Friday, September 7, 2012

From Dharamsala India, reflections on attachment

From Dharamsala India, after a three day class given by His Holiness, the Dalai Lama

The Buddhist message seems to me to convey that human suffering arises from attachment to transient things in life as if they were permanent.  Chief among such things is the individual self.  Attachment to a certain form of self, shaped in all sorts of ways by gender, cultural, racial, social class, and familial norms guarantees a great deal of agitation, anxiety, unnecessary self scrutiny as one tries to live up to one's own standards, or judges oneself for failing to do so.

His Holiness (HH) seemed to me to return to this theme repeatedly, while the audience members listened respectfully and intently.  However, I noticed a great deal of jostling, planning and scheming to have a favored position from which to watch HH, to be close to him when group photos were taken at the end of the class, and so on.  There seemed to be a great deal of attachment to having some sort of favored position in a class on non-attachment, and a great deal of attachment to the person of HH.

Surely he must be aware of how his presence stimulates this sort of intense attachment.  I wonder what he thinks of it, or whether he would think that what I am describing reflects an attachment to the teaching rather than to his person, or whether he would conceive of it in some way I can't presently imagine.

I remember a book called "Cutting Through Spiritual Materialism" by a Buddhist scholar whose name, I believe, was Chogyam Rinpoche. He pointed out that spiritual pursuits inevitably give rise, paradoxically, to new forms of narcissism and self-attachment.  We take pride or shame in our spiritual status, or compete as to who is more spiritually advanced than whom, for example.

The wily ways of attachment and narcissism the way it eludes all efforts to diminish or extinguish it, should not surprise us.  Here is one of the lessons I have learned from contemporary psychoanalysis.  Psychoanalysis teaches us that personal growth does not elude obstacles; rather, it works with those obstacles (what analysts call "resistance", or what more relational analysts now call "enactments").  Such obstacles are reframed as opportunities to learn and grow, but never reaching an end point or resting place.  The self, narcissistic attachment, denial of death, all of these are inherent in the human condition, yet we can struggle with them and grow, as long as we don't expect to complete the struggle successfully.  The idea of the fully enlightened spiritual seeker, like the fully analyzed person, only reflects a new, more insidious, level of attachment.

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