2021-03-30 Mindfulness of Breathing (65) Fading of Attachment
3:26PM Mar 30, 2021
I've been talking over these last days about the 13th step of mindfulness of breathing as your observation – settling back and observing the inconstancy of phenomena – how things are constantly renewing, but also constantly passing.
This appearing and disappearing of our experience, moment by moment – certainly sometimes it's unfortunate that things pass away. And sometimes we're very fortunate that, "Finally, it's no longer here." Sometimes we're fortunate that things are arising, and sometimes it's unfortunate what's arising. It is painful. Sometimes it is neutral.
There is no particular prioritizing or putting a value on the particular arisings and passings that occur. It is not discounting things, nor celebrating things necessarily. It is just seeing that this is the nature – when we're settled, peaceful, not overlaying concepts and ideas on top of experience. We can see that what we experience is the flow of our experience – the flow of sensations and experiences.
The great value of this perspective is not in and of itself – like we're supposed to celebrate it or be depressed by it or something. It becomes a reference point for how valuable it is not to cling to any of it – not to contract around or resist any of it – especially in meditation. In real life there are certain things that should be held on to, or resisted perhaps. In meditation to learn to free ourselves from any movement of being for or against – holding on or pushing away – because it doesn't work. And because this ability to observe and not get engaged in or attached to things begins feeling so good. That's where freedom is.
The core catalyst for freedom, in the teachings of the Buddha, is this experience, this deep insight into inconstancy. The more free we become, the more inconstancy is a support for greater freedom. The more free we are, the more we see and recognize how we're trying to hold on to what is constantly changing. How we've left the flow. How we put our hand out the window of a car and we have wind drag. We have wind drag if we put our hands into the river and try to stop it. Or we pick up a handful of water, and we leave the river, thinking we have the river still.
There are all these ways in which we recognize that we've we've left the flow of inconstancy, the flow of life, because we've gotten excessively attached or involved or clinging. To see that in meditation, and see that we're actually better off backing off, not clinging. It is not so interesting to cling or to want.
There begins to be an inner psychological change that happens. Some of that is going to become relaxing the search. Relaxing trying to do something or get something – relaxing the need to know and searching to know – because all that is too much.
It's like leaning forward when we can just settle back. Then, all these attachments we have start feeling like wind drag – interfering with the the radiance of the heart, the beauty of the mind, the freedom of our lives. We can see that they diminish us – the clinging, the attachments, the things we hold on to.
There starts to be a fading away – disinterest and a fading away – of jealousy, envy, conceit, craving, hatred and resentments. I can go on. The list is long of things that we begin recognizing, "Oh, this doesn't really serve me. I'm not so interested in this anymore."
It's not like I have to be a good Buddhist, and this is bad that I'm doing this and I have to stop doing it. It's more like, "I'm no longer interested in this. This is less and less interesting to do." "I've been resentful for 30 years and I think I'm getting tired of it. I think I see that it's not so interesting." "I've been chasing after having the perfect physique for decades." At some point, "I'm not really interested in presenting myself always with the perfect human physique, whatever that might be."
Losing interest – always wanting to make more money, or have status, or I don't know what – all these things we're chasing. There's a healthy, "Oh, wait a minute, this doesn't serve me! This is not the best place to be. This is not the most wonderful way to be, to be preoccupied with these things. I'm beginning to know something better. I'm knowing something about freedom, ease, and peace."
I want to stress again that the primary reference point for what I'm talking about now is meditation. Outside of meditation, you might argue, "Well, wait a minute, isn't it okay to do it here, or here? We need to do it here." I don't want to get into those discussions. What I want is for you to discover in meditation that you don't have to be pursuing the perfect physique, more money, more status, more whatever it is that you're trying to do. In meditation itself, you can feel it's better, easier just to let go, to not be involved.
To have an experience, a qualitatively high experience of freedom, ease, and peace, where we are no longer grasping, holding, resisting, tightening or contracting – that becomes your teacher. Rather than debating with me about, "Wait a minute, aren't we supposed to hold on here, resist that." It's not so interesting to debate with me. For a real spiritual life, you should be debating with yourself. When you have this deep reference point for peace and freedom, that's where it gets interesting – where it comes alive, this practice of freedom. Explore and find out what is really true for yourself.
With observing inconstancy, there's a fading away of the interest in some of our attachments. And then there's a fading away of the attachments themselves. The word for the 14th step of ānāpānasati, the Pali word is 'virāga'. There are two different translations of this word. The one I'll stress today is "fading away." One observes the fading away of these attachments – the fading away of our addictive interest in certain things that are not serving us anymore. There's a fading away.
This speaks to something important about this path of liberation in Buddhism. There's a tendency to look for a sudden experience that is the key to it all – that just unlocks it all, and then we are free forever. A more mature way of seeing liberation is that a lot of it has to do with just fading away, or wearing away, dropping away, drop by drop. Everything dries up or falls away, the evaporating of the phenomenon of our attachment.
'Rāga' the root of the word 'virāga' can mean a dye – that we color cloth with. And 'virāga', the 'vi-' prefix means a fading away or separating of that dye. One of the meanings is to fade away the dye. You dye some clothes, and leave in the sun for too long – it gets bleached, the color fades away, or just time fades it away. Fading away.
When we really feel the unsatisfactoriness, off-ness, and discomfort of attachment, clinging, addiction – all these movements of the mind we have – we start to feel, "Ahh this is lightening up. It's loosening up." There's a lightening, or lifting of a cloud, letting go, relaxing.
Then the mindfulness practice is to be available to that fading – to be open to and allow for that fading. Because if we go right back into clinging, we reinforce more clinging. We strengthen that capacity to cling, attach, resist and be addicted to things. Once we start feeling this process of fading away, then the mindfulness practice is to be available to that fading – available to it so we don't reinforce the opposite. So: "One trains, breathing in observing fading away. One trains, breathing out observing fading away."
That is one of the meanings of virāga, and then tomorrow I'll talk about the second meaning, which is dispassion. That is often how it is translated – probably not a very good translation, but that's for tomorrow. Thank you. And this comes to an end.