Forest Sangha Newsletter October 1990

Dhamma: Naturally Delightful, Additive-free; Ajahn Amaro
Living Vinaya; Ajahn Sucitto
Question Time; Ajahn Sumedho
On The Path; A Tudong Special: varied experiences


Question Time

Ajahn Sumedho replies to a question on attachment and self-view.

Grasping is the problem. If you see grasping and understand that, then you have solved life's problems completely. If you really reflect, it's the grasping of the sensory world that makes it all go wrong. In itself the material world is all right. There's nothing wrong with humanity or the universe. It's the grasping that makes us suffer from it.

The Buddha pointed to this grasping. In the first Noble Truth he said: 'There is suffering.' He stated the problem that we all have: there is this suffering, this dukkha that we all experience. Then the second Noble Truth is that we suffer because of grasping. Then the insight is to let go of things; and then the realization of non-attachment follows. So if there's peacefulness and calm, then you're aware of non-grasping. The sense of 'me' and 'mine' depends on grasping things. When you think back in your life, the memory part is from being able to remember moments of grasping. You can't remember the moments you were not grasping something. So then you're always having to do things to remember. That's why excitement, romance, adventure, all these things are so powerful for us because when we grasp them then we have these memories. We feel alive. Human beings identify with and grasp memory as self.

You feel alive when you're angry and you hate somebody. Indignation makes you feel alive - that you are somebody. Greed makes you feel you're going to get something you want. To want something and get it gives you a sense of being alive. Envy and jealousy: to be somebody who other people are jealous of is important, isn't it? To have a better car than the neighbours or to have a beautiful house, or lovely clothes, or be someone who has status in a community - the grasping of that ....

You always know when you're attached, because you're suffering.

You suffer because you're always in this position of being somebody. And then there's always going to be a reaction from somebody else. So if I am a rich and famous person, then the grasping of that perception means that there are going to be a lot of people who want either to challenge me, or take away my wealth, or criticize me. Or people are going to try to delude me, flatter me and make friends with me because they want the things that I have. So that whole form of grasping leads to suffering.

But actually, having status and wealth and a new car and all this - there's nothing intrinsically bad or wrong with that, but it's the grasping of it that will bring the suffering. And conversely, with poverty: grasping the idea that I'm a poor person, I'm low class, I'm worthless - grasping that view is suffering.

At least when you think: 'Well, I'm poor and I'm the lowest, meanest, most unlovable person in the society' - at least nobody's going to envy you for that. But it's still a position that one's going to suffer from attachment. When the attachment is seen through, then it doesn't matter. What your status is, whether you're at the top or the bottom, or in the middle - these are not the important issues of our life or spiritual development. They're not important to us.

The Buddha established the Sangha in a way that avoids all that. If you're from the aristocracy, or if you're from the working class or whatever, when you come into the Sangha it's of no importance. You're just Sumedho Bhikkhu, Sobhano Bhikkhu, Sucitto Bhikkhu - you're just bhikkhus, and you don't know whether they were Lord so and so, or Prince of Princess, or any of these things. Such things are of no importance in the holy life. But in worldly life, to have a Ph.D., to be someone who's well-educated, or who comes from a good family: these are highly valued by people in the society.

Or they're criticised. You can be an egalitarian, thinking: 'I hate the aristocracy - Lords, Ladies and Counts and Countesses - it's all rubbish.' But that means that you still think it's something. To call it rubbish means that you actually believe it is something important - because as a condition, it's just what it is, you don't have to call it rubbish. It's nothing bad in itself or wrong to be a Lord or a Lady, or a Count or Prince, but it's the attachment to any view about it that leads to suffering.

With something you really love, then attachments form quite easily. And you always know when you're attached, because you're suffering. One time, I'd become very devoted to Ajahn Chah. I'd become very attached to him, actually. This gave me a lot of happiness, because I hadn't had anyone who I really felt that love for in my life. So it all went to Ajahn Chah, and it was a very inspiring and wonderful feeling for me. But then I noticed that I was suffering a lot, because if anybody criticised Ajahn Chah or implied that there was a better teacher somewhere else, I'd get incredibly angry about it.

