The reason I chose this sutra this morning - beside the fact of it being one of my absolute favorites - is that I got a great lesson in non-attachment this past week. On Wednesday night as I was sleeping my house broken into and, along with several pieces of small electronics, the intruders stole my car and scooter. I experienced several excellent Zen lessons from this event.
First I experienced the lesson of Bernie Glassman sensei in “The Dude and the Zen Master” that one who practices should become like a rocking doll full of sand - still able to be knocked off center by events but grounded enough to come back quickly to that grounded center. My first reaction was shock mixed with disappointment - I was supposed to take that car down to our home temple in South Carolina for a retreat this weekend. But I quickly realized that only things had been stolen. Neither my dogs nor I had been harmed. By the time the police came I was joking with them - which admittedly made them a little suspicious about the break-in itself, lol. I never experienced the sense of violation that I did the last time my house was broken into; because in my center I knew I had not been violated. Only the house I live in had been violated and only some things stolen.
Next I experienced the lesson of this sutra - that it is when we cling to possessions as “mine” we are setting ourselves up for suffering and disappointment rather than contentment and happiness. I love riding my scooter around town, plus it saves me a fortune in gas; but it’s not necessary to my happiness. I thoroughly enjoy my car - an SUV that allows me plenty of room for anything I need to haul around, either for myself or others; but if they never recover it I’m not going to mourn, I’ll simply get another one.
I think this sutra also points to Glassman sensei’s point as well when it says that the wise person is neither ruled by passions nor unaffected by them. I was certainly angry, hurt and shocked when I first discovered the break-in; but I did not let those passions rule me. By experiencing them and letting them go I was able to get on with the administrivia that goes along with a robbery without being paralyzed by emotions. I had already cancelled most of my credit cards and was having new ones sent by the time the police arrived. I contacted Eubanks sensei and DeDe to let them know that we would not be attending the retreat. I arranged with a friend to borrow his car while he is out of town this weekend.
You have all heard me teach on several discourses from the Atthakavagga and you know that I normally expound two major themes from them. The first is non-clinging to any philosophy as “true” and the second is non-attachment to things and possessions. While these two may seem totally unrelated they are actually grounded in the same teaching - understanding having without greed. We are not told to abstain from following a philosophy if it works for us, but only to abstain from clinging to it as “True” in any ultimate sense. We are not told to abstain from having things or from experiencing sense pleasures (and by implication sense pains as well), but only to abstain from clinging to them as “mine”.
This is the difference between detachment - which is the way Buddhist teaching is often phrased - and non-attachment - which is a better way of putting what the Buddha was actually getting at. Brad Warner pointed out that the passage often quoted after the Orlando massacre “Hate will not be conquered by hate. Only by Love will Hate be conquered” is not faithful to the meaning of the Buddha as the actual word used in the sutras was not Love but rather “non-hate”. In the same way I tell you that when you hear that Buddhists should be detached you should automatically replace that word with “non-attached”.
Yet these are just words and concepts. Alan Watts said, “When you get caught up in the words and ideas of Zen you - as the old masters said - stink of Zen. Zen is not words and ideas but experience and action, or the lack of them.
We should not be detached. We should be committed, involved, loving and generous. We should not be passionless, but only are guard against letting our passions rule us rather than being ruled by us. We should not be emotionless, but we should have a firm grounding in our practice that allows us to return to center after experiencing strong emotion. We are not robots but human beings. The Buddha does not call us to be anything other than human beings, nor was he other than a human being. The lotus is not only not mired by mud, but it rises above the mud and water and brings beauty to the world. Let your commitment, your passions and your centeredness show the world a beautiful flower rising above the muck of attachment, clinging and mineness.