September 9, 2016

From Attachment to Detachment: A Buddhist Solution.

Zak Cannon/ Flickr

“Everything has to do with your own attitude, your own thinking, your motivation. Therefore, one can stop all problems right now and achieve peace and happiness.” ~ Lama Yeshe


I’ve been taught that in Buddhism the source of all problems comes from attachment.

Frankly, it was a difficult concept to grasp at first, let alone to admit that this was a reality for me.

In the study of Buddhism, teachers always ask students to relate to the teachings and reflect on them within the context of their own lives. Rather than having blind faith, we must contemplate the teachings and reflect on them based on our own experiences.

When I did, I was startled to find out that indeed, attachment is the cause of all my problems—and everyone else’s.

In the past, I was under the impression that we can only be attached to people. Surprisingly, it turned out that we are attached to almost everything. Anger, jealousy, sadness, greed, selfishness and arrogance are the results of attachment.

We become angry because we are so attached to being right and being perfect.

We become angry at others because we are so attached to the expectation we have of them and we lose our temper when they fail to meet it.

We are jealous because we are attached to other people. We live in constant fear of losing them and so we claim them as “ours” through “ownership” of their being.

Attachment to ideas, opinions and beliefs causes us agony. We’re sad when something goes awry and we become miserable if life didn’t deliver our expectations.

We’re greedy because we are intimately attached to the material world. We are attached to having more, as we believe that the more we have, the happier we will be.

Attachment to the “I” gives birth to selfishness. When we only work for our own happiness and gratification, we are mainly attached to ourselves.

Arrogance comes from the assumption that we are better than others. Because we are attached to this false interpretation, we treat others as if they are less important.

It is palpable that the only solution we have is to detach so we can enjoy a life devoid of disappointments and failures.

But the question remains, how?

All religions warn us about the shortcomings of attachment. We write about its consequences and preach about letting go.

As far as I’m concerned, I have found the solution through Buddhist philosophy that fundamentally tackles the psychology of the mind—which is the main cause of attachment.


1. Understanding how attachment works.

In order to solve any problem in the world, it’s of utmost importance to understand its roots.

To start off, we should take into account that attachment is mental. It has nothing to do with what’s physical, or outer. To be more specific, it comes from the ego that always craves things.

When our mind sees an object, our ego makes a projection that’s either good or bad. If it’s bad, it causes aggression. If it’s good, it causes desire. When desire arises, attachment arises and our ego labels the person or the object as “mine.”

Understanding how the evolution of attachment works, we can cultivate awareness. Whenever I sense my ego kicking in to identify objects as good or bad, I try to see myself one with everyone and everything else so I can refrain from labeling. When I do, I lessen the chances from being attached to what I could have called “good” or “desirable.”

2. Realizing attachment is your problem.

We are accustomed to blaming people and outer factors for our own misery. Seldom do we look inward to calm down and inspect what’s causing the agonies in our life.

If we wish to eradicate attachment, we must recognize where it’s coming from and the truth is, it’s coming from us. Attachment is the ego’s victim.

Lama Yeshe gives a powerful example on getting hurt when someone calls us greedy. We usually blame the other person for how we feel. But, getting hurt is coming from our own attachment to being perfect. Instead of accepting their point of view, we angrily reject what they say.

Realizing that I am the cause of my problems has saved me a lot of trouble. Also, I’m no longer expecting others to solve what has gone wrong. I know and am aware, that I’m the only one who can solve it through my attitude. Now, I create space whenever there is a problem or a conflict. I refrain from reacting when my ego is too involved.

3. Practicing compassion overcomes attachment.

When we get attached to people and objects, we automatically separate ourselves from them. When we act out of the “I” instead of the “we”, it is natural to suppress all source of compassion.

However, when we perceive others and us as equal, we will cultivate compassion and only through it are we truly capable of releasing attachment.

As long as we are attached, we will solely think of what “we” want. But, seeing others as equal, we would wish the same intensity of happiness to everyone and take into account what “they” want as well.

It took me a long time to ascertain that everyone is seeking happiness—not just me. Whenever I act out of attachment, I can see how I make the object of attachment miserable. To put it differently, when I act out of compassion, not only do I lessen my suffering, but mostly the other person’s as well.

I reckon we’re ready to eradicate attachment when we only have enough from its consequences. It is not a matter of time or choice. It is a matter of inner readiness. When we are ready to experience abundant inner peace, we will instantly work on eliminating every source of suffering and the most destructive one is attachment.


Source: Ego, Attachment and Liberation, Lama Yeshe.


Author: Elyane Youssef

Image: Zak Cannon/Flickr

Editor: Caitlin Oriel

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automaton0521 Aug 4, 2019 10:07pm

This isn’t exactly true. I mean attachment is what allow us to do things in this world. If most of the people in the world didn’t care about the outcome of events and such then you wouldn’t be able to type on this website and civil rights would remain a dream. Medicine would likely not have advanced this far without attachment.

Attachment is not the root of suffering. From what I know in life it’s more complicated than that. Attachment is a source of joy and happiness as well, as people will tell you that the more invested they become in a hobby or career the more pleasurable it is. Any artist or musician can tell you that, along with fighting gamers.

It seems to me like your evidence for this is more hypothetical and anecdotal rather than what is based on research. The data shows that non attachment doesn’t lead to happiness, rather it’s more like a middle area. The lows and highs of life are less extreme, but it doesn’t lead to happiness.

There is also the irony of being attached to non attachment, if you weren’t then you wouldn’t practice cultivating it. Also being attached to ideas and opinions are how society got it’s morals and rules in place.

The world wouldn’t be a better place without attachment, rather it would not be possible without it. Because in a world where neither outcome has any weight, a lot of things would run by the wayside and disaster would follow. Not every philosophy can be applied at large to all people. I know you mention that detachment isn’t indifference, but it is. Your evidence in trying to prove otherwise just reinforces the opposite.

In short, your life and this world we live in can only be possible with attachment. I don’t know if Buddha knew that.

But to call attachment the root of suffering is reductive. It’s the root of joy and happiness as well. Like everything in life, it’s more complicated than we first believe.

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Elyane Youssef

Elyane S. Youssef is an extraterrestrial who was given birth by Earthlings. While living on planet Earth, she fell in love with art, books, nature, writing, photography, traveling, and…pizza. Elyane finds her joy in backpacking and bonding with locals. To see the faces she interacts with on her travels, you can follow Face of the World on Instagram. Besides getting on and off planes, she is in a serious relationship with words and hopes to inspire as many people as possible through them. Once her mission is accomplished on Earth, she will return to her planet to rejoin her extraterrestrial brothers and sisters. In case you’re wondering, yes, she is still willingly obsessed with Frida Kahlo. You can connect with her on Facebook, Twitter, or Instagram. You can also check out her macrame art on Instagram.