Buddhist View on Love and Attachment

The Valentine’s Day of this year is just behind us. The entire social media was steaming with images, quotes, trolls and many things about being in love or being single. Bless the ones who have found their ‘happily ever after’. Hope they stay the same forever. However there are many who have lost their love.

All this drama about love made me revisit another research paper of mine.  Today I would like to address a very common issue that people of our age experience “attachment with the loved ones”. The romantic love, the so-called undying and magical feeling in this world, and how after it ends we are often left feeling depressed and lost.

As you read through my paper “Buddhist view on Love and Attachment” you will find out the meaning of attachment and ways to get over it.  In my paper i have tried to come to an solution by applying the core teaching of Buddhism, the Noble Four fold path and the Theory of Dependent Origination. Of course the solutions may seem extreme but apply and simplify them to suite your situation and you would find yourself a self-help guide to find your way back to yourself.

Introduction:

We are constantly in search of something be it a job, a new house, an improvement in our social status, fame, self-expression, talent and so on. But underneath all these we are searching for love, the ultimate romantic attachment. We love, we beg for love, or we even grieve for love. We have nothing higher to live for. Love and attachment is so celebrated that we have a list of plays, movies, songs and books written on it. We want to have our own little “love story”. The “want” of attachment is the core problem. We are attached to the idea of being with someone than the actual sentiment of love.

So what is attachment?

Attachment means a feeling that binds one to a person, an enduring emotional bond that develops in an intimate relationship: a romantic attachment.

(The problem)

The problem with romantic attachment is that, like everything else it is unstable and bound to change. We claim refuge in the comforts of the attachments. But given some time everything changes, people die, situations change and we are often left with longing, anticipation and anxiety. These in turn lead to disappointments and sense of loss and anger. And then we get a host of problems arising out of it acid attacks, suicides, divorces, killings, shootings and so on. People tend to be violent and angry because they are still clinging on to that stage of attachment that has changed (as a reaction to pain and sufferings).

(Cause of suffering)

Buddha calls this “Upadana” which is “clinging” as one of the core experiences of suffering which is the First of the Four Noble Truths. (Dukkha). And this “upadana” is based on the “tanna” which means “craving” and is a condition prior to that of clinging that is the Second of the Four Noble Truths. (The cause of the suffering). This craving is also in turn an effect of a condition experienced prior to it that is “Bhava“. This is a part of the 12 links of the chain of the Dependent Origination, or “Pattichasamupada”.

It is human nature to become too attached to things or people.  And it can be very difficult to find out how to let go from these attachments even if we know that they are not good for us. The Buddha says that our addictive behavior is the root of all.

(The solution)

Buddha in Vitakasanthana Sutta gives a way to overcome our attachments.

Attachment is of mind and consciousness in nature rather than physical. Hence our aim is to consciously veer our mind from the un-pleasantries and focus it on other relaxing thoughts.

In the words of the Blessed One “There is the case where evil, unskillful thoughts — imbued with desire, aversion, or delusion — arise in a monk while he is referring to and attending to a particular theme. He should attend to another theme.When he is attending to this other theme, connected with what is skillful, then those evil, unskillful thoughts are abandoned and subside. With their abandoning, he steadies his mind right within, settles it, unifies it, and concentrates it. Just as a skilled carpenter or his apprentice would use a small peg to knock out, drive out, and pull out a large one; in the same way.”

So we should try to engage our mind in thoughts that will keep us away from the cause of our sufferings, that is to say, our attachment with our lost love. By avoiding such thoughts, that cause pain and sufferings, we get to settle and calm ourselves and stop from taking any rash decisions. Buddha further says that even if the thoughts still come to our mind, we should pay no attention to them and try to attend to relaxing the thoughts by unifying and concentrating our minds on something skillful and thought worthy. Buddha also says that with teeth clenched and our tongue pressed against the roof of the mouth — we should beat down, constrain, and crush our mind with our awareness. Another way is to passively observe the thoughts that come to our mind; it can be compared to crowded train, which we let go without boarding.

This brings us to the last of the Four Noble Truths, which is “Magga” the path leading to the end of the sufferings. The principle of letting go and moving on:

So how do we move on from our lost love?

  • The first step to letting go is to take a good, hard look at the things and people that we are so attached to. Do they really fill that nagging sense of inner emptiness? Is our ex-love really this wonderful person that we make them out to be?

It is amazing to what extent we deceive ourselves, believing that things and people will bring us happiness when, in reality, it never is the case. In other words, we need to burst the fantasy bubble that we have built around our addictive clinging and then we need to make a decision to give it up.

  • The next step is to face the emptiness that will appear once we try to give up a bad habit or a person who does not want to be with us. Doing this needs courage. When temptation strikes we should simply sit down comfortably and relax our whole body and mind. You will notice that the sense of craving is like a contraction in your mind that you can relax and release with every out-breath.
  • The essence of the art of letting go is truthfulness, relaxation and meditation.

Buddhism also gives an ideal way to end all the sufferings and sorrow, through “Nibbana”. While worldly pains are piercing, unpredictable, and unavoidable, Nibbana is altogether free from pain. It is the end of suffering, the supreme refuge, the ultimate emancipation. Nibbana cannot be grasped by language or concept, but it can be known and realized by one who makes the right efforts. This is a critical point.

The Buddha did not teach the Dhamma for the entertainment of those already perfected; he taught it for the benefit for the people like us who were struggling to avoid pain and make sense of the world. Suffering lessens and happiness increases when we make an effort to follow the Noble Eightfold Path, whatever our present condition.

In the classic formula, the Dhamma is “directly visible, timeless, calling one to come and see, leading onwards, to be personally realized by the wise.” We can know when we draw a joyful breath or put behind us an old sorrow or refrain from a vicious act or compose an agitated mind. The Dhamma lightens our burdens in the present and gives us grounds for hope.

What then does this have to do with the problems of love? Simply this:

The Dhamma puts the delights and torments of love into perspective, so that we can break the illusion of love as the highest of aspirations and most essential of desires. The only remedy for love is to love better. The understanding and the practice of the Dhamma do not destroy our capacity to love or enjoy love. The Dhamma purges the grasping, selfish qualities from our love and makes it purer and nobler.

As we come to understand through personal experience the rightness and goodness of the path of Dhamma, we may discover — slowly or suddenly — that the consuming passions we previously thought to be the only reasons for our existence are really not so, instead we should stand upright with an eye to the heights, then the love we bestow flows out of us without weakening us, like a super abundance of vigor. This is “metta” — loving-kindness devoid of selfishness. It becomes purer to the extent we realize it is not the purest; it becomes happier to the extent we realize it is not the happiest. Nibbana surpasses all.

If we are to overcome despair and grief we must not invest ourselves obsessively in what is perishable. We need to keep our minds, and consequently our actions, as free as possible from craving and attendant defilement like covetousness and possessiveness.

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