Monday, June 20, 2016


The Sanskrit term upadana means, in the Buddhist context, attachment. In the West, we use the term attachment in a generally positive way, e.g., when we say a child is attached to his dog. In the Buddhist sense, however, attachment has a psychological valence, and it refers to an unhealthy habit of mind that is normally combatted through exercises like meditation.

Imagine you've had a nasty argument with someone. You can't stop thinking about the argument; you keep coming back to it, over and over again, day after day. Part of you knows you should move on, that it's useless to keep worrying the same event the way a dog worries a bone—but you can't help yourself. It's always on your mind, lurking somewhere. Your thoughts forever loop back to this argument: you're attached.

Time and reality move in only one direction: forward. This is the nature of things. An attached person is in an unhealthy state because she is unable to move forward, is unable to let go. Her actions may be futile or useless, but she persists in them all the same, regardless of the damage this is doing to her psyche. She may not even be aware that she is in this state—a corrosive lack of awareness that some might call stupidity.

There are people who realize their attachment and begin the healthy process of moving forward. Others, too unaware to recognize the vortex they're trapped in, remain stuck at that time, at that event. Far from controlling their emotions, they are controlled by them. Far from being free agents of action, they are slaves of circumstance, doing nothing to transcend their karma (i.e., action, or the momentum of action). Most sadly, they haven't figured out that they are the authors of their own suffering (as I pointed out earlier here); they may end up hurting others because of their attachment, but at the most basic level, they're hurting themselves.

There's little that can be done for the person who shouts repeatedly into the pit, obtusely expecting a response. There's little that can be done for the person who bangs her head against the wall, again and again, somehow thinking this will bring about change. Change comes naturally; it's in the nature of all things to change and/or to be interrelated. That's what emptiness (sunyata) refers to: reality is empty of permanence, empty of non-relationality. Accept this, and you're no longer the author of your own suffering. Let go of your attachment, and swim with, not against, reality's current. You'll be happier for it.

Otherwise, expect to be tormented by the wrathful Buddha.



John Mac said...

Thanks for those words of wisdom, Kevin. Easier said than done, but I'm inspired to try harder.

Kevin Kim said...

I have no doubt that you're one of the wise ones, John.

Maven said...

I've been spending my 40s trying to detach from any expectation, in particular, expecting any reciprocity within my own blood-kin family. As I cannot control anything but myself in this equation, I found that distance has helped. Boundaries. I've even been exposing myself to lojong mind training, too--which a part of my skepticism thinks enables shitty behaviors and doesn't elicit much in the way of any resolution, but at least it has the potential to shift the mind out of the active suffering and redirecting the energy towards something more compassionate. Lesson for me to process is, even assholes are deserving of compassion. Sometimes compassion takes the form of silence. Sometimes.

Kevin Kim said...

"Sometimes compassion takes the form of silence."

Amen to that.