Attachment is a lie

Aug 17, 2022

At its root, attachment is a lie. That sounds so abstract. At the emotional level it’s experienced as dissatisfaction, emotional hunger, neediness, expectations, controlling to get what it wants, manipulating, grasping; all of those are attachment. This is the daily pain of it.

But when we begin to dig deep, drill down, to familiarize ourselves with it before it becomes emotional, we’ll see it’s a conceptual story that exaggerates the good aspects of something – that’s the lie, and the rest follow from it. 

It’s so primordial it’s at the level of assumption: the assumption I’m not enough, don’t have enough and the assumption that there must be something out there that, once we make contact with it, will fill the gaping hole, satisfy the hunger.

And it drives all of us. Buddha in his four noble truths says that effectively attachment is the main cause of suffering of all beings.

How is it a lie? Take the chocolate cake. First there’s the aching dissatisfaction, then the looking for the thing, smell, taste, touch, idea that we’re convinced the getting of will fill the hole. The thought of cake arises, then the manipulating to get it follows, driven by the anticipation of the pleasure and satisfaction that will surely come. This part feels so exciting!

The more the anticipation the more divine the cake looks. This we know so well. It’s looking utterly delicious out there on the plate, just begging me to eat it, and having zero to do with my mind or anything else. And we utterly believe this lie, and the lie that satisfaction will come.

We get the first mouthful, and for sure pleasure is triggered. But why do we hungrily anticipate the second mouthful? Because even as the pleasure arises, attachment is not satisfied. Then the third mouthful. We’re convinced that if we keep eating somehow the satisfaction will surely come.

But we know it doesn’t. What comes instead is eventually a feeling of disgust – eat one more piece and we’d vomit. And how does the cake look now? Disgusting. Buddha literally calls this kind of suffering the suffering of change: the pleasure inexorably turns into pain. 

In other words, the very cake that causes us to vomit is the also the cake that initially triggered some pleasure. But we forget all about that tomorrow and we try again – maybe the pleasure will last this time! We’ve been bashing our heads against brick walls for eons, Buddha says. 

We need to understand the mechanics of what’s going on in the mind. There are two main things: the attachment, which is a disturbing emotion, and a delusion, a lie, a misconception. Then there’s the pleasure that arises, and that’s neither a delusion nor a virtue.

But we conflate them. As Lama Zopa Rinpoche says, when we hear someone say we need to give up attachment, we think, “Oh, I’ve got to give up my heart, my happiness.” 

And another mistake we make – and this is what keeps us locked in samsara – is to utterly believe the cake is the direct cause of the pleasure. Pleasure is triggered, that’s clear, but the cake is merely a catalyst. In fact, that moment of pleasure is the direct result of a past virtuous action, and every time it arises upon contact with an object of attachment, we’re tipping that virtue down the toilet.

Basically we’re convinced that pleasure is what comes when we get what attachment wants, but Buddha’s telling us that, no, pleasure is what arises when we give up attachment. So simple but so shocking!

This junkie in us, attachment, has to get the cake, the boy, the thing, the sound, the smell, the object of the senses, in other words. We have no other method for getting happy feelings!

It takes courage to see this and to slowly slowly counteract the lie. But that’s practice!

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