OK friends. I am officially now part of the problem. In Zen we call this kind of talk “going into the weeds” and I caution you not to get entangled in the vines. Here are my worthless opinions on the meanings of some commonly misunderstood Buddhist terms and why I think they are so easily misjudged.
DISCLAIMER: Notice that I just used the words problem, opinion, meaning, misunderstood, why, think and misjudge at the same time. Watch your step, and don’t take my word for any of this.
Glossary of Misconceptions
Attachment – Oooh la la. We think attachment means loving devotion, as in “attached at the hip.” But sometimes that isn’t love, is it? When we’re intoxicated by romance (or just intoxicated) we might want to stay attached forever. Don’t leave me! I can’t live without you! But attachment becomes uncomfortable and confining, suffocating and debilitating. And it doesn’t only mean clinging to what we like, it also means rejecting what we don’t like. Attachments are desires and aversions that we can’t let go of; the places we get emotionally, physically and mentally stuck. Life itself never sticks. So when an attachment gets ripped from our grasp by the ebb and sway of life as it is, we hurt. Attachments are the source of our suffering and unfulfillment. Can we ever let ourselves stop hurting? Can we ever be satisfied and happy with life as it is? The dark truth is that we are often attached to our suffering. We relive it over and over in our minds and reignite familiar, painful feelings. Sometimes we’re not quite sure who we would be if we didn’t have our unfulfillment to fill us up. The funny thing is, when we drop an attachment we find out that we’ve lost nothing at all.
Non-attachment – Boo hiss! Who wants non-attachment? That sounds downright sinister and at the very least indifferent. But non-attachment isn’t inhumane, unconcerned or indifferent. It simply means that when the ebb and sway of life carries us along, we can let go because we see all of it in a different way. It doesn’t create the absence of feeling or smug disregard. It allows instead the complete acceptance of all feelings and circumstances as they are, empty and impermanent. We hurt, and then we stop hurting. We grieve, and then we stop grieving. We are free. When we truly love someone or something, we grant them freedom from our own preferences. We neither clutch nor reject. Non-attachment is the nature of life itself: it keeps going. Non-attachment allows us to love one another and life as it is regardless of whether we like it right now or not. It gives rise to trust and cultivates faith in something far greater than what we wish: life as it is. Non-attachment is selfless compassion.
Ego – Uh-oh. Now the party’s over. Who invited the deadly sins? Envy, anger, greed, pride and all the rest are sure signs of ego. Thankfully I don’t have any of those symptoms if I do say so myself! There: that’s ego too. Ego is you when you are talking to yourself. “I like this; I don’t like that. I think so; I don’t think so. I agree; I disagree.” Ego is the voice of the thinking mind, the mind that conceives, perceives, measures, judges, evaluates, picks and chooses, likes and dislikes, clutches and rejects from the standpoint of a separate “I.” There is nothing wrong with ego, or thinking. Only most of your thoughts are not pleasant, and egoism is by nature self-serving and fearful. The attachment to ego is our most pernicious attachment. Still, we do not aim to destroy ego, just suspend its driving privileges! read more