attachment

It seems that most major world religions are in agreement on the subject of materialism. Attachment to the temporal things of this world is not good.

There seems, however, to be some divergence when it comes to how much and in what ways we are attached to other people. Having spent most of my life in a Christian milieu, I am accustomed to hearing things from that particular angle. Love your neighbor as yourself. Love your enemies. Love one another as I have loved you. Let brotherly love continue. If God so loved us, we ought also to love one another. Greater love has no man than this, that a man lay down his life for his friends. The list goes on and on. (The fact that very, very few people who call themselves Christians actually practice any of this is a subject for another day.)

My way of reflecting on these Christian teachings was recently challenged when I heard a recording of a speech given by the Dalai Lama. Following is an excerpt from that speech that was particularly challenging to me.

I also feel that too much attachment is not good. Sometimes I find that my Western friends consider attachment to be something very important. It is as if without attachment their lives would be colorless. I think we have to make a distinction between negative desire, or attachment, and the positive quality of love that wishes another person’s happiness. Attachment is biased. It narrows our minds so that we cannot clearly see the reality of a situation, eventually bringing us unnecessary problems. Like the negative emotions of anger and hatred, attachment is destructive. We should try to maintain a greater sense of equanimity. That doesn’t mean that we should have no feelings and be totally indifferent. We can recognize that one thing is good and that another is bad. We should then work to get rid of the bad and possess or increase the good. (delivered at Central Park, New York City, 15 August 1999)

The Dalai Lama begins by pointing out a difference between typical Western and Eastern thinking. He seems to be saying that Westerners tend to confuse or unnecessarily entangle love with negative desires and/or feelings of possession. If this is what he’s trying to say, I think he’s right.

Most of the unnecessary problems and pain I have experienced in my life can be attributed to my confusing love with attachment or, worse yet, with possessive control.

What the Dalai Lama is saying is not at all at variance with what Jesus or the Christian scriptures say. [Love] seeks not her own. For if you love them which love you, what reward have you? (Even tax collectors can do that.)

I have to conclude that Jesus and the Dalai Lama are actually in agreement. Love is good. Attachment is harmful.

Love is the heartfelt desire for another person to be happy and free of pain and suffering. One who loves places no conditions or restrictions on his or her love. It is given freely without any expectations of getting something in return.

This sounds good, but I don’t think I can do it. In order to avoid hurting and being hurt, I think I will need to become a recluse.

© panthera2, 2012.

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