Attachments - Buddhism's signposts for serenity

by NANCY HAUGHT, The Oregonian, May 6, 2008

Portland, Oregon (USA) -- Talk of a recession has many Oregonians cringing at the gas pump, editing grocery lists and rethinking priorities. Under it all is the fear of losing ground, of having to make do with less.

Buddhists have a reputation for paring down their lives. They believe that human beings cling to people, objects, attitudes and behaviors, and that these attachments create suffering. They also believe it's possible to overcome attachments. We talked to two Buddhist teachers from Portland, who shared a little wisdom from their 2,500-year-old tradition.

Four thoughts: Ani Gilda Paldron Taylor, a nun and teacher in the Tibetan tradition, says Buddhism's most useful teaching is distilled in the Four Thoughts That Turn the Mind. They are the preciousness of human life, cause and effect, impermanence and suffering.

"The greatest teaching of the four is impermanence," she says. "What we like in life is stability: we want to know what's going on. We count on our paycheck. We want our families to be healthy."

Life isn't stable: "There are cycles of life," Taylor says. "Times when things are good; times when they're not so good. Not one day is like another day. Not one relationship is like another, no job is like any other. Impermanence is the name of the game."

Attachment hurts: Being attached to anything -- a television show, a car, a ballgame -- can isolate people and obscure what gives their lives meaning, says the Rev. Jundo Gregory Gibbs, minister to the Oregon Buddhist Temple in Southeast Portland. "Attachments get us stuck, keep us from rolling with the punches."

Try this instead: When you feel frustrated, angry, envious or crave something, think about what you're attached to. Ask yourself what's really important in your life, Gibbs says.

Meditate on the four thoughts, Taylor advises. "If we think about these things, we can stop projecting into the future, lamenting about the past or grasping after a time when things were better. Contemplate those four thoughts. The process of wisdom occurs spontaneously."