Thursday, January 10, 2013

Love vs Attachment

In a recent class we were asked to decipher the difference between love and attachment... In the first instance both are perceived to be the same. From our own experience we know that when we love someone or something we become attached to the person or the thing.

 When our teacher asked us to think about someone we love, most of us being mothers thought of our children. What is the first thought that comes to our mind when we think of our children? It’s concern for their wellbeing. Sadly, that concern turn’s into worry and we believe that our children will be lost without us.

 According to our teacher what we perceive as love is nothing but attachment and attachment and love are complete opposite of each other. If we are attached we cannot love and if we experience and share true love we cannot be attached. This was all extremely confusing to begin with but as we delved further it became clearer that what we think is love is nothing but attachment wrapped in expectation. 

Love in its true sense is all-inclusive, it is beyond the mind and the body. It is selfless, patient and accepting. It is not dependent on the value or relationship because the notion of separateness is non-existent in love. To love another is to love the self and to love the self is to love another. Love in a true sense transcends the bodily separation and therefore love is spiritual. The difference in forms and names leads to a feeling of separation and we forget what love is. Love means freedom and acceptance of as is and what is. Love is a life enabling force and not a life limiting force. Love is all encompassing, unconditional, freeing, accepting and without expectation and without control.

 Attachment on the other hand breeds a sense of possession and makes boundaries. Intense attachment with a person or object leads to fear and pain of loss. Attachment is exclusive instead of inclusive. Attachment leads to dependence and expectation. Attachment is transitory and is dependent on the value we apportion to the object of our attachment. When the perceived value decreases our attachment also decreases. If we truly understood and practiced love, our love would not waver or change. 

Intellectually we can say we understand the difference between love and attachment but realistically the line we draw in our heads is quite fine and often we don’t know how to love without attachment. 

Thinking about my daughter, I know I love her, but I still act out of attachment to her. In my desire to ensure that she is happy and well looked after, I put expectations and boundaries on her. I tell her what to do and I hover around her ensuring she is doing her homework. I believe I am doing all this because I love her and her future depends on how I bring her up. I am fearful when I think of something happening to her. I experience emotional pain when she gets sick or is physically hurt. My so-called love feels suffocating to my daughter. If it were real love she would feel free and not entangled in my web of affection.

 As my understanding of life and spirit is expanding, I can see how my belief structure is limiting my ability to experience and share love. My actions are probably motivated out of fear and how I will be perceived as a parent. If I am to truly love her, I need to accept her just as she is and not try and change her. I need to accept that she is her own person with her own likes and dislikes and these likes and dislikes may not necessarily be the same as mine. I need to see her beyond the physical and see the sameness of spirit. I need to have faith that she is as much a child of God as she is mine. If I am concerned about her well being and safety so is God. I need to understand that although I gave birth to her I do not posses her. She came through me and not to me. I need to be a guide and a mentor and fulfill my motherly duties to the best of my capacity. I need to clearly understand the difference between love and attachment.

 In our day-to-day behavior we equate love with showing concern and being there for the other person, but however much we feel that we are doing things out of love there is an underlying expectation. The moment I say I love you a part of me wants to hear the same words being said back to me. If I do something for another a part of me expects something in return. Even the law of karma states that what goes around comes around so we are not wrong in our expectation of certain outcomes, but we then need to understand that what we claim to be love is not really love but attachment.

 When we were really made to reflect on the real understanding of love, it was shocking for me to realize that till now I had only been attached and not really loved. How many of us can truly say we have loved unconditionally? I for one have not, but as my understanding of life, love and spirit is growing so is my discernment of love and attachment.

 Starting today I will focus on my behavior towards my loved ones and see if that behavior is rooted in love or attachment? Is my behavior limiting the other or is it allowing the other to flourish? Is my behavior based on a need or desire on my part or is it coming from a place of genuine giving? If I were to truly love I would have to detach myself from the outcome and not have any expectation. I am probably not alone in my questions and my misunderstanding of love and most of us confuse one with the other.

 But it’s never too late to let go of attachment to let love in. xxxx

Wednesday, January 9, 2013

I kidnapped a Monk!

I first met Ajahn Brahm a few years ago when my friend Suree asked me if I could drive a monk to Cathay City for a talk that he was to conduct there. I had no idea who I was supposed to pick up but I agreed.  I had by then started on my quest of understanding the meaning of happiness and I thought it would be a great opportunity for me to spend some time in the company of an enlightened master.