And so I'd watch this. At first I believed it. I'd say: 'If you think the other teacher's better than Ajahn Chah, go to that other teacher' - that kind of thing. But then I'd reflect and see that it was not a very nice mental state, and I'd watch the suffering that was coming from that. And then I'd realise the attachment.

Under Beech Wood

Beneath the pollarded beech grove
I sit in a perfect crescent of root,
on a bed of autumn's leaves and
beech nut husks.
The air is soft to the skin, a gentle
breeze carries the echoes of bird song.
It is too hot to walk far in the open.
I am grateful for luxuriant green shade
offered by these long branches,
sideways extensions into space.
Drinking apple juice from a tin mug,
there is nowhere to go this aimless afternoon.
Resting in the stillness of the forest,
back to where I came from.

Sobhano Bhikkhu

Then the tendency was to think, 'I shouldn't be attached.' So I'd say: 'I'm not really attached. Other teachers are just as good as Ajahn Chah. They're all the same ....' But I was still attached; out of idealism I was just pretending not to be attached.

So you still suffer, though you're pretending to be completely tolerant and non-attached. Then you realise the attachment is an emotional one. So you begin to go to the feeling of attachment and really study attachment, rather than just trying to suppress it and say: 'I'm not attached.' You go to that place in yourself and you investigate it. You learn from it; and through that you let go of it. Because once you see it, then attachment's gone. The attachment is out of ignorance. You're never attached out of wisdom. So once there's wisdom then there's no attachment.

You can be attached to the idea of not being attached. Krishnamurti, for example, would always emphasise not to be attached to anything. He would say, 'Monks, this is all wrong. Religion, monks, all this is wrong. It's not the way.' Then people listening to that would attach to his view, and they weren't aware of the attachment they had to Krishnamurti's view. So the problem is not the view, but the attachment. A view is a view. You can see if you're attached to a view, for or against it. Then the actual practice is to not being attached to any view, and you are very much investigating what's going on.

With wisdom you're free to be a monk or not to be a monk, but you're not attached to it. You have no opinion. I can see if there's an attachment to being a monk, then I suffer from it, from being a monk. But when there's no attachment, then one feels that it's an offering. One presents this monastic form to others as an offering. It's a gift, it's a beautiful form in itself. It's not me.

It would still be an attachment if I felt, in order to prove I'm not attached to being a monk, I should disrobe. That's still an attachment from the self, isn't it? To prove that I'm not attached, I'll have to disrobe to see what happens to my mind when I'm not a monk. That's attachment. But if you're just with the moment as it is, then being a monk, the form itself, is just a beautiful form, a beautiful convention that one feels is of great use and can be a great offering to the society we're in. Beginning with ignorance, there's this imposition, this going out, out of fear and desire and ignorance. So that is the compounding of the whole process, and then attachment comes from that, and one builds a whole realm of attachment in one's mind.

Now when there is the ending of ignorance, then the world that is created out of ignorance falls way. Then there's what we call Dhamma - the way things are. So then monks and nuns and lay people, and Buddhist conventions and all these things, are what they are. They're dhammas for us, rather than attachment.

The Western mind tends to assume that non-attachment means 'getting rid of something'. For example, a woman said to me once: 'I could never be a Buddhist because I'm attached to my children.' I'd say: 'Well, what do you mean, not be attached to your children? Throw them off a cliff or something to prove you're not attached to them? Or just desert them so that you won't be attached to them?' That's not Buddhism. But the ability to not be attached to your children means that you can love your children. When you're attached to your children, you can't love them any more - because attachment destroys that. Any love you have is destroyed by attachment, because attachment blinds and is painful and is suffering. Whereas love born from wisdom is joyful.