Overwhelmed by Attachment

Overwhelmed by Attachment

Date of Advice:
April 2021
Date Posted:
April 2023

Rinpoche sent this long letter to a student who was overwhelmed by attachment. Rinpoche advised emptiness meditation and explained that long-lasting relationships are based on unconditional love and compassion, not samsaric desire.

My most dear, most kind, most precious, wish-fulfilling one,
How are you? I heard you are still with the same mind, kind of sick, thinking about [your former partner], but he doesn’t want you; he wants to be with another person. This is a common problem in the world. You may think you are the only one with this problem, but it is a common problem in the world. The details I already explained to you before, but this way, I may not have explained. It’s similar advice, but maybe easier to understand.

Generally, we should be aware that what we see is what appears to us, and what appears to us depends on what our mind labels. What we hear, what we smell, everything depends on how it appears, and that depends on what our mind labels. Everything is labeled, but in reality, things are merely labeled, that’s what they really are, in mere name, merely labeled by the mind.

Maybe I explained before, for example, when we were a child, before teachers and parents teach us that the letter is named Z, then we just see the lines of Z. Before we are taught that it is Z, we just see a line and we don’t see that it is Z at all. We see Z, but we don’t think “This is Z.” Then somebody, a teacher or somebody, introduces us, saying, “This is Z.” Then we follow that and believe in that, then our mind labels Z and we believe in that. In reality our mind labels Z, depending on that base, the lines, and we believe in that. Relating to that base, our mind merely imputes Z, merely there.

Then first, after that, there is the appearance of Z from there. For ordinary beings, for the sentient beings, not Buddha, but for sentient beings, Z appears from there. Then after that, we see Z. The Z that we see comes from our own mind. The Z that we see appears from there and the Z which appears from there, came from our mind. This is because we believe what the other person taught us, then our mind not only labels, but merely labels, by relating to that base. So it is clear it came from our mind. It exists, but it came from our mind. Even that which exists came from our mind, and not only that, that which doesn’t exist—the hallucination—came from our mind.

Of course, in reality, Z exists in mere name, merely labeled by the mind, relating to that base. It depends on that. That is the first second, then in the next second the Z that is supposed to appear to us, that’s merely labeled by the mind, just as in the second before that does not happen to us, because we haven’t realized emptiness. It is because of that.

Because we haven’t realized emptiness, the ultimate reality, it appears as Z from there, from the object’s side. Then we see it as very gross, merely labeled by mind, existing from its own side, only existing from its own side. It’s a very gross hallucination, never labeled by the mind, by our mind. Then we see Z existing from its own side, and we see Z there, which means on that base. Z there, which is also existing from its own side, appearing from its own side, that appearance happened.

That appearance is projected or decorated on that base by the negative imprints left on the mental continuum. Actually, from beginningless rebirths it’s left there on the mental continuum by the wrong concept, ignorance, holding the I as not existing in mere name, but as a real one, appearing from there. Even in the past, in the same way the ignorance, the wrong concept, leaves negative imprints on the mental continuum. So usually right after the mind merely imputes, we are not aware of that, we don’t realize that, then it is projected or decorated by the negative imprint, it exists there on the base, existing from there, it’s there and it is existing from there, but that is a total hallucination.

Please understand how the Z came from the mind, first of all, it came from our own mind, the Z that we see. Please understand this. Even if it is just an intellectual understanding, we need to recognize this.

So now, like that, it is the same with the I. We have a false I, existing there on the aggregates, appearing from there, but in reality that is a hallucination, a total hallucination. Then all the rest of phenomena, which appear to us, which we see, which we hear, which appear to our sensory ear, the sounds we hear with our ear, and the same with the smell, the real smell from there, and the real [touch], soft and gentle, from there, everything came from our mind. That’s the hallucination we have; the biggest hallucination.

Our whole life is like this—what exists is merely labeled by the mind, and because there is the base, the valid base, it exists not on that base, but it exists due to that base. This is the biggest suffering and all our suffering comes from this wrong concept, this ignorance, this wrong belief, this wrong appearance, this hallucination. So for our whole life we live in the hallucination. Recognizing this is the biggest shock of our life; to recognize this, to realize the truth, the ultimate reality, the emptiness of the I.

The Buddha doesn’t have this hallucination. The Buddha sees what we merely labeled, that things exist in mere name, the Buddha sees that, but the Buddha doesn’t have the truly existent appearance of I or anything. For the Buddha’s senses, Buddha doesn’t have a truly existent hallucination of form, sound, smell, taste, tangible, nothing. Buddha doesn’t have that. Buddha sees all these things that have a valid base exist in mere name. Buddha sees that our life is in a total hallucination.

