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I was listening to one of the many comments that you were reading on your podcast regarding attachment to enlightenment, and I had a delightful series of thoughts that I felt compelled to share with the Daily Buddhism sangha. I was listening to your commentary on the issue and realized that it may not be a question of determining the meaning of desire and attachment, as is so often discussed. At the present moment I consider this dilemma of attachment to enlightenment to be a paradox. The less attached you become to enlightenment (and all other things, of course), the closer you get to it. I have in my mind a picture of a person who has attained enlightenment, who, when asked about it, simply laughs and talks about the mosquito on his arm, and how much of a good mother she is.

It always delights me when I find paradox in this world because it inevitably breeds more paradox. For example, once I had the thought to share this insight on enlightenment, my desire to share it with you actually pushed me farther away from enlightenment, because I had been spending so much energy “grasping” this thought until I could write it down to share it. Even the desire to share this thought in this current moment is, in itself, a paradox that brings me farther from the message I am trying to convey because it is simply a thought that, if I were being truly mindful, I would notice and move on. I’m sure by now I have you and your listeners’ heads spinning with this idea, and usually when I find myself crawling deeper into this particular rabbit hole (which is so tempting to do), I like to smile and say to myself, “ah, Paradox.” And move on with the rest of my day.

Of course, what I actually did was proofread the message to make sure it’s clear enough. Yet another paradox!

And now I’ve seen the Buddha on the road, so I must kill him.

Your comments are always appreciated, and thank you for the wisdom that you’ve shared with me through the podcast and your emails.


Yes, those mosquito stings hurt.

Oh, you want more?

It’s not unusual for me to get a message that I shouldn’t have explained the topic about such-and-such, as some things are beyond words. Some topics cannot be explained in words, and I do realize this, but I have the “teacher mentality” coupled with the responsibility of “informing” my readers, so I feel a need to put some of the complex ideas of Buddhism into words. Sometimes it works out very well, sometimes it doesn’t, but in many cases, I just cannot leave the topic unmentioned or the question unanswered. I probably should leave some topics alone, but if I don’t bring them up, they might not be considered at all.

I guess that’s the same thing you describe; I often explain terminology and ideas here, simply because that’s my job. Yet by doing these things, I run the risk of getting bogged down in labels and terminology. A good example of this was the “Am I Buddhist Enough” post a few months back. I tried to explain what a Buddhist is and does, but there were several reader comments that correctly pointed out that “Buddhist” is just a label and doesn’t matter anyway. Yet, there does seem to be a need to define and understand what it means to be one. It’s another contradiction or paradox.

I suspect that paradox is much more common in our lives than we tend to believe. You know things should be done one way, yet you do them in just the opposite way. Why is this? Comment with your own examples!

6 comments to Paradoxes

  • A behavior may look the same but function differently in a variety of circumstances. Specifically, to the situation of sharing thoughts on the paradox of sharing an insight. If the motive is to look smart & impress others, the behavior may be a barrier. If it is a simple act of kindness (consistent with bodhicitta) it may be consistent with enlightened action. I thank you for your give away (in either case)!


  • Lee

    Pat of course is right. I try to look at the intent; the motive and of course we want our words to be taken as we mean them and to have readers think us intelligent etc. As I read your post I kept thinking it’s just like in meditation when all is still and then i realize all is still and it isn’t anymore. For me I live in the midst of it all simutaneously and bow in respect.

  • Words are the “finger pointing.” We are told not to look at the finger, but where the finger is pointing.

    We are not told to break off the finger and throw it away, even though it is not exactly what we are supposed to be looking at. This is because the words are a wonderful tool. They can point out where to look, even though they cannot capture in words what is to be seen.

    Paradox is not just confusion within words. Paradox says two seemingly dissimilar things. But importantly we must remember that neither one of these two things that paradox says is the wrong thing. They are both right. So we are asked to step outside of the box, outside of our usual way of knowing. In this way consciousness deepens.

    Peace and love,

  • David

    I read this and was reminded of a phrase about an enigma wrapped in a paradox and couldn’t remember the whole thing so thought I would look it up on the net. I suddenly realised that what I was doing was a paradox as wanted to say something but found I was grasping at the phrase rather than the essence of what I was trying to communicate, which like Pat says gets in the way of the message. I think to link with with a comment in the original post, “go ask Alice, I think she’ll know”. there I go again!!!!!!


  • Age simpson

    I think Lee and Lesley are pointing at the right thing for the right reasons.

  • Garvus

    I think that Zen appropriately answers this dilemma. When The Buddha was convinced to spread his teaching to those with some dust in their eyes he had to desire to do so on some level or he would not have done it. Rejecting the idea of teaching also shows desire on the part of the Buddha. Even still, the Four Noble Truths as his second sermon show that he desired to convey the message. The koan is a wonderful example of grasping and enlightenment, it isn’t whther you share the information, or the desire to do so, it is the grasping at the desire to do so. Desire is a human sensory condition that cannot be avoided, it is NOT letting go of the emotion given to the desire that causes suffering.

    I recently read that desire and letting go are like a clock. Grasping is holding on to the clock at all times. Detatchment is setting the clock down. Simply notice the time and replace the clock. It is in the holding the clock that difficulty arises in life. As an analogy, your arms will get tired, hands weak, holding the clock leaves only one arm to do other things….i.e. problems in life.

    -I am new to this group but I would love some feedback. Please email me if possible. THank you for your time.