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When it comes to translation of Buddhist terms and ideas, I can think of an even more massive fail. I have been thinking about the word attachment in relationship to Buddhist meditation and the practice of Buddhism. I think it’s just about the worst translation imaginable, and has probably turned countless people away from Buddhism. Upadana is the Sanskrit/Pali word, and I feel that the words fixation, grasping, or obsession get at the meaning much more insightfully.
Last week at the Interdependence Project, Dr. Miles Neale defined attachment as: “exaggeration of the positive qualities of the object of our mind.” This was a provocative and interesting definition to contemplate.
My main problem with the word attachment is that it refers not so much to a problematic state of mind, but the state of circumstances of our life. In psychology, attachment theory is the study of human beings and their relationship structures throughout life. To be a human is to have attachments, such as family, friends, career, school, whatever. To me, the word just reminds us of our web of circumstances. To say that the cause of our suffering is our external circumstances flies in the face of everything Buddhist practice is trying to get us to realize.
Shambhala teacher Pema Chodron has done wonderful work reframing and deepening our understanding of this key Buddhist idea using the Tibetan word for upadana (dzinpa or shenpa). She introduces the concept of “getting hooked” as an experiential way to meditate on this core cause of suffering.
What do you think? Can we detach ourselves from the word “attachment?”