to abandon people you love. But you do need to approach your love differently, says AJAHN SUMEDHO, a highly revered monk based at Amaravati Forest Monastery
First, you must recognise what attachment is, and then you let go. That’s when you realise non-attachment. However, if you’re coming from the view that you shouldn’t be attached, then that’s still not it. The point is not to take a position against attachment, as if there were a commandment against it; the point is to observe.
We ask the questions, What is attachment? and, Does being attached to things bring happiness or suffering? Then we begin to have insight. We begin to see what attachment is, and then we can let go.
If you’re coming from a high-minded position in which you think you shouldn’t be attached to anything, then you come up with ideas like: Well, I can’t be a Buddhist because I love my wife, because I’m attached to my wife. I love her, and I just can’t let her go. I can’t send her away.
Those kinds of thoughts come from the view that you shouldn’t be attached.
The recognition of attachment doesn’t mean that you must get rid of your wife. It means that you free yourself from wrong views about yourself and your wife. Then you find that there is love there, but that it’s not attached; it’s not distorting, clinging or grasping.
The empty mind is quite capable of caring about others and loving, in the pure sense of love. But any attachment will always distort that.
If you love someone and start grasping, things get complicated; then, what you love causes you pain. For example, you love your children but if you become attached to them, then you don’t really love them any more because you’re not with them as they are. You have all kinds of ideas about what they should be and what you want them to be. You want them to obey you, and you want them to be good, and you want them to pass their exams.
With this attitude, you’re not really loving them, because if they don’t fulfil your wishes, you feel angry and frustrated and averse to them. So, attachment to our children prevents us from loving them.
But as we let go of attachment, we find that our natural way of relating to others is to love them. We find that we are able to allow our children to be as they are, rather than having fixed ideas about what we want them to be.
When I talk to parents, they say how much suffering there is in having children, because there’s a lot of wanting. When we want them to be a certain way and don’t want them to be another way, we create this anguish and suffering in our minds.
But the more we let go of that, the more we discover an amazing ability to be sensitive to, and aware of, children as they are. Then, of course, that openness allows them to respond rather than just react to our attachment. You know, a lot of children are just reacting to our saying, “I want you to be like this.”
The empty mind – the pure mind – is not a blank where you’re not feeling or caring about anything. It’s an effulgence of the mind. It’s a brightness that is truly sensitive and accepting.
It’s an ability to accept life as it is. When we accept life as it is, we can respond appropriately to the way we’re experiencing it, rather than just reacting out of fear or aversion.
Loving without clinging