The origin of suffering.
Posted: 23 August 2007 11:23 PM   [ Ignore ]
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In Buddhism, one of the Four noble truth states that “The origin of suffering is attachment.” I find this strikingly accurate. Is there any evidence to refute this? What are your thoughts on this?

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Posted: 23 August 2007 11:42 PM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 1 ]
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Do Buddhists advocate eliminating attachment in order to end suffering?

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Posted: 24 August 2007 12:15 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 2 ]
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Well, I won’t claim to be a Buddhist scholar, but as I understand it attachment, and its converse aversion, describe relationships with things, people, ideas, etc that make us have a vested interest in preserving or clinging to things or in avoiding things. And the idea is that these feelings can create suffering. On a simple level, if I have an attachment to my morning cup of coffee, I will feel disappointement, anger, whatever if I miss it one morning. The suffering is not caused by the absence of the coffee, but by my attachment to it and my reaction to its absence. Likewise, if I am trying to read and someone keeps talking to me, my aversion to their conversation and my attachment to my book are the real cause of my suffering. If I didn’t feel I would be happier reading than talking to the person, than I wouldn’t. On a bigger scale, the same logic can apply to attachment to our family or our lives and aversion to more significant kinds of pain like illness or lonliness.

So yes, one aspect of the Buddhist approach to happiness is reducing attachment and aversion. Seeing things and people and feelings and acknowledging them, accepting them, but neither trying to cling to them or push them away. The core of the approach is the Noble Eightfold Path, which is much more detailed, and of course there are probably thousands of details and nuances missing.

All-in-all, an interesting idea. I’ve found it somewhat helpful to think about my own attitudes as the cause of my unhappiness, in terms of reducing my pointless suffering over minor things. I can’t say, though, that I’m any less attached to being alive or to the welfare of my family than I was before I discovered the idea, and I’m not sure the approach is without flaws or problems. Still, I think there’s a lot of value in it. If you’re looking for more to read, my fav orite Buddhist author is Thich Nhat Hanh, a Vietnamese monk who writes short little books of what you might call applied Buddhist psychology. Not scholarly stuff, by any means, but enjoyable.

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Posted: 24 August 2007 12:30 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 3 ]
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Thank you for the suggestion Brennen.  Buddhist psychology does sound more appealing to me.  As for attachment & suffering, how would Buddhists explain eliminating attachment to other people so as not to feel their suffering?  Would they support this approach?

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Posted: 24 August 2007 08:16 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 4 ]
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retrospy - 24 August 2007 12:30 AM

Thank you for the suggestion Brennen.  Buddhist psychology does sound more appealing to me.  As for attachment & suffering, how would Buddhists explain eliminating attachment to other people so as not to feel their suffering?  Would they support this approach?

The answer to this question depends on the school of Buddhism to which one belongs. Early Buddhist views, and as I understand it the more recent Theravada schools, believe that so-called enlightenment is achieved by you alone. While it is meritorious (= brings you good karma) to help other people along the path, eventually you do need to renounce attachment to everything, including other people. But be aware, “attachment” is a negative state. One can have positive feelings towards things that are non-attached, on Buddhist psychology. You simply consider them separate from yourself; they aren’t part of your ego. (They can’t be, since there is no ego in Buddhist metaphysics, only a succession of fleeting mental states. Deep awareness of this fact is one thing that brings enlightenment). So you can have positive, non-attached feelings towards other people and become enlightened.

Mahayana Buddhists, on the other hand, believe that one should basically not become enlightened until all sentient beings are enlightened. That is why they push the idea of the “bodhisattva” who basically gets to a pre-enlightened state and remains in the world of suffering to help others. Mahayanist bodhisattvas are something like saints: ethically pure individuals who persist after death to help others. (They may persist as spirits or as reincarnated people).

Anyway that’s a thumbnail sketch.

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Posted: 07 September 2007 10:42 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 5 ]
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morgantj - 23 August 2007 11:23 PM

In Buddhism, one of the Four noble truth states that “The origin of suffering is attachment.” I find this strikingly accurate. Is there any evidence to refute this? What are your thoughts on this?

It’s not much a question of scientific evidence, but of personal refelction I think.

I find that one cannot say “the cause of suffering is A”. It is too simplistic. We have physical causes, and psychological ones.

With physical - you have pain, and you have hunger. They do not come from attachment at all, and their physical causes are different.

If you are verbally abused, that’s a cause for mental suffering. If you love someone that doesn’t love you back, that is a cause for mental suffering. If you are depressed, that is a cause for mental suffering. They don’t come all from attachment (whatever it means), and their causes are different.


Buddhist are fond of explaining that buddha said that   dukkha is the cause of suffering. He spoke in pali, and lived 2500 years ago. I doubt that in our language, and in our culture is a good translation for “dukkha”, whatever it meant.


Though I am still unhesitant why is it that if a certain teacher says that he is a very nice guy because of meditation (the Dalai Lama does not really say it, but he implies it ) , and he meditates, it doesn’t prove that meditation works.

[ Edited: 07 September 2007 10:56 AM by wandering ]
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Posted: 14 September 2007 12:43 PM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 6 ]
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wandering - 07 September 2007 10:42 AM

With physical - you have pain, and you have hunger. They do not come from attachment at all, and their physical causes are different.

In the samples you’ve provided I see these as being forms of attachment. We all seem to have this attachment to “self”. An attachment to self preservation, self satisfaction, self comfort. etc…

wandering - 07 September 2007 10:42 AM

If you are verbally abused, that’s a cause for mental suffering.

In this case you are attached to an idea that you should be treated differently then you are currently being treated. Therefore you suffer.

wandering - 07 September 2007 10:42 AM

If you love someone that doesn’t love you back, that is a cause for mental suffering.

If you love someone, them not loving you back does not necessarily cause suffering. You can love someone without expecting anything in return. This attachment to expecting to be loved in return causes the suffering as you are attached to this idea that did not meet your expectations.

[ Edited: 14 September 2007 12:46 PM by morgantj ]
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Posted: 14 September 2007 01:46 PM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 7 ]
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Morgantj,
Yes, I think you have the style of the argument exactly. Renunciation of attachment means letting go of the idea of a self that can have its needs met or denied and that can be hurt. The major problem I have with Buddhism is that we feel we have a slef, and the method seems to require many years of intense practice in isolation from the world to eliminate this intuitive understanding of ourselves. So I’m not sure it is a practical way to eliminate suffering if we wish to participate in the world. SO I follow the method up to a point, because I still think it has great potential, but I think there are ways in which the notion of a self is useflu, even if it is an illussion, and I think it is so unlikely that people will be able or willing to dispense with it en masse, so I think we need to find a way to take the valuable stuff from the buddhist approach without necessarily following the path to the end. Of course, “true” buddhists would call this just another way of staying attached to samsarra and destined to fail, but then allr eligions seem to require complete acceptance of their dogma as a unit in order to achieve their promised rewards. It’s in the nature of religion, I think.

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