06. a Study in Buddhist Psychology

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  • 8/3/2019 06. a Study in Buddhist Psychology


    Contemporary Buddhism, VoL 5, No. 2, 2004 D Routledgeg ^ TaylorfiifranciiCroi

    A Study in BuddhistPsychology: is Buddhism trulypro-detachment andanti-attachment?Lynken GhoseButler University, Indianapolis, Indiana, USA

    Buddhism is often portrayed as pro-detachment and anti-attachment, yet is thisreally true? If we examine love, we can see that attachment is always a part oflove, and, in fact, without a deep attachment or bond, one can question whethera relationship is loving at all. Thus, since the ultimate aim of Buddhism is tobe compassionate, empathetic and loving towards both oneself and others, howcan this goal truly be a complete lack of attachment?While it is plausible to interpret Buddhism's goal as that of detachment

    (detachment often being used as the antonym of attachment), as some of thescriptural passages seem to be translatable in this fashion. Buddhism could alsobe interpreted as accepting attachments based on love but not acceptingattachments based on possessiveness. Along the same lines, rather than accept-ing all types of detachment, Buddhism could be interpreted as acceptingdetachment based on the desire to set someone or something free from one'sacquisitiveness, yet as rejecting detachment that masks a lack of caring or subtle(or not so subtle) form of apathy. Thus, translators and interpreters of Buddhismshould be very careful to make these distinctions.In spite of the largely technical nature of this paper, the topic itself is one ofpractical concem. The fact that many modem interpreters of Buddhism andtranslators of ancient scriptures argue that Buddhism is pro-detachment andanti-attachment, not defining these terms in a careful and precise manner couldactually be quite harmful for those who rely on their interpretations forguidance. In fact, I have witnessed many Buddhist practitioners, in both the Eastand the West, attempting to distance themselves from their feelings, even thesofter ones, because they truly believed that this type of distance was themeaning of Buddhist detachment. Instead, what they ended up doing was

    merely making themselves more unhappy, as they lost touch with their realfeelings and became more apathetic towards the world.

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    106 L. Ghosephysical connection by which one thing is attached to another, a fastening'. Ifwe focus on the more psychological connotations of the word, 'attachment'implies a kind of special feeling of bonding to another person. In the samedictionary, detachment is defined as 'the act or feeling of detaching, separation','indifference to worldly concerns or partisan opinion' or 'absence of emotionalbias, neutrality of feeling' {Webster's Third New International Dictionary1993). Detachment connotes not only a lack of any special feeling or bond toanother person, but also a kind of indifference or a complete lack of hierarchyin regard to one's feelings: thus, according to this definition of detachment, onemight treat one's neighbor and one's mother in the same way.

    John Bowlby, one of the foundational researchers in Westem psychology onattachment theory, defines attachment as a '"primary motivational system" withits own workings and interface with other motivational systems' (Holmes 1993,63).' Other modern psychological definitions, similar to the dictionarydefinitions quoted previously, seem to imply that attachment is 'the condition inwhich an individual is linked emotionally w ith another person .. .' (Holmes1993, 218). (Thus, detachment would be the absence of any emotional link.)Yet, it is perhaps not central to determine whether attachment is a 'motivationalsystem' (i.e. some sort of volition) or an emotion. Instead, the significanceattributed to attachment within the human psyche is of more import. Beginningwith Bowlby's work on attachment, healthy attachment is seen as an essentialingredient of a human being's psychological make-up. Bowlby also emphasizes'the importance of bonding between parents and children' and the 'need for asecure base and to feel attached' (Holmes 1993, 2). In addition, the importanceof attachment is not restricted to the psychological life of the child; for adultsand adolescents, attachment and bonding are also important. Bowlby states thatdeep, loving feelings correspond to a deep attachment (Holmes 1993, 69). Infact, he sees marriage as the 'adult manifestation of attachment whose compan-ionship provides a secure base allowing for work and exploration, and aprotective shell in times of need' (Holmes 1993, 81-2). In the folowing quote,Bowlby makes a link between the secure/insecure attachment of the child andsubsequent feelings of security/insecurity that may develop later in life.

