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Emotions : Desire & Attachment

By Kyabje Lama Zopa Rinpoche at various locations (Last Updated Aug 8, 2009)

Dealing with Attachment

Attachment and Ordination
Rinpoche gave the following advice to a student about dealing with attachment and the wish to become ordained.

Regarding what you said about attachment being challenging for you while you’re on retreat, desire is very sneaky, like a snake. We think it’s our friend, but all it does is cause us suffering. Anger is more obvious, because we can see that it makes us unhappy, and also causes a lot of destruction, but desire looks like our friend, but like a thief, it steals our happiness. Olympic athletes train for 40 years only to receive some praise, or their name on the TV, or a big trophy to put on a shelf in their home. They train for 40 years out of attachment, thinking that pride and recognition is what life is about.

If you want to take ordination, but have obstacles to this, or want to keep that wish alive, but can’t take the vows, in order to keep that wish alive, and to make sure that when you take the vows you keep them purely, you should do Tara praises and protector prayers every day, with a strong wish for ordination in your heart. Also, you should take the five lay vows and the eight Mahayana precepts as much as possible.

You should do lam-rim meditation every day, starting with the small scope and continuing each day for a certain length of time, for instance for three months, then should move on to the medium scope and do a meditation every day for a few months, and then spend a few months on bodhicitta, then a few months on emptiness, and then repeat the cycle over and over again until you gain realization of the topics. Every day, you should do some guru yoga practice in order to receive blessings so that you have a fruitful meditation.

You don’t always have to be in a formal meditation session to do lam-rim meditation. You should keep your mind in the topic all day long, so it’s mixed with your mind in whatever activity you do.

It’s good to contemplate the suffering in the lower realms when you recite OM MANI PADME HUM, and it’s good to do tong-len while you’re reciting it.

Regarding how one meditates on bodhicitta while meditating on emptiness, or how one arouses bodhicitta if everything is merely labeled, in emptiness, bodhicitta is seen as dream-like bodhicitta, your bodhicitta motivation and thoughts are seen as if you are dreaming. 


Rinpoche made the following comments on the disadvantages of attachment.

My attachment wants to prevent me from enlightening numberless sentient beings, from achieving enlightenment, from achieving all realizations, and from achieving liberation from samsara for myself and a good rebirth in the next life. It destroys my happiness.

There is a quotation from the Vinaya (oral transmission):

Craving for small pleasure
Cannot achieve great pleasure

By craving for small pleasure, it is impossible to achieve great pleasure. Renounce the happiness that produces suffering, and cherish the happiness that comes from suffering.

Think: Now I will bear hardships to have good morality, then I can achieve enlightenment.

Attachment obscures the mind from realizing emptiness. It creates negative karma, like the ten non-virtuous actions, and causes you to break the three vows: the Pratimoksa vows, which are the foundation, the ground, the earth from which liberation comes, the bodhisattva and tantric vows, which enable you to achieve enlightenment quickly.

Attachment cannot cut the root of samsara, and one will abide in samsara endlessly, suffering. Therefore, I must win over my delusions and defeat my enemy—attachment.

Attachment keeps me in samsara and has from time without beginning, and lets me suffer in the six realms of suffering.

Attachment is like a cannibal, like honey on a sword, appearing to help me but in fact destroying and cheating me.

With attachment, your whole life is so tremendously painful. You have so many projections, so many worries, and fears, and if something changes or happens to your object of attachment it is worse. 

Handling Attachment
One day after teachings in Wisconsin, a student came to bring bread that he had baked and asked how to handle attachment, how to stop it.

Especially for us beginners, one of the most powerful ways is to think of death and impermanence. Think: “I can die any time. So too the object, the person, can die at any time.”

Death is one thing but other changes can come about too. The object can change and become undesirable. Any day, any moment, this can happen. There are other changes besides death. An accident can happen, the body can get damaged or can become deformed. The body can change at any time. It can contract leprosy, which changes the body. Many things like that can happen.

One other very effective thing for us to think is that, any day, any minute, that person can become your enemy, by doing something that your attachment doesn’t like. The person can say or do something your self-cherishing doesn’t like. For example, that person may come to like another person, follow another person, and lose interest in you. This can happen any time.

