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Attachment TO Buddhism

Question:

This is a general question… In studying Buddhism, we learn that attachment is undesirable. We learn we need to recognise and remove attachments that we identify we have. Is there a point where we can become too attached to the teachings of Buddhism? i.e. the Four Noble Truths, the Five Precepts, etc? In the end, does the path to Enlightenment simply boil down to the Buddha’s last words: “Conditioned things are perishable; with vigilance strive to succeed.” (from http://www.visiblemantra.org/buddha-last-words.html) i.e. simply trying one’s best at anything, the pursuit of excellence in any field, so that one loses oneself, and becomes one with the subject matter (say, like a great concert pianist, lost in the moment of playing)is what leads to Enlightment / salvation.

Answer:

Remember Buddha’s life before he attained Enlightenment. He was a wealthy, pampered prince, and then became an extreme ascetic, nearly starving to death. He definitely knew a thing or two about taking things to the extreme. One of his main teachings was that of the middle way, or moderation in all things. Too much of anything, even meditation and study, can be harmful.

That’s not to say anyone can reach Enlightenment without a great deal of effort and dedication. It’s not unusual to read about monks that went off into the wilderness for years of solitary meditation, nearly dying in the process. These stories are not told with ‚Äútoo much effort‚Äù being the point. Buddha himself abandoned his kingdom and family, and this also is not told with ‚Äútoo much sacrifice‚Äù being the point. There’s a long way between what most of us do to practice Buddhism and the ‚Äúextreme.‚Äù

That being said, there comes a point where dedication to anything can become an obsession. This is not good. It can damage your relationships, job, family, and so forth. Whether or not this is acceptable is entirely up to you. Most of us don’t go that far, but some do. They are the monks who dedicate their lives to reaching Enlightenment. That’s an admirable goal, and I applaud (and envy) those monks. Yet for most of us, we must remember the middle path and avoid the ‚Äúextremes.‚Äù

8 comments to Attachment TO Buddhism

  • I like the point you make that we need to discern between dedication and obsession. I recently gave a talk on right effort, which is on http://www.dharmaseed.org . It was part of a series of talks on the Eightfold Path given at the June 2009 People of Color Retreat at Spirit Rock Meditation Center. For those who are interested, you can access it at dharmaseed online, by searching for “Mushim” in the teachers menu. The title of the talk is “Universal Heartbeat: Applying Skillful Effort and Right Diligance to Our Practice.”

  • Not all Buddhism teaches that attachments are undesirable. In Nichiren Buddhism, emphasis is made on purifying your attachments, so that you use them as a means for enlightenment. In other words, Nichiren teaches that “earthly desires are enlightenment.”

    In Japanese this is: bonno-soku-bodai

    “Earthly desires are enlightenment,” is a principle based on the Mahayana teachings of the Lotus Sutra, where it is understood that earthly desires cannot exist independently on their own; therefore one can attain enlightenment without eliminating earthly desires. This stands in contrast with the Hinayana view that extinguishing earthly desires is a prerequisite for enlightenment.

    In some interpretations of Hinayana teachings, earthly desires and enlightenment are seen as two independent and opposing factors, and they cannot coexist. The Mahayana teachings (interpreted byT’ien-t’ai, and adopted by Nichiren) teach that earthly desires are inseparable from enlightenment. This is understood to be the case, because all things, including earthly desires and enlightenment, are manifestations of the unchanging reality or truth-and thus are non-dualistic at their source.

    The Universal Worthy Sutra, (an epilogue to the Lotus Sutra,) also states, “Without either cutting off earthly desires or separating themselves from the five desires, they can purify all their senses and wipe away all their offenses.”

    “The ignorance and dust of desires are enlightenment, and the sufferings of birth and death are nirvana.” – T’ien-t’ai (538-597) from “Great Concentration and Insight.”

    Nichiren writes: “The idea of gradually overcoming delusions is not the ultimate meaning of the ‘Life Span’ chapter of the Lotus Sutra. You should understand that the ultimate meaning of this chapter is that ordinary mortals, just as they are in their original state of being, are Buddhas” and elsewhere he writes, “Today, when Nichiren and his followers recite the words Nam-myoho-renge-kyo, they are burning the firewood of earthly desires, summoning up the wisdom-fire of enlightenment.” – Nichiren (1222-1282, from “The Record of the Orally Transmitted Teaching.”

    I find this principle very comforting and it helps me avoid the inevitable “rat hole” of obsessing about attachments to earthly desires!!!

  • Jami

    Very balanced response Brian. A sensible, clear thinking is itself philosophical.

    My understanding of the ‘Nichiren’ school is limited.I guess this is not a dominant opinion of Mahayana… as implied. Hard not to see Buddha as some how, despite the balance, tilting to the other-worldly more than this-worldly.

    Non-attachment, in his period, may not refelect our attachments. Ours have multiplied. We may imagine the rich and Poor Japanese finiding something in this interpretation. I believe a few Southern Christian nominations preach a worldy Capitalism and make Christ sound as if he wore a suit.

  • Jami, you are correct. There is much in Nichiren that does not necessarily agree with the original thinking of Buddha. Buddhism does evolve over time, and that’s generally a good thing. Whether or not it has evolved correctly or not is up to the practitioner to decide.

    For myself, I’ll stick with Zen, although I always enjoy hearing other viewpoints and ways of thinking.

  • Scott

    I’m pretty new to Buddhism and Zen, so take my opinions as such 🙂 This made me think of something from “Zen Mind, Beginners Mind”:

    “Zen is not something to get excited about. Some people start to practice Zen just out of curiosity, and they only make themselves busier. If your practice makes you worse, it is ridiculous. I think that if you try to do zazen once a week, that will make you busy enough. Do not be too interested in Zen. […]”

    Perhaps Suzuki is not directly speaking about an attachment to Buddhism itself, but it seems somewhat related to me and I’ve tried to keep this in mind as I learn and grow.

  • Classic Indian Story: Buddha’s teachings are like a ship we use to cross the ocean of samsara (cycle of life and death)to get to the banks of Nirvana. If one gets attached to the ship, there is no reaching Nirvana!

    Space Shuttle Story: Space shuttle has to let go of the external tank first and the solid rocket boosters next. Only then it can escape the gravity and get to orbit!

  • Abe Simpson

    If you see Buddha on the path…

  • Real Buddhist

    In Nichiren Shu, 2 priests taught me that since they have no 5 precepts (no killing, no stealing, no sexual misconducts, no lying, no drugs/alcohol), therefore they don’t need to worry about “moral things”. Anyone insist that priests should follow the traditional Buddhism teaching (which is taking the 5 precepts the first day), or that priests should be the role model of the community, IS “attachment”.

    So to them, desires, lusts, all material things are not so much “attachment”, but the precepts themselves are “attachments”.

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