I arrived at the designated place and was waiting in my car when I saw Suree walking towards me with a tall ‘gwaelo’ monk in tow who was beaming from ear to ear. I got out of the car and greeted the smiling monk who I learnt was born in London UK and named Peter Betts, he studied Theoretical Physics at Cambridge University and then travelled to Thailand to become a monk and train with the Venerable Ajahn Chah. He was renamed Ajahn Brahmavamso Mahathera (lovingly known to most as Ajahn Brahm).

Having got a quick briefing on his birth and academic background I proceeded to chew his brain on why he decided to become a monk. He told me with a very straight face that it was because of a broken heart. He said the love of his life walked out on him and he felt he had only two choices, either end his life or become a monk. He decided on the latter. I believed him. Not sure if it is the true story but it sure sounds more interesting than saying that it was his calling.

Ajahm Brahm, Venerable Dhammapala , Bhante, Suree and Daniel
I did my driver duty and was kindly invited by my friend to sit in for the talk. The next 90 minutes were the most amazing 90 minutes I had. Ajahn Brahm in his  inimitable style had the audience in splits. It felt more like a comedy show than a serious Buddhist talk. Ajahn Brahm had such a wonderful way of making serious topics appear so simple that the whole auditorium was completely mesmerized and at times laughing hysterically.  I remember the story he shared that day. He spoke about ‘The two bad bricks’.

In Ajahn’s words;

"After we purchased the land for our monastery in 1983 we were broke. We were in debt. There were no buildings on the land, not even a shed. Those first few weeks we slept not on beds but on old doors we had bought cheaply from the salvage yard; we raised them on bricks at each corner to lift them off the ground. (There were no mattresses, of course — we were forest monks.)

"The abbot had the best door, the flat one. My door was ribbed with a sizeable hole in the center where the doorknob would have been. I joked that now I wouldn't need to get out of bed to go to the toilet! The cold truth was, however, that the wind would come up through that hole. I didn't sleep much those nights.

"We were poor monks who needed buildings. We couldn't afford to employ a builder — the materials were expensive enough. So I had to learn how to build: how to prepare the foundations, lay concrete and bricks, erect the roof, put in the plumbing — the whole lot. I had been a theoretical physicist and a high-school teacher and was not used to working with my hands. After a few years, I became quite skilled at building, even calling my crew the BBC ("Buddhist Building Company").

When I began laying bricks, I'd tap one corner down to make it level and another corner would go up. So I'd tap that corner down then the brick would move out of line. After I'd nudged it back into line, the first corner would be too high again.

"Being a monk, I had patience and as much time as I needed. I made sure every single brick was perfect, no matter how long it took. Eventually, I completed my first brick wall and stood back to admire it. It was only then that I noticed— oh no! — I'd missed two bricks. All the other bricks were nicely in line, but these two were inclined at an angle. They looked terrible. They spoiled the whole wall. They ruined it.

"By then, the cement mortar was too hard for the bricks to be taken out, so I asked the abbot if I could knock the wall down and start over again — or, even better, perhaps blow it up. I'd made a mess of it and I was very embarrassed. The abbot said no, the wall had to stay.

"When I showed our first visitors around our fledgling monastery, I always tried to avoid taking them past my brick wall. I hated anyone seeing it. Then one day, some three or four months after I finished it, I was walking with a visitor and he saw the wall.

" 'That's a nice wall,' he casually remarked.

" 'Sir,' I replied in surprise, 'have you left your glasses in your car? Are you visually impaired? Can't you see those two bad bricks which spoil the whole wall? What he said next changed my whole view of that wall, of myself, and of many other aspects of life. He said, "Yes. I can see those two bad bricks. But I can see the 998 good bricks as well.”

"I was stunned. For the first time in over three months, I could see other bricks in that wall apart from the two mistakes. Above, below, to the left and to the right of the bad bricks were good bricks, perfect bricks.

Moreover, the perfect bricks were many, many more than the two bad bricks. Before, my eyes would focus exclusively on my two mistakes; I was blind to everything else. That was why I couldn't bear looking at that wall, or having others see it. That was why I wanted to destroy it. Now that I could see the good bricks, the wall didn't look so bad after all. It was, as the visitor had said, 'a nice brick wall.”

