Without Attachment

Prayer wheels at Mahabodhi Temple, Bodh Gaya, India

Zen is a practice of 100% doing. It is about responding to each situation spontaneously, appropriately, and without attachment. This seems, like many teachings in this non-intellectual practice, paradoxical; how can I possibly do anything 100% unless I’m completely attached to it? Paradox, as any zen practitioner knows, doesn’t exist in nature. It exists only in our minds, specifically in our mind’s inability to conceive of reality, which is, by definition, inconceivable. We tend to think things ought to be different than they are in order to fit into our existing mental constructs. Or at least I do.

For me, the paradox of acting completely yet without attachment stems from a fundamental misunderstanding of the concept of non-attachment. This idea has eluded me more than any other tenet of Buddhism with the exception of “no self,” which is, interestingly, basically the same idea.

It goes like this: I’ve always thought that this business of “non-attachment” sounds like indifference. It sounds like not caring. In reality, it’s about caring so much, so completely, so 100% about others that there’s no room for “I.” Ego is removed from the situation. Without the delusion of a separate self, there can be no attachment. Only doing for others.

Non-attachment, then, is the practice of no-self. If I sit around and think about these ideas of non-attachment and no-self, I’m not going to get very far… When I act selflessly and completely, however, they’re no longer ideas. They’re simply reality as it is.

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