Monday 29 December 2008


Around 1992 when I returned to religious practice, one group I joined was a Western Buddhist meeting, and here I learnt about the path and purpose of non-attachment. I have kept this with me ever since, and it is a road towards liberation and even some form of salvation. It fits into why one might do Christian religious practice, or religious humanist contemplation.

In other words, a central task of religious practice is to develop non-attachment. This includes the idea that from dust we came and to dust we go. It excludes the desire for everlasting life: the last thing I want is life to go on in some form after I am dead.

Being non-attached is not the same as being unattached. The world is still here, and we are still in it, and it is still to be developed. It simply means the ability to let go.

If you love someone, you should not escalate that to an obsession that when the person walks off you cannot let them go. If they must go, then a position of non-attachment even about that love is one that will last. It will last longer than the love. Even the love affair sprinkles into dust.

The Buddhists may develop highly beautiful mandala designs of coloured sands during important gatherings, only then when done to tip them out and into a passing stream. You cannot hang on to even the most desirous of objects or experiences.

A key attitude here is not obsessive, clingy, love, but the development of loving kindness. Loving kindness is a kind of attitude strategy, and is mainly developed for your own welfare, with beneficial consequences all around. Indeed the beneficial consequences may be the basis of practice.

The idea is that if you see an accident ahead and you have developed such non-attachment, you move to assist without thought for own advantage or disadvantage for assistance.

In economics the equivalent is indifference curves. Indifference does not mean couldn't care less, it means points of no difference and no further complication. I introduce this because it then links up with my own views about gift-exchange. The effort in worship ritual where a spiritual gift is potential is not to seek out the gift for its own sake, but only to receive what seems freely offered.

The point about worship, then, as a repetitive practice, is to develop one's own attitudinal base: not to seek more spiritual attachments but to have spiritual non-attachment.

Of course if non-attachment simply becomes another form of attachment, then it will cease to be non-attachment.

1 comment:

rick allen said...

As T.S. Eliot wrote, "Teach us to care and not to care." It's a delicate balance.

There is a group of Tibetan monks working on a sand mandala a block or two away from my work--I keep meaning to get over and see it before they destroy it.

The mandala's destruction is a powerful lesson in non-attachment. Though it seems to be the American habit to take a picture first. "It'll last longer."