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Buddhism for Everyone with JoAnn Fox

Dec 6, 2021

In this episode we look at attachment to self. In particular, we try to identify what attachment to self is and how to lessen it so that we experience more peace and light-heartedness. To recognize attachment to self, we can contemplate extreme examples:


Extreme examples of when we feel attachment to self

  • Embarrassment
  • Excessive shame or guilt
  • Reactions to criticism like anger or dismissing the person
  • Strong pride or self-aggrandizement 


In general, attachment arises when we perceive an object we find attractive and exaggerate its good qualities until we become glued to the object, such that we feel pain when we are separated from that object. Attachment to self exists because we perceive a fixed self and become attached to this perception of a fixed, inherent self. Some examples of these attached perceptions of self range from “I am a good person,” “I am smart,” and also “I am a bad person,” “I am a loser. 


One way to lessen our attachment to self is to recognize that we do not exist as a fixed, inherent self. Just like all things, our self exists as an interdependent phenomena; our self depends upon causes and conditions, labels, and the mind appearing it a certain way. Our self does exist, just not in the way it normally appears, as fixed and inherent. Our self exists like a rainbow appearing in a clear sky. A rainbow arises in dependence upon rain droplets, the rays of the sun, and our location to the rainbow. We can never reach out and touch a rainbow, because it depends on our position in relation to it. Like a rainbow, our self depends on many causes in each moment of perception. Others see only a rainbow when they see us; their perception depends upon their perception, as well as how we appear to function. There is no fixed self to be attached to, to be offended over, embarrassed by, or anxious over! 


This is a subtle and complex subject, so the daily mindfulness practice encouraged is to start by just trying to identify our attachment to self when it arises. You can feel the attachment when we are hurt by criticism, anxious, guilty, shameful, embarrassed, or prideful.  The meditation we practice in this episode is called “Taking by means of Compassion, Giving by means of Love” or Toglen. We use our own self as our object of love and compassion. Practicing love and acceptance of our ever-changing, empty self is a powerful way to weaken the attachment to a fixed self that causes us all sorts of problems. Let’s try to practice self-compassion and not take ourselves too seriously. Laugh at ourselves a little, forgive ourselves a lot. 


Destroy attachment to self

As you could an autumn lily in your fist

Cultivate the path to peace

The Nirvana taught by the Well-Gone-One. (285)

-Buddha, The Dhammapada 

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References and Links

Buddha.The Dhammapada. Translated by Gil Fronsdale. (Kindle). Shambala, Boston and London, 2011, pp. 73 (Link)