View Full Version : How suffering can be caused by attachments.

18 May 16, 01:06
Unimportant details have been changed as I am somewhat constrained by the confidentiality requirements of my employment. I work in age care and provide care for sick and frail elderly people whose care needs cannot be met in their own homes. Some of the people I work with I have known for more than 5 years so I know a lot about them, their history and their families. Needless to say what I have seen and heard inform and influence my beliefs.

The question is often raised in the case of people who go out and achieve material success and apparent happiness.

One of the people that I provided care for was an elderly man whose passion in life was the accumulation of wealth. He was reasonably successful owning a number of shopping centres, a residential property portfolio, many shares and very substantial deposits in a number of banks. Clearly in the top 1% of wealth holders!

One of the other residents (an old lady who had been married to a tradesman for 73 years) asked me why this man was always calling out in total anguish when he was so wealthy. Unfortunately I could not answer the question to her and I doubt that she would have understood (because she was such a kind and generous person).

When the old man came in he had already had both lost the use of both legs starting to suffer from a number of other medical conditions. Because he was so attached to his money he refused to pay for care, doctors of medications. As a result of which the family sought and were given guardianship over his affairs. Whenever family members came in they were abused and accused of stealing his money. Needless to say less and less visits happened; family would come and ask us what he needed and met any and every request (but they would not go to see him). He would call out and say that he was a rich man and he could not be treated this way. He would try and climb out of his day bed to “walk” to the bank because he wanted to know how much of “his” money had been stolen. I guess we used to pick him up off the floor about 20 times a day. Medication could not control his “pain”; it is the worst death I have seen.

In contrast the “poor” old lady that had asked about him was visited daily by family with homemade cakes and taken out on trips at least 3 times a week. Everyone loved her (I wish she had been my grandmother) and she care for everyone. The last intentional action of her life was to ask me to give her last slice of cake to the lady down the corridor (she knew this lady was deliberately starving herself to death but could not resist the cake. The cake donor had a massive stoke within minutes and died after having visits from more than 100 family and friends.

In the 7 years in the work place I have seen people grieve about every possible relationship, possession and attribute they had, or believed they had. Regardless of the subject of the grief in every case the suffering from the grief was more intense than the pleasure they had enjoyed. In life suffering comes from what we grasp at - getting what attracts us, escaping what is our aversion or suffering from the identification with a self. What we often forget is that happiness is impermanent so even where we have had happiness from what attracts us it is not ours – and we normally pay the price in grief when we lose it. We do not own happiness – we rent it.


18 May 16, 05:39
Thank you for sharing your experiences at work with us, Dagon. Its very sad that the old man was so unhappy at the end of his life.

When I notice how I cling and get attached to different things myself, I often find inspiration in the wise words of Ajahn Chah:

What the Buddha saw was that you must abandon both the past and the future. When we say abandon it doesn't mean you literally get rid of them. Abandoning means the focus of your mindfulness and insight is right here at this one point - the present moment. The past and the future link together right here. The present is both the result of the past and the cause of what lies ahead in the future. So you must completely abandon both cause and result, and simply abide with the present moment.

We say abandon them, but these are just words used to describe the way of training the mind. Even though you let go of your attachment and abandon the past and future, the natural process of cause and effect remains in place. In fact, you could call this the halfway point; it's already part of the process of cause and result. The Buddha taught to watch the present moment where you will see a continuous process of arising and passing away, followed by more arising and passing away.

Whatever arises in the present moment is impermanent. I say this often, but most people don't pay much attention. They're reluctant to make use of this simple little teaching. All that is subject to arising is impermanent. It's uncertain. This really is the easiest, least complicated way to reflect on the truth. If you don't meditate on this teaching, when things actually do start to show themselves as uncertain and changeable you don't know how to respond wisely and tend to get agitated and stirred up.

Investigation of this very impermanence brings you insight and understanding of that which is permanent. By contemplating that which is uncertain, you see that which is certain. This is the way you have to explain it to make people understand the truth - but they tend not to understand and spend the whole time lost, rushing here and there. Really, if you want to experience true peace, you must bring the mind to that point where it is fully mindful in the present moment. Whatever happiness or suffering arises there, teach yourself that it's transient.

The part of the mind that recollects that happiness and suffering are impermanent is the wisdom of the Buddha within each of you. The one who recognizes the uncertainty of phenomena is the Dhamma within you.

That which is the Dhamma is the Buddha, but most people don't realise this. They see the Dhamma as something external, out there somewhere, and the Buddha as something else over here. If the mind's eye sees all conditioned things as uncertain, then all of your problems that arise out of attaching and giving undue importance to things will disappear. Whatever way you look at it, this intrinsic truth is the only thing that is really certain.

When you see this, rather than clinging and attaching, the mind lets go. The cause of the problem, the attachment, disappears, resulting in the mind penetrating the truth and merging with the Dhamma.



I was wondering about everyone else, how do you recognise and deal with your clinging to different things in your life ?


18 May 16, 13:51
This has been on my mind for a few months. As mentioned before, I lost my son in January. Painful to say the least. However because I had my faith, I was able to "blunt" a lot of it. I am not sure blunt is the right word for what I mean. Anyway understanding about attachments and their relation to suffering, I was able to look past his death. I was able to look past it as Ajahn Chah mentioned above.

Thank you.


Sea Turtle
19 May 16, 17:49
Thank you for posting this, Dagon. It was very moving to read and contemplate.

Coincidentally, I was lying awake last night thinking on this topic. I have a new baby grand-niece, with whom I have felt a special connection even while she was in the womb. Last night I was thinking about the fragility of life.....about anything could happen and she could be gone. It shone a bright light on my level of attachment. As a habit, I try to regularly reflect on my attachments, but the attachment to this child snuck up on me, so to speak.

Thanks again for the poignant examples you shared from your work life. It was chilling to read about the old man attached to his wealth to that degree, and the stark contrast in the death experience between he and the generous and loving old lady who selflessly gave away her last slice of cake. Sending metta to them both.


25 Jun 16, 23:37
I've never been what you might call a wealthy man, but I did go through a period in my early twenties where both myself and my wife had quite well paid jobs, a mortgage yearly holidays and a little left for savings, then the recession hit and we lost it all, it was a dark time, a difficult time but what I realised was with everything we owned I was never really happy, it was only when we had nothing left that I saw we already had everything we needed in each other somthing that we had prehaps missed surrounded by all our delistractions, we never looked back

There is a Lin in the film fight club - the things you own end up owning you.

This I truly believe is the case.