A: First of all, it's important to look at what the Buddha was talking about when he used the terms we have translated as "attachment." In Pali, the language of the original Buddhist texts, there's a term, tanha, which is the word to describe thirst, craving, desire. It has also been translated as "attachment."
Thanha carries with it the sense of craving or grasping after something in a way that's always out of harmony with the way things are, a sense of trying to keep something or someone from changing, or to control them. From a Buddhist perspective, thanha is a morally unwholesome or unskillful state of mind. It can only cause suffering, because it is out of balance with the truth.
I observed the "thanha" aspect of my mind when I first began to meditate. I found it very hard to be with just one breath. In the midst of being with this breath I was wanting to know what the next one would feel like; I wanted it to be right. I was already leaning into the future, trying to make something happen in a particular way. In order to bring my practice into balance, I had to be with the breath that was. My first lesson in practice was about letting go of the desire to control the next breath.
One of my favorite things about meditation is that the big lessons often come in small packages. Learning not to lean forward into the future was a big life lesson. Settling into the moment wasn't about being passive but about being genuinely connected.
|In the Buddhist lexicon, attachment isn't about not having committed, engaged relationships but rather has to do with our effort to defy change.|
Another thing we learn in meditation is to see how incredibly transitory everything is. All our experience, all our relationships, everything we are "attached" to, is fleeting. Change is not just at the end of our lives--when we die--but every moment. That realization doesn't lead to our not caring about people or things but to seeing things as they are and not trying to control what we can't control. So in the Buddhist lexicon, attachment isn't about not having committed, engaged relationships but rather has to do with our effort to defy change.
Apart from breath meditation, there are other life practices, such as generosity and metta, or lovingkindness, that help us let go of attachment that causes us suffering. In both of these, our minds may be like tight fists opening up. The energetic movement of attachment is holding on to something, while the energetic movement of generosity and lovingkindness is the opposite. It's learning how to give, of being less in a holding mode than a giving mode.
But when that other aspect comes in--of trying to keep people from changing or trying to control them--we suffer. Still, seeing those attachments is not bad either, because through being aware of them, we can recognize the feeling of tension, of leaning forward, of trying to control--and in that recognition we can learn to let go.
|We shouldn't scorn ourselves for having attachments or desires but rather understand that certain kinds of attachments and desires are at the root of our suffering.|
Moreover, most of us have certain relationships where we love someone in a particular way. To feel those extraordinary bonds is inevitable in life and is the nature of karma. From a Buddhist perspective, we're all connected to all beings through infinite previous lives, but we do have particular affinities for certain people that are unique. Some of these relationships can be very important in terms of our cultivating generosity, compassion, and lovingkindness.
There's a famous quotation from the time the Buddha learned of the deaths of two of his greatest disciples: "It's as if the sun and the moon have left the sky." From that quotation, I would guess that while the Buddha loved all beings everywhere, with no exclusion, he also had relationships that were special to him, and he felt their loss.