Attachment is the most important topic in Buddhism.  Why? Because it is difficult to understand the different approaches to it that are contradictory. Buddha said that this world was named the Desirous, not because it is so desirable, but because we have so much desire and attachment. In the tantric path desire is turned into a deity; in the sunyata path into a demon. But desire is natural. It feeds us, it clothes us; it leads us to pretty much all our actions. We get up in the morning because of it, and we go to sleep at night because of it. In the end, we do our practice because of it. It is what brings us all our pleasure. Indeed, these words: desire, pleasure, attachment are all bound up together, and we may need to make some sense of them in order to understand how they fit. More importantly to decide how to fit them into our practice, the very approach to life we take.

Because of the contradictory nature of the different approaches to attachment present in the Buddhist paths it is impossible to practise these separate approaches together. Thus, we have the abandoning of desire on one hand and the cultivation of desire on the other.

Abandoning desire comes from the path of renunciation or sunyata. Attachment is seen as pain, as it is impossible to maintain the pleasure of desire constantly. Therefore abandon it. The monk abandons everything in order to conquer desire, the root of all evils. The yogi abandons desire for certain things in order to find subtle pleasure or bliss.

So what is the difference between abandoning and cultivating? If we abandon, we are saying that pleasure is not the right way to spiritual paths; and if we cultivate, we are saying it is. These are opposing standpoints. Choose your path, but know why you are doing it. If I choose the path of abandoning, I am choosing all that goes with it: the end to the seeking of pleasure that is so natural to animals, humans, and gods. I choose the monks robes, celibacy, control of appetites, and guarded behaviour. If I choose the yogi’s path, it appears that I am giving up even more – I barely eat, I pay no attention to my clothing, appearance, or personal hygiene, but I seek inner bliss. Why do I seek inner bliss? Because it is more desirable than outer, or gross bliss. I give up outer gross bliss and find through yogic paths inner bliss. So, in the end I have accomplished the same, or more, than the outer monk, but inwardly I am more addicted. The difference here is that the inner yogic bliss is not harmful, or not harmful to a spiritual life. It is harmful to an ordinary existence, because the cost of finding that inner realization is the outer life of conformity, and the taking up of the yogic lifestyle with all its abandonment of social life, goals and norms in order to feed the inner fire of yogic pursuit.

How does yogic bliss work? It releases a natural part of the body that produces bliss. This bliss can only be released by yogic or meditative methods. Thus the pursuit of inner yogic methods naturally releases this bliss, and this bliss is a higher, natural virtue. Thus, a yogi abiding in the bliss is abiding in higher natural virtue. The inner subtle bliss can only be released by completion stage, mahamudras, and inner subtle generation stages. Outer gross practices of generation stage lead to inner bliss by cultivating an attitude that the normal sources of pleasure, such as eating etc., are actually gross outer bliss. They are naturally pure, and give rise to tantric bliss which is a gross, outer, naturally pure virtue. Thus through the practice of subsequent attainment, through gross generation stage, and actual accomplishment, through inner subtle generation stage, or completion stages, etc. the yogi attains the various levels of higher natural (or tantric) virtue. This virtue by definition is higher than that accomplished through the abiding in the natural virtue of sutra meditation and practice.

The important point to consider is what happens to us when we fall in love. Falling in love is seen as the highest form of human activity by most people. Yes, its pitfalls are known: the pains of attachment to that which you can’t have, or that returns love with hate. But what of the bliss of love? Are you going to give that up because there will be pain involved? So, the tantric path (and the Bodhisattva path) both explore the idea of cultivating love (and its bliss) in a pure form.

What then of the practice of abandoning? This occurs in the pre-Buddhist practices of India known as austerities. Why would you abandon pleasure? Because, it is unable to fulfil your desire for natural bliss. Pleasure is a corrupt form of bliss. Contaminated with inconsistency. Unable to fulfil your desire. Corruptible and changeable; subject to attenuation and acclimation. Addiction is ultimately doomed to failure, and the pursuit of happiness ends in an unwholesome lack of health, and the corruption of your own morals, the guardians of your natural happiness. That is why you must guard your discriminating alertness, and your morals with them.  For, not to do so will inexorably lead you into degeneration and unhappiness.

Is it possible to practice both? The early stages of practice cause you to drop your natural approach to desire. In the path of sunyata we say no to desire, and contemplate the inevitable miseries of its failure. In the beginning of the bodhisattva path we guard our moral discipline down to our thoughts and action, not wishing to harm anyone by projecting our desire onto them.

But later we acknowledge the power of love and desire. Love for another person, a partner, is so powerful that the energy must be able to be used. And it is. It is used in the tantric practise of generation and completion stage, where desire is the energy that completes and unites the power of tantric expression; and it is used in the higher reaches of the Bodhisattva Path where Love is found to be even more potent than Desire itself. This love of the heart is what finally takes a Bodhisattva to Buddhahood.

and now for something completely different…

One of the joys of helping out at Maitreya Centre was the occasional outbreak of serendipity.  It was extraordinarily serendipitous that on the very first day that the centre opened, a certain Bill Wyatt wombled in to offer his good wishes and his services. Bill Wyatt is such a modest, unassuming and humble person that it was not until much later, and circuitously, that I learnt that he is one of the finest and most respected haiku poets in the world today. And he is a Buddhist too, from the Soto Zen school, being the first Zen Buddhist monk to be ordained in the UK, way back when. That first day he was so welcoming, so full of delight that a new Buddhist centre had opened up just round the corner from where he lived, and he pitched in with a paintbrush to help us with the decorating that we had already launched into. Over the years that followed, my meetings with him, albeit brief encounters that they were, were always a source of joy, as I bathed in his warmth and wit. I shall never forget that memorable evening when he and I joined forces with other local poets to put on a poetry evening within the centre that was very warmly appreciated by all who attended. That was when the full power and beauty of Bill’s haiku hit home for me, and I can do no more than recommend that you read his haiku to find out for yourself  just what I mean. Haiku can, I think, be seen as a perfect medium for condensing the essence of dharma into as few words as possible, and the best haiku are objects for meditation in themselves. On re-reading Bill’s haiku many times, I now realise that Bill has a very deep and profound understanding of dharma. Yet Bill never once preached any dharma at me in any of his conversations with me. If  you want to know a little bit more about Bill Wyatt and his haiku, I recommend this interview with him: Bill recently sent me a small volume of his latest collection of haiku –  a great kindness in itself – so I will give  a little selection of his haiku from that collection:


A layman who lives

like a monk – that’s me goofing off

down dusty spring lanes


Dodging the raindrops

I swallow a rainbow –

first autumn shower


A cloud in trousers

that’s me – gathering seashells

on rainbow wheels