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Barbara O'Brien

A Great Surpassing Non-attached Love

By July 9, 2012

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"A buddha is someone who sees the way things really are. When we see the way things really are, we see that we're all in this together, that we are all interdependent. A great surpassing love arises from that wisdom, and that love leads buddha to wish that all beings would open to this wisdom and be free of the misery that arises from ignoring the way things are. Buddhas appear in the world because they want us to have buddha's wisdom so that we will love every single being completely and protect every single being without exception and without limit -- just as all the buddhas do." -- Reb Andersen, The Third Turning of the Wheel: Wisdom of the Samdhindirmocana Sutra

I was a bit grumpy yesterday from reading one more wrong-headed web essay about how Buddhism is not really about compassion because it teaches "detachment." Then I read some of Reb Andersen's Third Turning of the Wheel and felt much better.

Ultimately, what Buddhism teaches is that we can't "detach." Detachment is an illusion. Attachment is the other side of the same illusion. Attachment and detachment are rooted in the illusion of a separate self, which causes us to relate to the world in a "me versus everything else" way.

The teachers tell us that when we cease to relate from the perspective of "me" we are non-attached. Non-attachment is not the same thing as detachment. In non-attachment there is neither clinging nor avoiding; we cease to try to manipulate the world to our own ends. In non-attachment there is no separation.

The confused writer also misunderstands "suffering," the English word usually used to translate dukkha although that's not exactly what it means. And he assumes that suffering and pain are the same thing, which ain't necessarily so. Pain is a physical sensation; suffering is how we choose to experience it.

In point of fact, the historical Buddha may have been liberated from the suffering of old age, sickness, and death, but he did not avoid old age, sickness, and death. He got old, and he died of some kind of stomach sickness, possibly food poisoning. From this, we ought to be able to see that to be liberated from suffering means something other than escaping unpleasant things.

In fact, there is no escape. But I'll write about that in the next post.

Comments
July 10, 2012 at 3:03 am
(1) Sean Robsville says:

I’ve been cataloging the strengths and weaknesses of Buddhism in the West. The essay typifies two of the weaknesses:

2.1 Coldness and aloofness
Buddhism is sometimes perceived as being cold, intellectual and aloof.

2.4 Misunderstanding and Misrepresentation
Buddhism has often been misrepresented by proponents of other religions, sometimes deliberately, and sometimes out of ignorance.

http://seanrobsville.blogspot.com/2012/06/future-of-buddhism-in-west-swot.html

July 10, 2012 at 3:40 am
(2) Michael says:

Wonderfully insightful, Barbara. I particularly liked:

Detachment is an illusion. Attachment is the other side of the same illusion.

Gassho. As I think you Zennies say :o )

July 10, 2012 at 8:02 am
(3) Padma says:

Nice post Barbara. The mistaken idea that the Buddha taught ‘detachment’ causes no end of problems for people at the start of their exploration of Buddhism. Nice to have something on the web correcting this.

July 10, 2012 at 8:37 am
(4) Mila says:

I also really enjoyed this post, thank you :)

A “great surpassing love” arising from deep wisdom brought to mind something that the Advaita Vedanta teacher Sri Nisargadatta Maharaj once said:

“When I look inside and see that I am nothing, that is wisdom.
When I look outside and see that I am everything, that is love.
And between these two, my life turns.”

In terms of the “three turnings” of the wheel of Dharma, it seems that the first two are focused largely on “looking inside to see that I am nothing,” while the third turning opens out more explicitly to encompass the “seeing that I am everything.”

July 10, 2012 at 9:32 am
(5) David says:

Indeed, thanks, Barbara. One of the most useful things ever said to me was during a dharma talk in the middle of a sesshin, when my teacher told us “this is a process in which you can not win.” He meant that meditating all day long seems to be an effort at dropping all thoughts and dropping all attachments–which, of course, is not possible. Non-attachment does not mean un-attachment. It is so hard to get that concept across to people when you’re talking about Buddhism. Similarly, the idea of ‘suffering’. My very noble and lovely niece was offended when I tried to explain the first noble truth–she thought it meant that Buddhists believe suffering is not to be helped, that we should just shrug our shoulders and not try. The West is all about goals and end-times and happy endings. Ideas involving long, slow processes don’t seem to go over well here. I guess Buddhism is going to take a while to grow in this part of the world. We just can’t win. :-)

July 10, 2012 at 6:17 pm
(6) Lee says:

When our view is limited we have secular and religious…
When our view is unrestricted all is sacred and we bow …

from attachment/detatchment – the opposites arise
from the non attachment – compassion does arise

and it forces me to bow!

July 12, 2012 at 4:40 pm
(7) Jim says:

What a heart-warming quote you opened with. I really liked your post and have found a new book to read. Thank you!

July 12, 2012 at 5:07 pm
(8) Kelley Mata says:

I have been reading “About Buddhism” for several months now, and I just wanted to say thank you. As a person new to this middle path, I have benefitted from your writing greatly! This post is no different…it clarified so well for me what it means to be non-attached. Thanks!

Another helpful part of this article is “Pain is a physical sensation; suffering is how we choose to experience it.” That, too, clarifies things nicely.

You are a great help to my journey down the middle way.