I told him also it’s very useful to think that if you allow attachment to arise, that leaves a negative imprint on the mind that makes attachment arise again and again. So that makes it more difficult to handle attachment in the future. The more imprints are left, the more attachment will arise strongly over and over again, causing many difficulties in the future.

It is also good to think that this makes one’s life very uncontrolled.


The Pain of Attachment
Rinpoche made the following comments to a young student, regarding attachment and making her life beneficial.

If you are performing the daily actions of your life with two attitudes, you are getting close to enlightenment. The two attitudes are: 1) having a sincere heart, doing social service with compassion (working for others); and, 2) meditating on the lam-rim (the gradual path to enlightenment). This may not mean actually meditating, but living your life with lam-rim, in order to purify and collect merit, and then on top of that practicing tantra, in order to achieve enlightenment quickly, or at least to prepare the mind, by leaving positive imprints every day. Social service means doing something for others, doing it from your heart. Even if it is only a little help that you give, you still get real satisfaction, like you have done something meaningful in your life. You have done something positive. Then, every day, every moment, every second, you are getting closer to enlightenment.

Otherwise, if you just live your life only thinking about your own pleasure, trying to achieve it for yourself, with attachment, then the main aim of your life is you. You are looking for pleasure for yourself, sexual pleasure and so forth, with attachment, and from this comes only pain. Everything just becomes painful.

There is the pain of separation, where you can’t stand to be away from the person you are attached to. Then, each day, your feelings becomes stronger, until the attachment becomes unbearable. Then there comes the pain of jealousy toward others. You don’t want others to have a connection. You have so many worries and fears, and it becomes so much suffering.

If your life does not have these two things in them (social service or lam-rim) then no matter how much you meditate, if it is not done with lam-rim, or by doing social service, doing work for others, then instead you are only doing it for yourself, and your whole life gets tied up with attachment, to sex and other things. Then there is nothing positive in your life, now or in the future. Your life will become dark, because your whole life is lived with the self-cherishing thought, with desire, attachment and clinging to this life, and all of these are non-virtues. So when you die, you don’t have any positive thoughts, and you are not able to renounce life.

With attachment, your whole life is so tremendously painful. You have so many projections, so many worries and fears. If something changes or happens to the person you are attached to—for example, he or she is no longer interested in you, or leaves you, or goes with someone else—then there is unbelievable pain. An incredible disaster happens in your mind. It is like war that you see in a movie; it is the same in your mind, and this can also actually happen in your life. You begin the war, and are attacked by your own hallucinations, fears, and so forth, and you actually harm each other. Your life becomes this huge movie of violent negative karma. Then there is nothing to rejoice in, and nothing to dedicate. Your mind is very sad and dissatisfied.

With attachment, you recognize that your life has been totally wasted. You didn’t do anything meaningful, and you die with great regret, because your life had no purpose and now it is finished. You die with all the negative karmas that you have collected every day in your life, every minute, every hour, every day, every year, because nothing has been purified. Not only that, but the negative karma has also grown, so you go to the lower realms.

All this happens even though you have taken this most precious human rebirth, with all the qualities and endowments, with so many good things that you could have used to create peace and happiness and even ultimate happiness for numberless sentient beings. At least for yourself, you could have caused long life and happiness, the temporal happiness of future lives, having a peaceful mind in daily life, and even your own ultimate happiness. You could have performed spiritual practice, meditation, purified negative karma and collected merit, and especially you could have meditated on the lam-rim and on that basis practiced tantra. But instead you followed attachment.

Most people in the world do not know about this. They have no idea, and their whole life is spent living in pure attachment, in sexual pleasure, and that’s it. When you live with attachment, all the suffering comes from this, and you cannot achieve happiness in this life or in your future lives. From this, you can see how the world is suffering. You can see how much people who do not have any idea about this are suffering and creating more suffering. If you don’t apply the meditations, then even if you have a small attachment arising, there is so much suffering. When you think of people who are never involved in doing something positive—offering service for others, having compassion—you can see how their whole life is wasted, and how much they will suffer. Even their future is wasted. If they spent their life pursuing only this life’s happiness, such as being a famous singer, actor, president, or king, in reality, their life is totally wasted. It is without meaning, and there is nothing positive at all in their life.

