From chapter 3 of our current Tricycle Retreat leader Jetsunma Tenzin Palmo’s new book, Into the Heart of Life,
We’d all like to be happy. And we expend a great deal of effort trying to make ourselves happy. Through the centuries people have pondered this dilemma of how to be happy and stay happy. So how is it that most people are so unhappy? Not only are they miserable, but they make the people around them miserable, too. Many people have a great deal of pain in their lives, which they try to alleviate in whatever way they can. Others, however, on the surface at least, feel quite content with their lot. The issue of contentment is a very important one.
After his enlightenment, the Buddha started teaching from exactly where we are. He said, “Life the way we lead it is not satisfying. There is an inner lack, an inner emptiness, an inner sense of meaninglessness which we can’t fill with things or people. What is the cause of this inherent unrest, this inherent sense of dissatisfaction which eats at us?”
The Buddha taught that the essential reason for this dis-ease within us is our grasping, desiring mind, which is based on our essential ignorance. Ignorance of what? Basically, the ignorance of understanding the way things really are. That can be explored on many levels, but we’ll deal with it first of all from the point of view that not only do we not recognize impermanence, we also don’t recognize our genuine nature. Therefore, we’re always grasping outwards. We don’t realize our inner interconnection, and we identify always with this sense of self and other.
Now, as soon as we have the idea of self and other, we therefore have the idea of wanting to acquire that which is attractive and to push away that which we want to avoid. Then this sense of inner emptiness has to be filled up, and we give in to grasping, clinging, and attachment. And of course we think in our delusion that our grasping, clinging mind, our attachment to things and to people, is what will bring us happiness. We do it all the time. We’re attached to our possessions; we’re attached to the people we love; we’re attached to our position in the world, and to our career and to what we have attained. We think that holding on to these things and to these people tightly will give us security, and that security will give us happiness. That is our fundamental delusion, because it’s the very clinging which makes us insecure, and that insecurity which gives us this sense of dis-ease, this unease.
Nobody binds us with chains to this wheel. We clasp it; we grip it with all our might. The way to get off the wheel is to let go. Do you understand? That grasping, clinging mind is the cause of our suffering, but we’re very deluded because we think that our greed and our lusts and our desires point toward the sources of happiness. However much we deny it, we really believe that somehow or other, if all our wants are fulfilled, we will be happy. But the fact is that our wants can never all be fulfilled. Wants are endless. The Buddha said that it was like drinking salty water—we just get more and more thirsty.
What does Buddhism mean by non-attachment? Many people think the idea of detachment, non-attachment, or non-clinging is very cold. This is because they confuse attachment with love. But attachment isn’t genuine love—it’s just self-love.
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