For example, there is an audience that the magician creates illusions for, such as creating the appearance of golden elephants, jewels, palaces, unbelievable things. The magician can transform a whole city, a real city, and there are people in the audience who believe it is real. For us, it is like those people in the audience who believe whatever they see. Whatever the magician transforms, the audience believes it is real. So we can see it is an unbelievable, total hallucination, and we are living in that in our life.

When we start to realize emptiness, through meditating, by collecting merit and doing so much purification at the same time, and by developing guru devotion, seeing the guru as a buddha, then we start to realize, to recognize this.

For example, true existence—that appearance is the object to be refuted. It’s a wrong object. The minute we realize that, then we lose that hallucination, the truly existent I, then we see that the truly existent I is totally empty, no way it exists. By realizing that more and more, then we realize that the I exists [in mere name]. It’s not that there is no I—that is nihilism—the I exists, but it exists in mere name, that which is unbelievably most subtle, the way the I exists.

This is unbelievable, the most interesting thing. So like that, the magician himself or the audience knows everything is transformed by the magician, so they know all of this is not true, what he transformed. So it is not true. It is like arya beings, who are not enlightened beings. Arya beings directly see emptiness, the ultimate reality, the emptiness of the I and all phenomena. [They recognize] that the I and phenomena exist in mere name and because of existing in mere name, they function in mere name.

So there is suffering because of creating the cause of suffering, in mere name, and we experience happiness because of creating the cause of happiness, virtue, in mere name. Sentient beings who are not buddhas, and aryas who are not bodhisattvas, and bodhisattvas who are aryas, can have the wisdom realizing emptiness of everything, but they still have the hallucination, that phenomena exist from their own side. Like, for example, people who recognize the dream as a dream. Those who don’t recognize the dream as a dream are like us, who haven’t realized emptiness, the ultimate nature.

Those arya beings who realize emptiness, who directly see emptiness, still have the hallucination, the appearance, but they don’t have the belief that it is true. They know that it is false. That is why I am saying it’s like the people who recognize that it is not real. They recognize the dream as a dream. They still have the appearance, but they recognize the dream as a dream; they understand it is not real.

There are some people in the audience that the magician can’t create an illusion for. They can see the reality, that it’s not really a golden elephant or a jewel palace or those unbelievable things, but they can have the knowledge and they can see it that way. That is what it is like for the Buddha.

I hope you really go through this, as I have spent much time explaining this to you. I really hope you go through the analysis, so that this becomes a very important meditation for you. It’s an instruction for peace and happiness for you, not a distraction for your life and for your mind. You can do the meditation by relating to that man who you have unbelievable, unbelievable, unbelievable, most unbelievable attachment for. You can use the example of the Z that I gave you and then also do the meditation. Or you can do the analysis on the I, especially on that man.

Basically, how you see that man, how he appears to you, how you see him, is as though he is something that is most wonderful thing in the world, and if you stay with him there will only be great bliss and no problems. But that is not true. Normally we have this judgment all the time, with every boyfriend, every girlfriend, every husband. Even though we have already gone through so many relationship problems, we start the same thing with another person. We have already separated, but when we meet someone new, the same hallucination and the same concept comes. We don’t realize that we will suffer with that person, we never think that, but that’s what is going to happen in reality, more and more.

I think I must have explained this before, beginning like this. I’ve explained this so many times. If we have money we might spend a million dollars or more than that, or we borrow money from the bank, or if we don’t have money, then we become full of debt which is difficult to repay in our life. We may spend all that money to get that person that we are so attached to.

Let me explain the common experience. Even if you are so attached, before living together, feeling unbelievably attached and you think there is only bliss, no problems, you never think of the problems or that you will experience separation. Finally, you start living together, then you see them in the morning as a friend and the next day they can be your enemy. That person is no longer the object of your attachment; you find some mistakes and you see something that attachment doesn’t agree with. Your self-cherishing doesn’t agree, but actually after one week they can become the enemy and then you are already worried about how you can be free from that person and when you can be free—at the end of the week or the end of the month. It is like that.

I know a student in Hong Kong who after their marriage, which was arranged by the family, after living together for two days, she felt like she was living in prison and she wanted to be free from that person. Her husband made noise in his sleep and the wife never got to sleep at night-time. She wanted to be free from that man even after just two days; she felt like she was in prison.

Another example is being very attached and then after the wedding, or even during the wedding, or at the beach, the lake or in the ocean, the wife, even though she is still in her wedding dress, falls down in the water and dies, or she dies during the wedding or the next day. It could be the husband or the wife. So these things do happen.

We think there will be only bliss, incredible happiness, if we stay with that person, and especially before we live together, we have this feeling more. Then after living together longer and longer, we see their mistakes more and more, like we see how selfish that person is or how impatient they are, or we see their anger or how much jealousy they have, from our side, the husband’s side or the wife’s side. This is the story of what usually happens in the world.

