Non-Attachment (as an aspect of Service)

Today’s topic is Non-Attachment as an aspect of service.

To be truly non-attached we need to know that we are not our bodies, but this is a very big aim and we have to start with small steps like learning to be less attached to our likes and dislikes, our attitudes and our habits.

The Lord Buddha gave us the four noble truths which are the basis of Buddhism. One translation of them is:

  1. That human life is suffering
  2. That suffering is caused by attachment
  3. That this suffering ceases when attachment ceases
  4. That there is a method by which attachment can be overcome

That method is called “The Noble Eightfold Path” which we can think of as being a way to make our bodies obedient. Abdullah tells us that to work on your attachments you have to first try to understand them, see that you are attached to your body, to tobacco, beer, food, and all the rest. He says that the idea of fasting on a Monday is to show us some non-attachment. Abdullah also gives an example that if someone is having a terrible time trying to give up alcohol or cigarettes then you could help them, not by telling them they shouldn’t, but by diverting them from the attachment.

Some of the major attachments we have are to our families and friends. Abdullah says that in a good parent’s love for their child there is usually a sense of ownership of the child, but with practice we can become less attached and then we can serve them much better. He says that we should use our intellects to see that being attached to someone doesn’t help them. He says that we should try to love our children or parents because they have God in them, and we are all a part of God.

The first story is a true story related by Grace Nies Fletcher in her book “I was born tomorrow”. [p.52]

Every morning before the rest of the family got up, the mother of the house crept down to the sunroom for fifteen minutes before she started breakfast. When Nancy, her fifteen year old daughter, asked her mother what she did there, she explained “I pray or read, to recharge my batteries for another day. I try to think through my problems. When something gets more than I can bear I offer it up, I say O Lord this is beyond me. It’s yours to solve. Give me the strength, wisdom and courage to accept your decision.” “Oh” said Nancy, a little embarrassed. A few evenings later, young Nancy, radiant in her new pink party dress, left for her first date with John, a football star, to the junior high-school prom. Her parents watched her go, feeling both sad and glad that their child was almost a woman. Nancy had permission to stay out until one, but it was just after midnight when her mother heard her sobbing in her bedroom. She found Nancy flung down on the bed crying.“John had another girl” she sobbed, wiping her tears with the back of her hand. He invited me only because they’d had a fight. He danced with her all evening…. I was so humiliated. I hate him! I’m never going back to that school again!

Her mother stroked the child’s hair. Did she have to grow up so soon to cruel reality? That night Nancy’s mother lay awake all night worrying about her daughter’s unhappiness. When early morning came she opened her bedroom door to walk down the stairs to the sunroom as usual, but then she saw Nancy still in her bedraggled party dress, coming out of the sunroom and up the stairs.Nancy grinned at her surprised mother. “You know something mum? It really works. I lay down there thinking for a long time. Then I said, “OK Lord, this thing with John is too hard for me, so I’ll leave it to you. And I went to sleep. Mum, do I have some clean socks for hockey practice?”

The second story is also reputed to be a true story, and it is called finding a diamond on a muddy road.

Gudo was the Zen teacher to the Emperor of Japan, but at times he used to wander the countryside alone. Once he wandered into a little village named Takenaka. It was evening and a heavy rain was falling. Gudo’s straw sandals were disintegrating and as he passed a farmhouse near the village he noticed four or five pairs of sandals in the window and so he decided to stop to buy a pair. The woman of the farmhouse welcomed him in from the rain and invited him in to remain for the night at her home. Gudo accepted thankfully, saying that he must depart for Edo the capital in the morning. He was then introduced to the woman’s mother, and observing that both seemed very sad and afraid, Gudo asked what was wrong. “My husband is a gambler and a drunkard,” the housewife told him. “Each night he comes home drunk and abusive. We work hard on our small farm, but my husband gambles everything away so we have barely enough to eat. What can I do?” “I will do what I can,” said Gudo. “Here is some money. Get me a cask of good wine and something good to eat. Then you should go to bed. I will wait up for your husband.”

When the man of the house returned about midnight, very drunk, he found Gudo sitting in meditation on the floor. The drunken man bellowed: “Hey, wife, I am home. Get me something to eat”. “I have something for you,” said Gudo. “I was caught in the rain and your wife kindly invited me in. In return I have bought you some wine and fish”. The man was delighted. He drank all the wine at once, and collapsed on the floor to sleep. Gudo sat in meditation beside him. When the man awoke late the next morning, he looked up and realised that his visitor was none other than the famous Zen teacher Gudo who he had been too drunk to recognise the night before. The man was utterly ashamed, tears rans down his face and he bowed his head and apologized profusely to the teacher of his emperor…

“I must depart for Edo” Gudo said, and smiled at the man. “Life is very brief.” He added.“If you keep on like this you will not be able to achieve anything real in this life…and the way things are you are also causing your family to suffer.” The man sat very still as he listened and then he said “Let me help you carry your things a little way.” “As you wish,” agreed Gudo. The two started out. After they had walked for about an hour Gudo told him to return. “Just another hour or two,” the man said, and they continued on. After another two hours, Gudo said “You may return now”. “Just another two hours” the man replied. “Return now,” said Gudo, two hours later. “I am going to follow you all the rest of my life,” said the man.

Modern Zen teachers can trace their lineage back to a famous master called Mu-nan – the man who never turned back.

Abdullah says that to learn to be non-attached we must start on small things first, like a habit, and that we should not expect to be able to run before we can crawl. If we get a taste of non-attachment in one easier area of ourselves, then we will know what to look for in the areas where attachment is the strongest. He says that to become non-attached should be one of our big aims, and it starts when we decide to make the body obedient. Abdullah also says that if we make a good aim, such as working against attachment, and keep coming back to it, then we will be helped from above.


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