[ From Lama Yeshe Wisdom Archive – Excerpted from the forthcoming book How to Practice Dharma: The Eight Worldly Dharmas, edited by Gordon McDougal, due out later in 2011 ].
To like something doesn’t always mean being attached to it, but if we think of the material possessions we most treasure—money, cars, jewels and so forth—we’ll probably see the strong attachment we have for them. And this is true of not just objects but friends as well. When we meet friends we feel a kind of pleasure and completely believe that it’s real, true pleasure and don’t recognize that there’s attachment there as well.
We think that we receive real happiness from our friends or our precious objects but that mind of attachment is confused. The temporal happiness we get from attachment is not true happiness; it does not arise by diminishing desire but by following it, by making friends with desire.
Furthermore, whenever there’s attachment there’s fear of losing the object of attachment, and the stronger the attachment, the stronger the fear. If it’s a material object, we always have to keep it in safe place and lock all the doors. Even if it never gets stolen or lost, we’re constantly afraid it will be. If it’s a friend, the greater our attachment the more worried we are that he or she might leave us.
With strong attachment, even if we live in a very luxurious house, wear very expensive clothes and eat delicious food, life has little taste. Our body is there but our mind is not happy. The greater our attachment to the four desirable objects, the greater our worry about meeting the four undesirable objects. And when we meet those undesirable objects we don’t know what to do. Our life gets completely confused and we go crazy; perhaps we even see suicide as the only escape from our suffering.
We have the constant, nagging worry that the four undesirable objects are waiting for us just around the corner. They might not exist for us now—we haven’t met the object of dislike yet and might in fact never meet it—but in our mind it’s as if the problem were already there. And when something really happens to an object we cherish—it gets lost or destroyed or our friend leaves us—then the more our attachment, the greater our suffering. We get incredibly upset, our mood plummets into depression and our whole face completely changes.
Think about some precious object to which you’re attached. Do you have any anxiety about its being lost, stolen or destroyed? Even though you have that object and are never separated from it, even though that hasn’t happened yet, are you still afraid that it will? Visualize that precious object or that precious friend. Visualize the object being destroyed or your friend dying and imagine how you’d feel, how it would affect your mind.
Let’s say that we have a bowl to which we are very attached, whether it’s a valuable antique or just an old cracked Tibetan one. One day we break it. Our mind gets incredibly upset; we become inconsolably unhappy. If we’d been less attached to the bowl, we’d suffer much less at its loss. On the other hand, if somebody steals our garbage, we’re not worried at all; it doesn’t shake our mind. Without attachment, losing our garbage doesn’t cause our mood to plummet. Of course, it’s always possible that there are people who are attached to their garbage and would be upset if it were stolen.
If we compare our lack of attachment to garbage to our attachment to a precious object and compare our lack of suffering at the loss of one to our intense suffering at the loss of the other, we can easily see that our suffering comes from attachment, not the loss of the object.
Whenever there’s the thought of the worldly dharmas—clinging to shelter, food, clothing and so forth—there’s worry and fear about losing them. Whenever there’s attachment to comfort, there’s fear of losing it; whenever there’s attachment to receiving material things, there’s fear of not receiving them; whenever there’s attachment to praise, there’s fear of being criticized; whenever there’s attachment to a good reputation, there’s fear of receiving a bad one. That’s the fundamental suffering. Not having the four desirable objects is suffering, but so is having them and, because of attachment, being afraid of losing them.
We’re in samsara so of course we can’t always possess the objects of our desire. We’re constantly looking for the four desirable objects but more often meeting the four undesirable ones. This is not a new experience; in fact it has been going on forever. The antiquities in a museum are absolutely nothing compared to this. No matter how old they might be, they originated after this world system started and we can still count their age in centuries or millennia. Our experience of meeting undesirable objects, on the other hand, started long before our current rebirth, even long before this world was created, and as we’re still not free from samsara we’ll continue to meet undesirable things for as long as we’re in it. That is the nature of our samsaric life.
As long as we rely on external objects such as consumer goods and praise for our happiness, we’ll never find stability. The external world is always changing, so our reaction to it always changes too, up and down all the time—the sun shines, happy; the rain comes, unhappy; praise, happy; criticism, unhappy; good program on television, happy; boring program, unhappy. Whenever the conditions change our mind changes along with them, up and down, up and down, constantly.
Say it’s Christmas and there’s somebody who’s usually very generous and always gives us a nice present. We come to expect presents from her, so when we see her our mind suddenly gets lifted up. That’s a sign that we’re attached to receiving material things. Then, one Christmas, for some reason she doesn’t give us a present. We get confused. We make up all sorts of reasons for why she has neglected us and strong dislike for her arises in our mind. We complain to her face that she loves everybody but us. We shout at and criticize her. Perhaps we even spit in her face. If we’re sitting at the table having dinner, even before we’ve finished eating, we hurl our plate to the floor, stamp our feet, run from the room to our bedroom and slam the door shut so loudly that everybody can hear. Then we throw ourselves onto our bed crying and complaining, criticizing her over and over, like a mantra. For hours and hours we recite the criticizing mantra. Thinking how she loves everybody else so much more, we get completely depressed and generate incredible anger toward this friend and jealousy toward everybody else. This is the work of the thought of the eight worldly dharmas.
With clinging, it seems that when we’re in the middle of bad times they’ll never end, but when there’s no clinging we can see that it’s not like that. If something unpleasant is happening, it doesn’t bother us so much. If we cut off the desire clinging to this life through such basic techniques as meditating on impermanence and death, then even if the four undesirable things happen, it’s no big deal.
We might have huge problems in our life—nobody in our family loves us, everybody hates us, we have to go to court and it looks as if we might have to spend the rest of our life in prison, we have a very bad reputation and everybody gossips about us, wherever we go in the street or at home everybody criticizes and refuses to help us—and in our mind it might appear that this is going to last forever, as if it’s permanent, but in reality this life is over in a flash. It’s like lightning; it happens, then it’s gone.
While the lightning is there we can see the objects around us vividly, then suddenly that appearance disappears. The appearance of this life is the same; it happens, then suddenly it’s gone. Compared to our beginningless past lives, this life lasts just a second, like lightning.
Lama Tsongkhapa says that this life is as impermanent as a water bubble, gone in a second. Seeing this, we should strive to take the essence of this perfect human rebirth and let go of clinging completely.