Even though the husband and wife live physically together, mentally they are not living together and the wife thinks, “When can I be free from that man?” It is like a prison. So many people have this experience, but they can’t express it. It takes time. Also, the husband sees the mistakes more and more, and has less interest. As they live together they see more and more mistakes and have less and less interest. Then after the child is born, all the concentration, more and more focus goes on the child, then the husband doesn’t love the wife anymore and the wife doesn’t love the husband anymore. It all goes on the child. The husband just makes the money and the wife just looks after the children and it becomes more like a business, with a totally different focus from the previous time, especially before living together, how they thought it would be.

What makes the relationship last longer is living together with loving kindness—not conditional love, but unconditional love, loving kindness, without any expectation to get what our attachment mind wants. Not doing what our self-cherishing mind wants, but purely from our side helping that person to have more happiness. Causing that person to have more happiness and having compassion without any expectation, wanting to free them from suffering and wanting to cause that.

Even if the other person is very selfish, very angry, if we have a good heart then after some time the other person will learn from us how to be goodhearted. They will learn from us. So that’s how we can help to bring peace and happiness in the world, starting with our friends, and then the world.

If you have a good heart, unconditional loving kindness and compassion; if you want to know how to have a happy life, a long-lasting happy life, real peace and happiness, then it is with this positive mind, a sincere mind, a good heart. To understand this, you really need to think well about this.

Lama Tsongkhapa said in the Lamrim Chenmo that exaggeration occurs due to ignorance and we discriminate, “This is good, this is bad.” Then after that, attachment and anger arises, because we exaggerate good and bad. From the view of the logicians, by using logical reasons, we can prove that the objects of anger and attachment are false; that they do not exist [inherently]. Then we are able to eliminate the wrong concepts of anger and attachment, and also ignorance (that which started first).

So you have to meditate on this. I gave the explanation to you already, last time. This is so important what Lama Tsongkhapa explained, so meditate on this using your [former partner], the appearance.

Thank you very much. I explained what the best relationship is, by having unconditional loving kindness and compassion without expectation of receiving something back, but sincerely from the heart wishing to free that person from suffering. That is great compassion—when you want to help them by yourself, sincerely from your heart.

For example, the buddhas and bodhisattvas—I might have mentioned this last time—even those who harm them, still they benefit them so much, they help them. Even in return for receiving harm from those sentient beings, the buddhas and bodhisattvas generate strong compassion especially for them. This is what the buddhas and bodhisattvas do.

One time, the bodhisattva Thogme Zangpo, who wrote the very beneficial teaching The Thirty-seven Practices of a Bodhisattva, went to a monastery to give teachings and then he received many offerings from the people there. On his way back to his monastery he met some robbers who tied him up with ropes. The servants were beaten by the robbers and they took all the things that had been offered to Thogme Zangpo, but then he completely dedicated and in his mind he offered everything to the robbers.

The robbers were planning to then go to the monastery to also steal, so that lama pointed to the road where they should go. There seems to be some story like that.

There was a time in that area when these robbers were imprisoned, so maybe at that time, at another time, the lama came and heard the robbers were in prison. He asked if he could please, please free those people, so that they could be free and instead of them, he could be put in prison. The lama begged for this. So I think those people gave the lama a hard time, but they let that happen according to the lama’s wish. They let the robbers be free. They couldn’t put the lama in prison but they let the robbers free, so this happened, as an example.

There is a story of the Buddha in Namo Buddha in Nepal. There was a mother tiger and five tiger cubs which were dying of starvation. This was before the Buddha became a buddha, so he was a bodhisattva, and he was with Maitreya Buddha. Together they went and they saw the mother tiger and her five starving cubs, but then they came back. Then the Buddha went back alone to where the starving tigers were. He laid down to give his holy body to the starving tigers, but they couldn’t eat because they were so weak. So the Buddha found something in the grass to cut his skin, to produce blood from his neck. Then the tiger and her five cubs came to lick that, because they were starving. The cubs with the mother tiger then ate the holy body.

Buddha made the prayer with compassion and because from his side he only wished to benefit them, he prayed that the five cubs and mother tiger would become his disciples. He prayed that they would in the future become his disciples. Later, when he was Buddha and he was in India in Sarnath, where he first turned the wheel of Dharma, then due to his prayer, when the Buddha taught the four noble truths—which are very, very important and the base of Buddhism—his first disciples, those who heard his first teaching, in their past life they were those tigers who had eaten the Buddha’s holy body. 

This story is just one example, but there are numberless stories about the time when the Buddha was a bodhisattva and what he did. But I don’t want to carry on. I don’t want you to get sick from my long talk. I don’t want you to get the virus from my long talk.

Thank you very much. I am just wanting to help you understand about life, what is right and what is wrong, that’s all. Thank you very much. I hope you might spend a little time to think, to analyze. Thank you very much.