I too had been struggling with my own two bricks and had failed to see the 998 perfect bricks in my life. That one story left a huge imprint and I became a fan. I read all his books and watched all his YouTube talks. Last year when Suree called me to tell me that Ajahn Brahm was coming back to Hong Kong and if I would be interested in driving him to Cathay City again, I jumped at the opportunity. This time I had hundreds of questions and he answered each one of them with so much patience and clarity that I was in love all over again. I did not miss any of his talks while he was here last year and then one day when I was supposed to drive him and a few other monks back to the temple where they were staying I decided to take a detour. I decided to take the scenic route and before they could figure out what was happening I had very surreptitiously brought them to my place. I wanted Ajahn Brahm and Venerable Dhammapala to come to my house and I was afraid that if I asked them they would say no as Ajahn had a very tight schedule. I decided to kidnap them instead!

So we drove along the harbor and the lights looked beautiful. After we had driven for a about 15 minutes Venerable said to me that nothing looked familiar to him and if I knew where I was going. I said, “ Oh yes I know exactly where we are going. After being in the car for about 25 minutes, Venerable appeared a bit concerned and asked me again if I knew the right way. I then confessed that I was not really sure so I was going home to pick up my husband and then he would drive over to the temple. I don’t think the venerable was very happy with my idea!

Although it was true that I was not really confident of reaching the temple at night from Central (as I had mostly driven there during the day and that too from my house in Clear water bay ) I really wanted Ajahn Brahm to come and bless my house and meet my husband. It was a very naughty thing to do but I just followed my heart.

We arrived at my place around 10.00 at night and sadly they could not stay long as it was already quite late and all the monks were very tired. My plan worked, My husband agreed to drive Ajahn Brahm, Venerable Dhammapala and the three other young monks to the temple and by the time he came back he too was besotted with Ajahn and came with me to his next talk. My helper too was mesmerized and the next morning my daughter who was nine at that time was so upset with me that I did not wake her up to meet the smiling monk. She heard about the beautiful prayer he had done and the special blessing that one of my helpers received that actually turned out to be a curse for me. My helper wanted to go to Canada and this was on her mind. When I asked Ajahn to bless her and do a special prayer for her, her dream came true. Although I wanted her to be happy, I realize now that I really miss her and I wish I had asked for my own prayer to come true and not hers, but then that would not be the Buddhist way!

For weeks after we kept discussing how wonderful it was to have had 5 monks visit my house and I had actually kidnapped them and brought them home.

Ajahn Brahm is back in Hong Kong in Feb 2013 and I cant wait to see him again. Please check the following website for details and if you can, do not miss the opportunity to listen to this amazing story teller/monk.

But you don’t look the spiritual type!

Last week at a cocktail, a gentleman came up to me and told me that he had heard about my Vipassna experience and he was contemplating on attending the 10 day retreat. I shared with him my experience and we ended up speaking about Vedanta, Buddhism and various other philosophical subjects.

Towards the end of the conversation he said to me, “ but you don’t look the spiritual type.” His comment made me think, what is a spiritual type? Is there a spiritual type? Why do we associate spirituality with a certain physical outlook?
Just because I don’t wear conservative clothes, don’t speak in soft muted tones, don’t do any major rituals or follow any particular religious doctrine, drink wine and have eclectic friends I am not seen as spiritual!

What do we really mean by being spiritual ?

According to Wikipedia – traditionally, spirituality was associated with religion, in-fact if you look for a definition of spirituality, Merriam-Webster dictionary defines it as something that in ecclesiastical law belongs to the church or to a cleric, something that has sensitivity or attachment to religious values.

