Attachment and Love
Some questions and answers about love, desire and attachment:
- What is the difference between being attached to others and loving them?
- Is it possible to stay with our friends and family when we are detached?
- Are all desires bad? What about the desire to attain nirvana or enlightenment?
- Can you be attached to Buddhism? What do you do when someone attacks and criticizes your faith?
What is the difference between being attached to others and loving them?
When we are attached to others, we primarily care about them because they please us in some way: they give us gifts, praise us, help and support us, etc. We very often overestimate their good qualities and diminish their negative ones, and so we believe that they are better than they actually are. What we usually call love is mostly attachment. When they don't live up to our expectations and, for example, don't give us enough attention, we feel hurt, disappointed and we may even decide to end the friendship or relationship.
But true love (as the word is used in Buddhism) is caring about the other person and wanting them to be happy, not because they stroke our ego and satisfy our desires, but simply because they exist and are also entitled to be happy. True love expects nothing in return. We accept others for who they are and try to help them, not caring whether or not we benefit from the relationship. True love is not jealous or possessive, but rather impartial. We can share this real love with all sentient beings.
Is it possible to stay with our friends and family when we are detached?
Of course! Detachment is not the same as rejection or indifference. When we are detached, we no longer have unrealistic expectations of others, and we don't cling to them or think we will be miserable if they are not with us. Detachment is a calm, realistic, open and accepting attitude, where you can still genuinely enjoy the positive things in life. Detachment doesn't mean rejecting or ignoring our friends and family: it means not thinking about and indulging only in our self-interest when dealing with them. Without attachment, our relationships with others become more harmonious, and in fact we care more about them because we have no selfish expectations from them.
Are all desires bad? What about the desire to attain nirvana or enlightenment?
This confusion occurs because we use the English word "desire" for different words used in Sanskrit or Pali. In reality, there are several kinds of "desires".
Attachment is the form of desire that causes us problems. It develops when we exaggerate the good qualities of something, someone or an idea and cling to them. An example of this is being emotionally dependent on someone and clinging to that other person. In reality, the other person is probably not half as wonderful as our attachments make them out to be, and so we are almost always disappointed in the end.
However, the desire that urges us to prepare for future lives or the attainment of nirvana or enlightenment is quite different. Here, we clearly see other possibilities of existence and we develop a realistic striving to achieve them. We are not dealing here with misinterpretations nor with clinging to a desired result.
Can you be attached to Buddhism? What do you do when someone attacks and criticizes your faith?
Each situation must be considered separately. For example, if we feel, "They criticize my faith and think I'm stupid to believe this," it could mean that we are superficially clinging to our beliefs. We think, "This faith is good because it's mine. If anyone criticizes that, then they are criticizing me." This is simply attachment and is unproductive and can even lead to extremism. We should put this attitude behind us, because we are not what we believe. Just because others question our beliefs doesn't mean we're stupid, just that we don't seem to have the right answer or be able to react in an appropriate way at the moment - a reason to take a closer look at our own knowledge. Furthermore, having a belief reflects that you have an opinion, and opinions differ.
There are great advantages to being open to what others say. Let us not become attached to the name and label of 'our' religion. After all, we are looking for truth and happiness: not just defending a religion because it happens to be "ours." His Holiness the Dalai Lama, for example, often emphasizes the good sides of the Christian faith because there is a lot of attention given to helping others, with all kinds of social projects and assistance for the sick and weak in society. In this way we can always learn from other people and other faiths.
On the other hand, this does not mean that we should automatically blindly copy or follow what other people say. When someone asks a question we can't answer, they help us by showing us what we don't quite understand yet. Buddha himself has clearly explained that we should ponder and test his teachings, and not just blindly believe in them. If we have questions, we can then go to learned Buddhists or consult texts with these questions and think carefully or meditate on the answers. This allows us to motivate ourselves to better study the Dharma.
See the next page: Karma