Rengetsu tells us that “We accept the graceful falling of mountain cherry blossoms, but it is much harder for us to fall away from our own attachment to the world.”
“Our own attachment to the world.” What does this mean? To be attached means to be connected to or to be joined with the world. This in and of itself is not a bad thing. We live in this world so it’s good to understand the whole concept of interconnection. Like the idea that when a butterfly in Texas flaps its wings, a typhoon occurs in Japan. We are intimately connected with each other and with every living thing on this planet. The things we do create ripples, whether we can see them or not. Every action has consequences.
So the art of letting go begins with learning how to recognize that we will never be able to see all of those consequences, nor even imagine what they are before we cause the ripple. The ocean does not bother itself with seeing where every wave breaks…it only makes more waves. It is not attached to the wave; it does not consider itself to be the ocean just because there are waves. It exists, as it is, whether there are waves or not.
So we should also exist, as we are, without taking our sense of self from the attachments we have. The greatest problem of attachment lies in mistaking that attachment for the thing to which it connects us. It begins when we give the attachment greater importance than we give the object of attachment…when we shift our focus from being joined with whatever to being here with our attachment…and our self. I would suggest that ultimately, this love of attachment is an egocentric point of view with everything else filtered through the lens of “ME, it’s all about me and MY attachments!” And as a side note, it is just as egocentric to think that no one loves you as to think that everyone loves you. Do not mistake low self-esteem for a lack of ego. A person is considered egotistical when they think everyone is talking about THEM, regardless of what’s being said. It’s all about where my focus is—directed inside of me or directed out to the rest of the world.
There is a huge difference between an awareness of interconnection and a love of attachment. I have talked about awakening to the sacred and one of the things we discussed was the Buddhist “Ten Fetters” that prevent this awakening. The very first one is the notion of a permanent individual personality, soul or self. The key word there is “permanent”—you know, eternal, always existing. There is no empirical proof that we exist in any other form except this one, no surety of life beyond death which is inevitable for us all. Yet we live and act as if we will be here when all else has faded to dust.
Regardless of whether there is an afterlife or not, most humans go about their day-to-day business as if they had all of eternity to do so. As there is the change between a school child and a business man, between the business man and a silver-haired grandfather, is it any less plausible to consider as profound a change between the physical human being and the resultant spiritual being? And that this change will not carry the same sense of self any more than a business man concerns himself with “who he was” as a child? We simply have no way of knowing if the “who we are” of this moment exists anywhere else except this moment.
I know that I have had strong and marked changes in my own sense of self, not once but several times over the almost 49 years I have been on this planet. I am who I am today; I may not be the same person tomorrow. Time passes, events occur, people change. Even the soul, that nebulous indefinable part of us, what some say makes us human…even that is not necessarily the ME of ME. I have looked at the notion of a permanent individual personality, soul or self and am willing to let go of it. Because I strive to follow the Zen form of Buddhism, my focus is on the here and now, this one flickering flash of time we are in.
I offer the thought that if you only look at the present, it becomes very easy to let go, because there is nothing but this one moment. No attachment can be made to a series of equally important moments. But time or the flow of time is the least of our attachments.
Charles Dickens wrote these words for Jacob Marley’s ghost: `I wear the chain I forged in life,’ (…) `I made it link by link, and yard by yard; I girded it on of my own free will, and of my own free will I wore it. Is its pattern strange to you?’
We also are forging our chains every day of our lives, we also gird it on by free will and wear it as inevitable. I am telling you, we can break these chains if we rid ourselves of the “attachment to”, if we can loosen our focus from the pathway bricks and instead look to the place where the path wanders.
What are we attached to?
Power, in its many forms: status, wealth, fame or position, or perhaps the power of subjugating others for our own pleasurable feelings of superiority—as in, anyone who can only feel happy with themselves when others look bad.
Possessions: the best house, a specific type of car, buying whatever we want because we can, or the weight of inherited “things” that we keep because of the familial attachments they represent. It can even be just the normal concerns of a usual household except that the focus has shifted from it being a home to having to “keep house”—any time possessions and their upkeep takes precedence over human interaction.
Religious or cultural traditions and customs: the blind adherence to ritual or social behavior without a thought for the meaning of it, done because “that’s the way it’s always been done”, a sense of belonging by doing as the Romans when in Rome, and the fear of Mrs. Grundy, our nosy neighborhood gossip.
What else are we attached to? How about some not so obvious attachments like–
People: being a wife or husband for any reason but the true desire to be with this person; trying to relive your life “better” through another’s life; idolizing someone unattainable as the “answer” to your life’s problems. Remember, it’s not the connection itself that is the problem. It’s about making the connection the focal point instead of the person. It’s about choosing this attachment as a onetime decision to be carried forever, instead of making it anew and as if for the first time, each day.
We are also attached to our patterns of thought or behavior: our various prejudices (and not all of them racially motivated), our learned ways of thinking that have very little to do with true interconnection or just sheer ignorance—and a lack of desire to know otherwise. This also includes self-destructive habits, anything from drug use through excessive TV time and covers all thought or behavior that prevents your being truly connected with the web of life or limits your ability to recognize your sense of the sacred.
And how about words, labels or names? Labels help us communicate with each other and indeed, we could not even have this discussion without words and names…yet to insist on giving names to things that are beyond a mere single word can prevent the very awakening to the sacred that we strive for. Even something as simple as my spiritual path requires a great deal of talk to convey its depth to you. If I could just make one gesture, one motion that would convey all those words as well as all that I cannot tell you in words…how much richer our communion—communication and union—would be!
So here we are, ready to just let go of everything. We’re going to work at that letting go better than anyone has ever let go in history! One, two three, let go!
Ah, and therein lies the rub…letting go is about letting go even of the letting go. As explained by Alan Watts, “It is complete letting go. Not only is it beyond theology; it is beyond atheism and nihilism. Such letting go cannot be attained. It cannot be acquired or developed through perseverance and exercises, except insofar as such efforts prove the impossibility of acquiring it. Letting go comes only through desperation. When you know that it is beyond you—beyond your powers of relaxation. When you give up every last trick and device for getting it, including this “giving up” as something that one might do, say, at ten o’clock tonight. That you cannot by any means do it—that is it! That is the mighty self-abandonment which gives birth to the stars.”
It is that moment when you accept the event, live the experience, honor it for the lessons it brings or the gifts you find in it…and then let go of it, to have the next event, the next experience in its own turn, one priceless moment after another, for a lifetime. You remember the lesson, you cherish the gift, but you do not use them as a lens against the next moment, do not let them color the newness that comes at us with the speed of light. A newborn babe, always…unbiased, unprejudiced, unknowingly knowing, the NO THING mind, open to all that will pass through you and around you and over you and under you, like the rock on the shore. You will change, as the rock is worn by the water; you will learn the mysteries of the universe and keep the innocent outlook of the child…and you shall gain the wisdom of the Buddha and find peace within your soul—and give birth to the stars.
As I let go of even this moment, I offer this challenge: in your life, in your heart, identify an attachment that you know is not life-affirming, that interferes with the sacred and allow yourself the peace of letting it go. Maybe not all at once, maybe not always, but to keep the option of choosing to let it go alive and well every moment, to eternally have at least the possibility of letting it go. Break the chains we forge and go about the business of living, for paraphrasing what Marley told Scrooge, “Mankind (is) my business. The common welfare (is) my business; charity, mercy, forbearance, and benevolence, (are), all, my business. The dealings of my trade (are) but a drop of water in the comprehensive ocean of my business!’
Let go in peace. Namaste.