If you are not able to renounce life one hundred percent, which means to renounce desire and clinging to this life in your daily life, and if you are not able to perform social service (working for others) or practice the lam-rim, then your life has no meaning. Your life is totally empty and wasted. Not only that, but it also becomes negative, and creates all the future sufferings, one after the other. You will have to experience them by yourself. It only comes back to you.

However much peace and happiness there is depends on your attitude. If you have attachment and your main goal is to obtain freedom for yourself, then you are creating negativity all the time, and you are not creating positive emotions, like compassion and loving kindness. If your main goal is desire, attachment, and clinging to this life, and if other sentient beings are not important to you, then that means you are creating more negativity and a more unhappy life. However, if your Dharma practice is to benefit others, then there will be more peace and happiness, even if you are not completely renounced. If others are the most important thing in your life, then you will have happiness. If others come first, in your heart, then there will be so much peace and happiness, and so many less emotional problems.

Basically, it all depends on how much you are able to guard your mind—guard it from attachment, and also from the thought of self-cherishing. How many positive attainments and positive actions you have depends on how much you are able to guard yourself from following these negative thoughts, and how much you keep the mind in a positive attitude. With this, there is a big difference in enjoying your life, even enjoying sex. There is a difference if it is done with the thought of benefiting others, even that one other person that you are with, rather than enjoying just for your own pleasure, just for yourself.

So these two attitudes make an unbelievably huge difference in your life. With one, the sun is shining; with the other it is dark, and obscured. Life is dark because of attachment, and you have a dark, obscured attitude, a negative attitude.

The difference is like sky and earth, like black and white.


Attachment to a Good Reputation
George Farley, an Australian who is in the computer business, was attending a course led by Rinpoche held in Australia, in Anglesea, outside Melbourne, many, many years ago. At this time, Rinpoche called him into his room and gave him a banana. He asked George whether he needed any advice or would like to consult with him about anything.

After this, George did some organizing with some very wealthy people and invited His Holiness the Dalai Lama to visit Australia. This was His Holiness’ first trip to Australia and it went extremely well. His Holiness gave talks at a university in Australia and Jeffrey Hopkins was there translating.

Then the second time, Rinpoche also asked George to organize His Holiness’ visit, and he did so together with many other FPMT members. During this trip, more than 30,000 people came to see His Holiness speak in a stadium, so many that they could not all fit into the stadium. This was also an extremely successful visit.

The third time, for the Kalachakra initiation, again George was asked to be the main organizer. He worked with many other members. There were perhaps a thousand people working together to organize this trip, many of them professional people but not Buddhists. This visit went extremely well too. His Holiness visited several cities on that tour, Melbourne, Sydney, where the Kalachakra was held, and other cities.

Rinpoche started asking George to help Tibet in some way, and George revitalized the Australia Tibet Council in Australia. So that one banana Rinpoche gave to George Farley accomplished a lot!

George has been very dedicated for many years to the FPMT and to Rinpoche. He’s very sincere in his strong wish to offer service. He came up with a whole new way to run the FPMT organization. Even though spiritually there had been a lot of progress in the organization—so much teaching, learning, and retreats—there had also been a lot of hardship on the material side. George offered new ideas for how to make the organization more successful with fewer material hardships. Gradually, it began getting better.

Now, recently, a few of George’s friends have died, one after another, and this has led George to think very much about his own death and his life, his inner life. He was reading Pabongka’s commentary on the "Three Principals of the Path", Lama Tsongkhapa’s text, and he reached the point where Pabongka is discussing reputation, saying that there are even yogis and pandits and such people who still cannot give up their important name. George read that and felt shocked. It really made him think and he recognized something of that in himself. George said he recognized that his mind was very dedicated but that he also had some attachment to his reputation.