July 12, 2012 at 5:07 pm
(9) Kelley Mata says:

I have been reading “About Buddhism” for several months now, and I just wanted to say thank you. As a person new to this middle path, I have benefitted from your writing greatly! This post is no different…it clarified so well for me what it means to be non-attached. Thanks!

Another helpful part of this article is “Pain is a physical sensation; suffering is how we choose to experience it.” That, too, clarifies things nicely.

You are a great help to my journey down the middle way.

July 12, 2012 at 5:25 pm
(10) Ibutina says:

Thank You. I really appreciate your articles. I love what you said: “Pain is a physical sensation; suffering is how we choose to experience it.” I understand now while pain is real, suffering is a choice! Gassho.

July 12, 2012 at 5:41 pm
(11) Chris White says:

Thanks, Barbara; another timely reminder.

I saw something on Facebook the other day that made me laugh: someone had posted on a Zen page “I am enlightened; you are not”. They were joking, of course, but some of the responses were (unintentionally) hysterical to read.

Some people get so defensive about “their” enlightenment.

July 13, 2012 at 7:22 pm
(12) xavier paolo josh mandreza says:

http://www.scribd.com/doc/84256429/John-Welwood-Interview-Human-Nature-Buddha-Nature

dear m’am barbara and fellow dharma-friends:

I found this very helpful and interesting article from TRICYCLE magazine in more detailed relation to this topic today. Mr. Welwood explains it in quite good clinically detail. It really helped me understand what non-attachment and attachment really is and how we can both be and not-be at the same time.

July 14, 2012 at 8:24 pm
(13) Murchovski says:

The distinction between attachment and non attachment is not clear cut to me. If we strive in any direction in order to make a better world or engage in dreams of new worlds, do we not attach ourselves, albeit in presumed creative ways?

July 15, 2012 at 6:47 am
(14) Flinkstein says:

All of the so called shools of Buddhism originated in India, even Zen came from Indian Dhyana Buddhism. I have newly discovered Nathaya Buddhisn also called the Nathayan, which was the last and final school of Buddhism. Nathayana Buddhism was founded by a Shaiva Hindu Brahmin pujari called Krishnacharya after he converted to Buddhism. Krishnacharya as a Hindu Guru had many followers all of whom became Buddhists. Buddhists in India were eventually exterminated during the Parashu Rama holocaust, some Buddhists were ptotected from Hindu violence in Bangladhesh by the local Muslims thus saving their lives, a few others fled to the Chittagonge hill tracks. Hindus also destroyed Nalanda University and burnt all the books including vihars for miles around Nalanda.

July 15, 2012 at 1:53 pm
(15) Barbara O'Brien says:

Flinkstein — You are confused. Zen emerged as a distinctive school in China, ca. 500 CE, although its founder was Indian. The original Pure Land school began in China. Two other schools that were begun by Chinese teachers are Huayen and Tendai. Nichiren Buddhism was founded in Japan in the 13th century, and I don’t believe it was practiced outside Japan until the 20th century. I’ve never heard of Nathayana Buddhism, although certainly over the centuries many schools of Buddhism sprang up here and there but didn’t last very long.

Buddhism in India was slowly strangled by many forces, including an invasion of Huns in the 5th century and an invasion of Muslim Turks in the 12th century. It was the Muslim Turks who burned Nalanda, led by IIkhtiyar Uddin Khilji, not Hindus. This is well documented. I can’t find any references to a “Parashu Rama holocaust” as a real historical event.

July 15, 2012 at 12:23 pm
(16) Nalinaksha says:

Thanks Barbara, now I understood what is detachment, attachment and non-attachment. That means I should cultivate ‘non-attachment’ only.

The other thing I liked very much is ‘suffering is how we choose to experience it.’ It’s really wonderful. It’s upto us to make the choice to suffer or not to. What an empowering statement.This is a great realisation.

July 16, 2012 at 12:00 am
(17) K. G. Weeratunge says:

L. Buddha speaks about ” Maha Karuna” which means looking at “compassion” with the reality of it. The compassion may enable to purifify the mind of an individual which is an essense in realizing the nobel Truth. As such I consider that the copassion of M.T and L. B differs.

September 28, 2012 at 1:08 pm
(18) Flinkstein says:

Zen is just the old Dhyana school of Buddhism. Some experts believe that the Bauls represent a continuation of Dhyana Buddhism. Bodhidharma was a Dhyana Buddhist. Where Muslims are concerned the record should be put right. Muslims did not destroy Nalanada, Muslims did not exterminate Buddhists in India. These are facts.

September 28, 2012 at 7:55 pm
(19) Barbara O'Brien says:

Zen is just the old Dhyana school of Buddhism. Some experts believe that the Bauls represent a continuation of Dhyana Buddhism. Bodhidharma was a Dhyana Buddhist.

Of course. The word “zen” is derived from dhyana.

Where Muslims are concerned the record should be put right. Muslims did not destroy Nalanada, Muslims did not exterminate Buddhists in India. These are facts.

Recorded history tells us without a doubt that a Muslim army destroyed Nalanda. That’s what happened. You can say otherwise until you are purple; you will still be wrong. You are seriously in need of psychiatric therapy; your obsession is irrational.

I don’t think any one group “exterminated” the Buddhists of India. It didn’t happen all at once, but over a period of several centuries, from a series of causes, not all of which were violent.

Call a doctor, now. Also, stop commenting here. Further comments from you will be deleted.

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