Learn to Care Differently

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The Buddha

It is not uncommon to hear the objection that Buddhists just do not care about anything. That is an easy mistake to make on hearing about nonattachment, a key principle of Buddhism. To care is to be attached.

There is the story of Marpa, the Tibetan master who taught Milarepa, one of the most important figures in Tibetan Buddhism, seeing his son die. Marpa wept bitterly. A student asked him why he wept when he taught that death is an illusion.

Marpa replied that death is an illusion, and the Buddha taught that everything that arises passes away, but illusions can still be painful. The implication of what the Buddha taught is not that his followers should have no feelings, but that we should be as honest and connected to our feelings as possible. We should also allow them to arise and pass away.

As the old saying goes, pain is inevitable, suffering is optional. We see people in the United States today asking permission and seeking approval for what they feel or trying to discipline how other people mourn. As long as anyone is doing themselves or anyone else no harm, they should be free to mourn as they like.

Nonattachment comes in with not becoming attached to mourning. Some people make mourning part of their identities, when they should continue to work on not self and make nothing part of their identities, which are mostly neuroses anyway. Hold your feelings lightly and your identity even more lightly. Feel what you feel, but don’t get attached to those feelings. They are only mind states that will arise and pass away if you let them.

Suffering comes from attachment to feelings and spinning out elaborate stories to knit feelings into our existing tales about who we are. Own your feelings, but give them away at the first opportunity.

As always, the key is meditation. Not self and nonattachment will arise by themselves once you have a consistent meditation practice underway.

So keep meditating.

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Written by

Uppity gay, Buddhist, author, historian.

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