Wednesday, October 9, 2013

HfM:Ch4 The Power of Attachment

This is part of the Handbook for Mankind series, a review of Buddhadasa's book by the same name.  Read the full text of Chapter 4: The Power of Attachment (Grasping and Clinging) here.
See an index of my posts in this series here.

The first part of this post will be a summary of Buddhadasa's words in this chapter.  The second part of the post, the "My Take" section, will be my opinion and commentary on the chapter.

Summary - Chapter 4: The Power of Attachment

In order to be liberated from all things, we must understand what causes our desires.  Our desires are the result of four kinds of clinging attachment:

  1. Sensual Attachment - From birth, we instinctively cling to what is pleasurable to see, touch, taste, hear, smell, or mentally envision.  Our sensual desires are only reinforced with time, becoming obstacles to acting appropriately.  All dereliction can be traced to this sensual clinging.  All of our motivation, be it positive or negative, originates from sensuality.  In turn, we can see then that all the trouble and chaos in the world has a foundation in sensuality.  And so sensual desires must be kept under some control to be good people, and must be completely eliminated to be free of dukkha.(Dukkha is an all-inclusive sense of suffering and unsatisfactoriness, defined in Chapter 2.)

  2. Attachment to Opinions - Stubbornly clinging to our own opinions is just as dangerous as sensual desires, as they can delude us from the truth.  We must work diligently to refine and correct our opinions to better align with the truth.  The most problematic form of opinions are those which are systematically supported, such as by religion or cultural tradition.  We must come to realize that our views are based on incomplete knowledge or ignorance, and further realize our own tendencies of not wanting to admit we are wrong and of rejecting truths which counter our opinions.  These tendencies are a real threat towards progressing in the knowledge of the true nature of things.

  3. Attachment to Rites and Rituals - Traditions and their associated beliefs are usually passed down from generation to generation without any thought.  Ceremonies, magical objects, homage to spirits, angels, and celestial beings, etc.  These things are commonly held as sacred, but are completely irrational.  Buddhists should be free of such things, but there are those who practice Buddhist teachings without understanding their original intent, resulting in errant views and magical thinking.  These errant "Buddhist" mindlessly follow the traditions and practices expecting it to yield status, power, and influence.  We must be sure to practice with proper understanding, or else our effort will be wasted.

  4. Attachment to the Idea of Self - At some level, belief in the self is a primal instinct observable even beyond our species, as seen in the drives to eat, avoid danger, procreate, etc.  These are drives to preserve and perpetuate the individual idea of "self", and they are needed for species survival.  Yet these drives, these desires are inherently a source of dukkha as we grasp at or cling to these goals of self preservation. It is from this perspective that the Buddha simply and profoundly summarized that life is dukkha, dukkha is life (usually translated as "life is suffering, suffering is life").  This understanding, unique to Buddhism, puts us in the position to completely eliminate dukkha.

    In order to eliminate attachment, we must recognize when it is present.  The concept of self, the basis for life, is instinctive, and so attachment to it is inevitable.  However, through employing Buddhist principles, that attachment can be curbed, and even eliminated.  The dukkha we experience will be reduced in proportion to how well we understand the truth of the self.

Understanding the nature of these four types of attachments reveals the sources of our enslavement to things.  Such understanding reveals the inherent danger in things; how our attachments drive us to inappropriate actions.  Employing Buddhist principles will help us do away with unskilful grasping and clinging.  Followed through, this insight liberates us from things and eliminates dukkha.  We'll be able to work and live in a state of peaceful equanimity.

The key to Buddhism is to develop "the mind free from attachment".  Freedom from attachment liberates us from the world of things which enslave us.  Such a mind is freed from the cycle of birth and death, freed from things, and has transcended the world.

My Take

Reading through to this point, it had become clear that Buddhadasa was not saying that dukkha was continuous and perpetual; an idea that I would find inconsistent with reality.  Rather, dukkha had discrete causes, just as our desires at any given moment are particular and discrete.

Taking a look at yourself, and how you handle sensuality, your opinions, and rites and rituals can be incredibly revealing.  I can say from personal experience that by going through a period of introspection, especially after acting in a way that you are not exactly proud of, you can identify your motivations, your strengths, your weaknesses, your triggers, etc.  Knowing these things about yourself helps you change your behavior for the better each time you bring these things to mind.

You weren't born with an instruction manual.  You have to invest some effort to understand how you work.

(Apparently, in this regard, I've been on a Buddhist path for quite some time already!  Although, I am a bit inconsistent about my "practice".)

The attachment to the idea of self was a little odd to me.  On one hand, self is necessary for life.  On the other, preservation of self causes dukkha.  It almost seemed like Buddhadasa was advocating suicide here.  In way, he was; the killing of your self.  This concept would become more clear as the book progressed, particularly in Chapter 6, and it was far from suicide.

On a final note, Buddhadasa briefly mentioned that with enlightenment would come an end to the cycle of birth and death; an end of reincarnation.  The idea there being that the mind, under the clinging influences of these attachments, re-installs itself into a birth upon its death, but an enlightened mind would let go of life completely at death, and thus not be drive itself to be reborn.  This is only one version of reincarnation out of many you'll find in Eastern religions, and one Eastern concept that I don't hold much stock in.  Until better evidence is exhibited, I reject the notion of reincarnation.

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