    A securely attached child will store an internal working model of aresponsive, loving, reliable care-giver, and a self that is worthy of loveand attention and will bring these assumptions to bear on all relationships.Conversely, an insecurely attached child may view the world as adangerous place in which people are to be treated with great caution, andsees himself as ineffective and unworthy of love. (Holmes 1993, 79)Thus, in summary, it is evident from Bowlby's work and subsequent theorists

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    Is Buddhism Truly Pro-detaehment and Anti-attachment? 107One of the more precise descriptions of attachmetit in Buddhist literaturecomes from the Saundarananda of Asvaghosa. In verse 18.18-18.19, Asvaghosaoffers a number of translations for this concept, including murchita, nisrita,

    samyoga, pratibaddha, sakta, and grathita. The word murchita comes from theverbal root mUrch + and is especially vivid in its connotation. It seems toimply a connection to something that has become so rigid as to be calcified.Sakta, pratibaddha, grathita, and so on imply a grasping, a fastening, or aclinging.caturvidhe naikavidhaprasatige yato 'hamdhdravidhdvasaktalfamurchitas cagrathitas ca tatra tribhyo vimukto 'smi tato bhavebhyahll(18.18, Saundarananda)Since I am unattached to the four types of food, all of which have manytypes of attachments (inherent within act of eating them) and (since) I amnot bound nor attached (to them), I am free from the three worlds.anisritas cdpratibaddhacitto drstasrutddau vyavaharadharmelyasmdt samatmdnugatas ca tatra tasmdd visamyogagato 'smi muktahll(18.19, SaundaranandafSince I am not dependent nor bound to the everyday world, characterizedby (attachment to) the sense organs, and since I have come to have anequanimous mind towards this world, I am liberated, detached (from it).

    Another telling word that is used in association with attachment within theSaundarananda is asthd (17.6), In the context of the Saundarananda, this wordseems to imply that one is waiting for a particular result from something, andhence anastha means the quality of non-waiting or non-expectation. Thus, if wecombine the idea of asthd with murehita and so on, attachment connotessomething like a hardened bond that brings about rigid expectations for acertain result, and so on. Another part of the standard Buddhist view onattachment is that it is intricately linked to parikalpa or delusion. In verse 13.49,of Asvaghosa's Saundarananda and in Kambala's Alokamdld,'^ the Buddhistadmonition against parikalpa, and therefore, by extension, attachment, is clearlyexpressed,

    nendriyam visaye tdvat pravrttam api sajjatelydvan na ma nasas tatra parikalpah pravartate//l3.49, Saunda rananda/PAs long as delusion does not exist in the mind, even if a sense organ isin use, it does not attach to its object.sarva eva prahdtavyah p arikalpo Hpa ko api hi/

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    108 L Ghosewith a misconception or a misunderstanding of the world. Without this delusion,there would be no attachment, only detachment, as we misconceive the thingsof the world as permanent, when they are, in fact, impermanent. The secondpassage from the Alokamdld gives us a further hint as to the implications ofattachment by saying that conceptions themselves have the nature of delusion.This seems to imply that conceptions, due to their fixed nature and inability toapproximate the specifics of an experience, may reinforce or strengthen one'sattachments, and cause one suffering when these attachments are brought intoquestion. For example, if one has the conception that a cow has four legs,weighs at least 1000 pounds, and has a white color, it may be difficult for oneto adjust to the fact that a 1000 pound black animal with four legs could alsobe categorized as a 'co w ', as one would be too attached to on e's preconceptionsabout the 'whiteness' of a 'cow'.In summary, to combine the different portrayals of 'attachment' in theSaundarananda, attachment is characterized by a misunderstanding {parikalpa)and a certain, fixed expectation (dsthd), as well as being characterized by ahardened (mUrchita) bond between two people or between a person and athing. From these passages from the Saundarananda and so on, one getsthe impression that attachment is clearly something negative. This ideadiffers greatly from the Westem psychological understanding of Bowlby andothers, which does not see all attachments as necessarily stemming fromdelusive thinking, nor does it see the bond of attachment as necessarilysomething negative. As was mentioned previously, in Western psychologicalthinking, love always includes some attachment. This brings into questiontranslating words with a purely negative connotation in Buddhist Sanskrit texts(such as updddna, sakta, etc.), as 'attachment' because the English word'attachment' carries some positive undertones. Perhaps a translation of'negative attachment' or 'clinging' would always be better for these types ofwords.