No wonder people associate spirituality with a certain type of person or behavior. For the longest time we were told that the only way to attain salvation was by following strictly the principals of some organized religion with clearly stated do’s and don’ts passed on through the right lineage and teachers. We were considered philistines who had no idea on how to live meaningful lives unless we were guided by some religious authority.
Today we are coming to understand that life becomes meaningful if we stay connected to our spiritual self by associating with qualities of love, compassion, patience, tolerance, forgiveness, contentment, responsibility, harmony, and a concern for others.
Keeping the above definitions in mind, I don’t think there is a spiritual type. We all are spiritual beings. Spirituality is nothing but a connection with spirit. Spirituality is what brings clarity, joy, peace and happiness in our lives. The more connection and clarity we have the more spiritual we are. Clothes, religion, language, diet, vocation or preferences don’t define spirituality. Spirituality is not the domain of a few, it is our very essence. It is rightly said ‘we are spiritual beings having a human experience.’ Why then should we compartmentalize spiritual from non-spiritual?
Isn’t it time for all of us to recognize our inherent spirituality and start living our full potential?
The easiest route towards spirituality is through kindness and compassion towards all beings and that includes our own selves. Often in our endeavor to become kind and compassionate towards others we tend to overlook our own needs and sometimes end up hurt and resentful. There is no spirituality in trying to please others at the cost of ones own peace and happiness and at the same time there can be no joy in making someone else miserable. First and foremost step towards spirituality is acknowledging that we are all connected and our joys and pains are also connected.
Another way of being spiritual is by becoming light. Letting go of all the baggage that we end up accumulating over one or more life times. Being spiritual means, carrying no grudges, no pain, no guilt, no worries, and no resentment. Spirit is not heavy we make it heavy by shrouding it in concepts and refusing to let go of all that holds us back.
Spirituality is not limited to churches, temples, synagogues, mosques or other places of worship. These places of worship may help us reach that place of inner calm and peace where we may find the answers but the answers will not be outside of us. Whether we are religious or not, we are all spiritual.
At some stage or another we all ask the question, who am I and what is my purpose? Spirituality helps to answer these questions.
The answer will be different for different people and will only come when we search within our own selves. What makes my connection with spirit stronger may not be the same as yours. Never try and be someone else. Be the best you, you can be. The moment we try and be someone else we loose our connection with our own spirit and get lost in trying to find ourselves.
So when the gentleman said to me that I don’t look the spiritual type, I understood exactly where he was coming from. In his opinion spirituality is something that needs to be practiced or acquired through intense effort. In my opinion spirituality is something that is light and fun. It is what gives me joy and makes me happy. Of course, it takes work to let go of all the accumulated baggage and start listening to the inner voice, but the work should not become heavy and restricting. For what is the purpose of trying to be spiritual and at the same time getting angry with our own selves for not being able to follow the percepts of spirituality.
Spirituality is the way and as Michelangelo said when he was asked about how he made David, his answer was “ David was already present in the marble, he just chipped off the excess’. Similarly spirituality is present within each one of us. All we need to do is let go of the dross that surrounds it.
So go ahead, start having fun in life, have joy and bring joy. Let go of all that keeps you tied down and spread your wings and fly for we all were meant to rise and shine.


RIP- rest in peace but can anyone rest in peace ????? . Been reading many opinions on face book about the state of women in india . All instigated by the gang rape of the young 23 year old who succumbed to her physical and mental torture this morning . I am hurt and saddened but I feel her soul is now free from the agony that her body was experiencing . May God give strength to her family to copewith the physical loss .
She lives in the hearts of many and I hope her death does not go in vain . She has been instrumental in waking up a nation that has always turned a blind eye towards the state of humans and women in particular .
Life for a young girl in india is wrought with fear and insecurity . I remember being physically molested right outside my house by one of the boys from the same neighborhood . I was barely 12 and the boy was probably 15 . I screamed and he ran away but since then I was petrified of even going to the near by supermarket. I also remember being pinched in a public bus when I was 16 and then witnessing a mans private part when a few of us were standing at a bus stop waiting for the university bus . Sadly at that time we were too embarrassed and instead of us doing something about it we all turned and looked away . It's sad that the molested feel ashamed and the molester walks away feeling proud .
I think the nation is now waking up from the deep slumber of letting things happen and just turning away .
I have not watched any news channels or participated in any debates on the shaming of the indian government in particular and the society in general and Infact was trying to keep myself away from knowing anymore . I just prayed in silence and prayed for the young girls soul and her family's strength to cope but somehow could not keep myself from reading all the outpouring of grief , anger, vendetta and helplessness . I am not alone in feeling despondent and helpless and am not really sure how I can show my solidarity . I am not a part of the thousands who are protesting and neither am I in a position to change the laws , all I can do as an individual is to pray for a change in human psychology . Pray that mankind is uplifted from the darkness that surrounds us . The killing of young children in America , the rape of a young woman in india ! Where did we as humans go so wrong ? What happened to us ? Why are we hell bent on destroying ourselves . The world did not end on 21 st December but it seems that humanity is heading towards its own destruction . Maybe the end if the world was not a physical end but and end of humanity . These incidents bring an outpouring of grief and for a few days we are in a state of shock and then life goes back to being what it was . We debate, we discuss , we write , we read and then we move on . What can we do and what should we do ?
Each and every person needs to wake up and see how his or her action is impacting mankind . Are we moving towards the light or towards darkness ? The change needs to begin at the thought level and that needs to translate into action . There is absolutely no point in blaming another , the only solution to any change is bringing about a change in the self . When the self changes the world changes . Lets all look within our own selves and see what demons are hiding there . This is our wake up call to destroy all that rapes our minds and bodies . Finger pointing never helped . Only self realization helps ..