How Attachment Binds Us to Samsara

How Attachment Binds Us to Samsara

Date of Advice:
February 2018
Date Posted:
September 2019

A monk wrote to Rinpoche asking how to deal with attachment. Rinpoche responded with advice on how to resolve sexual thoughts.

Lama Zopa Rinpoche teaching at the Light of the Path retreat, North Carolina, USA, May 2014. Photo: Roy Harvey.

My most dear, most kind, most precious, wish-fulfilling one,
Thank you very much for your kind letter expressing all your thoughts to me. As you expressed to me, of course I am responsible for helping you and guiding you in whatever way I can.

You expressed your thoughts about other things, but one thing was the thought of sex arising in your mind.

One way to think about sex—when sexual thoughts arise—is by looking at it as the cause of samsara or in the nature of suffering. [Attachment] is the cause of oceans of suffering in samsara. We look at the suffering as pleasure; we don’t see it as suffering. We look at it as just pleasure, real pleasure. There are two different ways of looking at it, so in this case we can look at the attachment to sexual pleasure.

As you know, the teachings on emptiness talk about the ultimate truth of the I. There is no real I. We can check what has been appearing and what we have believed is real from beginningless rebirths. Due to that [wrong concept] there is so much suffering. There are oceans of suffering of the six realms from beginningless rebirths.

Still the I appears as real, but it is merely imputed by the mind. The five aggregates that we have now appear as real, but the opposite is true—what we have is merely labeled. The aggregates appear real, but that is totally opposite to the truth. We believe that one hundred percent and then we suffer again in the oceans of the six realms’ suffering without end.

In reality when we check or examine this, the real I is not there. The real I appears to us and we have believed in that one hundred percent from beginningless rebirths up to now, but we can’t find it from the tip of the hairs down to the toes, neither inside nor outside, not even on the aggregates.

The mind which is attached to sex and so forth is only a wrong concept, that which believes in the real I, but in reality that real I is not there. The omniscient one, the Buddha cannot see it and even arya bodhisattvas cannot see it. They directly see that the real I is totally empty. They cannot see the real I. They see that it is totally nonexistent and what exists is merely labeled by our own mind and exists in mere name.

That mind which realizes that the I exists in mere name and is merely labeled by the mind; that most subtle mind seeing the I like that does not get attached to sex. Only the wrong concept, ignorance, does.

What is merely imputed by the mind appears as the real I and then we believe it exists, that it is true, that it is the real I. We believe that is the real I—that the merely labeled I is real. So the I appears as the real I and then we believe in that. We think it is one hundred percent the real I.

Due to that concept, even though sexual pleasure is merely imputed by the mind, it appears as pleasure and we believe it is pleasure. Then attachment arises on the basis of the king of our ignorance—the wrong concept, holding the I that appears as real. We hold that as real and then attachment arises because of ignorance.

If somebody interferes with the object of our attachment, then anger arises. The king of the delusions is ignorance, holding the I as real. In reality the I is merely imputed by the mind, but it doesn’t appear in that way and we don’t see it that way. That is a totally wrong view and due to that anger arises. So you can see clearly that attachment and anger come from the root, ignorance. Now you can see that very clearly.

It is a total hallucination. The objects of our anger and the objects of our attachment are a total hallucination. It is like watching TV or a movie and believing it is real. This is a very good meditation or analysis.

Lama Tsongkhapa explained in the Lamrim Chenmo, the great commentary on the lamrim:

Exaggerated by ignorance, we see things in that nature, as particularly beautiful and ugly.
Then anger, attachment and so forth arise.
The way of apprehending things using these wrong concepts can be eliminated by logic.

Also there is a quotation from the Four Hundred Stanzas:

Attachment and so forth arise because the nature of phenomena is exaggerated by ignorance.
The delusions arise especially by following and exaggerating what is beautiful and ugly.
Anger and attachment are no different from ignorance,
And they arise by depending on ignorance, which is the only principal.