    In his Clarifying the Natural State, Dakpo Tashi Namgyal, a modem Tibetaninterpreter of Buddhism, provides us with more clues as to the Buddhistunderstanding of detachment. For him, Buddhist detachment is primarilyconcemed with remaining 'unbound' in action and with neither being too muchin pursuit of the pleasant (too 'accepting') nor too rejecting of the painful. Theidea of being 'uninvolved in striving' may hark back to the idea of andsthd inthe Saundarananda, as it implies that one should have a lack of concem for acertain fixed result. In addition, Tashi Namgyal's reference to 'naturalness' inthe following text seems to be urging a cultivation of one's original state ofmind before the advent of dualistic judgments, for these types of judgmentsdisturb the inherent peace of the mind, especially if one gets too caught up inthem.

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    Is Buddhism Truly Pro-detachment and Anti-attachment? 109and uncontrived without judging; remain unbound and uninvolved instriving.^In Buddhism, there are many words, in addition to those from the Saun-

    darananda, that have been translated as 'detachment' or 'dispassion': viraga,upeksd, upddana are some that commonly occur. In the Majjhima Nikdya,viraga is frequently lauded as the goal of Buddhism, and is rendered as'dispassion' by one modem translator, Bhikkhu Nanamoli; in Rune Johansson'sPsychology of Nirvana, Johansson describes the feelings of the arhat as'disinterested and impersonal'. In addition, in many standard Sanskrit-Englishand Pali-English dictionaries, virdga and upeksd {upekkhd, Pali) are translatedas 'dispassio nateness', 'indifference', 'zero point'.* Zero point seems to implysome point of non-feeling from which one observes feelings. Also, at times,upeksd is also rendered as 'equanimity' by some translators. E. H. Johnston,who can still be considered to be the principal scholarly figure in Asvaghosastudies, translates upeksd as 'indifference' and virdga as 'passionlessness'. Inthe same two verses, Alessandro Passi, a more recent translator of the Saun-darananda, renders virdga as 'free of passion' (priva de passione) and upeksdas the state of being or remaining 'indifferent' {indijferente)?

    Many of these interpreters of Buddhism take the view that attachment issomething negative to be extinguished. For example, Grace Burford, in herstudy of the Atthakavagga, states 'the general teaching against desire andattachment treats persons who detach them selves as ideal, exem plary' (Burford1991, 50-1). Buddhadasa, a twentieth-century Thai Theravdda Buddhist master,states: 'Buddhism cannot be characterized as either optimistic or pessi-mistic ... Furthermore, it teaches us to form no attachments, to be neither gladover the benefits nor upset over the drawbacks' (Swearer 1991, 86). In thefollowing passage, Geshe G elsang G yatso, a modem Tibetan teacher, echoes thesentiments of Buddhadasa.

    Likewise, the more attachment we have, the more problems we experi-ence. At the moment most of our problems arise because of attachment.A thief, for example, may be sent to prison for the whole of his lifebecause of his atta ch m en t... The Buddhist m aster Vasubandhu usedmany examples to show how attachment creates suffering. His firstexample was that flies have a very strong attachment to pleasing odours.Yet when they try to land on food, humans kill them. Moths are attachedto beautiful forms such as light... They try to enter into the light andfinally die. According to Vasubandhu, some living beings die fromattachment to visual form or sound, taste, smell or touch. But humanbeings have strong attachment to all of these five sense objects. (Gyatso1984, 5-6)

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    110 L Ghoseanalogy of his to include positive and negative forms of detachment aswell.

    The word attachment is frequently used by Buddhists in English. It isintended to express the idea that we bind ourselves through our passion-ate, demanding possessiveness, and that we therefore necessarily suffer hybeing so bound when, sooner or later, the object of desire eludes ourgrasp. It is therefore non-attachment, in giving up and letting go (the signof the true love that wishes to make not itself but the loved person happy)that the way to the overcoming of suffering is to be sought.This basic Buddhist attitude that teaches people to show first real love,real compassion, and unrestricted joy in the joy of others (while at thesame time, we attain to an inner equanimity in regard to what happens toourselves), was at a relatively early date reinterpreted and taken to meanthat every kind of human attachment and love was devalued. This conceptarose because of the wide range of meanings in the English worddetachment, but the German-speaking Buddhists followed suit, using thewords Verhatftetsein or Anhaften for all forms of love and affection,irrespective of whether it was a matter of passionate desire and possess-iveness or of loving devotion. In this way. Western Buddhism was turnedinto a gloomily a scetic and anti-world doctrine ... (Govinda 1991 , 87)Thus, Govinda asserts that a true understanding of Buddhism is that oneshould feel real joy at the ha...


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