Buddhas and zombies are not the same thing

Posted by on Jul 24, 2013 in Buddhism | 568 Comments

After I wrote a post about Buddhism and devotion recently, someone asked me if I could write about devotion and non-attachment. This post is kind of about that. It’s also kind of about zombies.

When many people think of Buddhism, they think of non-attachment.

Perhaps you have a vision of a skinhead monk or nun, owning just a robe and a bowl, wandering homeless from monastery to monastery, teaching the Dhamma for the benefit of all beings.

Perhaps you imagine the serene look on their face, as they tread lightly upon the Earth, leaving no trace.

They have given up the world, let go of family and friends, let go of career, and even let go of the desire for wealth, status, power and fame. You won’t see them on X Factor any time soon.

But what if you like stuff?

On the plus side, completely letting go sounds quite peaceful. On the minus, it sounds a bit, well, boring.

Maybe you like your job, partner, friends, money and toys! Maybe you love life and want to dive in deep and live it while you can!

Does this mean you can’t be a Buddhist?

You are not an archetype

Both of these archetypal symbols – the renunciant and the better-to-burn-out-than-fade-away thrill seeker – may well be attractive to you.

How do we reconcile this?

And if Buddhism’s about not caring about anything and letting go of it all, how come Buddhists build monasteries, go in for all kinds of rituals and celebrations, and if they aren’t ordained (and oftentimes if they are) have families and jobs?

For a start, the image of letting go and the image of grasping are both images in your mind. These are archetypal forms. Useful for illustrating a point, and for giving expression to an aspect of who you are, but real humans are more complex than that.

If we acknowledge both these aspects in our being, we’re perhaps a little closer to the truth as it presently stands. And if we can’t, maybe we need to look a little harder!

This is where devotion and non-attachment fit together.

On the one hand, if you want to awaken, you have desire. Desire to awaken at the very least. You probably also have desire for health, safety, peace, love – for yourself and others.

That’s healthy – and in fact necessary. Buddhas and zombies are not the same thing!

Like I said, it’s more complex. To let go completely doesn’t mean to disengage. It’s possible to dive into life without needing to hold onto it. This is true liberation.

In order to engage the whole person, Buddhism has developed practices for each aspect of ourselves.

The arts tend to figure heavily in various Buddhist traditions, for example. Work can be a practice. Relationships can certainly be a practice!

We make best use of this precious life not by drawing away from it, but by engaging fully with an open (non-grasping) heart.

Easy to say, hard to do – but no one said this stuff was easy!

Maybe ‘engaging fully’ for you is ordaining as a monastic. Maybe it’s having a family. You can become a Buddha from both these lives. Maybe you’ll fully awaken even before you finish this post?

Too late! 😉


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