Flowers fall with our longing, and weeds spring up with our aversion – Dogen
I read a book this week that was really a good book, a memoir about how much a daughter loves her father, warts and all, and about how that love transcends age, sickness and time. In the story, the author recalls meeting up with a Buddhist family in Nepal during a bit of youthful wandering, and although she can’t reconcile herself to faith, she dismisses Buddhism in a single gust over that one prickly word we hold so dear: attachment.
“I liked Sabine,” she writes of the Buddhist mother she encountered, “but she was lying if she thought she wasn’t attached to that boy of hers, who made her eyes flicker every time he leaned into her.”
Although I’m bothered to do so, I thought I would revisit the briar patch of attachment. We are so attached to what we think attachment means. We are always attached to what we think things mean, to what we think things are, and that is the cause of all suffering. Suffering always comes about when we try to rationalize the way life is, fashion concepts to convey our understanding, our needs, our feelings, our likes and beliefs, and then attach to those ideas as though they were life itself. The truth is never the phony thing we attach to.
This is how Buddha saw the truth. He saw it as it is. This is the way we all see it, and although we may not want to accept it, we will experience it just the same.
1. Life means suffering. Things change.
2. The origin of suffering is attachment. It hurts when things change.
3. The cessation of suffering is attainable. Accept that things change.
4. There is a way out of suffering. You can change yourself.
When we try to conceive of what it means to overcome our attachments, we imagine cold indifference, dispassionate stoicism, and cruel and unfeeling isolation. That is never the outcome of overcoming attachments. That is never the outcome of accepting how things go. That is never the outcome of accepting people as they are. The outcome of acceptance, non-attachment, is pure and undefiled love. The love that is compassion: eternal and selfless.
This life of ours is strewn with faded blooms. We walk on a rose-colored carpet. That’s just the way it is. Now, how will you walk?
I don’t have to preach this. You experience it yourself the moment you appreciate life as it is. That your children grow up, and your eyes still flicker at the sight of them. That your parents grow old, and you love them forever. That sickness comes, disaster strikes, and seasons change. This enduring truth is what makes every story a love story. How a daughter loves her father, warts and all, with a love that transcends age, sickness and time is a story of non-attachment.
This post was also inspired by the foolish, high-minded thinkers who suggest that it is pointless to send money as fast as we can to Haiti, and by the corresponding wisdom of Nicholas Kristof, who is surely the most compassionate journalist in the world today.