Probablythe most misunderstood term in Western Buddhist circles is that usuallytranslated as 'attachment'. Too many have got it into their head that theyshouldn't be attached to anything. Thus jokes abound such as the one on why thehouses of Buddhists have dirt in the corners because they don't allow eventheir vacuum cleaner any attachments. Some misguided pseudo-Buddhists criticisethose living a moral life as being attached to their precepts and thus praiseimmoral action as a sign of deep wisdom. Bah! Others in traditional Buddhistcircles create fear of deep meditation by incorrectly stating that you willonly get attached to the Jhanas. It all goes too far. Perhaps the pinnacleof mischievous misinformation was said by Rajneesh who claimed "I am sodetached, I am not even attached to detachment" and thus convenientlyexcused all his excesses.

The Paliwork in question is UPADANA, literally meaning 'a taking up'. It is commonlyused indicating a 'fuel', which sustains a process, such as the oil in a lampbeing the fuel/upadana for the flame. It is related to craving (TANHA).For example, craving is reaching out for the delicious cup of coffee, Upadanais picking it up. Even though you think that you can easily put the cup ofcoffee down again, though your hand is not superglued to the cup, it is still Upadana.You have picked it up. You have grasped.

Fortunatelynot all Upadana is un-Buddhist. The Lord Buddha only specified fourgroups of Upadana: 'taking up' the five senses, 'taking up' wrong views,'taking up' the idea that liberation may be attained simply through rites andinitiations, and 'taking up' the view of a self. There are many other thingsthat one may 'take up' or grasp, but the point is that only these four groupslead to rebirth, only these four are fuel for future existence and furthersuffering, only these four are to be avoided.

Thustaking up the practice of compassion, taking up the practice of the FivePrecepts or the greater precepts of a monk or nun, and taking up the practiceof meditation these are not un-Buddhist and it is mischievous to discouragethem by calling them 'attachments'. Keeping the Five Precepts is, in fact, aletting go of coarse desires like lust, greed and violence. Practisingcompassion is a letting go of self-centredness and practising meditation isletting go of past, future, thinking and much else. The achievement of Jhanais no more than the letting go of the world of the five senses to gain accessto the mind. Nibbana is the letting go once and for all of greed, hatredand delusion, the seeds of rebirth. Parinibbana is the final letting goof body and mind (the Five Khandhas). It is wrong to suggest that any ofthese stages of letting go are the same as attachment.

Thepath is like a ladder. One grasps the rung above and lets go of the rung below to pull oneself up. Soon, the rung just grasped is therung one is now standing on. Now is the time to let go of that rung as one graspsan even higher rung to raise oneself further. If one never grasped anything,one would remain spiritually stupid.

Tothose without wisdom, letting go may often appear as attachment. For example abird on the branch of a tree at night appears to be attaching firmly to thebranch, but it has actually let go and is fully asleep. When a bird lets go andthe muscles around its claws begin to relax they close on the branch. The moreit relaxes, the more the claws tighten. That's why you never see a bird falloff a perch even when they are asleep. It may look like attachment but, infact, it is letting go. Letting go often leads to stillness, not moving fromwhere you are, which is why it is sometimes mistaken as attachment.

Sodon't be put off by well-meaning but misinformed L-plate Buddhists who havecompletely misunderstood Upadana and attachment. Attach without fear toyour precepts, your meditation object and to the path for it will lead to Nibbana.And don't forget to purchase the attachments for your vacuum cleaner too!

Ajahn Brahmavamso
BSWA Newsletter, December 1999

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