Attachment and Clinging

Look at the society we live in. Look at the heartache it breeds. Look at the loneliness, look at the fear, the confusion, the conflict.  You call that life? Our society is rotten to the core, infected with attachments.

What is an attachment?

An attachment is an emotional state of clinging caused by the belief that without some particular thing or some person or some result you cannot be happy. You have been programmed to build your life on the unquestioned belief that without money, power, success, approval, a good reputation, love, friendship, or God, you cannot be happy

Contrary to what your culture and religion have taught you, nothing—but absolutely nothing of the world—can make you happy. It is absolutely essential that you understand this because, until you do, there is no question of your ever finding the Kingdom of Joy. The moment you see that absolutely nothing of the world can make you happy, you will stop moving from one job to another, one friend or lover to another, one place, one spiritual technique, one guru to another. None of these things can give you a single minute of happiness. They can only offer you a temporary thrill, a pleasure that inevitably turns into pain if you lose them and boredom if you keep them. If we want to come awake—which is the same thing as saying, if we want to love, if we want freedom, if we want joy and peace and spirituality —the first thing to understand is the root of suffering is attachment.

How is an attachment formed?

First, there’s contact with something that gives you pleasure: a car, an attractively advertised modern appliance, a word of praise, or a person’s company. Then comes the desire to hold on to it and to repeat the gratifying sensation that the thing or person caused you. Finally comes the conviction that you will not be happy without that person or thing or result, for you have equated the pleasure it brings you with happiness.

If you look carefully, you will see that the one and only thing that causes unhappiness is attachment. It is composed of two elements, one positive and the other negative.

  • The positive element is the flash of pleasure and excitement, the thrill that you experience when you get what you are attached to.
  • The negative element (and this always accompanies an attachment) is the sense of threat and tension and struggle to get it, followed by the fear of losing it once you possess it.

Think of someone gobbling up food in a concentration camp. With one hand, he gleefully brings the food to his mouth; with the other hand, he anxiously protects it from someone nearby who he fears will grab it from him the moment he lowers his guard. There you have the perfect image of the attached person.  Each thing you cling to becomes a nightmare that causes you excitement and pleasure on the one hand but also worry, insecurity, tension, anxiety, fear, and unhappiness on the other. Father and mother? Nightmare. Wife and children, brothers and sisters? Nightmare. Money, job and all your possessions? Nightmare. Your life as it is now? Nightmare. Every single thing you cling to and have convinced yourself you cannot live without? Nightmare.

There are even people who dread to challenge and lose a pet theory, ideology, or belief they are attached to. Do you want to know how to measure the degree of rigidity and deadness attachments cause? Observe the amount of pain you experience when you lose a cherished idea, person, or thing. The pain and the grief betray your clinging, do they not? That is why, when life bursts in to shatter your illusions, you experience so much pain. An attachment, by its very nature, makes you vulnerable to emotional turmoil and is always threatening to shatter your peace.   So how can you expect an attached person to enter that ocean of happiness called the Kingdom of Joy? As well as you can expect a camel to pass through the eye of a needle!

Hardly anyone has been told the following truth: In order to be genuinely happy, there is one and only one thing you need to do—get deprogrammed and get rid of those attachments. When people stumble upon this self-evident truth, they become terrified at the thought of the pain involved in dropping their attachments. But the process is not a painful one at all. On the contrary, getting rid of attachments is a perfectly delightful task, that is, if the instrument you use to rid yourself of them is not willpower or renunciation, but sight.   All you need to do is open your eyes and see that you do not really need the object of your attachment at all—that you were programmed, brainwashed by society into thinking that you could not be happy or you could not live without that particular person  or thing or result.  Not true. Remember how heartbroken you once were—how you were certain you never would be happy again—because you lost someone or something that was precious to you? But then what happened? Time passed, and you learned to get on pretty well, didn’t you? That should have alerted you to the falseness of your belief, to the trick your programmed mind was playing on you.

An attachment is not a fact. It is a belief, a fantasy, in your head, acquired through programming. If that fantasy did not exist inside your head, you would not be attached.

Does the dropping of attachments mean detachment from the material world? No. One uses the material world, one enjoys the material world, but one doesn’t make one’s happiness depend on the material world. What I’m saying is, you really begin to enjoy things when you’re unattached because attachment brings anxiety. If you’re anxious when you’re holding on to something, you can hardly be said to enjoy it. So, I’m offering you is not a withdrawal from enjoyment; it’s a way of transcending from possessiveness, anxiety, stress, depression at the loss of something. You would love things and people, and you would enjoy them thoroughly, but on a nonattachment basis. As a matter of fact, is there any other way to really enjoy something? Anyone who stops clinging to father, mother, wife, children, land, houses, things is repaid a hundred times over and gains eternal life. Then you will so easily take leave of your possessions, that is, you will stop clinging, and you will have destroyed clinging’s capacity to hurt you. Then, at last, you will experience that mysterious state that cannot be described or uttered—the state of abiding happiness and peace.