Letting Go in Relationships: A Buddhist’s View of Attachment.

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How a senior Buddhist leader helped me to understand the value of non-attachment and letting go in relationships.

It was around 10 years ago when, overwhelmed by a love lost and found, I sought guidance from a senior Buddhist leader.

I needed clarity as boundaries between an ex and me were unclear and rendering me senseless.

Several painful and agonizing months had passed since our original split, and my confidence had finally re-established itself. My self-respect had returned and, with it, spontaneity and joy of life.

See also: Why Non-Attachment is the Key to Healthy Relationships

It was at this point that I bumped into Debbie who had split up with the guy that had followed in my tracks. We began meeting up and spending time together and the monkey madness had started to play tricks with me.

My 1st Lesson from a Buddhist Teacher in Non-Attachment

The guidance I received was simple and direct. Not wanting to crush my ego but wishing to put me straight, the Buddhist leader said, “try not to take this personally but it’s not you she’s attracted to, it’s not you she wants to spend time with: it’s your Buddha nature. You should chant for her happiness, whatever the outcome.”

I could accept Buddhahood being an appealing character feature, but to chant whatever the outcome? Hmmm…this didn’t come so easy. What was I going to get out of it?

See also: Not-Attached to Non Attachment; Suffering is Bliss.

I actioned his advice and chanted several hours for her happiness, at first begrudgingly, as initially it was I who had been rejected. Anyhow, as I progressed, this begrudging nature simply became an act that was irksome; I could do it as long as I didn’t have to feel it. However, after a few days something changed: her happiness had become something very important to me. Suddenly she became more important, but that didn’t matter.

The truth of this came on my birthday, which fell at the end of the week. Unannounced, Debbie rang my doorbell saying she had a surprise for me. Her declaration of having fallen in love with another Captain Amazing simply filled me with joy this time round. I can honestly say I had no care for my own agenda and that I was truly glad she had found such happiness. If to love someone you have to set them free, then this must be that moment, I thought. She later split up with Captain Amazing, who in turn became a very good friend, but that’s another story.

The Only Constant is Change: Accepting this Makes the Ups and Downs Easier

Attachment is a very human condition. Meaningful relationships become so because they are intricately interwoven.

However, another Buddhist precept is the concept of change. It is the one thing, and perhaps only thing, we can truly rely on. When change arises, we are either able to adapt to it or we decay with it. When we only have ourselves to reconcile with in life, this is less of a challenge. In a relationship, it is 10 times harder to deal with change as identities have become linked with another. As hard as this is to accommodate, it is working through these changes that develops us as human beings.

Don’t Expect Perfect Love

Unless you’re lost in fairytales, the path of true love can never be easy, but I do believe it can be exhilarating, progressive and worthwhile.

My current partner and I have split up for short periods on several occasions as a result of change or growth.

However, from my previous experience, I’ve learned the beauty that comes from letting go. It takes from the one hand but gives so much with the other. To truly want an ex-lover’s happiness must surely be one of the most altruistic acts. To give or give away is to get. When you’ve got nothing, you’ve got everything to gain, but when you’ve given what you believe to be your everything, then the universe gives you something that cannot be taken away, and that remains with you.

A friend of mine once said you could never go back. I refute this now. If you’ve grown from and during the process of departure, and re-discover time and again an eternal flame, then nothing is lost: you’ve just unlocked a door to some hidden treasure. That, in itself, is something worth keeping.

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Photo:  Steve Davies

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Steve Davies

Steve Davies is a photographer and blogger. He has a passion for interpreting life and development through pictures and words. As a practicing Buddhist, he strives to seek unity through diversity and is an advocate for keeping things real. Find more about him at his website.

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anonymous Feb 26, 2016 5:12pm

I love this read. Its helped shift my way of thinking. After losing my wife 3 years ago I was afraid to love again. I met someone special and became attached in a selfish way. I’m realizing I was fearful from yesterday and tomorrow and not enjoying today. I realized i was expecting to pick up where i left off and that is very unrealistic. Its not love at all. I can now say that I wish her all the happiness in the world whatever journey she chooses to venture. Loving freely takes away all the fear of losing. Thanks for the article.

anonymous Dec 14, 2015 4:59am

The “letting go and freeing” someone you love, I am aware is part of buddhist philosophy.

I cannot agree with this always.

Because times were tough (I have to care for a schizophrenic son and a senile mother) my partner left me so she could have more freedom and to be able to travel.

So now I find myself alone in a very difficult situation and often unable to cope.