There are more shortcomings [of attachment to samsaric pleasure.] Even if it is pleasure, it is not ultimate happiness. It is samsaric pleasure, therefore it is the suffering of change which is in the nature of suffering. So the pleasure is in the nature of suffering. The pleasure is only for short time, just a few seconds. Then as a result we have to experience the general sufferings of samsara, like the three types of suffering, the six types of suffering and so forth, and particularly the suffering of the lower realms.

You should reflect on that and remember that this is nothing new; there is nothing new in pleasure, for instance, we have had sexual pleasure with numberless sentient beings, with every sentient being, not just one time, but numberless times from beginningless rebirths. We have suffered and experienced the oceans of suffering of the six realms from beginningless time. If attachment to that is not renounced then we will have to suffer again without end. That is our future. That means when we are attached to sex we have to suffer without end.

For just a few seconds or minutes of pleasure; for one or two minutes of pleasure we give up liberation from samsara and nirvana for ourselves. We give up happiness forever—liberation from samsara and ultimate happiness forever, blissful peace forever. We also give up being able to liberate numberless sentient beings of the six realms from the oceans of samsaric suffering. We give that up for those few seconds or minutes of pleasure. And we give up buddhahood—the peerless happiness, the total cessation of mistakes and completion of realizations. This means we also give up every sentient being, the numberless sentient beings, for them to achieve the peerless happiness, the total cessation of all the obscurations and completion of all the realizations.

The last thing, as mentioned by the Buddha in the Sutra of One Hundred Actions [Tib: lä gya pa]:

It causes nonvirtue—to always to be accustomed to that and to be familiar and arise with that. (1)
Also in the future one relies on nonvirtue. (2)
And one engages in nonvirtue. (3)
And one follows nonvirtue. (4)

I added the numbers after each sentence. So this quotation is in regards to karma. This is what happens to our karma if we follow the attachment to sex.

The Buddha said that the karma continues all the time and expands, so it never ends and we suffer without end. We experience endless samsaric sufferings. As I mentioned before, that is a huge thing, what the Buddha said, that even this karma ties us to samsara and creates continual suffering.

There is another explanation to understand [sexual pleasure] from the side of tantra.

Males and females both have white bodhicitta. If white bodhicitta comes out it is like blood from the dakinis’ heart coming out. They are not happy and feel extremely great loss if we cannot control the white bodhicitta.

It is said that white bodhicitta is the basis of bliss. The dakinis cherish our great bliss the most—more than their own heart’s blood; more than themselves. If great bliss is generated it cuts the gross and subtle all-conceptual mind. The result is achieving the three kayas by attaining the illusory body.

If we just practice Mahayana sutra without tantra it takes three countless great eons to achieve enlightenment and to finish collecting merit for that. Tantra has four levels: Kriya Tantra, Charya Tantra, Anuttara Yoga Tantra and Maha-anuttara Yoga Tantra. The illusory body is attained through the practice of Highest Yoga Tantra.

According to Maha-anuttara Yoga Tantra we can achieve enlightenment in one lifetime. The method is by attaining the illusory body, thus finishing our negative karma and creating all the merit in one life. This is what we need to do to achieve the three kayas.

So you can see [having no control of white bodhicitta] becomes an obstacle for this to happen, therefore the dakinis are displeased, not happy. You have to know this is what cheats you. It is an old habit from beginningless rebirth. It is one old habit that we have been habituated with from beginningless rebirth, under the control of attachment.

In tantra there is a need for attachment to develop bliss but here it is done totally with attachment. The wisdom of great bliss cannot realize emptiness if you can’t control the white bodhicitta but lose it. This becomes an obstacle for both males and females. This is from the side of tantra, for you to understand.

If you have anything else, please write to me and when I have time, I will try to answer you. I am sorry this took quite a long time, but as I have time, I will write to you.

With much love and prayers ...