When there’s no attachment, there’s joy

Sep 29, 2021


It’s impossible to be content when there is attachment. It’s just how it is. So, clearly, if that’s so, we need to understand attachment.


By definition, the Buddha’s view of attachment is discontent, dissatisfaction in its nature. Attachment is a cute word we use in our culture, but for the Buddha it’s pervasive and goes to really subtle levels. It’s this constant craving, expecting, neediness, always dissatisfied. No matter what we get, what we achieve, it’s never enough. It’s a bottomless pit. We don’t notice it like that, and it sounds so intense, but that’s what it is. So it’s by definition the opposite to content. 


The first level of attachment is for the objects of the senses. The food, the sounds, the things, isn’t it? Because it’s so normal for us, we don’t think it’s a problem until we become a junkie or an alcoholic. But in a sense Buddha’s saying we’re all junkies, it’s just a question of degree and a question of the object. 


The levels of attachment that most of us experience just seem normal to us; we don’t pay attention until it’s extreme. We have normal levels of getting disappointed when we don’t get what we want; we don’t go to our therapist because we got the wrong cake. I go to the therapist when the fifth boyfriend leaves me, you know, do you understand?


But if we’re paying attention to our mind, we’ve got to learn to identify the neurotic, needy part we think is normal, and then we start to change it; to learn to become content. But it’s a very painful process, but that’s what Buddha says we can become: content. 


It sounds a bit boring though, doesn’t it? But what would you be like if you’re content? A content person is less attached, less angry, less neurotic and less jealous, and therefore is a wiser, more joyful, more happy person. Do you understand? 


We all know some people like that. But hearing extreme examples is almost puzzling to us. I remember reading about some fellow in England who suddenly got this terrible disease. He ended up losing all four limbs, he lost all his mouth, he had a big hole where his mouth was; it was intense suffering. But he was this happy guy! He said, “I don’t know why I’m happy, it was the best year of my life!” His wife cracks jokes about it because he’s so happy! This sounds weird to us, doesn’t it? It just doesn’t make sense. 


Well, it has to be, logically, according to the Buddhist analysis, because he hasn’t got much attachment, much dissatisfaction. We’re so addicted to believing that satisfaction comes from things that this just doesn’t make sense.


We can also deduce that he came into this life having practiced in the past; he’s just this fully content, blissful guy. It sounds peculiar when you have extreme examples like that. 


My friend, Sunny, who was on death row for years and is now out, she was innocent. She was accused of murdering two policemen with her husband. He was even executed! She lost her kids to the state, her parents died in a car accident; she was living in hell. She became content! Because she couldn’t change the external, she changed her mind! She said she knew she had a choice to think differently, to see her circumstances differently.


My friend on death row in Kentucky, Mitchell, he was into drugs and guns: that’s what happens—if you have guns, people die; he’s not a monster. So he’s on death row, thirty+ years, and he’s ready for his death date. He’s this good human being who has just practiced becoming content: a kind, funny, wonderful human being. “I’m ready for that electric jolt, Robina!” He meditates on compassion every day, not just for the people he has harmed for also for the people who are going to kill him; he doesn’t get mad at them. He’s changed his mind, he’s a content guy. 


And that’s the essence of what practice brings, do you understand? Do you understand? The words are easy; it’s just the hardest job we’ll ever do. But it’s doable, it’s possible. 


As Lama Zopa Rinpoche says, “We can mold our mind into any shape we like.”

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