My partner says that if I love her then I should let her be free.

I say that if she loves me then she will help me through a difficult situation.

I am losing confidence in Buddhism, I think now that it just makes excuses for difficult situations and it is only self-centered people with no responsibilities towards others that can follow it’s philosophy. As far as I can see it is no better than any other religion.

Disillusioned Pete

    anonymous Dec 14, 2015 11:55am

    I’m not surprised by your disillusionment Pete. I would feel the same and have done many a time in different circumstances. I commend you for indicating the temporary nature of this feeling & wish to encourage you to carry on regardless, as Winston Churchill would say, ‘when in hell, just keep walking’.

    Your support for your family is honorable.

    I think there are many that lack the key element of compassion and gratitude you seek, that it is an element that appears to be diminishing and being replaced with a more self serving nature. It is perhaps true that other faiths have more of the characteristics you seek in their practitioners.

    Though I have shared your disillusionment with Buddhism I have always continued, as these hardships when carved out independently creates something unique in us that cannot be taken away by others- that suffering is true enlightenment, and in turn when transformed, a better way of being.

anonymous Oct 29, 2015 2:22pm

Wow! This article resonates with me. So sensible, loving and giving. This read is a graceful way to let go and to be at peace. 🙂

anonymous Aug 2, 2015 4:29pm

How do you pronounce that mantra, and what is the translation? Thanks

anonymous Aug 1, 2015 8:29am

Good for you Candee. Just chant Nam-Myho-Renge-Kyo.

anonymous Jul 18, 2015 8:58am

This is where I’m at with my life change. Let it go.” I got there in on my own using lots of tools (Including Frozen now that I think about it) and I cried. A lot. I’m drawn to Buddhism for many reasons so I was excited to read this article. It told me i have a Buddhist nature that people are drawn to and I should embrace it. Buddha says to chant for their happiness. No matter who they are or what they did to you. I’m making a Chant Queue (my version of prayer list). I will Chant for xx instead of saying prayers. I think the vocalization is something I will enjoy and force my mind to still. I’m really excited about this.

anonymous Jun 15, 2015 4:27am

Wow. One of the best articles I’ve read on elephant journal. Thank you. As always it came at the perfect time x

anonymous Jun 3, 2015 11:41am

When it begins to make scence(with your help) only then did my love become a love like no other.Truly a more meaningful love I am grateful to have expierenced.

anonymous Apr 29, 2015 11:53am

Namaste from India! Thank you for this article. It was comforting. Im having great difficulty letting go of a relationship. But this helped a little. Regards. Bhavna Pani

anonymous Apr 29, 2015 11:48am

When these articles show up on my newsfeed they always have little comics/photos that I want to look at more closely but when I click the link they are never featured in the articles…is there a way to find them?

Thank you,

    anonymous Apr 29, 2015 6:34pm

    Hi Nicole! The images that appear on shares aren't always the main photos in the article, but if you message us on Facebook when you see a photo you like we might be able to help!

anonymous Apr 28, 2015 9:40am

Bess, sorry for not responding earlier! I don't receive notifications. Maybe your situation has changed by now?! Yep I'm a Nichiren Buddhist… 🙂

anonymous Mar 9, 2015 8:31pm

Thanks for sharing. Your situation is similar to mine and I enjoy chanting. Are you open to sharing the chant?

    anonymous Apr 28, 2015 9:41am

    Qrae, The chant is as previously mentioned along here Nam -Myho- Renge- Kyo. All the very best!

anonymous Feb 26, 2015 7:14pm

perfect for me now, are you a practicing Nichiren Buddhist? I just recognized the "guidance from Senior Leader" that struck a cord…
Just had a break up, I'm chanting for the person's happiness!!! It's easier to "let go" if I chant for his happiness…

anonymous Feb 12, 2015 1:50pm

Thank you so much for this powerfull article.

This is the real path of love, thank you for sharing!


When the right time comes you know

anonymous Feb 9, 2015 3:38am

How will you know when to let go and when to continue fighting for your love?

anonymous Jan 18, 2015 9:54am

You have put into words what I have always felt was the right thing to do…I'm not sure why it brought ears to my eyes, though. Thank you!

anonymous Jan 18, 2015 6:44am

Thank you all for your kind feedback. All much appreciated…and no Lee, simply single 🙂

anonymous Jan 16, 2015 8:35pm

I love this article Steve!!! Great work. Thank you for sharing.

anonymous Jan 16, 2015 7:08pm

Thanks Steve for the article.It gave me a lot of strength when I am all breaking into pieces

anonymous Dec 31, 2014 5:43am

Lovely post. I kinda feel that my love is not TRUE as, all I want is to get her. But your beautiful words have given me hope and sense of GOOD, now I am gonna love her even more, by letting her go. Let there be more love in this world.

anonymous Dec 31, 2014 2:11am

Lovely post. I kinda feel that my love is not TRUE as, all I want is to get her. But your beautiful words have given me hope and sense of GOOD, now I am gonna love her even more, by letting her go. Let there be more love in this world.