Rinpoche’s response to George was to mention that, of course, it takes a long time to change, to develop one’s mind. The correct way to do this is with a motivation of bodhicitta. He wrote the following to George:

Quite a number of years ago, I was afraid of being famous, of being known. Now my mind has totally degenerated from that.

I think if one at least has realizations of bodhicitta, emptiness, and renunciation, then it’s worth being famous. It’s worthwhile having a well-known name, because there is no danger for your mind, for your mental continuum. There is only great benefit. Because of your bodhicitta, even if others harm you, as a bodhisattva, for people simply to hear your name, they only get benefit in return, in this life and in future lives.

That is the special quality of the bodhisattva. It makes everything worthwhile. Even for those who harm the bodhisattva, although they create very negative karma on one side, on the other side there’s the advantage of meeting that bodhisattva again and again. That is because the bodhisattva prays only for good things to happen to sentient beings, including those who harm others or who even harm the bodhisattva himself or herself.

It’s like the chemicals you put in a huge water tank or reservoir to kill germs and make it drinkable. Although the amount of chemicals is very small, it affects so much water drunk by so many millions of people. By having these realizations, especially bodhicitta, just one person can benefit the world so powerfully. It is so dynamic, such a benefit.

Otherwise, having power, wealth, or a famous name is only suffering. Without a Dharma mind, without even the motivation of the three principal paths, without at least living the life of the good heart with the thought of benefiting others, everything is suffering. Whatever lifestyle one has, no matter how famous one is or how many millions or zillions of dollars one has, it is all just suffering. It’s nothing special.

More power and more fame means more suffering, and a greater danger of creating more negative karma. It becomes more of a prison. Not only that—not only is there this suffering for oneself—without a good heart, power also becomes dangerous for others. That’s because without a good heart, power can be misused, and instead of bringing great benefit, it can cause great harm.

Even with just a good heart but without the realization of bodhicitta, there is no danger of others receiving harm, only benefit. With the idea of renunciation, however much power you have, others do not receive harm. Even if there is no immediate practical benefit for them, there is at least no harm.

Take as an example Guru Shakyamuni Buddha. Look what differences Guru Shakyamuni Buddha, one living being, made to the world—enlightened and enlightening numberless sentient beings and liberating so many from total suffering. And he is still benefiting numberless sentient beings and bringing them from happiness to happiness in every second, because the teachings he left behind are functioning to benefit sentient beings in this way.

Look at the differences made by His Holiness the Dalai Lama, who has been giving unbelievable peace and happiness to many millions of people in the world. Then look at what Mao Tse-Tung did. So you have two people, His Holiness and Mao Tse-Tung. His Holiness brings benefits as vast as the sky and then there is what Mao Tse-Tung or Hitler did. Look at one person in the world and what he did. It is all a question of one person’s mind, whether there is compassion or not.

Then you can think of the great Italian saint, St. Francis of Assisi, and how much he benefited others. His story is a very loving story. He totally renounced samsaric pleasures. He didn’t like to receive praise from others and from his students, only criticism. He specifically asked his students to criticize him, pointing out bad things and telling him he would go to hell for those things. But his students could not think of anything bad. They could only see good things. So his practice was like the Buddhist practice of the great Kadampa Geshes. He was a great meditator of thought transformation.

Then there was Gandhi-ji, who renounced violence, sacrificing his own life for others, for the peace and happiness of others.

On the other side, those stories, of a person who killed many millions of people shows basically a lack of compassion. This is the point. Without realizations of bodhicitta, or without at least a good heart, power, wealth, and a famous name are not only poison for oneself, they bring danger to others.

In the case of His Holiness and other bodhisattvas, the more greater their power, wealth, and reputation, the more benefit there is for others. Bodhisattvas look for these things in order to be able to bring vast benefits. They purposefully reincarnate in royal families, in families of wealth and reputation, so they can offer charity to others and show by their example to other sentient beings that although they have everything, they see only suffering.

To teach sentient beings, Guru Shakyamuni Buddha showed us this by his example. He renounced his power and wealth, and went to do retreat in solitary places after having found his guru. Bodhisattvas use wealth and reputation to benefit others. They achieve this, then they benefit others.

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