There is a fascinating and perplexing Buddhist concept, non-attachment, which has grabbed my attention and thinking deeply. It appears in much of the Buddhist literature I have read and apparently parallels the Taoist teaching, when the sage walks, he leaves no footprints behind.
It is based upon a view of the radical impermanence of all things–physical objects as well as those we may choose to love. To become attached to anything will ultimately lead us to disappointment and suffering because everything we know and love will fade away and die.
Siddhartha Gautama, the Buddha, renounced his family, even his new-born son as a hindrance to his personal spiritual journey. Yet are we capable of such an attitude? Should we even view non-attachment as a desirable goal?
This is an incredibly difficult conundrum. Clearly, attachment brings suffering. In fact it can be said that the extent to which we suffer after the loss or death of a loved-one may parallel the depth of that love. Does this imply that we cannot express our joy to a great extent either, worrying that the fall from such heights to the depths of despair is not worth the suffering? Is the price of reducing suffering, to reduce feeling, engagement in the world of being?
In order to reducing suffering, are we to live life as if protected from our emotions by an outer shell? Do we don a ‘condum’ in order to protect ourselves from feeling?
To some extent, however, we do create our own suffering when we attach ourselves to deeply to those situations in which we have no control. Control is a major problem for many in our culture. We tend to desire to control everything–our personal lives and futures as well as those of people around us.
It is often in this regard that we wind up suffering. It is often impossible, even undesirable to try to control others. Many who have tried and failed can attest to the suffering that has ensued. We cannot live anyone else’s life–try as we might. There are times that we need to ‘let go’ and trust that life will progress along its own necessary path. After all, we can barely control our own thoughts and actions.
Yet we try. It is so difficult not to attempt to help those we love avoid their own suffering. Yet ultimately we cannot do it. We all have our own unique paths, despite our bonds of love and affection. I could not prevent my Mother’s death–neither could I intervene in the choices of others who I love.
Perhaps the compromise is to remind ourselves of the Serenity prayer ascribed to several sources and paraphrased here: God, grant me the serenity to accept what I cannot change, the courage to change what I can and the wisdom to know the difference.
Here is a form of ‘non-attachment’ which might possibly work for me. But I will continue to struggle with it.