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Barbara O'Brien

We Are Not Complacent

By July 11, 2012

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Continuing on the theme of why Buddhism is not about detachment -- Brad Warner found a graphic on his Facebook wall that said "Buddhism, a Religion Based on Not Giving a F***." Except without the asterisks. He disagrees, but considers why people might have the impression that Buddhism is about "not giving a f***."

I think a big part of it comes from the misunderstanding that Buddhism teaches "detachment," and that the point of it is to remain in a state of sweet, hazy bliss, beyond caring about anything else. I run into this notion frequently, and it's entirely wrong. But if that is how you understand Buddhism, it certainly would make sense to assume it's a religion based on not giving a you-know-what.

Warner Sensei has some other ideas, though. One is that Buddhism doesn't care about many things that are of critical concern to other religions -- beliefs, God, worship, evolution, premarital sex, etc. As Brad Warner says, this may give people the impression that Buddhism enshrines Bill and Ted's Excellent Adventure as its ideal. But just because Buddhists don't care about X doesn't mean they don't care about anything.

Another point he makes is that there's a difference between acceptance and complacency. He says,

"It seems to me that for most people 'giving a [bleep]' means being intensely wrapped up in your own thoughts. Buddhists don't learn how not to worry. They learn how not to worry about being worried. It's not that we don't care. We care a lot. But we also see what our real role is in the things we care about."

One of the things you learn, for example, is how to do your best to make things better without attaching to a particular outcome. We might accept, for example, that our work to make things better may not bear fruit within our sight, or in our lifetime. But accepting that reality doesn't mean we are complacent about whether things get better.

I've also run into the attitude that "caring" means working up a sweat about something -- yelling, pounding tables, getting angry. I've never seen a situation that was made better by yelling at it, though.

July 12, 2012 at 2:40 pm
(1) Michael says:

I think that this is another example of how Buddhist ideas get lost in translation. By detachment, we mean detachment from our negative emotions (“worrying about worrying”) not from the suffering of sentient beings.

That said, many people take up meditation in an attempt to escape from their own suffering. It can take long time to understand that this is a) impossible and b) immoral. How can one ever hope to have compassion for all beings if one is unable to understand and undergo their suffering?

Buddhists often get caricatured as otherworldly and flaky because so many of us start by trying to run away from the problems of life. Hopefully though a time comes when we stop running, turn around and embrace them.

July 12, 2012 at 10:15 pm
(2) Colleen says:

In my practice I have found Buddhism has taught me to “give a [bleep]” about far more than I did previously, it is simply redirected, prioritized, and understood. Compassion for what matters diverted from the more trivial.

July 16, 2012 at 11:37 am
(3) Yeshe says:

I find that nonattachment increases the ability to practice lovingkindness proportionately. It just means that I am not getting this or that out of my efforts to help someone, other than just being of help. I enjoy being of help, but sometimes fail. So then I let go of attachment, and keep trying to help by learning from my mistake and not giving up. Also, if I am suffering, I can practice nonattachment and not suffer quite so much. The key is lovingkindness, which of course is not the same as attachment!

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