Are there such thing as reasonable attachments?
In the training community I lived in, one of the old rules was that people should not be attached to their rooms, and trainees were moved around every few months, keeping their belongings in a single box.
By the time I moved into that community that practice had ceased, and most people had their own rooms.
I lived and trained there for four years, as an Amidist Buddhist monk, before deciding to give up some of my vows and become a priest. (In our order we have two ordination tracks, one which is more friar like, and one which is more vicar like).
Although we are a Pureland Order much of the training I received was in a Zen spirit. My teacher trained with Jiyu-Kennett Roshi, a Soto Zen Master, before choosing the Pureland teachings as the most appropriate vehicle for his own teachings, and some of the style of training he received in the Zen monastery was passed onto us.
Although very clearly a Zen teacher, Jiyu-Kennet Roshi often talked about the cosmic Buddha, and of faith and love. My teacher Dharmavidya once called her style the spirit of Pureland in a Zen container, and spoke about the training he was giving us at that time as Zen training within a Pureland container.
I’m personally interested in what a Pureland training model might like look, rather than Zen training within a Pureland container. Perhaps they both describe the same thing, but it’s something I’d like to give more thought.
The idea of non-attachment to personal space is very Zen, and if one takes the early bikkhu and bhikkhuni communities as ideals, also very Buddhist.
These days I live in the Buddhist Temple that I run together with my wife, and we have our own flat within the temple, and our own offices. I recently moved office, and that move showed me some of my attachment to personal space.
When we first moved here a year ago, and I moved into my office, I imagined that it would be mine until I moved out of the building. Moving offices made complete sense from the point of view of the use of the building, but I didn’t settle into my new space as quickly or as easily as I would have liked.
I realised I had been taking refuge in my old office.
Life in community means coming face to face with yourself and your attachments, pretty often. In my leadership role, I’m also the recipient of many various projections, and sometimes it takes some energy to step out of these.
An enlightened being with no attachments or ego-stuff might not be tired by that kind of thing, but as an ordinary being having to manage that on a daily basis does sometimes become wearing.
Having somewhere to go where I could close the door and know I wouldn’t have to face that became important. If I encountered something in my work that triggered my defences, having a safe space to go to allowed those defences to settle down away from the trigger. Then I could begin to process what had happened and perhaps move towards letting go of whatever button has been pressed in me.
Somehow moving offices threatened that sense of safety.
The identification process (calling it ‘my office’) happened much more easily when I thought I would be in that space for as long as I was in the building.
Having moved once, I was aware that I might move again, and knowing that disrupted the identification process with my new office. I felt like I was just borrowing the space.
This is probably a healthier attitude to have towards one’s personal space, if we keep in mind how mobile those early Buddhist monks and nuns were. It was in this spirit that old rule about moving bedrooms was created.
But perhaps, given my karmic nature, it might be okay to have an attachment to this kind of space.
I’ve been in my new office for a couple of months now, and I know that the identification process has happened again. I still need a place away from my challenging duties, and although those moments should turn me back towards taking refuge in the Buddha, I find I am also taking refuge in having a space where I can shut the door on the world.
I can’t suddenly become more enlightened than I am, (not through a process I can control, at least): the capacity I have for processing my defensive reactions, the stirrings of my ego, is the capacity I have, for the time being.
If I were continually confronted by challenges to my ego, non-stop, this would make me less likely to move towards letting go, and more likely for my ego to dig its heels in.
I think this why that old rule in the training community was discarded. It removed the ground from underneath people too quickly. It left them without a mundane refuge.
When we train well, we train at our learning edge. There is a danger that if we go too far beyond that we won’t be able to find any helpful refuge and will just slip deeper in to chaos and neuroses or depression.
So perhaps some attachments are okay. Certainly there are worse attachments to have than to a little personal space, and there is even some value in it. But every attachment comes with a shadow; mundane refuges are impermanent, subject to change, and can cease to be a refuge in any moment.
Perhaps asking if an attachment is reasonable is the wrong question. Instead we could ask what attachments do we have (what mundane things do we take refuge in), and what are the effects, for better or worse, or both, of that?