January 4, 2016

The Dangers of Attachment According to the Buddha.

sand castle 1

Teachings of the Buddha are enlightened words which speak directly to us.

The Buddha’s teachings lead us toward living a life with a compassionate and enlightened heart. Not only are they inspiring, but they also hold a truth which can change our perception for the better.

The other day I was reading the book Teachings of the Buddha. It’s a wonderful book that has plenty of parables that are abundantly insightful. I came across one parable, however, that startled me. It is a story that displays a dire reality that reflects our own truth.

This parable is one of the texts that was originally recited and passed down orally for 600 years before being written down. Then they were inscribed on palm leaves in ancient languages such as Pali and Sanskrit.

The Buddha said, “You do not even see me. To see the Buddha, you must see the Dharma, the truth. One who sees the Dharma, sees the truth.”

Indeed, those words are words of truth that can bring us to awakening.

I chose one parable that was particularly of benefit. It’s called “Sand castles.”

“Some children were playing beside a river. They made castles of sand and each child defended his castle and said, “This one is mine.” They kept their castles separate and would not allow any mistakes about which was whose.

When the castles were all finished, one child kicked over someone else’s and completely destroyed it. The owner of the castle flew into a rage, pulled the other child’s hair, struck him with his fist and bawled out, “He has ruined my castle! Come along all of us and help me punish him as he deserves.” The others all came to his help. They beat the child with a stick and then stamped on him as he lay on the ground. Then they went on playing in their sand castles, each saying, “This is mine; no one else may have it. Keep away! Don’t touch my castle!”

But evening came; it was getting dark and they all thought they ought to be going home. No one cared what became of his castle. One child stamped on his, another pushed his over with both his hands. Then they turned away and went back, each to his home.”

~ From the Yogacara Bhumi Sutra, translated by Arthur Waley

Every one of us is like the boys in this parable. We all build sand castles, call them “mine” and fight each other to protect them. But at the end of the day, we don’t really care about the sand castles we have built. We destroy them ourselves and go back home, thoroughly disregarding who we fought with.

The castles can act as a metaphor for our opinions, beliefs, possessions or people. We spend the rest of our lives defending them and fighting with others to protect them.

Deep inside, we know that what we’re fighting for is transient. However, our ego strictly forbids us to behold their true impermanent nature. Even if we consciously accept that whatever we’re fighting for is impermanent, in our unconscious state of mind we behave out of ignorance.

The defense mechanism we have for opinions and materials is insanely blind. Every possession that we own is capable of turning us into a merciless monster. Every belief that we stand for can have us metamorphozing into an arrogant and greedy being.

But we can release that attachment of ours with a bit of awareness and willingness.

If we are ready to see this hideous reality that lives within the core of being, we can learn to become less attached to our possessions and opinions. When we do, we will be less prone to fight for what we have because eventually, just like the parable, nothing that we have is really ours.

All will be destroyed. It doesn’t matter who kicks over our sand castle. Be it us or someone else, we should realize that destruction is an inevitable cycle. Thus, to fight with our human fellow for something that doesn’t exist permanently and that will be basically destroyed, is insane.

Sometimes we lose relationships, friendships, or jobs only because we loathe someone invading our own territory. We lose them because we believe that we are the only ones who can dismantle what we have and who we are, no matter how barren it is.

This parable can teach us remarkable lessons that can forever change our behaviors.

1. Realizing our true nature is the first step toward change. We should behold our actions and accept that it is our constant habit to act out of defensiveness when it comes to what belongs to us.

2. Next time we find ourselves firmly fighting for something, we should slap ourselves awake and remember that all will eventually be gone, all will be destroyed.

3. Realizing the impermanence of all phenomena, we should understand that it doesn’t matter who is destroying and be aware of our true feelings toward what is being attacked or destroyed.

We can put this into practice every second of our lives.

Let’s take relationships for instance. Sometimes we feel that we had enough of our partner and want to walk away from the relationship. If our partner breaks up with us before we do, we play the victim, we become enraged, and fight him for what he had done. We totally dismiss the fact that we were planning to destroy that relationship.

Another example is our friend borrowing a shirt we don’t really wear. After few days he/she gives it back completely torn. We fight with our friend and keep blaming him/her for destroying it. Few days later we forget about the shirt. Truth is, we have hundreds of other shirts and we wouldn’t even flinch whether this particular one was gone or not.

How many times have we fought with people for beliefs that no longer make sense to us? They are lost in the mists of time and we don’t even recall what happened in the first place.

4. Act out of awareness.

Before taking any step that jeopardizes our relationship with others, we can ask ourselves the following questions:

Is what I am fighting for worth losing my friend/lover/colleague/family?

 Would this opinion/belief/possession matter to me in five or ten years?

Does this castle I am building represent who I am? Am I not more valuable than a mere thought or material?

What would I do if I had one day or two days to live? Would I have the same reaction I am having today?

The moral of the Buddha’s parable is of tremendous benefit.

Our modern life consists of situations and events that are akin the story of the sandcastle. We are prone to increase our bad karmic actions at any moment during the day. Hence, if we consider applying the lesson of this parable, we would lessen our sufferings and create good karma.

Furthermore, we will learn how to demolish the duality that we have created throughout our lifetime. We will perceive everything and everyone as one, instead of calling this or that “mine” and “yours.”

When considering the teachings of the Buddha, will realize that it doesn’t matter how big or small the castle we are building is, what matters is who we become when we witness its annihilation.

Source: Teachings of the Buddha.



3 Thought Provoking Zen Stories that Teach us About Life.


Author: Elyane Youssef

Editor: Ashleigh Hitchcock

Image: flickr/Amanda B

Leave a Thoughtful Comment

Read 0 comments and reply

Top Contributors Latest

Elyane Youssef  |  Contribution: 811,865