Thank you for making me understand the real meaning of LOVE.

I am starting this journey now, and I have this understanding that it is not going to be easy, but yes I believe it is going to be worth. 🙂

anonymous Dec 11, 2014 8:05pm

Great article, thankyou!
I think Debbie is your current partner…. just a hunch 🙂

anonymous Oct 3, 2014 10:02am

Your article offered a realistic pathway to mercy and awareness through the loss. Enlivening, thank you.

anonymous Aug 6, 2014 2:35pm

I've found comfort in breakups in the past by chanting inside my head "I let you go with love" and really feeling it. At times I would chant it over and over again for up to half an hour, but it did work to help me let go. Thanks for the reminder that deep love is about wanting the other to be happy, no matter what.

In a current relationship that has some bumps, I'm finding comfort in remembering that letting go is an act of love, and that we're both on our own path, which may be entangled now, but may not be later. And that the outcome really doesn't matter; we're on journeys.

anonymous Aug 5, 2014 11:05pm

Thank you for your kind words and comment Rachana- much appreciated 🙂

anonymous Aug 5, 2014 6:02pm

Thank you for these words. I can relate to your experience. I have found that through rejection I have learned a lot about myself – it has asked me to look at my fears of being alone, my desire to control the will of another (that was a surprising one to admit), that part of my ego that just WANTS and has believed THE FAIRYTALE our culture so celebrates, the very human expression of wanting to share love – leading you to find love within yourself… Having tools, like you have shared – giving love towards someone that has 'hurt' you really helps to untangle the storyline that is keeping you away from reality. And reminds us that we are all souls on our own journey, and if we are so lucky to share a dance in time – its a blessing – and letting go honours the life we have both been given. And more love in this world – well yeah! Bring it on. More Love… Thank you xxx

anonymous Aug 5, 2014 3:34pm

Perfect timing. I am going to look further into this subject. It feels good. And right.

    anonymous Aug 6, 2014 12:35pm

    I want to express how grateful I am for your comment Marlene and how pleased I am by the timing and your interest of pursuing further.
    Nichiren Buddhism is both good and right and through practice you will undoubtedly have proof of this. It's not an easy practice and it challenges you to the very core; that said it has engaged me with a true purpose where I really feel I am living my life.
    It's dynamic and about taking action to change things for the better.
    I wish you the very best.

anonymous Jan 21, 2014 10:37am

I'm sending this to a buddy of mine that needs it right now.

anonymous Jan 21, 2014 7:24am

Thank you so very much for sharing this story Steve.

1 <3

anonymous Jan 20, 2014 2:49pm

I think I need to do this. This is a very good idea. Thank you for writing this.

anonymous Jan 20, 2014 12:43pm

beautiful article..very honest..love the ending of the article

    anonymous Jan 23, 2014 1:40am

    That's really good to know Maddnox, thank you.

anonymous Jan 20, 2014 11:51am

Thank you, Steve. As other have expressed, your thoughts here give me great comfort and something sincere to behold. Now if I could just figure out that "You should chant for her happiness" means. Care to expand on that for those of not in in the know?

    anonymous Jan 23, 2014 1:39am

    Sure. I practice Nichiren Buddhism the foundation of which centres around the mantra Nam-Myho-Renge-Kyo. In essence it is believed this summons forth ones innate Buddha nature, consequently, based on the principals of cause and effect this enables one to change ones karma.
    I'm glad you liked the article so much, thanks for your comment.

anonymous Jan 19, 2014 6:10pm

Steve – this is a very powerful article. I really appreciate this and am now very interested in hearing more.

anonymous Jan 19, 2014 6:07pm

Lovely. Thank you.

    anonymous Mar 10, 2015 11:42am

    Yes Steve, very comforting…enjoyed it!

anonymous Jan 19, 2014 5:48pm

thank you for this, Steve. It gave me comfort.

    anonymous Jan 23, 2014 1:26am

    I'm glad to know Lisa, thanks.