With much love and prayers,

Lama Zopa

P.S. By following not the loving kindness, but following love that is attachment, clinging, it’s like being stuck like glue, sticking to that person, being absorbed in that. So now, yes, you have so much attachment when you think like that and then by following that view, then you see someone who is better, more handsome etc., then you lose interest in the person you were attached to before. Then you have more attachment to the more handsome one. You see somebody else and you have desire to be one with that. Then the less handsome or ugly one, by seeing the more beautiful one, then the one you were more attached to before now becomes more ugly—either too ugly or more ugly.

Then again, while you are not seeing the more beautiful person, then it’s OK, but when you see the one who is more beautiful, then you see the other person as more ugly or totally ugly.

So it is like that from the woman’s side, and from the man’s side it is also like that. From the man’s side also, when they don’t think about others, then they are very attached to [their partner.] Later they are attached not to [their partner] but to someone that they meet. When they see someone more beautiful, then they will see the person that they were so attached to as totally ugly or more ugly, so it goes on like that. If we follow love, which is desire and attachment, as I said before, it causes so many other delusions—jealousy and so much anger and desire—to arise. So many delusions arise from that attachment; so many problems come in the lifetime.

As I mentioned before, loving kindness that is pure, wanting to cause happiness to that person without expectation for yourself—unconditional loving kindness and similarly compassion—that is very good.

There can be somebody with so much suffering and we have so much compassion for them. Then for somebody else we may have less compassion and less loving kindness; that may be possible for us ordinary beings. How to live the life and what to practice, what we think—that is the purpose of life.

The good qualities of mind are to be developed, otherwise we create so much suffering with a negative mind and attachment to this life. Then from there, anger comes and also ignorance comes. All our problems come from the ignorance, the root, not knowing the nature of the I, the ultimate reality of the I and not knowing the nature of the object, the ultimate reality and so forth. The ultimate nature of the object is that which exists in mere name, so it does not exist at all from its own side.

In our life everything exists on there, on the base, and it exists from there, from the object’s side, but that is totally wrong. Even logically we can prove that this is a hallucination and also we can prove it from our own experience. So, thank you very, very much. Now it is up to you. I explained what is false and what is reality, what is the truth. So, thank you very much.

That [your boyfriend] got more attachment to the new girl, but you, from your side are so attached to him, so from this, you are suffering so much. There could also be jealousy for the new girl, however, this is not the first time, as I already explained, that with samsaric desire, attachment, the relationship cannot last. From his side when he sees many other beautiful girls, like now, then the mind gets stuck and goes with that, and then he would like to be with all those girls.

And whoever is the most handsome boy, you will later see this boy as ugly and the other ones as so beautiful. Then your mind will get stuck with that, stuck like glue; the mind gets stuck with attachment. It is like glue and you cannot separate from that object, the boy. Then you suffer on and on. This is what happens in the world.

This is not the first time, this life experience. What I want to tell you, extra, is that there is no first time. This [situation] with the boy, you have been experiencing like this from beginningless rebirths, even relating to you and to him—he related to you, and you related to him. This has been happening numberless times from beginningless rebirths, and not only that, just thinking of [his feelings] toward you and yours toward him, from beginningless rebirths it has been like that. Even that is most unbelievable, unbelievable, most unbelievably shocking. So like this you have been with your mother and with every sentient being, with numberless hell beings, numberless hungry ghosts, numberless animals, numberless humans, numberless asuras, numberless suras, and of the numberless animals, the numberless ants, numberless mosquitoes, numberless sea horses, numberless octopuses. The relationships have been like this. Wow, wow, wow.

You know, you have been the wife of everybody, all of us, everybody, and we have been your husband or your wife numberless times already, from beginningless rebirths. You have to know that. The whole thing, the world and people are suffering so much, but we are thinking only about now, this minute, only today. I mean just this life is basically just now. Then there is so much suffering and totally limited education, limited experience, limited inside. Wow, wow, wow! We are basically like this, if we look at the overall view.

You have to understand this, so I explained it the correct way, that the relationship that lasts a long time is based on loving kindness, not samsaric desire.

Samsaric desire brings these problems, so what you are suffering and how much you are suffering now, that is the problem of samsaric desire, having so much desire for him. Then he sometimes desires others, but you want him to be attached to you, not to that person. Then he can’t do that and he has so much suffering, of course. It is so good to know the whole view—past, present and future.

Also in the future, continuously, for as long as we are in samsara, as long as we follow the root of samsara, ignorance, and the self-cherishing thought, ignorance, anger and attachment, then continuously we will also experience the same thing in the future that we experienced in the past. We will experience this incredible suffering with all the sentient beings again and again.

Thank you very, very much. I hope you understand a little bit after all this. Thank you very, very much.

With much love and prayers ...